This is a long blog, and I apologize for that. I’ve been sitting with my sadness and frustration about current events in Gaza for over two weeks now, and I’m glad to have taken some time to distill some of my feelings. This is as short as I could go, and I’m sure it will have plenty of follow-up. If I had started writing on Saturday morning, I’m not sure I could have stopped.

That morning I did change my Facebook status to say that I was “enraged and heartbroken at Israel’s actions in Gaza.”

I later regretted that. This issue is nothing if not complex, and though Facebook is useful for many kinds of connections, I don’t think it’s the place to have this conversation. It’s not a bumper sticker issue; the short notes for which Facebook is wonderfully useful aren’t too helpful in this case, and may even be destructive.

One of the responses I got to my little blurb was from someone I know and care about in New York who said “Hamas has been bombing Israel for weeks, killing and injuring civilians. Any concerns about that?” and that was when I realized that it was the wrong venue for the conversation I want to have. Not because I don’t have an answer for that question, but because I have a very long one.

I visited Israel and the West Bank this summer as part of an Interfaith Peace Delegation and spent a lot of time in conversation with people all along the political spectrum on both (or maybe ‘several’) sides of the issue. That doesn’t make me an expert on the situation, only an expert on my own experience, but it did leave me with some strong and lasting impressions, and with a sense of the humanity of the people involved. They’re no longer abstract numbers and strangers to me, and life was easier when they were.

Among the places I visited is the town of Sderot which is the closest town to Gaza and which bears the brunt of Palestinian Qassam rocket attacks. I met a mother there whose teenage daughter still wets her bed and who struggles with night terrors because of those rockets. I had lunch on a kibbutz, saw the elementary school with a concrete shell built over it for protection from missiles, and stood inside the bomb shelters where everyone runs when the sirens sound to indicate incoming rockets. I wept there, and to accuse me of being insensitive to the concerns and suffering of the people of Sderot or other Israelis is simply inaccurate, and arguably unfair.

And that brings me to one of the larger questions I’ve been turning over in my head— how is it that to express sympathy and sorrow and even rage because of the suffering of people on one side of a conflict often means that we dismiss the suffering of people on another side? I vocally opposed the invasion of Iraq long before it started and I mourn the tragedy of tens of thousands of innocents who died under our fire— bullets and missiles I paid for with my tax dollars. Does that keep me from expressing compassion and sympathy for U.S. soldiers serving in that war? It doesn’t. If you doubt that I have done that, both privately and publicly, I have personal references among the military to bear me out.

So let’s establish that first rule for the conversation here — to express compassion for someone is not the same as justifying their actions, and to express anger at a party’s actions in a conflict doesn’t mean that you are without compassion for them or even that you excuse the actions of the other party. Anyone who has ever loved an addict understands that the best way to love someone is sometimes to oppose their wishes— i.e. not to buy them a drink.

As an example, I’ll go on record here and say that I oppose the Israeli occupation of all land beyond the pre-’67 borders. That doesn’t make me anti-Israeli. I’m as pro-Israeli as I am pro-Palestinian, and I think that ending the occupation is the best thing for Israel as well as Palestine. There are many Jews that agree with me on this one, and many, many Israelis (I met quite a few of them there).

I think the message underlying the question from my friend in New York, though, is ‘why all the fuss about Israeli military action and not so much about ongoing Palestinian violence?’

It’s true, though, that while I have compassion and sympathy for all the civilians caught up in this on all sides, I do tend to make more noise about Israeli military action, and in taking my own inventory as to why that is, I have these thoughts to offer. They are personal, more than broadly political.

In the end, my concerns are much more humanitarian than political. I care very little about which parties are in power except regarding how it relates to people’s lives and liberty, and while I do loudly object to the suffering of Israelis, I think the suffering of Palestinians in the current era is hugely out of proportion. The Gaza strip, at the moment, is one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, and has one of the highest infant mortality rates, due to the years long blockade of Gaza.

