Persistence of Hate
God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?”
And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.”
War is upon us. Atrocities beyond a healthy person’s imagination have been carried out in acts of rage that are all the more horrible for the planning behind the attacks. And perhaps more than the war in Ukraine, the war in Gaza has connections with multiple nations, impacts throughout the Jewish and Palestinian diaspora, and roots from before Biblical times. I drove by the Pasadena Jewish Temple this weekend, and was sickened to see a police car on call in the parking lot—such is the reality of persistent, violent, monstrous, anti-Semitic hate. And yet, this last week has seen even more Palestinians killed than Israelis. It seems that no matter what happens in this land, Palestinians suffer.
I did not write about the war last week because it was so early, and I didn’t know what to say. I cannot ignore the war, but I still do not know what to say. The complexity of the hostility in this land that God chose for God’s own people is too great for me to comment.
Some of you may remember that I went to Jerusalem this last January. That trip left an indelible mark on me. Though I spoke with many about the conflict there, I never could have anticipated the speed with which innocents are killed and displaced, and the horrors reported by victims and families of victims. Every day shows how complicated the situation is, how deep are the roots of hatred and vengeance. As the old saying goes, violence begets violence. And vengeance seems to be the Pavlovian response to the “other” in the Middle East. I thought of the Jonah story referenced above, because the actual Bible text is not about a prophet fleeing in fear and landing in the belly of a Disneyland-like whale. Jonah fled because he so hated the people of Nineveh (now under today’s Mosul in Iraq) that he did not want to warn them of God’s wrath, thinking that they might repent, and God would be merciful. As he said to God, “That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.” And that made him angry—and, as he later stated about losing the shade bush God offered him, he was angry enough to die. Isn’t that a perfect illustration of the poisonous nature of vengeance—Jonah’s anger did not succeed in hurting the people of Nineveh, but it might kill him.
I have been shocked at the worldwide response. While I can feel for the frustration of those who have yearned for justice for Palestinians, the seemingly celebratory response to the violence is stunning. A Presbyterian pastor said “It was a shock, but not unexpected. They (Israel) had to know it would come to this.” While I have some understanding of the institutionalized injustices that Palestinian are subjected to, I cannot point to any one issue that would justify the atrocities of a week ago. So, rather than trying to explain things that are far beyond my understanding, I share a few comments from others.
A Palestinian activist who works with Jews, Christians, and Muslims for the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), an NGO (non-governmental organization) that funds grassroots efforts for peace in Israel and Palestine, desperately asked for prayers—“for our humanity to lead us towards the light.”
Because ALLMEP is a coalition of organizations, it shared statements from some of its members. The Abraham Initiatives, which strives to fulfill the promise of equal social and political rights for Israel’s Jewish and Arab citizens, wrote, “Israel and Gaza are going through very difficult times . . . . We must all remember that the day after the war we will remain Jews and Arabs here, in the neighborhood and in close proximity. We will continue to live here together, we have the duty and responsibility to preserve what is there.”
The first member organization mentioned by ALLMEP is the Bereaved Families Forum, also known as The Parents Circle Families Forum. They are Palestinians and Israelis who have lost loved ones from the violence in the area. They go together to speak for peace in the community and in schools, showing in their words and their very presence together that the violence is real, but so is the ability to live in peace together, sadly as they realize they have grief in common. And now, they are painfully aware that their numbers will increase with the thousands of Israelis and Palestinians who have perished this last week, and who will die in the weeks to come.
The Bereaved Families Forum remembers Memorial Day, a patriotic holiday commemorating soldiers who died in the struggle to establish the state of Israel, by holding an evening remembering beloved people—Israeli and Palestinian, military and civilian—who died in the continuing violence in the area. At the 2022 commemoration, a poem was shared. Written by Yehuda Amichai, considered by some as the greatest Israeli poet, the poem is called “The Place Where We Are Right”:
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
At the time, I didn’t understand the inclusion of the poem. But as I continue to be dumbfounded by the persistence of hate, especially in and around God’s chosen people, I begin to see how the pain in the Middle East cannot be eliminated by everyone who is convinced that they are right. In fact, I think too much of the pain in our church, at least in the USA, stems from our obsession with being right.
Perhaps what we need is the humility that comes with doubt, or with love, or with grief, or with repeated losses and violence—or with our awareness of our need for God’s grace. Perhaps that humility can loosen up the soil of a hardened past. And with that humility, that spirit of confession, God can sow the seeds of peace in all of us. Let us hope so.