Peace in the Middle East

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isaacishmaelThe supremacist thinking of Muslim extremists is grounded in culture, politics and nationalism – not in religion. Islam has been co-opted by politicians – technocrats serving as self-appointed arbiters of faith – who limit debate and interpretation rather than expanding it, and use their power to prop up their own political goals.

In Palestine, for example, Hamas and Hezbollah relentlessly preach to their subjects that the Middle East crisis is solely the fault of diabolical and subhuman Jews, who wish to take over the world and must therefore be annihilated.

They reject any offers of peace, because peace is not what they want. And land is not what they want. Previous offers of “land for peace”, previous offers of cease-fires, have brought no respite from attacks. Terrorist regimes always see peace overtures as weakness, and they prey on weakness.

But peace is what mothers and fathers and families want, it is what good decent people – of all Faiths, Traditions and Nationalities – who simply wish to live their lives and make a better life for their children, want.

I suspect the only way Peace in the Middle East will finally be achieved – and it will finally be achieved – is when people rise up and rid themselves of rulers and fanatics who cavalierly sacrifice them on an altar of their political egos and religious hatred, who proudly admit they would rather see their own people suffer for a hundred years, than live in peace and prosperity with their neighbors. From 2004 to 2008, 85% of al-Qaeda’s victims were Muslims! It doesn’t take the United States or the Israelis to carry out barbarity against innocent Muslim families.

Which is not to say that Israel or America have been completely innocent. Such people are still few and far between, but there are extremists in Israel who openly talk about expulsion and ethnic cleansing of Israeli Arabs. There have been examples of viciousness and lawlessness in attacks on innocent Muslims. Peaceful non-political Palestinians are still not able to control their money and resources, or to move about freely. Although Hamas is clearly responsible for endlessly provoking Israel (with little or no concern for the safety and well-being of their own people) by launching thousands upon thousands of rockets against Israeli cities through the years, a case can certainly be made that Israel, with its far stronger military, has oftentimes responded in a disproportionate way – and that even with the efforts they make to protect civilian life, far too many men, women and children have been wounded or killed. A case can also be made that the blockade is both excessive and counter-productive, keeping out weapons but also keeping out food and supplies, thus punishing innocent Palestinians and driving them toward the extremist camp.

It is now critical, and only just, that Israel listen far more compassionately to the viewpoint of Palestinians. After all, how would any of us respond if we were suddenly told by a group of outsiders that our homes were no longer ours, that the land where our families had lived for generations and where we had raised our children, would now be taken away; that the State where we live was henceforward the new homeland of the Native American peoples, and we had to take what we could carry and get out, in recompense for all the terror and slaughter of the past, just as the Nazis had terrorized and slaughtered European Jews? There might certainly be a kind of justice in this. But might this not cause years and years of rage, hatred, and violence?

And so, the two sides have to keep listening and negotiating, we have to keep trying. But the real path to peace is not through negotiations with these regimes, it is not through offering them land or money or yet another offer of truce.

The path to peace is through an unequivocal rejection of hatred and terror, by all decent people, regardless of their religious, cultural, or national traditions.

And I am hopeful, because sooner or later wisdom and decency always win out. There is much that has to be done to bring about peace. But it is important that each one of us remembers that the most important thing of all is that we become living examples of peace, justice, and love.

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{If you are interested in seeing how all the sacred stories, from all our traditions, are so wonderfully unified in their inner symbolic and spiritual meaning — a valuable truth that can help us all find real understanding, compassion, and peace with each other — please read my book, SYMBOLS, MEANING, AND THE SACRED QUEST: Spiritual Awakening in Jewish, Christian and Islamic Stories.)