There is a general misconception in the West, I think, that this is a struggle between equals. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not that. It’s not Iraq and Iran fighting; it’s not India and Pakistan. Israel has one of the world’s most powerful militaries, and though recent days have seen more powerful rockets coming out of Gaza, the Qassams that they have been firing for years look more similar to the model rockets I made in the garage as a kid than to the targeted drone missiles used by the Israeli military, one of the most powerful in the world. They are fueled with detergent and have no guidance systems whatsoever. Between 2004 and a week ago, Qassams killed one Israeli. Fifteen have been killed in the history of the Qassam (since 2001). Every one of those was a precious life, and I don’t excuse that in any way. There have been injuries as well, and as I mentioned above, psychological and property damage that runs deep and will take generations to heal.

To equate those homemade rocket attacks with the current blasting of Gaza, though, is incongruent.

So there is a huge power imbalance in this situation, and in every conflict I hold the more powerful more responsible. The other reason, though, is that I try very hard to take personal responsibility for my own actions in the world, and while I profoundly disapprove of the actions of Hamas, I’m not paying for their rockets myself. That’s not the case with the Israeli rockets. The U.S. sends billions of dollars in explicitly military aid to Israel each year, then sells them the bunker-busting thousand-pound bombs they are dropping as I type this. In this very moment, bombs that I chipped in to pay for are taking the lives of innocents and breeding generations more of hatred. There is a line in my own faith tradition about removing the log in my own eye before I worry about the mote in my brother’s, and that tends to make me more vocal in my criticism of Israel.

It’s worth noting, by the way, that though I sometimes hear U.S. citizens arguing that we should ‘stay out of it,’ ignorantly implying that we ever were out of it, the rest of the world is keenly aware that the U.S. provides huge funding to the Israeli government. They don’t “hate us because we’re free” as President Bush famously suggested. They hate us because we’re bombing their children.

So about Gaza…

Israeli military apologists like to say that Israel “pulled out of Gaza entirely” in 2005 and gave it back to the Palestinians. It would be more accurate to say that Israel moved the prison guards out of the prison to the outside wall (keeping in mind that there are 1.5 million people inside that prison who haven’t been convicted of anything). There is a huge wall around the entirety of Gaza except for the ocean and a checkpoint into Egypt. Egypt is under intense pressure from the U.S. and Israel to keep that one closed, and largely does so, though they’ve been letting ambulances through in recent days. Israel enforces a naval blockade around Gaza that allows nearly no one through, and no goods and supplies. As a result, the economy has completely collapsed.

You may wonder if I’m exaggerating about Gaza being a prison, and all I can do is show you these pictures, which I took this summer.

This is the edge of Gaza:

From Israel/Palestine

And this is an Israeli prison:

From Israel/Palestine

Hamas, which rules Gaza, is in my view a violent and corrupt bunch of thugs, and I explicitly oppose both their position that Israel has no right to exist and their ongoing rocket attacks. It’s important to note, though, that they came to power democratically, by harnessing generations of frustration with oppression among Palestinians.

I’ve walked through the checkpoints that Palestinians have to deal with daily to go to school, to work, to do their lives at all. Sometimes those checkpoints are closed arbitrarily for days, and no matter what you may need to do, whether it’s important business, your wedding or life and death surgery, you can’t get through. I’ve also been on cattle ranches in Wyoming, and I find the checkpoints resemble nothing so much as a cattle branding run, with long cages (the roof caged as well) and full-body turnstiles that one has to walk through to reach a central chamber where you are either allowed through or sent back after pressing your papers against glass on the side of the chamber. It’s terrifying and humiliating, and of course, I didn’t have to be there. Israeli citizens and foreigners with credentials like mine can just drive right past it on a road that Palestinians are not allowed to use.

Collective punishment of a people for the crimes of a group within that people is explicitly illegal in international law as well as immoral. Hamas was democratically elected for two reasons— one, the Palestinians were frustrated by the lack of any progress on the part of more moderate voices, and two, Fatah is notoriously corrupt and Hamas seemed at the time to be less so.

