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Sara Weinberger: Loving our way out of Mideast war

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.

Legacy Comments2

When South African apartheid ended, they had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Calling for love without truth is nonsense. The truth is there were virtually no Jews in Palestine for almost 2000 years. The Jewish migration from Palestine to the trading centers of Europe began before the time of Christ. Browse through the New Testament, read about the travels of Paul of Tarsus and look at where his letters are addressed. Read a history book, by 135 AD, there were virtually no Jews in Palestine and that absence continued for 1810 years. Even after Jews were invited into the Turkish empire after the expulsion from Spain, they settled in other centers of the Turkish empire and prospered there, but few settled in Palestine. By 1900, there were still almost no Jews in Palestine. What happened to the Palestinians in 1947 and 48 was not a partition; it was an invasion. Golda Meir was a war criminal. Jews have to face up to this fact. If they cannot or will not face up to this fact; there will never be peace. The rest of the world knows this. Thanks to the internet, the Lobby is even losing its grip on the American people. In the long run, Jews, must offer an apology and compensation to the Palestinians if they want to hang on to any portion of the land of Palestine. The Jews have demanded and are still receiving compensation from the Germans, but they have never given a nickel of compensation to the Palestinians. It is as if money means more to Israel and its supporters than peace does. The settlements mean more to Israel and to its supporters than peace does. And the ethnic cleansing of Palestine is Israel's ultimate goal. Your talk of "love" while land grabs are still going on ridiculous. It is the ultimate hypocrisy. In the short run, controlling the narrative has been very advantageous to the Israel. In the long run, it is not an eye for an eye; by focusing only on their own propaganda, Israel and its supporters are blinding themselves.

One-sided rants like this are a big part of the problem. There is a lot of propaganda around that attempts to sway people to support Israel or to condemn Israel mostly through the selective use of facts and a lot of outrage. It doesn't help in painting a way to resolve a shifting, complex issue. The original letter writer's comments, which I found to be interesting and insightful, are too nuanced for this type of black-or-white response.

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