Sara Weinberger: Loving our way out of Mideast war

Last modified: Tuesday, July 22, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Two weeks ago, my daughter texted me, “What are you supposed to do when there is a siren?” Under ordinary circumstances, that would have been an odd question. My daughter, however, was texting from a hotel room in Jerusalem, where the sirens meant “Take shelter,” because Hamas was firing dozens upon dozens of long-range missiles at targets ranging from Eilat in the south to Haifa in the North.

I have been to Israel eight times since 1971. I’ve seen just about every part of this tiny country, with its shifting boundaries, from the Sinai desert to the Lebanese border. Friends have shown me their bomb shelters, dubbed “safe rooms.” They have shared stories of being huddled together as sirens blared during two Intifadas, the Gulf War and the Six Day War. I have listened to an injured Palestinian on the West Bank describe being beaten by soldiers and speak of his children being afraid to walk the streets for fear of attacks by students from the Jewish settlement across the street.

My daily morning walk along the Tel Aviv boardwalk this past April took me past the rebuilt Mike’s Place, a blues club frequented by Americans, which had been blown up by a suicide bomber in 2003. Further along the boardwalk is a memorial to 26 teens blown to bits by a terrorist in a nightclub. Everyone in Israel, Arab and Jew, has been scarred by generations of deep-seeded conflict, with no end in sight.

While there are many other countries, including the United States, with deplorable human rights records, the media often disproportionately vilifies Israel. From the safety of the Pioneer Valley, I have seen progressives standing on Main Street with signs proclaiming that Zionism is Racism and that Israelis are murderers. Meanwhile, those on the opposing side blame the problem as lingering hatred of Jews by Arabs, who will never rest until Israel is destroyed. The fervor of these groups prevents them from understanding the complexities of a, so far, unresolvable conflict that keeps Israel under a global microscope. Today, the fires of hatred continue to spread, as anti-Israel demonstrations around the world target Jewish communities from Paris to London to Kashmir to Boston.

Why is Israel the object of such scrutiny? Israel is a microcosm of a world overflowing with ethnic and political violence. The U.S. has walls to keep out people we don’t want; passes laws reinforcing the marginalization of others; benefits from economic oppression, and values the rights of gun owners over the rights of our children. Our government uses moral equivalency to legitimize assassinating our enemies. What makes so many Americans condemn Israel, while ignoring the “sins” of our own country?

I am not a Middle East expert. I am a mother, and the most precious person in my life is currently in a war zone. The precipitating event?

The kidnapping and murders of three Jewish and one Palestinian teenagers. Collective grief fuels hatred and a desire for revenge on both sides. In a sane world, the deaths of innocent children should create an unflappable determination to stop the killing. Golda Meir said, “Peace will come when the Arabs start to love their children more than they hate us.” This statement needs to be inclusive of both Arabs and Jews.

The uncle of slain Jewish teenager Naftali Fraenkel phoned the father of the slain Palestinian teenager, to offer his condolences, saying, “There is no difference between those who murdered Mohammed Abu Khadeir and those who murdered our children.” The enormity of this man’s grief gave rise to compassion, rather than revenge. Some 350 additional Israelis made a condolence visit to Khadeir’s grieving family to share their sorrow. Last Tuesday, Jews and Muslims participated in a Hunger Strike Against Violence, by fasting on the traditional Jewish fast occurring this year during the month-long fast of Ramadan. These are the actions that can silence the voices of violent extremists on both sides.

I once gave a friend a T-shirt that read, “An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind.” World leaders willingly make decisions to go to war holed up in their own protective shelters, or safe in foreign countries. They rely on young soldiers to carry out their vengeance. The cost of revenge is the blood of innocents, many of them women and children.

Change will only evolve from a grassroots movement of those who love their children more than they hate their enemies.

My daughter has had enough. She is leaving Israel. Her Israeli friends say they are used to war. She is not. She tells me, “I am grateful to the Israeli military for my personal safety, but it’s gratitude on a very self-interested level.

“It’s a very strange feeling realizing that things done in the name of my personal safety are life-destroying, heart-breaking, and the worst possible nightmares for the people in Gaza, who are civilians.” She leaves behind children, Jews and Arabs, who sleep fitfully, praying for the rockets to stop.

The only hope for peace lies in a commitment to value the welfare of children above everything. To love all children, without conditions, is the only effective weapon against hatred.

Sara Weinberger of Northampton is a professor emerita of social work and writes a monthly column.