A few days after the latest outbreak of hostilities between the Israeli Defense Forces and the Lebanese faction of Hezbollah, I received an email for a friend in Israel that struck home in many ways:
“Here we need different type of healing between all parties involved in this new war in the Middle East. This time the home front is the front. I told (my wife) this morning to expect missiles in Tel Aviv. Iranian money in unlimited quantities, Islamic zeal at a level of Jihad, and a weak Lebanese government means every kind of shooting is possible. Anyway, with your connection to the ‘other worlds,’ pray to resolve this conflict with minimal civilian losses for all populations on both sides of the border. We just want to get the bad guys.”
I have been to Israel several times, living there once for five months. It is impossible for those of us who don=t have death looking over our shoulders at every sleeping and waking moment to appreciate what the people of this region (Israeli and Palestine alike) are forced to endure. Any sane being carrying the weight of such a terrible circumstance can understandably come to the conclusion that peace is worth almost any price. Our news broadcasts that measure human tragedy in terms of body counts and the number of bombs or missiles fired across manmade borders encourage us to grasp at any straw that promises an end to the carnage.
The concept of good and evil shifts dramatically, depending on which person is being interviewed. Listening to the recurring sound bites simply reinforces the idea that there really are bad people doing some very bad things to unfortunate innocents. However, determining exactly who they are is not a simple as one might think. If I have learned one thing about the world in which we live it is this: What you see depends on where you=re looking from. There isn’t a single combatant in this terrible war who doesn’t believe in the sanctity of his belief.
Yet, there are many passionate and highly intelligent Arabs and Jews who strongly disagree with their brethren. I recently viewed an incredible debate between Dr. Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-American psychiatrist and Islamic scholar, Dr. Ibrhim Al-Khouli, which was broadcast on the Arabic Al-Jazeera TV (Qatar) on the 21st of February, 2006. Dr. Sultan delivered a scathing incitement attacking the very foundation of Moslem thinking:
“The clash we are witnessing around the world is not a clash of religions, or a clash of civilizations. It is a clash between two opposites, between two eras. It is a clash between a mentality that belongs to the Middle Ages and another mentality that belongs to the 21st century…
“The Muslims are the ones who began the clash of civilizations. The Prophet of Islam said: ‘I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger.’ When the Muslims divided the people into Muslims and non-Muslims, and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash, and began this war. In order to stop this war, they must reexamine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for takfir (the practice of excommunication as a Moslem; declaring one an infidel) and fighting the infidels.”
Dr. Al-Khouli dismissed Sultan’s allegation by first asking if she was a heretic, after which he said, “If you are a heretic, there is no point in rebuking you, since you blasphemed against Islam, the Prophet, and the Koran…” Apparently the price of Dr. Sultan’s courage to speak her convictions on Arabic TV is a high one. She and her family are currently reported to be in hiding. The clip of the debate can be viewed on the Memri-TV web site: http://memritv.org/Search.asp?ACT=S1#.
On the other side of the coin, there are many Jews who condemn the existence of the State of Israel. On the 28th of April, 2005, some ten thousand Anti-Zionist Orthodox Jews protested outside the Israeli Consulate in New York City. On the Neturei Karta International – Jews United Against Zionism web site (http://www.nkusa.org/activities/Statements/2006July18.cfm) There is a very strong article condemning Israel=s retaliation in their northern border:
“The brutal and indiscriminate attack upon the people and infrastructure of Lebanon by the Zionist State “Israel” is a crime against all basic standards of decency and humanity.
“The excuse given for this murderous invasion was the attack by Hezbollah on the IDF. What this might have to do with the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese innocent men, women and children, who are subjected to an ongoing living hell, is beyond comprehension.
“Indeed, this current aggression is only the second chapter of the recent viciousness; the first being the furious reinvasion of Gaza and the onslaught on its civilians and the ruination of its basic human services.”
When one digs into the heart of the situation, the battle lines are unambiguous and so deeply etched that there is little chance that the peace envisioned by world leaders can ever be a viable possibility. Fundamentalist Arabs view all non-Muslims as infidels and the entire Zionist movement as an illegitimate land grab. When challenged to their right to the land, Israelis are equally quick to invoke their divine authority. As Golda Meir, a former Prime Minister of Israel stated in 1971, “This country (Israel) exists as the fulfillment of a promise made by God Himself. It would be ridiculous to ask for an account of its legitimacy.”