On Sunday I went to listen to Raphael Danziger, who is the Director of Research and Information for AIPAC, the Israeli Government lobbying organization in the U.S. He gave talking points to defend the Israeli action, and as part of his talk he gave the two objectives of this current military action.

• One, to bring peace to the people of Southern Israel by stopping the Qassam rockets.

• Two, to significantly weaken or destroy the resupplying tunnels from Egypt that have been dug to get around the blockade.

This first objective seems staggeringly naive to me— killing 900 people inside Gaza will weaken the party that calls for a violent response to violence rather than peaceful efforts? The killing of civilians always strengthens the military factions within a political struggle unless the entire population is wiped out so that there are no more relatives of the dead.

It reminds me of the story of the crab man who found starfish eating his crabs, so he cut them into tiny pieces and threw them back in the ocean. Each piece becomes a new starfish. That’s not a productive strategy.

The second objective, to destroy the tunnels, also seems like a weak justification for the loss of so many precious lives. These tunnels, which have been used to smuggle in arms as well as to bring water, food and medical supplies that have been blockaded by Israel, will doubtless be hugely damaged— and then quickly replaced. I’m sure the current military action will do huge damage to that tunnel system, and I’m also sure, as I think almost everyone is, that they will be rebuilt in a few weeks.

Another note that I received on Facebook from a friend whose views and wisdom I deeply respect said this: “What were the options for Israel? Hamas waited until the end of the truce, I guess just out of political deference to Egypt, and then started firing rockets into Israel. I don’t understand what Israel is supposed to do.”

The six month cease-fire that ended a couple of weeks ago saw Qassam rocket fire only reduced, not eliminated. It went down from about forty rockets a day to two, according to Mr. Danziger. Two is two too many, of course, and “what else could they do?” is a reasonable question. One thing that needs to be mentioned, though, is that Qassams are— literally— homemade rockets, and Hamas doesn’t have a military. They’re not allowed to. Some of these rockets are being fired by people who simply don’t buy into the ceasefire, and I don’t think Hamas has control over everything happening there. There are many people who support Fatah rather than Hamas in Gaza (left of Hamas), and it’s reasonable to assume that there are also people who are even farther to the right.

So the rockets went from 40 to 2 a day, which is a significant decrease, but not a complete cease fire— they were violating the terms of the agreement if those rockets were coming from Hamas, which they may have been, though they didn’t claim responsibility for them as they did for the non-cease fire rockets.

The astounding omission on the news reports of this so far, though, is that the Israeli part of the cease fire was that they were going to ease the blockade. And that simply didn’t happen at all. While I don’t excuse any Qassam, I find the question that was posed to me “I don’t understand what Israel is supposed to do” applies equally in the other direction. Is the scenario that Israel is not required to keep to its part of the bargain, but Hamas is?

I think the options for Israel could have included lessening the humanitarian suffering in Gaza, which Israel alone has the power to do, and which I believe could have had the effect of lessening the power of Hamas. I have a hard time believing that the current bombing campaign will do so.

And here’s the rub – the logic I’ve heard presented most often for this whole situation basically boils down to “he hit me first.”

We’ve got to be bigger than that. ‘I’ll stop firing when they stop firing’ means no one ever stops firing. Being the one that stops firing first does buy some moral authority, and decimating an entire people spends it.

William Sloan Coffin said “Not to take sides is effectively to weigh in on the side of the stronger.” I’m sure he didn’t mean taking the side of one people against another. I think he was suggesting, though, that silence— not taking a position on a contentious question— is not to be confused with fairness. Because I care about the people of Israel and I care about the people of Gaza and the West Bank, I loudly, firmly and compassionately oppose the current military action of the Israeli government.

