Reclaiming our humanity in wartime

Refugee men and fence during war time
(Photo: Adobe Stock)

In the days following the Hamas attack on Israel, its barbarous extent and the depravity of those cheering it became increasingly clear.

We need to distinguish between people and their government. We also need to recognize the difference between a country where anti-government protests are held, and a dictatorship where dissent is crushed.

The massacre of babies demands that we restrain our glib responses. A few years ago, I saw a photo of a grieving Palestinian father in Gaza holding his dead baby girl, the top of her head missing. It was heartrending and indelible.

We must denounce the murder of Israeli children as we denounce the murder of Palestinian children. The anti-Israel left refuses to see this basic moral truth. There can be no peace in the absence of justice — not as a facile slogan, but a constant striving. Peace cannot mean the peace of the grave for either population.

The fact that Netanyahu’s government ignored warnings from Egypt about the impending attack, along with his dismissal of criticisms by defense officials, makes his removal from power even more imperative than it already was given his efforts to undermine the independence of Israeli courts. The wartime governing coalition only postpones this reckoning.

As for Gaza, we cannot negotiate with Hamas’ band of monsters. Its fighters do not wear uniforms, and live beside civilians. This is calculated to make high civilian casualties unavoidable. Hamas uses human shields the way a person wears a shirt. In effect, human shields are its uniforms. Hamas intends and exploits the massacre of the innocent.

A two-state solution remains the only hope for that region; but it is impossible with Hamas in control of Gaza.

President Biden, while expressing strong support for Israel, stressed its obligation to obey the rules of war. If we use war to justify ethnic cleansing, any victory we celebrate is on poisoned ground.

Caricaturing entire religions and populations has a shameful and bloody history. From the Crusades of a millennium ago to the “yellow peril” of the 20th century to the anti-LGBTQ+ persecution in East Africa today, demonizing difference undermines the consistent rule of law, sows deadly chaos, and only helps the unscrupulous.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog and former prime minister Naftali Bennett, on the eve of a major military offensive, made statements embracing group blame and using the atrocities by Hamas to justify what amounts to ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, including babies. I cannot imagine a greater betrayal of the post-Holocaust pledge, “Never Again”— which means nothing if it does not apply to all of humanity.

The situation is far too grave for us in outrage to cut off painful but needed discussions. To stand effectively against Hamas’ butchers, we must begin by caring about all the children of the region. The legacy of past horrors does not and cannot give us a blank check.

Netanyahu uses war in part to silence his domestic political opposition. The mass protests have stopped. Still, his government’s policy of annexation and dispossession must be rejected, as must its inflamed response guaranteed to perpetuate enmity down through generations rather than end it.

Years ago, there was a group in DC called Lambda Salaam-Shalom, dedicated to building bridges between gay Jews and gay Muslims. Some of the LGBTQ+ refugees in Kenya, whom I help, send me greetings on Muslim holy days. They use the word Inshallah, “If Allah wills it,” to express their hopes. Forced to flee family and country, they treat me as a surrogate father.

How can I reject them based on the acts of others, especially when religious fanatics here in America justify or ignore acts of domestic terror? Just last week in Chicago, a man stabbed a six-year-old boy to death for being a Muslim. When we employ double standards, we make frauds and bloody fools of ourselves.

Wartime passions bring intolerance of dissent and provoke scapegoating, as when hate crimes against American Muslims rose after 9/11. During the Cold War after World War II, the search for an “enemy within” led to the destruction of thousands of lives when gay people were declared unfit for federal service.

We must have the imagination to see ourselves in others. Otherwise, we dishonor our own forebears.Sen. Lindsey Graham, who fails even to see himself, says, “We are in a religious war here. I am with Israel…. Level the place [Gaza].” His blood lust is a path to ruin. The terrorists want to drag us down to their level. Let us disappoint them.

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