Thanks to Pontifications blogger, David Gibson, for engaging in one of the more interesting Catholic-Jewish conversations in which I have participated in some time. His recent post about Catholics, Jews and events in Gaza pointed me to the work by John L Allen of the National Catholic Reporter. I can not thank him enough.
In the piece, Allen quotes the sage comments of Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi. Speaking on Vatican Radio, the Vatican spokesman remarked: “Hamas is a prisoner of a logic of hatred,” Lombardi said, “Israel of a logic of trusting in force as the best response to hatred.”
One could argue each of those claims, I suppose. In fact, I can imagine the advocates for each side in this conflict already gearing up to do so. But regardless of which side one supports, I am quite certain that we all could learn from reflecting seriously on Fr. Lombardi’s words. Catholic or not, pro-Israel or pro-Hamas, he could teach us all a thing or two.
The most persistent, if not the most immediately pressing, prison in both Gaza and in Israel exists in the minds of Gazans and Israelis. This does not mean that I believe the two sides are equally responsible, morally, politically or otherwise, for the mess – I do not.
It simply means that in this war, as in most wars, the two sides are more alike than either would like to admit. In this case, each side is imprisoned not only by the bombs that rain down on each of them, but by spiritual/intellectual paradigms which help define their identities as nations.
The majority of both Israelis and Gazans are locked into identities which actually perpetuate this conflict as much as the actions taken by either side.
This has nothing to do with who is right in this war. This is about the collective spirit to two communities, the inner lives of two nations.
Israel suffers, understandably so, in the wake of the Holocaust and decades of commitment to it’s annihilation by 100’s of millions of people, from an almost utter inability to entertain virtually any security arrangements which rely on anyone who isn’t Jewish. It really is a post-Holocaust symptom of thousands of years of anti-Semitism in which the majority imagines that nobody can reliably participate (I did not say take responsibility for) in their defense.
“We are in this alone” goes the argument. It actually shores up Jewish identity and provides the rationale for so many bad ideas. Why for example, could Israel not imagine appealing to the world, instead of going to war, to provide the means to rid Gaza of the rockets which rained down in the thousands?
Part of the answer lies with the track record of a global community that really didn’t care about those rockets landing in Israel to begin with. If they had, they would have pushed harder to make them stop, by force if necessary. And the price would have been Israeli acceptance of the relatively free flow of non-military goods and services both into and out of Gaza. Ironically, that is pretty much the deal on the table now and the one that has kept the peace in Lebanon for s few years now.
But of course, for that to work, Hamas would need to accomplish even more inner work than Israel. They would have to abandon the core belief that they are always the victim, even when they are victimizing others.
They are eternally in resistance mode, because they would not know who they were if it were not so. Forget about victimizing Jews and Israelis, they are killing their own people by the dozens, if not the hundreds, in the midst of this war! Why? Because their leaders argue, the resistance must continue on all fronts, including against those deemed to be acting in interests not shared by Hamas. This should be astounding but it’s not.
Despite claiming to be a religious movement, Hamas barred thousands of faithful Muslims from going on the Haj last month. The deal had been all worked out. Israel agreed, Egypt agreed, but Hamas did not because the list of pilgrims had been drawn up by their West Bank Rivals, Fatah.
When asked how they could justify this kind of religious tyranny, the answer was, Resistance! These are people who simply do not know how to take yes for an answer, even when it comes to helping their own citizens fulfill one of Islam’s five sacred pillars. And they are an Islamist movement!!
So I think that both sides might want to consider Fr. Lombardi’s assessment about prisons, not only those in which others have placed them, but those in which they have placed themselves. And even more importantly, why they have done so. Knowing how you got anywhere is pretty key to finding your way out.