Why Is My Enemy Suffering?
by Brayton Shanley
Recently, I was speaking to a good friend who challenged me with a question: How is this situation in Israel-Palestine to be resolved? Immediately my mind went blank. I then thought to myself: “There is no peaceful resolution.” A resolution without peace? The strongest military wins.
Therefore, this war will end when Israel levels Gaza, drives most of its 2.5 million Palestinians from their homes, and kills tens of thousands more Palestinian civilians and every remaining member of Hamas. Wars usually end when both sides give up thinking there is any benefit to continuing the carnage. One would think by that standard Israelis and Palestinians would have settled on a two-state solution decades ago. But the ongoing fighting only blinds both sides to the truth, continues to divide and increase the hatred and fear of the other.
A peaceful and lasting resolution of this horrific killing, however, could only come from a true understanding of why humans commit cruel and murderous acts of violence. Why did members of Hamas kill over 1,200 defenseless Israelis, including children, and take 250 hostages? Why did Israelis respond by killing over 27,000 Palestinians, 70% woman and children?
Does God create wanton killers, “bad apples” as well as “good”? Are some people destined to kill even innocent, vulnerable children, and their mothers? Are such people hopelessly depraved? Is there a deeper Biblical truth present? All human beings born into this world are loved into existence by a loving God. We are made for love, compassion, and mercy as the truth of our existence. Yes, we insist, we are all made inherently good.
People who resort to war and killing the “enemy” for protection are not born that way. They are made violent from encountering a life of fear and scapegoating of adversaries. Jews in Israel, with family histories of the Holocaust, often suffer from generational trauma, passed down from centuries of antisemitism, culminating with six million Jews killed in German concentration camps. Such trauma is intensified by its carriers who know the stories of the torturous enslavement and death of their forebearers in those camps.
And what was the conclusion of European Jews after liberation of the camps in 1945? They do not feel safe in this world, especially the Western world, exposing a generational memory and trauma that often manifest in clinical depression and chronic fear of danger.
In his recent New Yorker article on Benjamin Netanyahu, David Remnick writes: “When Bibi’s father died in 2012, he eulogized his father by saying ‘you always told me that a necessary component for any living body- and a nation is a living body- is the ability to identify a danger in time, a quality that was lost to our people in exile. You taught me, Father, to look at reality head on, to understand what it holds and to come to the necessary conclusions.’” (Jan. 14, 2024)
Was the “necessary conclusion” that life for a Jew, especially in Israel is perpetual danger? Therefore, the necessary measures of protection include: arm yourself; kill and subjugate your enemies before they kill and subjugate you?
Netanyahu is in his sixth term as Prime Minister of Israel, longer than Israel State’s, founder David Ben-Gurion? Hasn’t Netanyahu drummed into the psyches of Israeli people who continue to elect him, this fear, this perpetual sense of peril passed on to him by his father?
Anti Semitism and the Holocaust
Coming out of this genocidal, Holocaust history, Jews sought a land that they could call the Jewish State, a haven of safety for their people, a land they could protect and call their own. Such a call emanates from The Book of Deuteronomy: “So, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore He would give to your Fathers.” (Deut. 1:8). Post- holocaust, the European Jews recalled their “Biblical right” to this land, believing it belonged to them as the “chosen” people of God.
On May 14, 1948, with UN, US and British approval, Jews founded the Zionist State of Israel in Palestine displacing 750,000 Palestinians. This removal is called the Nakba by Palestinians, meaning “catastrophe” in Arabic. Looking back 75 years, this occupation was a tragically fatal move. European Jews, with a sense of Divine permission, shot their way into Palestine violating the Sixth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill”, the most familiar of all Hebrew Scriptures teachings. (It is important to remember that Zionism is not Judaism).
Fighting raged in the region for years leading up to the occupation, as the Arab nations were vehemently opposed to the establishment of a Zionist State in Palestine. The day after the Nakba Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq attacked the new state, later joined by Jordan. This was a colonialist take-over by European Jews, of a land inhabited by people of another religion and Arab culture.
In 1946, Gandhi wrote: “The Jews have erred grievously in seeking to impose themselves on Palestine with the aid of America and Britain, and now, with the aid of naked violence. The Jews can settle in Palestine only with the good will of Arabs and for that they could forgo the British bayonet. Jews are the untouchables of the Christians and have been cruelly wronged throughout history. There should be no Zionist State imposed on the proud Arab State. It is a crime against humanity.”
75 years of Jewish occupation, of Palestine attacks, and reprisals between Palestinians and Israelis including Jewish settlers occupying the West Bank, resulted in the “open-air prison” of Gaza. Hamas emerged in 1987 during the first Palestinian uprising or “Intifada” as an outgrowth of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian branch.
The group was committed to armed resistance of Israel, absolute faith in Islam as a requirement for membership, with Allah as their ally. Their charter called for a two-state solution, but the recruiting language was: “We will destroy Israel. Israel does not have the right to exist.”
Already a traumatized people, this threatening language inevitably escalated the fear of annihilation in Israeli Jews. Between 1948 to 1987, Israelis killed 50,000 Palestinians. Now, the Palestinian trauma becomes as real as that of the Israelis. Periodic bombing and skirmishes with Israel over 36 years have only intensified the “kill or be killed” military attitudes driving both sides.
The results for Palestinians? Trauma and accompanying rage directed at Israel and proceeding from the subjugation of over two million of their people throughout Palestine.
