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.