What’s Our Excuse?

Practical suggestions for how we can work for peace in the Middle East.


If experience counted for something in this world, Israel should be more sophisticated: they’ve been fighting with various neighbors since 1948. Yet they don’t seem to have gotten much beyond ‘tit for tat’.

You launch rocket attacks, we blow up Hamas leaders driving through crowded streets.

It’s understandably hard to focus on making friendly overtures to a neighbor who’s building launch capacity in his backyard and blatantly loading missiles into the garden shed, all while muttering — or shouting — about driving you out of the neighborhood. As just one of the players, Israel doesn’t determine the game.

That’s their excuse for this lifetime of war. What’s ours?

Maybe we do nothing because we are baffled. Although conflicts longer than a lifetime are hideously common in human affairs, North Americans tend to wonder why warring factions don’t just give up their tribal hatreds. That easy smugness dies when we feel retaliation’s spurs in our sides. The West Wing’s eminently rational Josh Lyman exploded when his assistant was injured and other Americans killed in an attack in Israel.

We need to kill them. You kill the people who did it, you kill the people who planned it, then you kill everyone who was happy about it.

Retaliation is an ancient fact of life, with deep roots in human nature. If disbelief underlies our failure to act, we need to get over it.

Maybe we do nothing because we are confused. Politicians and commentators focus on the big policy decisions, arguing over probable outcomes. Withdrawing West Bank settlements, enclosing Gaza in a wall, invading Lebanon — will these bring peace? Yet if the strategic choices are unclear, the day-to-day actions that we might take seem trivial. If we do nothing because we fear that our policies could make a bad situation worse, yet believe that our individual actions will be irrelevant, we need to get over that too.

We know one thing for sure: Doing nothing changes nothing. If we want to change something, to contribute to peace in the Middle East, what can we do?

We can start by learning about their histories and cultures, reading newspapers and books, attending lectures, watching documentaries. We can talk to immigrants, international students, aid workers, soldiers and tourists, seeing things through their eyes.

Learning is the beginning of participating more knowledgeably in public discussions that precede national action, of living more peacefully in our own communities, of seeing tolerance ripple outwards in unpredictable trajectories. It is the beginning of doing small things that make for peace.

Some will send money to aid agencies, providing practical help. Some will write letters to deployed soldiers, helping them remain steady under unimaginable pressures. Some will buy products from the region, rewarding stable economic activity. Galleries will feature their artists, libraries will highlight their literature, local schools will set up pen pal programs, and the ripples of connection will spread further.

In these days of prepackaged everything, this seems too hard, like baking a cake from scratch. Yet it is the alternative, the letting it go on and on, that is too hard. We do not need to achieve peace overnight — indeed, we cannot. If a quick resolution were possible, we would have it by now.

What we can do is begin. As we act, even in small ways, we will find that there are others already on this road. We will learn from them, and they from us, and we will be stronger together.

A Jewish carpenter’s prayer has been answered: we know the things that make for peace, all right. Now we need to do them. Or else we will have no excuse at all.

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5 Responses to What’s Our Excuse?

  1. Dave says:

    Some random thoughts. Now let’s see:
    Netanyahu re election. Testing the new iron dome missile defense system. Keeping the Palestinians in their lowly place.
    Most Middle East countries channeling hatred of Israel by supporting Palestinians and at the same time keeping the bloodshed away from their own backyards.
    U.S. election over; Americans now have time to pay attention. Assad and Ahmadinejad must divert world attention from the Syrian crisis. Whoops! Here comes Jordan, the next place for the democratic “spring”.

    I propose that the oil-rich Arabs purchase Israel and all its assets and have the Israelis move to North America. Of course we would leave behind the war-mongering/settlement-building politicians. It’s only 8 million people. Just a drop in the bucket for the U.S. with over 300 million people. Think of the economic boost from importing a people who are well educated, industrious, and with pockets bulging with cash from the sale of their country.
    But hold it – the reduced demand for sophisticated weaponry might have a negative impact on the military/industrial complex. No problem! We will just divert this expenditure to space exploration and environmental improvement activities.

    Time to quit obviously; my head is spinning. Time for a drink! Oh, you think I have been drinking already?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Dave – No way do the Americans get the Israelis! I say they immigrate to Saskatchewan. Truly, it is a tragedy that having a homeland isn’t enough (for either side): it has to be that particular land.

  2. freda stewart says:

    Lots of food for thought Dave & Isabel. Yes, the loss of life makes me sick, but then I’m from 5th to 10th generation Canadian and my ancestors did our fighting for me, presenting me with a great place to live, get an education and all the other etceteras that we take for granted. I have been free to fight current battles as they occurred over various issues, but didn’t have to shoot at anyone, although many times I did aim at a bureaucrat or politician over social issues. One forgotten problem I remember always from old WWII newsreels, which some of the left conveniently forget because they didn’t see them, or they label as propaganda, is the opening of the concentration camps. The world in general has never taken Israel at its word following the UN division for the Jewish Homeland. They said ‘never again’ and why are we surprised to see that they are keeping that promise? Look at history – what is Palestine was Judea – a Jewish country. Who warred with them and took it over? Some lofty Roman renamed it Palestine in about what – the 4th C.? The countries in that part of the world have fought wars with each other as far back as history we know goes. And if Palestinians want to lob rockets they should not complain about retaliation. And who voted Hamas in for their government? The Christian communities there are the endangered species. We can speculate all we wish to but ‘we’ do not have the answers.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Freda – Yes, no answers here, just many questions – and you raise some good ones. I seem to remember that the liberation theology of the 1970s took aim at what it saw as a peculiarly North American preoccupation with thinking everything through before taking action (any action at all!). Instead, it proposed a ‘do/reflect’ model in which a small action would lead to new understanding, out of which would flow more (presumably better) action. What to do about the whole mess? I dunno, not by a long shot. My hope is that we can ‘crowd-source’ it in one sense – the more people who take the time to delve into its complexities (instead of turning away because it seems overwhelming), the less overwhelming it will be.

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