Letters from Palestine #5: War

(To read this series from the beginning, please click here.)

When my brother and I were kids, horsing around in the back seat as my mother drove, it usually didn’t take long for “acting up” to become full scale war.  When my mother couldn’t take it anymore, she would slide off her slip-on shoe and, still driving, she would reach her arm over the back seat, smacking whoever was in her reach.

One of us would always complain, “But he / she started it!” And my mother’s response was always the same:

“I don’t care who started it, you’re both gonna get it!”

I have pictured that scene often this past two weeks, as Israel and Hamas have combined forces to kill innocents and to create the bombed-out hell that will be “the new Gaza” when the fighting finally stops. Anymore it doesn’t matter who started it; they both need to stop.

Yes, there are serious issues that must be addressed, once and for all, or this fighting will continue to rear its head into eternity. But right now we are watching as almost 1,000 people are dead and whole communities have been turned to rubble.  This is not a time for taking sides.  It’s a time for getting out my mom’s shoe and making them both just stop.

Is killing someone else ever justified? Wiser people than I have argued this point since there have been humans to argue. Here is what I do know, though: Innocent people are dying and the place that remains for the survivors to live in will need serious rebuilding before it will be remotely recognizable as a community.

As you read the letter below from Nora Lester Murad from Dalia Association, I urge you to consider her letter with the Buddha’s words in mind: In this world, hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate.

We all feel helpless. Yesterday there was a demonstration in Tel Aviv against the war. I wanted to go so badly to feel that I am doing something. My husband practically forbade me (he doesn’t do that, and I don’t “obey” – but that shows you how serious this is) because he said it wasn’t safe. We didn’t go. He doesn’t even want me to go to work in Ramallah, but I have to. I HAVE to keep working. We’re feeling that the international community isn’t doing enough, but it’s hard for us to know what to do. The whole thing is so irrational, so powerful, so unbelievable. How do we stop it?

As you know, my husband is the United Nations psychologist, so he spends all day calling his staff in Gaza, listening as they describe huddling in interior rooms, under blankets because the windows are all blown out, trying to comfort their kids. Yesterday we were watching an interview with a family on the news when bombs hit nearby. Watching their reaction made me cry. They instinctively grabbed their children and elders and ran to the right, and they ran to the left, and they looked all around and then collapsed back down clutching one another. No where to run. No where to be safe.

Nora’s observations are shared, painfully, by Ahmed Masoud, a Palestinian writer living in London, who sent this letter to the editor of The Guardian.  (Many thanks to Kevin Harris at the blog “Neighbourhoods” for sharing the link to Ahmed’s letter.)


“I don’t care who started it, you’re both going to get it.” I know my mom is reading these words right now (yes, my 85 year old mom reads my blog!) and thinking that her swatting shoe is no match for this. We are all feeling that same helplessness. What can we do to stop the fighting, to start the rebuilding, to perhaps ensure this is the last time innocent people die in this relentless battle?

I asked Nora what those of us who are feeling so helpless can do. Here is what she told me:

I am praying that it will end soon, and then there will be lots of work for Dalia Association to do – helping to rebuild in ways consistent with our values of local control and long-term planning.

Right now, please keep up to date and keep talking about what is going on, so it is NOT business as usual. And please, express your outrage. Calls to the White House and Congress do matter. Please encourage others to call.

As for keeping up to date, if you are inclined to get all sides of the story, I urge you to look beyond the news in your own country, and to watch Al Jazeera as well. (And please, spare me the “Al Jazeera is a state-sponsored mouthpiece for Islamic radicals.” That is no more true – or perhaps just as true – as NBC or the BBC being state-sponsored mouthpieces for US and British policies. And while that whole topic is for another post, what I can state unequivocally is this: If you read Al Jazeera, you will learn.)

In addition, the following two books have been invaluable in my understanding FIRST of the background of what is going on in Palestine (as well as elsewhere in the Islamic world), and SECOND what we can do to create lasting peace – not just the temporary absence of war, but real peace.

