WASHINGTON, August 14, 2014 — In the last year, hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in Syria’s civil war and by the Islamic State. Two thousand Palestinians have died in Gaza, and more thousands have died in Ukraine and North Africa.
In an unguarded moment, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told an audience of Marines on Tuesday, “The world is exploding all over.” That was as fair an assessment of the situation as we are likely to get from the Obama Administration.
The world is not at peace. It never has been, and never will be. It is better now than it has been on many occasions in the past, but the sense now is that it is on a downward trajectory.
Christians worship the Son of God, “the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Many Christian ministers depict a Jesus who seems a cross between 1960s hippie and New Age self-help guru. Yet this is the Jesus who in Matthew said, “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.” This is a Savior whose return will be ushered in not by growing peace and goodwill between men, women and nations, but by Armageddon, the war to end all wars.
Hamas will never get peace by firing rockets on Israel; unless they are delusional, it is unlikely that peace is what they want. Hamas wants the destruction of Israel, and if Israel is to survive in peace, Hamas and organizations like it must be destroyed.
However, Israel’s leaders are mistaken if they believe they can get peace by destroying Hamas. The destruction of Hamas is essential if there will be peace, but its destruction by Israeli arms will only sow more hatred that will produce the fruit of new terrorist organizations.
Hamas must be destroyed by the Palestinian people themselves, when they turn their backs on hatred and violence and reject terror as a political tool. And that will happen only when Israel learns to love the children of Palestine more than they love vengeance.
Golda Meir, the prime minister of Israel in the 1960s, once said of Arabs and Jews, “there will be peace only when they learn to love their children more than they hate us.” Hatred begets hatred, though, and Israelis themselves have learned to hate. That situation will never be changed by force of Arab or Israeli arms. Any peace achieved that way will be the peace of tyranny or of the grave. It will only change with a change of heart.
We shouldn’t hold our breaths on that. Hatred is easier than love, and anger comes more naturally to us than forgiveness.
A popular internet game now is to compare the morality of Israel and Hamas, or Jews and Palestinians. Let’s dismiss that with two questions: If Hamas and the Palestinians unilaterally lay down their arms, what will be the result? If Israel unilaterally lays down its arms, what will be the result?
The answer to the first question is, “peace, and the possibility for Palestine and Israel to coexist.” The answer to the second is, “the destruction of Israel.”
At a basic level, Israel has the moral high ground. But we can ask another question: Which side, Israel or Hamas, is in the best position during a fight to limit the death and destruction? The answer to that is clearly, “Israel.”
If Hamas is an existential threat to Israel, its rockets are not. Three Israeli civilians have died in the attacks. That’s three too many, but Iron Dome and Hamas’s ineptitude make the rocket attacks an annoyance, not a threat, certainly not a threat that merits thousands of Palestinian civilian deaths and the conversion of Gaza into a pile of rubble with no way out.
Israel can’t and shouldn’t do nothing, but thousands of civilian deaths won’t make the Palestinians peaceful, nor will it cause them to reject Hamas. It simply adds to the total amount of hate in the world, the radicalization of desperate young men, and ensures that as long as they can get rockets, Palestinians will fire them at Israel.
The United States can’t bring peace to the Middle East, to Ukraine, or to any other conflict-plagued region of the planet. It is far beyond President Obama’s competency to resolve the problems of Iraq, Syria and Israel, though he can influence events for the better or worse. Ultimate blame and responsibility lie elsewhere; they lie on the warring parties.
We can’t impose peace on others; we can only embrace it for ourselves. Palestinians must turn away from hate, and Israel must stop fanning the flames of hatred. That’s easier said than done. Egypt, Turkey, Europe, the U.N. and the United States should all act to stop the flow of arms into Gaza, not excuse or enable it. The ports in Gaza must be open to humanitarian aid, but humanitarian aid should be all that flows in through those ports.
Israel and the Palestinians are playing a game with strategies that are making them worse off, and apparently incapable of changing their strategies. The rest of the world can help to change the payoffs in the game, but the responsibility for changing the game rests on the combatants, and it requires a change of mind followed by a change of heart.
Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” There was no promise there of an easy life or of security from war, but only of rest – peace. Peace is an individual decision, not something that can be delivered by Barack Obama, John Kerry, Benjamin Netenyahu and Mahmoud Abbas. There will be peace in Gaza, Iraq, Ukraine and Washington when we decide to love each other more than we love our political parties, when we decide to love our children more than we hate each other, and when we decide that we don’t win by desfeating our opponents, but by learning to love them.