Gaza: Facing what is too frightening to face


By Tom Ehrich

I just finished "The Heist," Daniel Silva's latest thriller centered on an Israeli intelligence agent named Gabriel Allon. Perfect for a summer Sunday.

Do I come away from it with any insights into Israel? Oh, a trifle here and there, I suppose. But nothing that would help me understand the worsening war between Israel and Palestinians in Gaza.

In fact, despite reading many thousands of words about that conflict and the tensions and outbreaks preceding it, I can't say that I truly understand what is happening in that tormented parcel of God's creation.

I wonder if any of us in America can comprehend it. I know our feelings are high and, as is the American custom in cinema and sports, we are taking sides. But I doubt we grasp either side's narrative.

I just know the arguments sound stale, like credal formulas that suggest meaning but don't actually convey meaning. And yet the firepower and lives being lost are real. They deserve a fresh narrative.

I can't even tell if this conflict is itself the center, or are Israel and the Palestinians just stand-ins for larger conflicts?

I am reminded of our similarly intense and yet stale battles over abortion. By now we should see that those battles aren't about babies, mothers, theories of life, laws about murder. We use those terms. But there seems to be a deeper conflict that is too deep and intense to approach directly. I think it's about women and freedom, or more precisely, fear of women and fear of freedom, or put into one gasp-inducing dread, a visceral fear of the free woman.

Then, of course, you meet a free woman -- they do exist -- and she isn't frightening at all. Why were people so afraid?

I sense that nothing will get better in Israel and Palestine until they meet the actual thing they fear and discover that it isn't so frightening after all.

What would that thing be? God, perhaps, not the tribal God to which they cling so jealously, but the God who planted olive trees wherever soil and sun could be found, a God who has no stake at all in Jew or Muslim, Shiite or Sunni, but a stake only in the growing and pressing of olives.

The too-frightening thing might also be what to do with the toxic stew that all sides seem to be eating. It is a stew composed of history, remembered injustice, honor and revenge. It is a meal that can only bring death.

If there is to be a future, that stew must be thrown out, buried like so much waste and, by the grace of God, turned into fertilizer for olive trees.

Who can bring that God closer and dump that toxic stew? Not the old men currently making political and military decisions. Not the righteous takers of sides in American religion.

Most likely, "a little child shall lead them." Or maybe two children walking hand in hand to an olive grove.

Is that hopelessly naive and romantic? No, it's the one thing they haven't tried. And it's the one thing God said would bring peace.

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