Let’s assume that a chance for peace still exists on the other side of the current Israeli/ Hamas war. By no means a sure thing, but we have to hope. We can talk all day about how Israel is right to want to destroy Hamas. Hamas’ October 7th attack was barbaric and reckless. We can talk also about how the world is right to want the safe release of the hostages. Lastly, we can talk about the Palestinians being right to want the just achievement of a two-state solution. The challenge is that all of these complicated and messy goals need to be worked on simultaneously.
So, how do we get there?
Gershon Baskin, an Israeli, is the Middle East director of the International Communities Organization, a human rights advocacy group. In a recent interview, he said:
I hope that after the Israeli people are experiencing the biggest trauma since the Holocaust, and the Palestinians have been taken back to 1948 and the Nakba (national catastrophe), that we wake up from this traumatic situation and understand–first, the Israelis–that to delude ourselves that we can occupy another people for 56 years and have peace is simply not real, or that we can lock 2 million people in an open-air prison for 17 years and expect to have quiet, is living in an imaginary world of delusion. I hope that the Palestinian people wake up and understand that they will never have peace if they don’t recognize the Jewish people’s right to live in the land of Israel, as well as their own right to live in the land of Palestine, and that when this ends, we share a Belfast moment–a moment when we stand up and say, “We’ve been killing each other for a hundred years, and we have to stop.”
These impassioned words from this Israeli peace advocate get straight to the point: indeed, when are Israelis and Palestinians going to stop the hate/ killing and get serious about peace and the realization of a viable two-state solution?
Historically, both groups–to a different extent and in differing ways–have been the victims of targeted hate and violence. Still, if there’s one lesson we can learn from this protracted conflict, it’s that “You can’t live with a spirit of revenge for past conflicts; you have to live with hope for the possibilities of the future.”
There’s no life in revenge. There’s only more hate and more death. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus enlightens us on the evil of revenge:
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I now tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too.
Matthew 5:38-39 (Good News version)
Somehow, as individuals, as communities, as nations, we have to rise above the pain of yesterday–particularly when our past has been marked by bias, hatred, and–God forbid–flat-out evil. With the Holocaust, the Jews, of course, have their own story to tell–a story of barbaric darkness and genocide. But the Palestinians, too, have endured great suffering, with apartheid-like conditions in the land that is supposed to be their own territory.
For Jews and Palestinians to harbor feelings of revenge for these dehumanizing experiences is understandable. But, again, it’s not life-giving. It doesn’t make things better. As communities, we have to find ways of living towards the hope of a new day. We have to find ways of giving life. Through commandment truth (the Ten Commandments), which are all about preserving the life of the community, God calls us to life.
When our spirit is too overcome with the darkness of revenge and retribution, we’re diminished as human beings. Easily, our minds become twisted; our souls become darkened. When we think about it, living towards the hope of a better day has abundant possibilities. Consider what the fruits of a creative approach to living as neighboring states could produce! They could have interchange programs for youth and adults. They could mutually share educational and cultural programs. More importantly, they could begin to develop a shared sense of “positive” history where certain dates became special days of celebration and observance.
On the other side of revenge and grievance politics, the possibilities for the future are endless. To celebrate a new future, they could lift up the best voices of their religious traditions. Israel could point to the mandates of Leviticus 19:
Do not take revenge on anyone or continue to hate him, but love your neighbor as you love yourself. I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:18 (Good News version)
Palestinians could lift up the high water mark teachings of the Qur’an. Together, and in a spirit of new community, Israel and Palestine could live together in peace. Imagine the relief of stress and fear this could bring to their shared existence! Ultimately, this would require committed and creative leadership, from both sides. In the big picture, there is no shalom in revenge. There is only death, death, and more death. However, there is unending shalom in living into the future with hope for the possibilities of tomorrow.