Gaza: A time to reflect
The tenuous cease fire to the mad violence last week in Gaza, should be both a relief and an opportunity to refocus our determination that this violence stop happening, and never happens anywhere again.
We live in a violent system. While there is an overriding yearning for peace and unity in every one of us, there is also a distorting, competitive culture that possesses the world of our thoughts and emotions.
Within this thought-world, extremists who act out violently have a kind of multiplier effect; their violence resonates powerfully throughout the social system. A drastic example of this was the 9/11 attackers. By laying down the lives of 19 terrorists and an expenditure estimated at $100,000, they changed America and much of the industrial world forever, wasting thousands of American and allied lives plus the lives of many, many more Iraqis, Afghans and others.
In our misguided response we have also utterly wasted more than $1.3 trillion while we’ve lost a large part of our freedom and security. How was a small band of fanatical men able to wreak such enormous changes on such a vast country? They played us like a fiddle, because the violent energy they embodied was the same violent energy that resonates throughout this country, pervading its value system and culture. They understood us much better than we understood them.
Consider by contrast an episode at the conclusion of the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-56. Attempting to disrupt the gains of the civil rights movement’s opening campaign, some extremists set off a bomb. Normally, this would have sown panic in the African American community. But because of the powerful nonviolent spirit that prevailed at that time, the explosion produced instead a calm resolve to continue the nonviolent struggle. In a nonviolent system, sporadic violence can be absorbed; in a violent system it’s magnified.
This is why extremists whom even Hamas cannot control, and others whom the Israelis cannot or will not control (I’m thinking of the “Settlers”) cause such suffering, overwhelming the deepest aspirations for peace and security of a great majority. We allow revenge to rule and we lose when we do.
Therefore, the first lesson to draw while we have this ceasefire is that, if we wish for a world of peace and justice, we must build from the ground up a system of robust harmony and respect for all human beings that can neutralize the work of extremist minorities. We must put behind us for good the notion that we can win security by violence.
My dear friend Sami Awad of the Holy Land Trust in Bethlehem has been doing nonviolence education and nonviolence training among his fellow Palestinians for two decades. Now, thanks to the bombings visited on Gaza, he finds himself confronted by the most intense hatred toward Israel he’s ever seen. How is this going to make Israel – or anyone else – more secure?
A world that’s free from violence will come about only when people like Sami are not voices crying in the wilderness but empowered by the world around them.
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Michael Nagler is professor emeritus of Classics and Comparative Literature at UC Berkeley.