P.S. U.S. government politicians seem to be uniformly supporting Israel’s actions. The House voted overwhelmingly just a few days ago to put the entire blame for the current situation on Hamas and not on Israel or ourselves. Here are a few organizations that are presenting another view (all of them Jewish, incidentally). Below that is a link to Jon Stewart’s commentary of the other night on “The Daily Show.” It was at first hard to watch for me, given that he is making comedy out of a hard situation, but that’s what he does, and does well. Beyond that, though, he makes some very salient points politically, especially his reply to Michael Bloomberg’s statement. He’s bound to be receiving more hate mail than he ever has in his career at the moment, so if you feel inclined to sign the note thanking Jon, who is Jewish, for his courage, it is included in the link.

Also, I welcome comments here, especially from those that disagree. Wrestling with each other over political questions is the heart of democracy, and I believe in it (I went to hear the guy from AIPAC and listened quietly and attentively). I only ask that you be respectful in your comments. If that isn’t adhered to, they won’t be posted. No hate. Thank you.

Explore posts in the same categories: Peace Work, politics

12 Comments on “Gaza”

  1. Eric Bannan Says:

    Nice to hear from you my friend.

    This is a well written post.

    I love the starfish analogy – there may be a song there.


  2. As you said, it’s a long post. It needed to be. This is too complex an issue to distill into sound-bytes.

    Unfortunately, that’s also why it’s so hard to get folks to listen. People just don’t have the patience to read through all the material they would need to do to truly understand the issue. Especially if it challenges their preconceptions.

    (That’s not to say that I “truly understand the issue,” either, come to that….)

  3. Beth and Mel Keiser Says:

    Dear David,

    Thank you for writing that lengthy, because necessarily complex, statement on Gaza.
    I’m going to forward it to several people, including a mutual friend from our Quaker meeting to whom I wrote after attending the rally for Israel on Sunday where you and I, along with seven other Friends, listenend to AIPAC’s talking points. I particularly am grateful for your analysis of the continuation of rockets from Gaza (a very few, and those not necessarily fired by Hamas) during the ceasefire which has been used to justify Israel’s decision to end it. I also really appreciate your pictures and your observations about Gaza as prison. It seemed disingenuous, to say the least, for Dr. Danziger to claim that Israel expected that, once they vacated Gaza, economic success resembling Singapore could ensue.

    I would be interested in your response to our friend’s argument against those who see Israel’s response to the rockets as disproportionate. He invites us to enlarge the context, both in time and space, to see how tiny Israel is in contrast to the population of Jew-haters in the many surrounding hostile states. This perspective is worth considering, because it brings into our conversation the elemental fears underlying, I believe, much of the US as well as Israeli public support of the Gaza war. He sees
    the conflict not as one between Israel and Hamas, but between Israel and Iran and other countries who, with Iran and Hamas, openly deny the right of Israel to exist and openly and violently try to destroy it. Granted that the present war does not involve other Islamic states directly, they are watching what happens and, from our friend’s point of view, Israel’s security in the long run depends upon the defeat of Hamas.

    While you and I would deny that Hamas can be defeated ultimately by bombs and tanks, or that Israel can be made secure by terrifying the Palestinians who support Hamas into abandoning the hope they’ve placed in this party, this is the hope that fuels the war effort, and most poignantly, beneath that hope lies the fear that apart from a crushing military victory over Hamas, Israel is ultimately doomed to perish ultimately under attack by surrounding hostile states.

    The other argument we hear a lot is that civilian Palestinian deaths and injuries are not the intention or fault of Israeli troops (or the weapons they carry financed by our taxes) but rather the result of the brute callousness of Hamas, using children and women and the aged as shields behind which to carry out military operation. Not only do they use these innocent victims as shields, but they do so strategically to appeal to the world’s humanitarian sympathies and thus to win the media war; so goes the argument made at Sunday’s rally by the the UNC-A professor whose academic specialty is terrorism. Yesterday’s news revealed the inaccuracy of Israel’s claim that the civiilian deaths in the UN school should be blamed on this tactic. Even if there are situations where Hamas opens fire from sites inhabited by civilians, this
    cannot justify in my mind the deliberate killing and maiming of the innocent.

