By Rev. Paul Graves
I’ve agonized for two weeks after the barbaric, blind violence and the suffering imposed by the Hamas terrorists upon Israeli citizens. But I’m also sick-of-heart over the use of Israel’s superior military might, used “strategically” to intimidate and punish Hamas with innocent Palestinians in the line of fire.
The Palestinians in the West Bank are vulnerable and suffering, too. If you read this commentary on the day it’s published (Oct. 23), the Israel-Hamas War has been going on for 16 days. How many “moments”? By medieval time standards, a “moment” was 90 seconds. That means the war has been going on for 15,360 moments. But this human catastrophe can’t be measured in linear, artificial time. Every second is an unending moment for those in the war zone. How many moments must these two peoples suffer unimaginable physical, emotional and spiritual pain before there is a “tomorrow” without pain and suffering?
Moments of evil. Moments of blind fury and fear. Moments of heroic rescue efforts. Moments of compassion mixed with moments of pure rage. Moments of humanitarian impasse. Moments of disbelief and total fear. Moments of promised revenge. Moments of empathy looking for ways to hug one another. Moments of confused rage. Moments of total helplessness. Moments of despair that overwhelm moments of hope. Moments of partisan divisions for “one side or the other”.
What can we do with all of these moments that free-fall within us? Can we make sense of anything in the midst of the chaos? Most of us are so separated from the horror on the ground in Israel, we can’t really fully imagine how those Israelis and Palestinians were dragged into their hell by powers beyond themselves. We have no words. Our imaginations are almost afraid to go there.
In my first trip to Israel in early 1992, some of our travel group of pastors attended worship at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in East Jerusalem. Afterwards, we spent an hour learning about the historic Palestinian-Israeli conflict from Fr. Naim Ateek, Palestinian pastor of the church and founder of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Center. Last week, Fr. Ateek shared this determined response to the horror:
Oct. 7: “As people of faith, we will continue to stand for peace, justice and truth. We will continue to believe and act in the power of non-violence. We will continue to advocate for the resolution of the conflict on the basis of United Nations resolutions and international law. We will continue to work for a just peace; beyond justice and peace there is the work of reconciliation we are committed to do. While we’re working for a just peace, we continue to pray; we work and pray, we pray and work for the triumph of love over hatred and revenge. We follow our liberator Jesus who said blessed are peacemakers.”
Peacemakers! Palestinians and Israelis alike rightly cringe and grieve from war imposed on them. How do they have the faithful courage to still embrace peace? They obviously – soul-deep – hold onto the biblical and hope that there will be a tomorrow their current, tragic moments still seek on the horizon. Palestinian peacemakers work for “salaam” (Arabic). Israeli peacemakers work for “shalom” (Hebrew). Their common search for peace begins with an absence of conflict; but it continues toward a fuller Peace (“wholeness and well-being”) for all people.
We can pray and work for that peace, too. Please find ways to transform your “whatever” moments into ordinary tangible acts in search of that tomorrow when peace becomes more possible. It’s on the horizon, even where the horizon isn’t clear.
The Rev. Paul Graves is a retired elder member of the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church.