(This photo is from my campus at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In many ways I wish I were still there but I do not think it is a good time to bring that up with my wife).
We left our home in Israel several months ago to re-enter life in the comfortable and safe neighborhoods of Orange County. When we left we knew our friends who remained in Israel would one day see what is currently taking place in Gaza. Our thoughts go out to our friends as well as the people trapped inside of the Gaza strip and the Israeli soldiers who will likely have to enter those streets under orders from their government.
In times like these it is easy for people to give what they feel are all of the easy answers to this conflict but anyone who has spent time in the Middle East knows, nothing is as simple as "Western" thinkers want to believe they are.
The problem in Gaza is that 3 years ago the Israelis evacuated the region and handed full control to the Palestinian Authorities. In the summer of 2007, Hamas (a Palestinian faction) forcefully took over the leadership of Gaza through a civil war with Fatah (the Palestinian government legally in control). Since that time, Hamas has repeatedly launched rockets indiscriminately into Israel in an attempt to provoke the Israeli government. It is clear that Hamas is not interested in peace with Israel and actually wants what is currently happening. They know that when Israel finally responds like they are responding this week, the world will become sympathetic to the cause of Hamas and public opinion will go against Israel (and America just for fun).
In this case, I do not blame Israel for responding to this situation. With that said, I do blame Israel for provoking the Palestinians with their continued expansion of Settlements into the West Bank and land that has been promised to the Palestinians. Their treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank only hurts their cause when they rightfully defend themselves against the rocket attacks from Gaza. (See what I mean when I say it is complicated).
What is the answer? The truth is that in the Middle East, both cultures in this conflict believe in justice as a fundamental guiding principle. This means that as long as you have hurt someone in my family, I cannot rest until I avenge that death. Since both sides believe this and have it deeply ingrained into their cultural make-up, the only thing that can change all of this is for one side to lay down arms, and forgive at all costs.
I think that someone from this culture once said, "turn the other cheek", and "bless when others curse". He also said "Blessed are the peacemakers". It is not that Jesus was just saying some nice sayings that make good memory verses, it is that he understood and lived in the Eastern culture where Justice takes precedence over mercy. He understood that the only way to peace is through unbelievably radical forgiveness and reliance on God's justice over man's. This is true in a conflict like the one in Israel and it is true in our daily interactions with others who may slander, gossip, or hurt us in other ways. An "eye for an eye" is more logical and pleasurable, but it adds to a never ending cycle. Now, as the whole world once again watches this conflict and when Western leaders will offer their idiotic solutions, let us remember just how radical it was for God to become man and walk with us in order to show us the ways of peace.
I now leave you with the words from a Rich Mullins song (The Nations Rage)
Why do the nations rage?
Why do they plot and scheme?
Their bullets can't stop the prayers we pray
In the name of the Prince of Peace
We walk in faith and remember long ago
How they killed Him and then how on the third day He arose
Things may look bad and things may look grim
But all these things must pass except the things that are of Him
Where are the nails that pierced His hands?
The nails have turned to rust
But behold the Man
He is risen
And He reigns
In the hearts of the children
Rising up in His name
Where are the thorns that drew His blood?
The thorns have turned to dust
But not so the love
He has given, it remains
In the hearts of the children
Who will love while the nations rage