A Post 9/11 Insight

In October 2001, approximately six weeks after the tragic bombings of the World Trade Center, The Pentagon and United Flight 93 over rural Pennsylvania, I gathered with about 100 educators at a conference in Austin, TX.  The original goals of the conference had been set aside so we could reflect and discuss by the events of 9/11. At one gathering, a noted adult educator from Northern Illinois University (whose name I do not remember) reflected on the questions so many Americans were asking following those dreadful and deadly attacks: Why do they hate us? What would cause them to attack us in such a horrific manner? After allowing us to sit with those questions for a minute or so, she responded: “If people in the United States do not know the answers to those questions, then we educators are to blame. We have failed to help people see the bigger picture.” She reminded us that it was our job as educators to raise the tough questions and expose people to troubling truths, so that the U.S. could have and educated and aware citizenry.

The Attack by Hamas and the Media Political Response

I thought of those words this week as I tried to make sense of the horrific, highly organized attack by Hamas against innocent citizens of Israel and the media response to that attack. The sight of dead bodies of men, women and children lying in the street and in homes  was sickening. The sight of others being taken hostage with the threat that they could be executed one at a time in a highly public manner was frightening. The unmitigated brutality of the attacks and these threats by Hamas were beyond comprehension. The media message was clear: Israel was victimized by a brutal and evil power — Hamas.

President Joe Biden continued the refrain when he referred to the actions of Hamas as “pure unadulterated evil” and promised that the United States military would “have Israel’s back.” Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed that Israel was an “all out war” against Hamas with the goal of totally destroying them. He called up 300,000 reserves and positioned them at the Israel-Gaza border preparing for an expected ground offensive. The numbers of dead on both sides – Palestinians and Israelis numbered over 2500 and growing.

What’s Behind the Attack

What would cause Hamas to make such a horrific military attack with the odds so stacked against them? What would cause them to vent their wrath on non-combatant citizens who happened to live close to the Gaza strip? Why would they do such a thing?  Are we whose job it is to help people make sense of their world in part to blame? Do political leaders over simplify the tensions in Israel by labeling one party “evil” and the other party justified in their violent response?

Like the wise professor who spoke at the post-9/11 conference 22 years ago, if people don’t know the answers to those questions, they need to learn them. I don’t claim to be an expert on Israeli-Palestinian relations, but I do know that the actions of those Palestinians in Hamas, while not justified, are understandable. The Palestinian people find themselves quarantined behind walls and fences throughout the country, with their basic human rights violated and their freedoms restricted. The Israeli government continues to allow various conservative Jewish groups to take more and more of the Palesitinians land on the West Bank without any repercussions. Like the Israeli victims of the Hamas violence, most Palestinians are just trying to make a living in a land their ancestors have occupied for generations, and time again they are afforded little respect from their Israeli controllers. And while the 1200 or so deaths of innocent Israeli citizens is evil, the mounting deaths of Palestinian citizens (1300 and rising at last count) is equally evil.

Seeking An Alternative to Violence

Hamas and the Israeli government only seem to know the language of violence. Their stated goals are to totally eliminate and obliterate the other side. The Jewish people with their long history of  pogroms, displacement and the Holocaust know the cost of such a strategy all too well. Violence leads to more violence, death to more death, and no one wins.

As a person of faith I take a clear stand against the actions of Hamas, but also I oppose the Israeli ground offensive most likely to come. Furthermore, I abhor any individuals or groups who would use these events who attack Muslim or Jewish persons in other parts of the world. I deplore the quick decision to respond with overwhelming violence when that will only deepen the hatred on both sides and set the stage for more atrocities. 

As U.S. citizens and citizens of the world, we should call upon our governments to cease supplying Israel with more weapons to fuel the conflict, and work toward a lasting peace. LIkewise, those supporting Hamas in a similar manner must cease fueling the fires of hate.  Hamas must be stopped and disarmed with the insistence of their Arab allies, and Israel must seek the aid of its allies to bring peace and justice to that land which is the site of so much grief, pain, anger and trauma for Jews and for Palestinians. Moreover, Israeli leaders must step back and own up the ways their aggressive cooptation of Palestinian land and rights is partly to blame.

An Example from History

In 1978 then-President Jimmy Carter brought together Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, the leaders of Egypt and Israel who at the time were bitter enemies set on each other’s destruction. Meeting at the Presidential Retreat Center, Camp David, Carter literally walked from cabin to cabin where Begin and Sadat were staying. And through his tireless efforts Carter was able to bring Sadat and Begin to an agreement for peace. I can only wonder what guidance and wisdom the now 99-year-old Carter might offer the current leaders in this conflict. If the same energy and brain power used to make war could instead be used to make peace, a peaceful and lasting resolution can be found as it was so many years ago.

This war must end, not only to prevent more deaths of innocents, but also because the course both sides and their allies are taking will not bring the result they seek and will only deepen the chasm between them that already exists.