On the surface, at least, the purpose of a system of justice is to bring justice. In America, however, every defendant has the right to legal counsel. Every once in a while a sharp and crafty lawyer can get the defendant off, even if he was caught with blood on his hands. Such is the power of a persuasive argument. But is justice served when legal arguments and loopholes are used to subvert the truth?
We see unfolding before our eyes a tragedy in Gaza. Innocent civilians are losing their lives even as we speak. And as we witness the events of recent days, we also hear some rather persuasive arguments on both sides of the conflict. And since there are strong equities on both sides, and since the arguments are often equally persuasive, depending which side you’re on, then the same question arises once again: Is the cause of justice being served?
From the Palestinian side we hear arguments which would constitute a strong case in a court of law: that Israel is responding disproportionately in relation to the initial provocation of the firing of the homemade rockets and mortars, that the rockets were fired as an act of self-defense in the face of the closures and the economic boycott of Gaza, that only a few Israelis have died as opposed to hundreds of Palestinians, that the targeting of civilians violates international law, and so forth, and so on.
Likewise, those in support of Israel could counter these charges with equally persuasive arguments: that in the face of mortal enemies Israel is forced to project a strong image of deterrence, that the closure and boycott of Gaza came in response to a constant barrage of rocket fire which can potentially target as many as 500,000 Israelis, that the respective number of casualties on either side does not negate the right to self-defense, that the civilian casualties are not intended but are inevitable when the militants choose to position themselves among civilians, and so forth, and so on.
These are just some of the arguments that are volleyed back and forth like ping pong balls. And yet, where is the justice? What do you say to a mother who lost five beautiful daughters who were only trying to make their way on a horse-drawn carriage? We can continue to argue back and forth, and satisfy ourselves that we are out doing one another in the blame game. Or we can be a bit more original, and bring forth peace, instead.
For peace to happen, a lot of things will have to change. Foremost, as far as I can tell, is the way we think. In a way, when we go about gingerly arguing our positions endlessly, with no clear outcome in sight, aren’t we being just a little bit selfish? It’s about what I believe and what I think. In other words, it’s about me. And what is lost in the focus on me, is we.
We are all entitled to our beliefs, and to our ways of seeing the world. But are we entitled to trap ourselves in a vicious cycle of recriminations, a cycle that has no beginning, and no end, a cycle that will deprive our children of their right to a decent and peaceful life? It may well be time, before time runs out, and believe me, time is running out, to step out of ourselves and beyond our differences. It may be time to put on a shelf at least some of who we are and what we believe, in favor of something we can believe in even more, in favor of peace, in favor of sustainability, in favor of what makes sense.
Imagine, if we continue down the path we’re going, we may well find ourselves all dead, and even in death, arguing our case before God: “Oh God,” we’ll say, “We were right about this or that, and we had no choice but to do what we did, in your name no less.” And what do you think God would say in response? “I gave you life so that you could live, not kill, and not die, before your time. I gave you the common sense to bring a semblance of order to your lives. I gave you a wondrous world, full of beauty, so that you could create a paradise right here and right now. And what did you do instead? You took what could have been a heaven on earth, and made it into a living hell. And you did all that in My name? Well guess what…thanks but no thanks.”
Here is my dream for the Palestinian people for the New Year: a country of their own, side by side Israel, a country which enjoys the blessings of peace, prosperity, and freedom, where every citizen has the opportunity to pursue his or her dreams, and where every child dares to reach for the stars.
This war, tragic as it is, will soon come to an end, God willing. And then, hard as it may be to believe, because of many factors which are converging as we speak, there will be an opportunity to broker a lasting peace. Things can be done, right here and right now, by Palestinians, Israelis, and the rest of us around the world, to improve the chances for peace. But in order to do what we have to do, we will have to let go of some of our beliefs, of some of the history, and of some of who we are. We will let go of this, however reluctantly, so that we can realize a better version of ourselves, a version of ourselves that gives fuller expression to the potential for good that is within each and every one of us.
We were created in God’s image. And so, like Him, we too are creators. It is time to create a version of ourselves that allows God to see His image in us.