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I wonder how many other times that question has been asked in war. I am sure some of our troops have asked that question in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just in response to tragedies like Haditha. Just in general, "My God, what have we done?"
I wonder about Israeli soldiers. It seems that because of all the carnage around the globe in recent years, no one thinks much about civilian casualties anymore, but just as with Hiroshima, issues of proportionality do not go away. How much destruction in Beirut is appropriate response to the kidnapping of two soldiers?
We in the United States have become accustomed to thinking of the Israelis as diligent and industrious people who have made the desert blossom like a rose. But they have been hampered in their work by Palestinian terrorists who are bent on driving them into the sea. We can understand the Israeli paranoia when we realize that, prior to the 1967 War, the distance that those terrorists had to drive the Jews from their border to the Mediterranean was closer than from here to Youngsville. If I had a mortal enemy that close, one who had vowed to stop at nothing till I was wiped out, I would be a little "antsy" too.
Like many of you, I have been glued to the news these past couple of weeks and feeling sick at the vivid scenes of war's devastation and the human suffering in the Middle East. We mourn the violence and, out of habit, pray for peace. But we wonder what in the world is going on?
As I say, I do understand Israel's concern about their national security, and I also affirm that nation's right to live in peace. The evidence is clear that Hizbullah, one of those groups that insists Israel has no right to exist and has vowed to do whatever is necessary to destroy it, has provoked this current crisis. Since Israel withdrew its forces from Southern Lebanon in 2000, Hizbullah has built up a stockpile of thousands of rockets, has continued sporadic attacks on Israel, and, recently, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. Regardless of any excuses they might make, regardless of any real or imagined injustices they feel called to correct, attacks on innocent Israeli civilians is intolerable. Hizbullah is to be condemned in no uncertain terms and it has been, even by Arab neighbors.
But then Israel struck back. Hard. Harder than necessary, some feel. The world watched as the bodies of all those children were pulled from the rubble following the bombing of Qana, the same "Cana" where, according to tradition, Jesus performed his first miracle, the changing of water into wine.(1) The world has seen the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure, which took 15 years to rebuild after the devastating civil war. Israel has gone after Hizbullah, but is destroying Lebanon in the process and, lest we forget, Lebanon's fledgling democracy. There should be no double standards when it comes to how we label "terrorist" acts. When any nation state carries out military policies which it knows will kill many civilians, and deliberately targets civilian infrastructures, the label applies.
Last week, Ze'ev Maoz, an Israeli professor, wrote in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, "This war is not a just war. Israel is using excessive force without distinguishing between civilian population and enemy ..." Another Ha'aretz columnist, Gideon Levy, wrote, "This war must be stopped now and immediately. From the start it was unnecessary, even if its excuse was justified, and now is the time to end it. Every day raises its price for no reason, taking a toll in blood that gives Israel nothing tangible in return."
Sadly, our own government has provided no real leadership thus far, being unwilling to embrace the international call for a ceasefire. It has rather been Israel's major supporter and has expedited the shipment of additional weapons. What little influence we had with Israel's neighbors before has been depleted further by their now being convinced that American foreign policy for the Middle East is being written in Tel Aviv.
For Christians there are some deeper issues. American Christians seem to have forgotten that there are Christians and churches in the Middle East. Lebanon, for example, has had, for much of its history, a sizable number of Christians - currently about 1.5 million, or 40% of the population - which means there are fellow Christians potentially affected as casualties and refugees by these Israeli military attacks that our government is supporting.
One of my associates when I was pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Ft. Myers, FL had on his office wall a poster from the Mennonites that said "A Modest Proposal for Peace: Let the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill each other." Well, you have to begin somewhere, and agreeing not to kill other Christians is a radical enough idea for us. In the present atmosphere, it is almost inconceivable that we should be a nation who would not kill Muslims so, if we could just decide that America should never support the killing of Christians, that, in the words of Martha Stewart, would be a good thing.
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem," says the psalmist. The Hebrew pilgrims have arrived in the Holy City and are thrilled at what they see. But they know that Jerusalem has seen its share of violence and bloodshed - throughout history, more wars have been fought at the gates of Jerusalem than anywhere else in the world. Ironic when you consider the name Jerusalem means "possession" or "foundation of peace."
Riad Kassis is executive director and chaplain at the J. L. Schneller School in West Bekaa, Lebanon. He is also a lecturer in Old Testament Studies at the Near East School of Theology in Beirut and formerly at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary there. On Christianity Today's web site this week he wrote,
Children normally pray brief and sweet prayers before they go to bed. Friday evening, my seven-year-old daughter, a Lebanese, and her four-year-old cousin, an American, stood side by side, stretched up their hands, and prayed. It was neither a prayer to keep them safe during the night nor was it a prayer to bless Dad and Mom. It was not even addressed to God or Jesus, as prayers usually are. It was a spontaneous prayer that came from pure hearts, mingled with politics and the current tragic events. "Condoleezza Rice," they said. "We are in trouble in Lebanon. Please save us!" They repeated this prayer several times. When my daughter was told that prayers should be directed toward Jesus or God, she answered: "But Condoleezza is able to stop the war on us, is she not?"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Pray for the peace of the entire Middle East, if not for the sake of the poor folks caught in the midst of the ongoing conflicts, then for ourselves. If these tensions are not resolved, the likelihood of them spilling over and involving the whole world is becoming greater by the day.
August 6. An auspicious anniversary, and with the state of the world currently, it is with a real sense of urgency that we pray for peace.
1. John 2:1-11