In his work on morality, Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that “few are guilty, but all are responsible.” These simple words have echoed through my mind in these last week as atrocities continue to be reported in Palestine and Israel.
One could argue that all people everywhere act as they think they need to in the moment. People can too comfortably assume that while they personally are taking necessary actions, others are doing something mindless and inhuman. One of the greatest challenges is to realize there are ways other than weapons to deal with conflict between people who are, at the end of the day, brothers and sisters of the same human race.
We are seeing the results of the failure to take on this challenge. Parties to the conflict continue to hold the threat of shooting more missiles or rockets at any point, at innocent civilians, and without regard to a ceasefire; any semblance of trust has long been shattered, and failure to deal with conflict well seems inevitable.
Cynicism can easily become the default approach to even thinking about Palestine and Israel. This cynicism is only heightened by the unequal basis of the conflict, as is starkly demonstrated by the nearly 2,000 Palestinians who have been killed and the 10,000 more who have been injured, and the 67 Israelis killed. The military power and finances backing Israel dwarf the capabilities of a Palestine which has been subjected to oppression and occupation, including the blockade of Gaza and illegal settlements throughout the West Bank—grievances which are at the core of the conflict and ultimately undermine Israel’s own security.
In this place of despair, I return again to Heschel. Few people in the world feel guilty for the violence in Gaza and Israel. The people involved do what they feel must be done; they act on the limited choices they believe are available. The terrifying truth is that although only a select few are actually guilty of the catastrophe, we are all responsible. This includes those of us whose tax dollars provide more than $3 billion a year to Israel in military assistance. We are not responsible to simply assign blame and guilt—that would only deepen rifts that prevent a peaceful resolution. But we are responsible for the physical and emotional violence that continues to happen.
We can take on that responsibility, instead of taking an approach of cynicism. When we realize we are responsible for the violence, we can address the conflict in ways other than violence. We can have the authority to address the root problems of the conflict, including the Gaza blockade and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. By actively advocating for peace, we can take responsibility and maintain some measure of hope.
One way to advocate for peace now in Palestine and Israel is to write to Congress.
Seth Stauffer was an international affairs intern this past summer in the MCC U.S. Washington Office. He is a student at Eastern Mennonite University.
Printed with permission from Third Way Café.