Amidst the ferocious violence between Israel and Hamas, the sensitivities impose a careful choice of words. Each of us has his/her own cultural-historical background; we have varied sources of information, our own views, beliefs, perceptions, fear triggers that make us lean towards supporting, or at least justifying, one side over the other.

Some of us may choose a neutral stand or ignore the situation all together. But ignoring the present reality risks dehumanizing us, as the criteria of being human are now at stake.

Long ago, violent incidents could take place and remain unknown. People could say: “If only I knew at the time, I wouldn’t have allowed this savagery”. Whether people back then really “didn’t know” remains a relative truth.

Today every incident can be followed live from almost every corner of the world. No one can proclaim, “If only I knew”. The question now is, “What will I do with what I know? How will I proceed as a human in a way that doesn’t create fatal contradictions in my conscience and in God’s sight?”

Isn’t it time to get over the post-colonial attitude that has fed “otherness” [1] in the media for so long? The portrayal of those elsewhere in the territory or the world as sub-people who look different, think differently and behave differently, and hence must feel differently – so they can be treated as aliens or disposables, and our consciences can easily tolerate their injury and death.

It might be presumed that being Lebanese, I unquestionably support the Palestinians. But during Lebanon’s war my Arab Christian community endured atrocities and massacres perpetrated by Palestinian guerrillas, similar to the October 7th acts – even though we were the first to welcome Palestinian refugees after the 1948 Nakba and assure them shelter. Lebanese Christian militias retaliated with massacres in the “Sabra and Shatila” Palestinian refugee camps, staining the Lebanese conscience and adding to the layers of horrors that delayed our emergence as a fully humanized nation. It took decades before the Palestinian Authority and Lebanese Christians held a dialogue and, in 2008 [2] , issued the ‘Palestine declaration in Lebanon’, which acknowledged these deeds and apologised.

During the current conflict I have been intrigued by the re-emergence of the “we good, they evil” duality. Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “We are the children of light, while they are the children of darkness”. Meanwhile the Hamas militants and supporters declared, “Our martyrs are destined for heaven, their casualties are destined for hell”. We are living through a major clash between an extreme-right messianic Israeli government and an ultra-radical grouping of Islamic Jihadist. Is there a way out of this impasse?

Watching every available media report to grasp the scale of this human disaster, I wondered whether I can formulate a relevant personal opinion. I have been in a similar state of absolute puzzle before – during the devastating 33 days of war on Lebanon in 2006, during the 2010 and 2014 onwards savage acts of ISIS in Iraq, and during the apocalyptic August 4 2020 Beirut port explosion. Amidst those horrors, I experienced moments of enlightenment where I genuinely felt a Daughter of the Light. Those were deeply intimate Godly moments that one cannot brag about, but rather meditate in the depth of the heart.

Until now I have never shared my experience during a visit to Iraq after the 2010 massacre at the church of Our Lady of Salvation in Karrada – Baghdad. The massacre was led by a group who called themselves the “ministry of war at the Islamic republic of Iraq”. It claimed the lives of 42 worshippers, and injured over 140 others, during seven agonizing hours of detention and torture, starting as the evening Holy Mass began on All Saints Eve, October 31. Like every Christian in the Middle East, I was deeply saddened and extremely angry.

This was my first time in Iraq. I went to the place of the massacre and learnt every detail from the survivors and investigators. All my fear and survival instincts rose up. I found myself hating the perpetrators and attributing to them utterly callous savagery, sub-humanity and baseness. Like those around me, I could only see that innocent, civilized people who deserved to live had been killed at the hands of savages who deserved death.

Something changed when, during this visit, I saw a film which included the faces of the attackers who were still alive and of the attack’s planners. Also when I saw what remained of the faces of the five suicide bombers, instead of only seeing determined enemies convinced of the sacred necessity to exterminate my people, I perceived confused instruments, boys of low self-esteem, manipulated by those who limited their life achievement to exploding their own bodies to kill with the promise of getting out of their earthly misery and accessing heaven.

The moment I realised this, those perpetrators ceased being subjects of my hatred or triggers of my fear. They became subjects of my pity. How much deprivation had those young men suffered to bring them to this state? Is there a mother, a father, a sister, a brother, a child feeling their loss with pain? Do all their families believe in their “martyrdom” and celebrate it? If so, where did we mess up, unknown to each other despite open media which can introduce us to each other?

