Roger and Marlene have lived in the same community for seven decades. Their parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents also lived in this community. They are all dead now, but their children and grandchildren live not far from their home. Not in the community the family has called home for over a century, but nearby.
Land, community, and family matter to Roger and Marlene. These things and others give them a sense of permanency and belonging. While they have traveled the world for work and pleasure, Roger and Marlene always return home; to that place where everything seems safe, secure, and right.
One day, an outsider named Benjamin came to their property with a bulldozer and backhoe. Acting as if he owned Roger and Marlene’s property, Benjamin began preparing the ground for a basement. Once the basement was built, scores of construction workers began building a two-story home just fifty feet away from Roger and Marlene’s ranch home.
Both Roger and Marlene were outraged over Benjamin appropriating their land and building a house without their permission. “Surely, this is immoral and the community will put a stop to it.” Roger and Marlene quickly found out that the community had been taken over by outsiders; that these outsiders planned to let people squat on properties and build homes on land that didn’t belong to them. “What justification could there be for allowing outsiders to usurp the rights of property owners?” Roger and Marlene discovered that the outsiders believed that an ancient religious text promised that the appropriated land belonged to them; and that they had every right, if necessary, to take it by force. In their minds, God was on their side.
Thousands of new homes were built in the community, causing untold heartache, pain, and loss. Roger and Marlene, along with their neighbors, said “Enough is enough! It is time to put an end to what historians call apartheid. The community pushed back, without success. In fact, the outsiders built a fence around the community, blocking all outside access. Residents were trapped inside the fence, and people outside of the community were not permitted to visit. This meant Roger and Marlene’s children and grandchildren couldn’t visit them.
For the next sixteen years, Roger and Marlene lived in what sociologists called the world’s largest prison. Two million people lived in their community, and all of them were trapped. Outsiders controlled every aspect of their lives, from when and if they were employed to whether they had food, water, electricity, and basic services on any given day. Every day was a struggle for existence.
Finally, part of the community decided to push back, using violent means to remove the intruders — outsiders who stole their land and robbed them of the ability to earn a living and live safe, secure lives. These community members were rightly labeled terrorists for their indiscriminate killing of innocent, men, women, and children.
The outsiders declared war on the community, bombing and killing innocents. It seems that terrorism is the modus operandi for the community and outsiders alike. This bloody war has the potential to become a regional war, drawing in countries that support the community and outsiders with weapons and money. Neither side is without blame.
Outsiders across the world think the community is to blame; and that they started it. Did they? Who appropriated the community’s land? Who is illegally building homes on property that doesn’t belong to them? Who is keeping two million people from earning a living and having the basics of life? Who keeps the community from receiving medicines and medical care?
To understand the community’s violent response to the outsiders, we must answer the question “Why?” As a child, I cornered a mouse in our garage. I harassed the mouse, chasing it throughout the garage. Finally, I had him right where I wanted him. As I bent over and reached my hand down to catch the mouse, it suddenly turned on me and bit my hand. Who was to blame for the mouse biting me?
Israel has harassed, imprisoned, and killed Palestinians for decades, especially in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hamas, a militant Muslim group that controls Gaza, has repeatedly attacked Israel, trying to push the invaders out of their land. While I vehemently condemn Hamas’ murderous actions, I refuse to ignore Israel’s culpability in the bloodshed. Israel provoked the mouse and it bit them. What happens going forward remains to be seen.
Many American politicians — especially Republicans — are Zionists, believing that Israel has a sovereign, absolute right to all the land a fictional man named Abraham (and by extension God) said was theirs — the Promised Land. No two-state solution. No Palestinian sovereignty. Apartheid? What’s that?
I condemn Hamas’ violence against the people of Israel. That said, I refuse to ignore the WHY? behind the bloodshed. Most American children think that the “Indians” were savages; that they raped white women, murdered their husbands, and kidnapped their children. Awful acts of violence, to be sure. However, settler and military violence against indigenous people preceded the cowboy and Indian war scenes made popular in American movies. Fortunately, historians are now telling what Paul Harvey called “the rest of the story.” Stories such as the one about our Godly, Bible-believing forefathers locking hundreds of indigenous people in a building and setting it on fire.
Savagery abounds in our world. Why? We wrongly think that violence, bloodshed, and murder are the cure for everything. The United States has been at war most of my life, from Vietnam to our current proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. In the twentieth century, U.S. military personnel and munitions wounded and killed millions of innocent people. We have continued to follow this bloody, violent path in the twenty-first century. War never brings peace. Peace begets peace. All war does is temporarily bring a cessation of hostilities. One day, the violence in Israel/Gaza/West Bank will temporarily end. If the warring sides don’t make equitable peace, it is only a matter of time before something new (or old) reignites the violence. And with every armed conflict, the world risks catastrophe, perhaps even world war.
We have never given peace a chance. Instead, we give lip service to the concept, all the while planning and strategizing to destroy and wipe out our “enemies,” never asking “why” they are our enemies. Largely ignorant of history, people are driven by tribalism and religion to pursue superiority, power, and economic security with violence and bloodshed. This path will ultimately lead to the destruction of the human race.
Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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