When will they ever learn?

I remember the folk song, probably from the 60’s, with the refrain, “When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?” That is what I think about when I reflect on the State of Israel’s war with the Palestinians.

The most obvious lack of learning is that we are about 65 years into the conflict since the State of Israel was brought into being, and the methods have not changed. Both sides use violence. Palestinians (this time Israel says “Hamas,” but we do not know that they are not some splinter group, although they might be Hamas) fire rockets into Israel. Lots of rockets. This time no one has been killed or injured, and a number of rockets have been shot down by Israel’s “Iron Dome” rocket defense system. But that is still an aggressive, violent attack on the State of Israel and it surely was done with the knowledge that Israel would respond. 
Then Israel responds with its part of the dance: “targeted” air and artillery strikes, lots of air and artillery strikes. And people are killed and wounded, some of them militants of one type or another, some of the women and children. The rocketeers may decide not to be deterred, for that would be to give in, and may continue firing rockets. Israel will then predictably invade and many homes will be destroyed (just as many have already been destroyed) and many more women and children, as well as both innocent and guilty men, will be killed or injured. Egypt has already opened its border with Gaza in order to transport the wounded to Egyptian hospitals. 
[This is not “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” but rather reattributing the “eye” or the “tooth” by smashing the other guy’s head and justifying it by saying, “He hit me first” without defining when “first” was.]
Israel’s response has already been far more violent and deadly than the rocketeers action has been, and an invasion would just escalate it all. The world will be righteously outraged (as well they ought). Israel will defend its actions as justified, but withdraw. Aid will flow into Gaza (to the extent that Israel allows that virtual prison-camp to get aid). Hamas will gain sympathy, but the rockets will lessen. But all that will have happened is that the triggers are getting reset for the next round.
When will they ever learn? When will they ever realize that there might be another way? When will they ever think that Jesus (or for that matter Gandhi) might happen to be right?
Israel’s spokesperson has refused to see any connection between rockets from Gaza and continued Israeli building of settlements in the West Bank. (That I heard personally on the BBC this morning.) When will they ever learn? Just because it is a different government, do they not think that acts of aggression against Palestinians (whether Muslim or Christian – Israel does not discriminate), such as taking their land, will not build up frustration, which will be met with how whatever group expresses its frustration?  
Of course, Israel’s chief sponsor, the USA, also has never learned. It has repeatedly tried to use military superiority, which is has, to destroy “aggressors” or “terrorists.” And it has not worked. It did not work in Vietnam, it did not work in Iraq, it did not work in numerous proxy wars, and it is not working in Afghanistan. But the USA tries that tactic again and again. After all, they will crumble under our “shock and awe” tactic, will they not? No, they will not. The formal army may, but the Lord is very good at raising up the weak and the insignificant to defeat the strong, even if the weak and the insignificant are not themselves righteous (one needs to remember that he used unrighteous Babylon and unrighteous Assyria and other much smaller unrighteous nations against his people Israel – as opposed to the present secular-ethnic State of Israel).
And within the US borders the response to threat has been to arm oneself, claim one’s rights, have more force than the “bad guys.” But it does not work there either, as the statistics show. That weapon purchased to defeat the “bad guys” is 43 times more likely to kill family or friends (as apparently happened in Houston last night when 7 family members were shot, 6 fatally as of this morning) and 26 times more likely to kill oneself (the apparent perpetrator of that event last night held the gun to his own head when caught by police, although in this case they talked him down) than to kill a “bad guy.” But we feel threatened with violence and so get armed for more violence in response. It is our “right.” When will they ever learn? When we will learn on a personal level? When will we learn on a national level? When will we learn in terms of what we sponsor on an international level?
The solution to such cycles was shown in Israel some 2000 years ago. Jesus taught about turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemies (Matthew chapter 5) and he lived the same when he absorbed human evil into himself on the cross and thereby broke its power. His followers continued that practice for centuries with many martyrs inspired to follow Jesus. (And, yes, I know that his followers also often forgot Jesus and picked up the methods of this world, whether it be in the persecution of the Donatists or the Crusades or other horrific acts. Interestingly enough, none of those perpetrating such acts were later named saints, people to be emulated.) 
If the State of Israel is to break the cycle it needs to become true Israel and follow the one true Jew, Jesus. Once they embrace his cross rather than weapons of destruction, they have a possible way forward. But I am not optimistic. Human systems continue to function systemically and so the cycles of violence (and other negative stuff) go on in families and nations from generation to generation. When will they ever learn? Perhaps only when destroyed by their own violence, perhaps only when Jesus returns to smash every tank, destroy every warplane and rocket, and declare his type of justice. Then, those who have learned will be part of his administration, but will the others ever learn even after that?
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About Peter H. Davids

I am Director of Clergy Formation for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, a professor at Houston Graduate School of Theology, and a Catholic priest (and former Episcopal priest for 34 years). I am also a husband, father, and grandfather.
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