The tragedy we’re witnessing today is not too different. It did not start on October 7. This date was yet another layer of accumulated brutalities. We can learn about the pattern by searching for the reality behind key words such as 1948 Nakba, Deir Yassine massacre, Tantura massacre, 1967 Naksa, 1973 Yom Kippur, 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, 1986 Intifada, October 7 2023 Gaza genocide, with hundreds of incidents between each of these dates.

Numerous layers of untreated, unhealed wounds have been piling up for decades, even centuries. They date from way before 1948. If the world conscience continues to disregard the necessity to treat and heal these wounds, there will be more accumulated pain and more devastating explosions of anger, with shorter intervals between them.

The Zionist and the Jihadist stands represent two extremes that each of us might embrace, according to our circumstances. A long-lasting rejection and persecution would result in wanting a state of our own, even if it meant the extermination of a people and the twisting of historical fact to serve our desperate quest. A long-lasting oppression, humiliation and internationally-overlooked expulsion from inherited territory would result in opting for violence and even suicide to make yourself heard.

Wise representatives of the world community need to question why those who adopt these extreme stances aren’t able to find a solution other than violence and mutual extermination. The 75-year conflict in the Middle East is a global responsibility, or at least the responsibility of all the parties that contributed to its emergence and deepening. The last thing needed is more bias and injustice, cheerers for one party over the other. The terrible lack in the world and the Middle East is unbiased and innovative peace builders.

As a Middle Eastern, I don’t want the cycle of regenerating pain to continue. Though many anti-Israelis say, “Most of them have another citizenship and can return to their countries of origin”, I don’t want the Jews who are originally Middle Eastern to be expelled to Europe. Nor do I want Arabs to add to the deja-vu series of “brutalizing others because we’ve been brutalized”. The sequence from Fascism to Zionism to Jihadism does not deserve a repeat. I long that the Middle East would be the place where this cycle will be broken.

To achieve this, the Middle East needs support from all nations to isolate the violent Zionists and Jihadists and re-educate them into what it takes to live alongside fellow humans: sustained dialogue, mutual respect, preservation of human dignity, valuing of human life, equity, equality and a constant search for human good. Once humans realize that holding a Nova party alongside an imposed open-air jail is unacceptable effrontery, we’d be on the right track. The two-state solution cannot be left to the antagonists. It has to be imposed by the global community, with effort and funds to make it work. The funds spent on arming Israel and on the needs of Palestinian refugees would have enabled the two-state solution to become a reality long ago, if the pressures and incentives were well orchestrated by the world’s most powerful.

In many parts of the world we see the start of preparations for Christmas. Those preparations occur earlier and earlier each year. Do our spirits receive the same early preparation for this core season?

Children from Israel and from Palestine have experienced very high doses of rejection and violence recently. Despite this unbearable reality, there is a child who knows how it feels. He was rejected on the very first day of his birth and endured exile under threat to his life. The story of this child is now being repeated in many places, and most intensively in the Holy Land. Once we have set our beautiful Christmas trees and organized our mangers with the ox and donkey around baby Jesus, let us meditate once again on what the Lord said through the Prophet Isaiah: The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand“ (Isaiah 1:3).

Isn’t it time for all of us who consider ourselves the “people of God” to finally understand? This world is thirsty for peace. Peace will reign only when those who aspire for a mighty and oppressive Messiah or Mahdi or Khalifah realize that this Messiah is the very child they keep rejecting, terrorizing and massacring. The child they keep rejecting is not another anointed human or another prophet. God incarnated as a human, transcending the laws that thought this impossible. He did so because of his love for us humans. It is God that they keep trying to kill. Only a repentant, quiet and still soul can embrace this truth.

Footnotes

[1]  In “Orientalism” by Edward Said.
[2] Declaration by Abbas Zaki, the representative of the executive committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization).

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Wadiaa Khoury

Associate Professor

Wadiaa Khoury, PhD, is Associate Professor at the Faculties of Education of the Lebanese University and Université Saint-Joseph. She has …
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