Just the other day I was with the local Imam and he was telling me how difficult things were for the Muslim community given what was going on in Syria. I empathised with him and we discussed their pain. He listed off statistics of innocent people being killed and we shared grief at the situation. Days later, I’m expecting a ‘phone call from the Daily Echo asking for a comment on Israel latest operation in Gaza which will likely be compared with that of Imam Majid and which will reveal our differences once more.
What disturbs me almost as much as the loss of innocent life is the polarisation of the rest of the world observing what happens. That disturbs me because the more polarised we become the harder it will ever be to find a solution and, therefore, the more likely it will be that more innocent blood is shed. Remarkably, last night I found myself online completely polarised, begging some historical revisionists to at least accept Israel’s right to exist. I hoped I could add to their knowledge but it quickly became clear that we were all entrenched in our own views and nothing would move us. I find myself reflecting back on that conversation with the words of the Bible ringing – “Do not answer a fool according to his folly or you will also be like him” (Prov. 26:4). Conflict like that in Gaza can so easily lead to polarisation – Jews flocking to defend Israel and Muslims flocking to defend Palestinians. Suddenly, we’re back where we were with Operation Cast Lead, angrily shouting at each other to get ‘the truth’ heard.
I’m not going to write to defend Israel today or to criticise it. I want to do both. Israel, of course, has a right to exist free from terror and yet it seems to have chosen to launch an attack on Gaza only hours after some kind of ceasefire had been brokered with Hamas. Israel has an absolute duty of care to keep its citizens safe but with every military operation it loses more global support and risks the long-term future of the state itself as the perception of a apartheid state gains ground in the media. We can’t win this. We can never win like this. There has to be another way…. I just don’t know what it is. Perhaps it is to not be polarised, to see both sides, to try to experience the pain of the other as well as of the self – individual or collective. Or perhaps that’s woolly wishful thinking that can be done from the comfort of Bournemouth. So perhaps instead of political commentary, instead of defending one side against the other when deep down we know that both sides have done wrong, perhaps all we can do is open our hearts and mouths in prayer and start by saying ‘Please, God, not again….’