So we have two disparate groups, each following the dictates of its personal God. Each side has demonized the other, branding their foes with the stigma: terrorist. This is the ultimate pronouncement of takfir from the human race and gives all those making the declaration the moral (if not legal) right to kill. This sentiment was reflected in a July 30, 2006 interview with former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, on American TV to explain the rationale behind the deadly war between Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces, “These are people who got orders directly from heaven to destroy you.” By branding them terrorists and equating Hamas and Hezbollah with al-Qaeda, Barak was attempting to swing worldwide opinion in favor of the ongoing conflict in Lebanon.
Is Barak wrong? Not from his perspective; just as those who fight to the death in the name of Allah also do not see themselves as misguided. Each side is equally passionate about its views, each seems willing to fight to the death to defend them, and each feels equally convinced that there can be no peace until the other is wiped from the face of the Earth.
The war of ideology, religious conviction, and ethnic hatred defies the containers of UN resolutions, peace summits, and diplomatic visits. It is too big to be contained in platitudes, concessions, and compromises. The Middle East has become the metaphor for all divisiveness and separation on our planet. Each day, as I receive another email from a friend directly affected by the turmoil, my heart bleeds. What can I say that would be both soothing and authentic?
Last week I received a phone call from a dear friend that put all this in perspective for me. She told me the story of one young man caught in the unreported swirls and eddies of this human tragedy. Some would argue that because he=s still alive and unhurt, he=s one of the lucky ones. I would say he=s part of the unheralded collateral damage.
His name is Omar Awartani, a Jordanian youngster who lives in Al-Bereh on the Palestinian West Bank, a town that has seen more than its share of warfare. He is a very intelligent and popular student. One of his teachers described him as, “…a brilliant student with a great passion for science and mathematics. He always asks unexpected questions and gives unexpected solutions. His leadership qualities are quite obvious. Omar is inquisitive, imaginative, and creative. I truly believe that Omar will be a great scientist.”
In his evaluation, Omar was rated either “Outstanding” or “One of the Top Few Encountered in My Career.” Omar=s College Board SAT math scores were in the top nine percent of those taking the exam. He wanted to become an aerospace engineer and was scheduled to attend Beirut University before the current hostilities made that impossible. When asked to discuss any obstacles and/or hardships you have encountered and how you dealt with them on one college application form, this is what Omar wrote:
“Living and growing under the conditions of the Intifada (Arabic term for uprising) with so much violence, fear, and risk, has been quite a difficult experience. Most of my adolescence has been under adverse conditions. It was so difficult, in this highly politicized and turbulent environment, to retain my focus on science and my passion for it. The rough conditions of the Intifada made me stronger and more resilient. The greatest contribution I can make to the future Palestine is to get the best education I can afford.”
Perhaps there is a school somewhere in the free world that has a scholarship for Omar? His present situation doesn’t permit him the luxury of paying his own way. The dividends of providing such an opportunity are massive; a brilliant mind would be given the opportunity to contribute (as have so many Arabs before him) to the knowledge of the world, his success would open the way for other West Bank and Gaza children to perceive a solution other than war, and the school welcoming him would be seen as compassionate, forward looking, and making a real contribution to bringing peace to this beleaguered part of the world.
Somehow, I find this course of action far more productive than all the saber rattling and finger pointing that would have us get the bad guys—whoever they are. I have come to realize that desperate people do desperate things. To those, who perceive themselves totally disenfranchised, the tunnel before them must seem impossibly long and dark. Peace can not come from such darkness. We need to bring forth a measure of light that can guide those with the willingness to transcend their immediate despair, a way out. Let=s find a more creative way to reduce the hidden collateral damage of unreasoned hatred than meetings, resolutions, and prayer vigils.
Jean-Claude Gerard Koven is a writer and speaker based in Vilcabamba, Ecuador. He was a featured weekly columnist for the UPI (United Press International) Religion and Spirituality Forum and is the author of Going Deeper: How to Make Sense of Your Life When Your Life Makes No Sense, recipient of both the Allbooks Reviews Editor’s Choice Award and the USABookNews.com Award for the Best Metaphysical Book of the Year.
©2004 – 2021. Jean-Claude Gerard Koven / All Rights Reserved.