Reconciliation: Islam, Democracy, and the West
by Benazir Bhutto
It is hard to believe how much is packed into one volume. Bhutto presents a country-by-country summary of the current political realities in the Islamic world, with the history in each case, to help you understand how things got to be the way they are in Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and of course, her homeland, Pakistan. She then provides a thoughtful analysis of how to create peace and reconciliation between the West and the Islamic world.

The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People
by Jonathan Schell
Johnathan Schell insists he is not opposed to the use of force; he simply believes history shows that war has become an ineffective tool for achieving political ends. Throughout this in-depth historical analysis of wars since the 1600’s (ending in the current post-9/11 world), Schell asks, “Was it really military might that won that war? And if the answer is ‘no,’ then couldn’t we settle differences without resorting to war at all?” It is a question I find myself asking these days, as I watch suffering around the world: Do we really need war, or is there a more effective way to achieve political ends?

It may sound trite, but we humans have the capacity to build communities, not bombs. As I consider both Nora’s and Ahmed’s images, I am struck with the horror of losing my own family. We are all human. We all love. We all suffer. Whether we are talking about Gaza or Darfur or Tel Aviv or the Twin Towers – how can we sit by and allow such suffering to take place, rationalizing that because it has always been like this, that is certainly how it always will be?

Tomorrow, I will begin sharing excerpts from The Pollyanna Principles: Reinventing “Nonprofit Organizations” to Create the Future of Our World. If ever we were all being called to create a peaceful future, it is now. Call your congressman, send a donation to Dalia Association to help them rebuild once this is over, or just read to understand more about what is happening in the Middle East.

Whatever you choose to do, please remember this simple truth:

If we all hold ourselves accountable for creating a peaceful world, that is the future we will create.

4 Responses to Letters from Palestine #5: War

  1. Thank you Hildy for the ongoing personal connection to what is happening in Gaza.

    Guided by another of my mentors, Ruth Beaglehole from the Center for Nonviolent Education and Parenting, we need a whack of your mom’s shoe less than we need the connections you always guide us toward.

    I know the shoe is a metaphor, but its lesson is “I have the power and will make you stop what you are doing.” You teach us, Hildy, that our power is in our shared vision and connection.

  2. You are wise, as always, my friend. You sense my frustration and feelings of helplessness. And you are, of course, correct. (And man did I hate my mom’s shoe!)

    That said, though, I don’t think my mom’s effectiveness had to do with her “power” near as much as her ability to get our attention and let us know that BOTH of our behavior was inappropriate. The important part of what I have been hearing in my head these past several weeks is NOT that my mom wielded “the shoe” but her words: I don’t care who started it, both of you knock it off!

    Sometimes intervention is needed when two kids aren’t playing well together. It doesn’t have to hurt, it just has to get their attention. To be effective, it will be done through kindness and vision. But that doesn’t negate the fact that sometimes those who are just standing on the sidelines, supporting one side or the other, need to stop and say, “You’re both acting badly. Knock it off and work together to fix this.”

    Your thoughts?

  3. Hildy,

    Thanks to you and Nora for this post. Al Jazeera in English is well worth watching. It can be seen with good quality at http://www.livestation.com. It presents coverage of what is actually happening on the ground in Gaza, something you cannot see in U.S. news because Israel does not allow journalists into Gaza. Another useful source is the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, available in English at http://www.haaretz.com, also more complete than any U.S. newspaper.

    As a Jew, I abhor this violence being done by Israel in the name of Jews everywhere. It runs completely counter to my Jewish values and, as a practical matter, will only stand in the way of establishing a true peace that is in the interest of Israel. As an American, I strongly object to the use of my tax dollars for weapons used to kill innocent people, contrary to the U.S. Arms Export Act, and to the U.S. government’s uncritical support of Israel’s escalated violence against an occupied people.

    Best, Rae