    Working out a compromise that can ensure sustainable economy and peaceful co-existence of Israelis and Palestinian is the only way I can imagine Israel’s safety longterm. A ceasefire is surely the necessary but not sufficient step reuired to bring about yet another round of peace negotiations, this one timely because of Barack Obama’s apparent willingness to include a broader range of
    voices at the table. US opinion may indeed be shifting, including among Jews. J-Street Lobby, speaking on behalf of growing numbers of U.S.
    Jews who support Israel’s right to exist, strikes me as a reason (slim, but real) for hope. I was also pleased to see the NY Times editorial today approving of Hillary
    Clinton’s reference to the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful engagement.


  4. Brian Says:

    Thank you, David. This was a well written and articulated note and probably the most thoughtful and helpful on the topic i have read in a long time. Peace be with you.

  5. Andy Murphy Says:

    Thank you sincerely for what you’ve written here. For me personally, the last year has resulted in a deepening suspicion of traditional media outlets, and in a growing age of information, it is alarming when so much information appears filtered or driven by unclear motives. Many of the loudest voices in today’s society so strongly dedicate themselves to painting our world in black and white–a predicament that you’ve astutely noted here. But anyone that thinks we live in such a world continually deludes both themselves and those around them.

    Our world is filled with gray, and particularly issues like this one must be looked at with compassion on both sides. We also must always have the understanding that a government’s actions never accurately reflects the views of all of its people. The truth is so much more complicated, and thus becomes the road less traveled.

    For these reasons and others, I’m incredibly grateful that you took the time to write this, as painstaking as it must have been. Having attending your last show in Asheville, I thought at the time that so many people would miss your voice and the gift it brought to them. Now, however, I realize that nothing could be further from the truth.

    Keep up the great work. I’ve no doubt that it will continue to raise awareness at a time when it is so desperately needed.

    – Andy

  6. Clay Thomas Says:

    I also attended a meeting to hear arguments made in justification of IDF siege on Gaza at a local temple. suprisingly, the arguments were being made by Americans for Peace Now (jewish organization) founder, Mark Rosenblum. Mark based his comments on the good intentions of the IDF versus the malacious intentions of Hamas. I sat quietly as Gandhi’s words carouseled thru my head:

    “What difference does it make to the dea, the orphans, the homeless, whether your mad destruction is wrought in the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?”

    Thanks for your post. Voice to the voiceless. We are partners for peace, rooting for humanity, not nationalities. May the Spirit blow your words of reasoned peace into the ears of arbiters near and far.

  7. Robin Says:

    Thanks for the thoughts David. I think we need to start with the premise that no violence is okay — including the violence of oppression–, and grow peace from there. Peace is an active verb. It is difficult, messy and frustrating, but is the only way.
    I am praying our new administration can begin the long walk to true peace.

    “War may be a necessary evil, but it is still evil. We will not learn to live in peace as long as we are killing each others children.”
    Jimmy Carter, in his Nobel Prize speech

  8. Frank Colladay Says:

    David, I couldn’t agree with you more! When will we learn that violence only produces more violence. It never solves anything. There is a saying that has become one of my favorite, which states: “Ignorance is the parent of Fear, and Fear is the parent of Hatred.” I think that applies in this case because neither side has taken the time to get to know, really know the other. It is easy to hate someone because of ignorance.

    If we could see the other person as a gift from God, then, I really believe it would influence how we treat each other. Barbara Choo said, “I will not raise my child to kill your child.” The cycle of violence has to be broken, and I suspect it has to come from the bottom up.

  9. Robert Byrd Says:

    Dear David,

    Thanks for a great post, with a fresh perspective of a westerner who’s actually been there. So many details are left out by our media here.

