As I hunker down under the blasts of Hamas rockets in central Israel, I cannot even think about my own safety. The hellish images of old people being tortured, young girls being raped and babies being beheaded have commandeered all of my emotional bandwidth.
As I repeatedly ask myself why this has happened, a statement made by Abraham Lincoln comes to mind. “The best way to destroy an enemy,” he said, “is to make him a friend.”
To make a friend, empathy and understanding are helpful. To sustain a friendship, acknowledging one’s failures is essential. In this case that includes the failure to correct mistakes that were made a thousand years ago when the Knights Templar, the Teutonic Knights, and the Hospitallers decided to crush Islam. In the aftermath of those wars, absent from the historical landscape is a Western world extending its hands in search of genuine reconciliation.
It is easy to be deluded by the idea that the current hostilities are simply about a six-mile-wide enclave called Gaza or a Palestinian state on the West Bank. Israel withdrew from Gaza nearly 20 years ago and the end result of self-governance has spoken for itself. The Palestinians were offered a state in 1947, were content with Jordanian and Egyptian occupation between 1948 to 1957, offered a state again in 1967, signed the Oslo Accords in 1993 that Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat publicly called “a Trojan horse”, saying he planned “to eliminate Israel,” and rejected other offers including in 2009 when Palestinians were offered 95% of everything they demanded. The most recent offer was rejected in 2020.
If this was about land, the differences would have been settled long ago.
Inscribed in Islamic faith are requirements to be kind (to people and animals), to give generously to charity, to forgive, to control anger, and to be honest, patient, and just. But just as the West lured itself into believing it had won, or at least not lost the Crusades, there were those within the Islamic world who countered that conviction with what has emerged as warped and brutal intolerance. That intolerance is no surprise given that it has taken decades for even the most enlightened and moderate Islamic leaders to abandon this culture of rejection and recognize a Jewish State as one of brothers rather than aliens. However misguided, it is easy to see why those committed to Israel’s destruction will not readily abandon convictions that were a millennium in the making.
In conflicts between cultures, there are lots of ways to win. In the last two centuries, the West has done its winning through economic, technological, and imperial force. But for Judeo-Christian values to prevail, winning means acknowledging that Islam’s monotheistic beliefs are based on our own, and in spite of our differences, we must have the will and courage to advance relations on the common ground we do share.
Like all civilized human beings, I am enraged by the recent atrocities that the perpetrators claim are fundamentals of their Islamic faith. Managing that rage represents one of our biggest challenges over the coming days and weeks as we mustn’t let it undermine our mission to defeat hatred. Winning means opening a new page in a 1,000-year-old chapter marked by the failure to understand and genuinely respect a worldview to which we do not subscribe.
As Voltaire, a believer in God and an opponent of religious fanaticism once said, “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”
Ron Katz is the president of the Tel Aviv Institute. He studied at the Graduate Theological Union and received his PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. He can be reach at email@example.com
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