October 7th, 2023
The Hamas rallying cry, “We will destroy Israel,” sends Israel into “full metal jacket” military control, as Israel boasts the 15 largest military in the world against a people that have no official military. Aren’t the Israelis perpetually less safe now that the hatred of Israel’s Zionist State might descend into an attack from Syria, Egypt, Hezbollah, and Iran? Israel now operates out of the politics of paranoia coming from the existential fear of “being destroyed” by countries from all sides? Violent eruptions over the last decades created a powder keg of hate that was about to explode.
Then, Oct. 7th happens. The Hamas attack on Israel killed 1,200 people, including women and children. 250 people, mostly Israelis were taken hostage. The Israelis retaliate by killing 27,000 Palestinians and injuring over 60,000. 1.8 million Gazans have been forcibly displaced from their homes (as of January 2024). Almost all the casualties are Palestinian civilians, and 70% of those killed continue to be women and children. The destruction of a defenseless people is an impossible to grasp, horror-stricken tragedy.
Both sides have lost moral control of any humanity; both descend into a kill or be killed mass murder campaigns. Every violent eruption of the past, whether war, intifada or military raids has only insured a deeper fear and hatred of both sides, making more elusive what each side truly desires–a longed-for but bitterly frustrated sense of security and peace.
Hamas continues to act out of religious delusion: “Allah will aid us in destroying Israel.” In this “Holy War” in the “Holy Land”, Hamas fighters believe they will die martyrs; therefore, seem to exhibit no fear of death. A sermon delivered by Hamas leader Atallah Abu Al Subh lays bare the hatred; “Whoever is killed by a Jew receives the reward of two martyrs because the very thing that the Jews did to the prophets was done to them.”
Israel remains steadfastly unwilling to acknowledge that 75 years of subjugation and killing inflicted on the Palestinians played a major role in creating Hamas. Netanyahu and his military want to destroy every Hamas member, tantamount to killing Israel’s own shadow-side which created these enemy combatants. Both sides are so blinded by fear and hatred, so lacking in trust of the other, that it is difficult to imagine either Netanyahu’s Israeli government or Hamas having any role in a negotiation of how to go forward with a just and safe two-state solution, if that becomes the just resolution especially for the Palestinians.
With the war still teeming, neither the Netanyahu government nor Hamas can be trusted or relied on to stop their murderous aggressions. Qatari and Egyptian mediators need to continue to be active in their proposals for a cease-fire. The US, disgraced by enabling this daily war crime, is not likely to insist on a cease fire, which only 5 out of 100 US Senators support. The blood of the Palestinians is on the hands of President Biden and Congress as the US is the only country that could stop the war, withdraw military support and funding. Meanwhile Israel does not trust a ceasefire and Hamas will accept only a permanent cease fire as a leverage to freeing the hostages.
As of this writing, it appears that both sides are at a stalemate regarding a ceasefire agreement of some length. Without a cessation of fighting, nothing will move all parties toward a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Without such a resolution, the killing and wounding of more Gazan citizens, the majority, women, and children will continue unabated.
Is a Peaceful Resolution Possible?
The peaceful resolution to this war comes in a nonviolent query that Buddha could easily have asked: “Why is the enemy suffering?” With a heart of compassion, will we listen to the enemy’s response? Can we have the courage to ask: “Am I creating my enemy’s suffering? Am I intensifying it by inflicting retaliatory violence on my enemy?”
This unconditional compassion, a potent force of returning good for evil, has the power to radically de-escalate the hopeless direction of this unbearable massacre. With searing honesty and self-scrutiny, both sides can see that their people are not free from the bitter enmity of the other. Such a mutual admission opens the door, if only slowly, to a lasting ceasefire, to peace talks and to learning to live together in peace.
Only when both sides have the courage to see that they are part of the problem, and must also be part of the resolution, can they move towards sympathy and understanding of the other that will lead to putting down their weapons. Compassion for the enemy’s suffering liberates all of us who are watching this war from afar and taking sides in this conflict as we battle internally with detesting either the Israelis or Hamas as the evil ones.
Israelis under Netanyahu and the Hamas fighters under their leadership are terrified and desperately retaliatory humans acting out of trauma and fear of annihilation. Blaming them will not bring peace. Listening to them, praying for mutual healing will.
Jesus petitions God to show mercy on his executioners. “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24). Both Israel and Hamas in full scale homicidal panic, are not in their right minds therefore, “do not know what they do.”
We, members of the world community need, with nonviolent conviction, creativity, and courage, to resist the cruel and trauma-inflicting violence of both sides. Let us call for and actively engage in nonviolent actions. We must demand an end to the destruction of Gaza, its people and culture.
As one observes the global daily protests, Israel’s ongoing attacks on Gaza and the demands for a permanent ceasefire, it seems clear that millions of Americans and tens of millions of citizens worldwide are clamoring for this wanton destruction of Gaza and its people and Hamas’s continued fighting and holding hostages, to stop… now.
Is this hope too morally challenging and out of reach for the US, Hamas, and Israel? Is such a proposal too idealistic, too nonviolent to be embraced by all the nations in the UN? It is time we turn to the prophecy of Martin Luther King Jr. challenging all sides with the truth: “Because of the destructiveness of modern weapons, I believe the choice today is no longer between nonviolence and violence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence.”
Fighting these wars becomes a dark force-field, too often escalating into a wider more unmanageable killing field. Will such a murderous vendetta spread like a deadly poison throughout the Middle East and beyond? Can we resist this terrifying possibility by learning the way of unconditional compassion that leads to lasting peace. Or will we, and they, perish by the sword?
Brayton Shanley is the co-founder of The Agape Community, which celebrated its 41st Anniversary in October 2023. Agape is a lay Catholic Community, interfaith, ecumenical, and non-denominational in its vision and practice and open to all.