    I am reminded of the struggles of the Native Americans here in the US. There was room for everyone here, Europeans as well as native peoples, but the de-humanizing of the natives in the minds of the Europeans led to their being treated as 2nd-class. Is there room in Israel for both Palestinians and Israelis to live side-by-side? If they grow tired of the violence, probably. Can they stop killing each other long enough to forgive? Maybe.

    “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” –Leonard Bernstein
    But sometimes it needs more than that. Thank you for realizing it, and for following the call.

    May the peace of Christ be with you,
    Grapevine, Texas

  10. Vincent Says:

    Thank you David for posting this.
    It’s been one of the most helpful explanations I’ve ever read. Please keep them coming.
    Be well hugged,
    – Vincent
    Melbourne, Australia

  11. Ben Foxworth Says:

    I appreciate your detailed posting and the degree to which you investigate the specifics of the conflict. I realize this is an old blog posting, so it may be that you won’t read my response at all. However, I find myself compelled to type it out anyway.

    You are embarked on a course of peace studies, so perhaps this is a viewpoint you will consider.

    Quite a few years ago I watched a show on tv. It was a very popular series at the time and won me over as a regular viewer for its intelligence and insights, as well as for its entertainment value. The episode I am writing about first aired on Nov. 1, 1968. In the episode, a crew of a spaceship is isolated on their spaceship with an identical number of their archenemies. While both sides’ weaponry was very advanced, in this episode, for some reason, all of that weaponry disappeared, only to be replaced by swords, spears and axes, for a hand-to-hand combat resolution of the dispute between the groups. The two factions began warring with great savagery throughout the ship. Personnel from each side were grievously wounded with the primitive weapons. They would be carried away, only to re-grow limbs or heads which had been lopped off, or to heal unimaginable puncture or slashing wounds. The dead would come back to life, furious over the injuries they suffered, full of bloodlust and the desire for revenge, for themselves and for their comrades.

    After a time it occurred to one of the leaders that something more than a little strange was going on in this bloody battle. The numbers on each side were identical, the weaponry was quite primitive and the levels of hatred and violence seemed to be on an endless spiral upward. That leader consulted with a trusted subordinate, and they decided if measures were not taken soon, the passions might soon become irresistible to everyone on board, no matter how rational or restrained, no matter how peaceful their principles and inclinations might be. They investigated the bizarre situation, and discovered that an alien which fed on powerful emotion had come aboard and was artificially manipulating the conflict.

    They took news of this discovery to the leader of the opposing faction, A ceasefire was declared, and both groups eventually laughed the alien off the vessel, saying they would no longer consent to be pawns in the alien’s hellish game.

    Now, perhaps one side had a more legitimate grievance than the other side, which detailed analysis could possibly uncover. But the point is this – in using a grievance to justify violence, one is ALWAYS wrong. The true enemy is that very lust for violence, the desire to justify violence. Violence itself is the enemy, almost as an entity unto itself, and those who indulge in violence are actually on the SAME losing side. Because violence wins. Both ‘sides’ are the same in their belief in violence as legitimate ‘speech,’ as a legitimate form of ‘expression.’ Well, it isn’t legitimate.

    Violence will never determine which came first, the chicken or the egg, because it just doesn’t care. It does not matter to the fallen, and the survivors are not well served if it matters to them. Violence loves nothing more than human beings getting bogged down in that endless, pointless debate. Because the ‘sides’ can never see beyond the debate to the real adversary – violence itself. It is that adversary which needs to be defeated, and that cannot be done through violent means, any more than water can be stopped from boiling by leaving it on the flame.

    Should you wish to investigate the show I refer to, its title is “Day of the Dove,’ Season 3, Episode 7 of Star Trek. You can find more about it here, or through a reasonably constructed Google search.

    Please reconsider your William Sloan Coffin quotation in the context I describe. The ‘stronger’ side in violent exchanges is violence itself. Always take the side of peace.

    William Sloan Coffin said “Not to take sides is effectively to weigh in on the side of the stronger.”

