Monday, August 25, 2014

 In the article, "Why do Palestinians continue to support Hamas despite such devastating losses?," Noam Sheizaf, an Israeli journalist writing to a primarily Israeli audience, argues that resolving conflict depends on understanding the way one's enemy thinks; or, to put it another way, being empathetic to your enemies.  He notes U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's perspective that, "part of President Kennedy’s successful management of the Cuban Missile Crisis was his administration’s ability to put itself in the shoes of the Soviets and understand their point of view." Applying this to the crisis in Gaza, he points out that only by understanding the Palestinian desire for freedom can Israel hope to bring an end to the cycle of violence and revenge. The same point can be made in the opposite direction, of course: Hamas would do well to take a lesson from the examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela, all of whom embraced peaceful resistance models under similar persecution with very different results from those Hamas has achieved in the 27 years since its founding (granted, Mandela's journey took much longer). I am directing this point at Palestinian leadership in their struggle with Israel, not at residents of Gaza in dealing with their own leaders; Sheizaf notes the absurdity of demanding that the people of Gaza protest against Hamas, as is often suggested in Israeli circles, in the midst of a war-zone. For both sides, there is a need to empathize with the others' perspective; only when at least one side is willing to do this can the cycle of violence be broken.

I believe Sheizaf's view is profoundly biblical. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew records Jesus words, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:43–45 ESV). The apostle Paul quotes Proverbs 25:21-22 when he says, “'if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:20–21 ESV). We might protest that this advice is given to individuals, not governments; yet we see from McNamara's perspective of President Kenedy's example that governments would more effectively 'wield the sword' (Romans 13:4) by heading and appropriately applying such advice.

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