I am heartsick over the news that Israeli and Hamas forces are once again hurling rockets at one another. Once again, in what feels like a nightmarish repeat of the war in Gaza four years ago, there are accusations and counter-accusations. People on both sides are dying, facing injury and unbearable loss, and living in unimaginable fear of the next attack. And as usual at times like this, my inbox is full of people screaming at one other.
I want to understand how this escalation happened. I know that hundreds of rockets were launched into southern Israel over the past weeks, and that no country can be asked to tolerate that terrifying reality being inflicted on its citizens without response. I know that in the past few days some Israeli, Palestinian, and Egyptian negotiators were working on a plan to de-escalate the hostilities. And now, bombs are flying in both directions. People have died on both sides of the border, including children.
At the same time, my inbox is filled with violence of a different kind. Some Jewish leaders call to lovers of Israel to grieve and pray for those affected, but only on our side of the border. Some in the pro-Palestinian camp have dusted off their familiar accusations of Israeli aggression, feigning ignorance of Hamas rocket fire. Thus, both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli voices are insisting that we suppress the natural response of the heart, to grieve death and loss among all members of the human family. We are being asked to cheer only for “our team,” essentially ignoring the reality that those on “the other side” are just as human, their blood just as red (to use a Talmudic metaphor) as our own.
As a religious leader and a person of faith, my heart yearns for quiet prayer. I want to pray for everyone in harm’s way, both in southern Israel and in Gaza, praying that the parties will soon turn away from the insanity of trying to defeat violence with violence or to defeat hate with hate. I want to pray for all of us who listen and watch from across the world who are also victims of secondary trauma as we suffer from far away, knowing that places and people we love are again drenched with blood and strewn with military debris.
What would happen, I wonder, if all of us who care passionately for that tiny sliver of land in the Middle East would join in a few moments of quiet prayer? What if we agreed to a ceasefire – of military, rhetorical, and electronic weaponry? If we could stop shooting missiles and words at each other for an hour or for a day, might the divine voice of peace somehow break through?