"Where is the balance between wisdom and force?"
I've thought of that question several
times over the last few days, as accusations and counteraccusations fly
over Israel's May 31 fatal commando operation against the flotilla of
humanitarian aid ships attempting to break the blockade of Gaza. Nine
civilians were killed, including a 19-year-old American citizen of
On Monday, four others died, Palestinian
divers shot by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) off the Gaza coast.
Israel says the divers were preparing a terrorist attack; the commander
of Palestine's al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade says it was just a training
That oh-so-relevant question of wisdom and
force is posed in one of a series of essays written by Henry Ralph
Carse, a theologian and scholar living in Jerusalem during the
Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada. They've just been
published by Ziggurat Books in a collection titled No-One Land:
Israel/Palestine 2000-2002 (e-mail: email@example.com). A copy was waiting on my doorstep when I got home from the
Memorial Day weekend, just as news broke of the Israeli raid on the aid
"Nothing adds up," he writes in the
preface. "There is a deep flaw here, a wound in human nature through
which the fear and killing flow unstaunched. This should not happen, not
for the sake of liberty or security or revenge or guilt or sovereignty.
The whole thing is wrong."
The words are as true today. "A decade has
passed since the opening throes of the Second Intifada brought 'the
situation' to fever pitch," Carse continues. "But it has been a decade
of awakening for no one. We have been sobered by what we learned, but
this is 'newsworthy' to no one... No one is wiser, no one is free."
Henry Carse is from Vermont and we have
known each other for many years. A graduate of Jerusalem's Hebrew
University, the University of Kent at Canterbury in the UK and The
General Theological Seminary here in Manhattan, he has lived in the
Middle East for four decades, drawn there at the age of 18. "With my
guitar and long hair and idealism, I was running away from many shadows,
the least subtle of which was called Vietnam," he recalls. "Israel was
the place I chose. I found it more interesting than Canada, so here is
where I ended up."
Henry married and divorced in Israel, had
four children, became an Israeli citizen and was drafted into the Israel
Defense Forces, as were his kids. When I visited him and my friend Anne
almost exactly six years ago, he was teaching at St. George's College,
an Anglican-Episcopalian school for continuing education in East
Jerusalem in the West Bank.
An experienced and knowledgeable guide, he
took me around the still magnificent Old City and to the Palestinian
town of Abu Dis to see the 28-foot-high Israeli security wall, covered
in Hebrew, Arabic and English graffiti: "Wall = War," "Yes to love, no
We gave a Palestinian hitchhiker a ride to
an Israeli checkpoint; he was trying to get to his mother in the
hospital. We traveled to the ancient desert fortress Masada and floated
in the viscous waters of the Dead Sea. And through it all, Henry
expressed a deep love for this place often tinged with despair and a
sense of futility, just as it flows through No-One Land.
"I believe, even now, that the nonviolent
option is the only way for Israel and Palestine," he writes. "Whatever
the caliber of my weapon, if I am shooting the 'other,' I am forced to
deny that the 'other' is like myself. I can only kill from a desperate
position, a position, a position behind a veil, from which I cannot
afford to see the human beauty and uniqueness I am destroying. This is
true whether I am detonating a powerful explosive from 100 meters away
to rip through a busload of children, or launching the missile that
shatters the body of the doctor on his way to care for a neighbor. The
rock in the hand and the high-velocity projectile in the gunbarrel are
unalike in strategic weight, but they are identical in the fear and
desperation, the bluster and the numbness they represent. It's all bad
magic, bad medicine, and it is turning us to stone."
And yet despite the violent, mad
intransigence of both sides present and past, Henry remains hopeful that
"the political aspects of this ugly struggle will be resolved, and that
two nations will dwell side by side." Hopeful enough that a few years
ago he founded Kids4Peace, a program that brings Israeli, Palestinian
and American children of the three Abrahamic faiths to summer camps in
the United States and Canada, places where they can talk and play and
learn to be friends.
That may be the only hope, to catch
potential antagonists when they're young and pray they learn to outgrow
the bitterness and revenge.
"What is the balance between wisdom and force?"
Henry Carse asks. "... As our power to be compassionate falters, the
Occupation and its consequences continue killing us all. Jews and Arabs,
Israelis and Palestinians, have swallowed enough evil tidings to
destroy the souls of both nations, and still neither has the courage to
loosen the deadly grip. Silenced by dishonesty, we send more kids with
guns to spread the rule of state terror and the rule of partisan terror --
all for nothing but to defend the Occupation -- or to destroy it. Then,
silenced by grief, we bury the dead. If another more honest witness does
not step in, the lines of battle will soon pass through every classroom
and bedroom in this land. Someone must redraw the border between sanity
and cruelty; already we have forgotten where that boundary once stood."
Real peace, Henry writes, "can only be
realized between two very real enemies who are ready to compromise. We
need Israeli peacemakers, and we need Palestinian peacemakers, too.
Where are they?"
Another good question.