    Think about another scenario, as well. Let’s say that one ‘side’ is completely in the wrong when it comes to violations or transgressions. Let’s say that the ‘record’ is completely clear about who did what first, and who did worst, yada yada yada, and that it’s one ‘side’s’ fault. Is the ‘good’ side then justified in resorting to violent means to redress the violation(s)? In other words, if both ‘sides’ resort to violent means, aren’t both sides really wrong, regardless of the minutiae? If so, then what are we arguing here?

    Violence is very often a capitulation, an exhaustion, a failure of imagination. Resorting to violence isn’t strong at all. It is infinitely stronger to hold on than it is to unleash the ‘dogs of war.’ Restraint when one is being hit is almost unimaginably strong, just as it is almost unimaginably rare. If one can perservere – and no one showed this more clearly and more consciously than Gandhi – one’s strength and one’s morality will eventually win the day. And the victory over violence will be the greatest of all. The survival of our species does depend on it.

    Best to you and your beautiful family, David. You are all in our hearts, more than you can know.

  12. lowerdryad Says:

    Thanks to everyone who has chimed in on this post and on this painful and thorny issue.

    Ben’s excellent post above leads me to believe that I should clarify a couple of things, so I’ll do that here.

    Actually, Ben, I agree with you not only on the intelligence and insight of Star Trek 🙂 but on your point that violence is always a failure, and that the greater conflict, and the more worthy to address, is generally not between two sides but between those two sides together and their conflict.

    I’m a little concerned that you didn’t find that in my post, as I thought I made it clear that I don’t justify anyone’s violence, certainly not the violence of Hamas. These lines jump out in a quick re-reading:

    “to express compassion for someone is not the same as justifying their actions, and to express anger at a party’s actions in a conflict doesn’t mean that you are without compassion for them or even that you excuse the actions of the other party.”

    “I do loudly object to the suffering of Israelis,”

    “I explicitly oppose both [Hamas’] position that Israel has no right to exist and their ongoing rocket attacks.”

    What I was trying to get at by quoting Coffin wasn’t that we need to take sides in the sense of taking up arms. I don’t believe that, and I don’t think Coffin did either.

    In this particular conflict, though, I frequently hear people say that we (the US) need to “just stay out of it.” That not only glosses over the fact that we are inextricably ‘in it’ as a major funder of Israeli military might, but it also speaks to the confusion we seem to have between impartiality and passivity (I’ll save a rant on the huge and important difference between ‘passivist’ and ‘pacifist’ for another time).

    There are times when justice demands that we take action. Paraphrasing Coffin again, ‘we need more conflict rather than less, because conflict is necessary on the way to justice.’ Or as Congressman John Lewis told me Dr. King used to say to him “Sometimes we have to turn the world upside down to set it right.” We need to be careful not to confuse peace with placidity or non-violence with inaction.

    Sometimes integrity and commitment to peace demand that we speak out, that we decry someone’s actions and even actively oppose their wishes, and that is also a kind of taking sides.

    Peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the choice to move through that conflict in ways that are constructive rather than destructive, and I share your firm opinion that this definition effectively rules out violence (though violence can be even harder to define than peace – but that, too, is another conversation).

    Certainly, there are times not to take sides. As citizens of a democracy, though, we are required to choose a way forward for our own nation, and thereby to direct where our money is spent. We are forever choosing between various ideas and plans, and it is right that we do so. The temptation to try to “stay out of it” is a dangerous one. When I quote Coffin it is that inaction, that passivity, that I am trying to point to.

    It’s both telling and terrifying, though, that the phrase “taking sides” is interpreted as joining in or justifying violence. It may speak to a common American mindset— that taking action means taking lives.

    Thanks for giving me the chance to clarify my ideas, Ben, and for sharing your own. I welcome further conversation, and I’m deeply grateful, sincerely, for you holding us in your heart.

    Salaam, shalom, peace

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