In conflict, violence can take many shapes and expressions. We can see it in thought, word or deed. In Israel and Palestine we often hear violent rhetoric and we can see individuals translate these words into practice as they torch cars, fire bomb homes, and try and burn down holy sites. When it comes to violence, it is just a matter of time before violent individuals move from justifying actions against property to acting violently against people.
The individuals carrying out these acts of violence are most often byproducts of radical religious groups. On the Israeli side, we see radical Jewish groups and individuals attempt to purify the land by burning the church in Tabgha, attacking the bilingual school for coexistence in Jerusalem, stabbing and killing at Jerusalem’s gay pride parade, and burning a Palestinian family in their home in the West Bank. On the Palestinian side, we see radical Muslim groups and individuals fight for nationhood while seeking to purify the land of what they deem unholy, throwing Molotov cocktails at cars, throwing stones at trains or buses, attempting to run over civilians with cars, and stabbing soldiers or civilians.
[Usvsthem2] What is behind this radicalization? We are seeing a strong reaction to shifting moral values and modernity. Radicals are going the opposite extreme, turning to a neo-absolutism. They want to enforce their absolute moral values by using violence. These groups challenge law and order, and claim that their interpretation of halacha (Jewish law) or sharia (Muslim law) is the best political order for society. One of the means they use to achieve their ends is violence, which inevitably leads to chaos. As a result, people lose their sense of stability, security, and become paralyzed by fear.
What is our response to this as believers? How are we to respond in an atmosphere that is so tense?
1) We need to be aware of and reject this zero-sum mentality of us versus them, Arabs versus Jews, Israelis versus Palestinians. What we currently see is not even about the ultimate “other” – the enemy camp – but about the “others” in our own ethnic communities, the very pious or radical versus those who disagree with them. We need to be careful not to embrace this absolutist ideology that leads to hatred and violence towards others.
2) The violence starts first in thoughts and words, then violence moves to action – toward those who disagree with us. We need to be careful what we think and how we speak, asking ourselves if our words will bring hurt or healing. As believers, our discussion needs to reflect godly attitudes, and we are responsible for the words we use against those who do not agree with us.
3) As believers, we need to bear witness to the transforming love of God through our fellowship and unity across ethnic, political, and theological lines. Dualism is not of God; it is not the children of God versus the children of darkness. God loves all people and seeks to bless all people. One of the best ways to bring this message of blessing and love is to act as living witnesses of God’s transforming power in our lives, which we then show to others.
By Salim J. Munayer