On the Side of the Angels? Seek Peace

Israeli youth, Auschwitz.

Visiting Israeli youth wave the flag of their country over the streets of Auschwitz.

There’s no way to come down on the side of the angels in the conflict between Israel and its neighbors. Both sides seem to perpetrate their share of bloodshed, horror, cruelty, and devastation.

Sorting out claims to the land itself would be impossible. Each side can point out claims that go back to ancient times. Is there any way today to determine exactly where Jacob and Esau walked, where they may have erected a pillar, where they kept their herds and staked their tents? The issues of ownership seem to be beyond resolution.

And each side, in the name of right, seems able to justify harsh and cruel treatment of the other.

Many years ago, my wife and I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. It was depressing to see detailed evidence of the horrors inflicted by Nazis on the Jews—stunning, almost inconceivable.

As our tour of Israel continued, our Israeli guide stood next to the Arab bus driver and described Israel’s victories and domination over its enemies. We saw Arabs restricted to life in certain areas, required to produce ID on demand.

Wait—didn’t the Nazis begin this way with the Jews in the 1930s?

Let there be no misunderstanding: I am not comparing Israel’s treatment of people within its national borders with the actions of Nazi Germany in my parents’ generation. There is no equivalency. Nazi atrocities leave me unable to imagine how the human spirit could sink so

Auschwitz prisoners

The hopeless faces of prisoners executed at Auschwitz.

low. I have visited Auschwitz. I have seen the bins of human hair and artificial limbs taken from Jewish prisoners, the execution wall for the disobedient, the empty canisters of chemicals from which poison gas was made, the hopeless faces in photos of prisoners who were among the exterminated.

I suppose my sympathies will always be on the side of the Israelis so long as neighboring nations are dedicated to wiping them out simply because they exist. Surely the Israelis have the right to defend themselves. Who can blame Jewish citizens for being cautious and wary, considering that it’s necessary for parents armed with automatic weapons to accompany their children on school outings? Why should they have to live with deadly rockets constantly raining down on their homes? And yet I flinch at news accounts of wholesale retribution in Gaza that includes women and children among its victims.

The recent downing of a Malaysian commercial airliner over Ukraine points out that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is only part of a much larger worldwide horror: the inflicting of death and suffering on innocent people in attempts to grab power or establish political domination. Pro-Russian forces who apparently shot down that plane have no right to think of themselves as patriots or freedom fighters; they are murderers, war criminals—monsters.

Throughout the world there are groups that claim the right to dominate or eliminate others based on historical wrongs or moral or ethnic superiority. Think tribal warfare in Africa, or “Islamic” terrorists who have hijacked the faith to justify their own tyrannical aspirations. No such group is an agent of God, or Allah. Every such group is an enemy to humankind.

Visiting Israeli youth at Auschwitz draped in the flag of their country.

Visiting Israeli youth at Auschwitz draped in the flag of their country.

I have had hope for some time because of the image here of visiting Israeli youth waving their country’s flag over the streets of Auschwitz. The Nazis are gone. Their evil was defeated, and they were not able to wipe out a people they hated. The right prevailed—that time.

But evil is relentless, and persistent. It blooms anew in every generation.

I see the answer to the problem of violence in the world in a Christian source, the Beatitudes in the New Testament: “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). Whatever one’s religious tradition—Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.—this principle is true: the answer to finding happiness is to seek the peace and harmony that a loving Father would want for His children.

The problem is that in this generation too few people seem to be seeking the answer. Too many seem to be seeking instead to win. The result: everyone loses.


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