One earth, one humanity, one spirit
Published 10:40 am Friday, October 27, 2023
BY WINSLOW MYERS
The immensity of the carnage in Ukraine, Sudan, and now Israel and Gaza, makes it seem as if the community preached by religious prophets old and new feels beyond the capacity of our species.
For “those to whom evil is done,” war becomes the pragmatic, necessary, and reflexive counter-response to an “initial” act of violence – or a response to some previous move in an extended cycle of retaliation, heartless vengeance, and brute strength vainly designed to intimidate.
Hamas’s cynical cruelty, in response to the Netanyahu government’s years of playing off the Palestinian Authority against Hamas while expanding the settlements in the West Bank, may have condemned both Israel and Palestine to decades more chaos and civilian death.
For Palestinians, the U.S.-Israeli alliance taints our fitness to be an honest broker, further intensifying helpless despair and rage. President Biden is a decent fellow. Behind our government’s rote statements of unqualified support for Israel he is surely urging the Israeli military to learn from the U.S. overreaction to 9/11. He’s also pushing Netanyahu to move beyond an unworkable status quo toward revival of the presently comatose dream of a two-state solution. Clearly Biden wants to deter wider conflict in the region, which could all too easily draw the superpowers into WW3.
To simplify, humanity the world over could be divided roughly into three groups, two smaller and a third comprising the vast majority of us.
One minority are those who believe that killing is the only way to redress injustice. Given the barbarity of the Hamas attack, it is understandable that the Israeli army is possessed for the moment by the delusion that the very idea of Hamas can be flattened into extinction by enough air strikes. But this will only create a new generation of young men who believe their only option is violence.
A second smaller group are those who heroically put nonviolence into action. An example would be the village of Wahat al Salam/Neva Shalom (“Oasis of Peace”) in Israel. Since 1970 Christians, Jews and Muslims have lived together and run a school where their children learn each other’s beliefs and customs while adults work through their occasionally difficult conflicts peacefully. There is a wait list for people to live there. However rare, the model proves that desirable alternatives to violent conflict are possible and in fact the only long-term way out of a morass of paranoia and violence. Many other such initiatives have flourished in spite of the intractability of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Poignantly, peace activists were among those kidnapped by Hamas.
Is it so far-fetched to imagine at least parts of the Israeli settlement project imbued with a spirit of inclusiveness similar to Neva Shalom? Could activists plan settlements that welcomed Palestinians of similar good will, living together in the truth that Arab and Jewish blood is equally red? Clearly not now, but perhaps eventually.
A third grouping besides the fanatics and the peacebuilders could be called the great middle, the vast majority of the world’s populations who want only a secure existence and a fulfilling life for themselves and their children.
Though scant comfort to those innocents upon whom bombs are falling like rain, most of us most of the time do manage to get along. Sweden and Norway do not fight, nor do Massachusetts and Connecticut. As of the commencement of the European Union in 1993, former combatants like Germany and France no longer need to resolve their differences by what became global war.
The mass of the world’s citizens, though many adhere to one or another of the great religions, may not feel the unconditional love and compassion for one another urged by Jesus and Buddha and Muhammed, but they get the practicality of the Golden Rule: treat others in the same way you would wish to be treated. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. You may not love them or even like them, but they are as human as you are. Getting along is the glue that makes every day civilized life possible. For most people most of the time, this is part of our ordinary cultural DNA, which is what makes what has unfolded on both sides of the border between Gaza and Southern Israel so horrifying.
Definitions of extremism may be changing in a good way, isolating and marginalizing those who put all their eggs in the basket of violence. For example, there is the growing global recognition, expressed in the number of nations which have ratified the United Nations Treaty Prohibiting Nuclear Weapons, that such weapons are in fact useless instruments of terror and mass dehumanization.
We are moving, too slowly, toward a world where threatening to use these weapons, or possessing them as the basis of a shaky, unstable deterrence, is itself a demonic, delusionary form of extremism, even though at the moment deterrence remains at the core of “establishment” values for both democratic and totalitarian governments. As long as this potential doom hangs over us, we are all Israelis and Palestinians under the gun, having to learn the apparently impossible task of getting along.
This begins when we acknowledge that while we claim identities as Jews, or Arabs, or citizens of the U.S. or the Congo or Sri Lanka or China, the core reality of our identity is as a citizen of one small planet, each of us equally unique and precious. Whenever my partner is asked on some bureaucratic form for her race, in a tiny protest against arbitrary categories, she always writes “human.”
This larger context of our quarrels can get lost in the bloody headlines. While Putin pursues his absurd visions of Russian grandeur at heinous cost to his own country and to Ukraine, the tundra in Siberia is melting and releasing methane that accelerates global warming. Everything everyone does or neglects to do affects everyone else. In the context of biosystems that are stressed or even dying, all the wars across this small planet are a double distraction, a double delusion, a double death. The need to sustain the life systems that in turn sustain us may be the ultimate self-interested motive for us to put up our swords and learn to live and work together – including Israelis and Palestinians.
(Winslow Myers is the author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide” and serves on the Advisory Board of the War Prevention Initiative.)