Agony and Evil in Israel and Gaza
Heinous. Horrific. Devastating. Barbaric.
How many words are there to describe the death and destruction that Hamas terrorists inflicted on Israelis and so many others in the surprise raids on October 7, 2023 — and now, the retaliatory death and destruction inflicted by Israel on Palestinians and others in Gaza. This new evil is an old movie, playing over and over again for decades, always with the same bloody, murderous outcomes.
The agony, the evil of terrorism and war are not exclusive to one people or another, one nation or another. We do not condone or indulge the brutality of any actor, whether a nation state or rogue terror cell, by also acknowledging the appalling acts committed by responding forces. War is a manifestation of civilization falling apart, the moral center of our supposedly advanced form of life collapsing upon itself in the primal urge to dominate, eradicate, annihilate the perpetrators of our human catastrophe.
When Hamas terrorists raided Israel last weekend — thousands of missiles penetrating unprepared defenses, men with long guns paragliding out of the sky to murder young Israelis at a music festival, riding motorcycles and cars into kibbutzim while shooting every civilian in sight, murdering babies, taking hostages, mutilating bodies — they exposed a level of evil that demanded an immediate and ferocious response from Israel. Now we see the consequences of that fierce response on the Palestinians in Gaza — towns and homes leveled in relentless bombing, entire families blown apart, two million people trapped without water, food, electricity, functioning medical care, brutality at every turn.
I want to be clear: what Hamas did was utter terrorism, indefensible, and deserving of a strong response. Israel has every right to defend itself and its people. President Biden has pledged the full support of the United States in supporting Israel’s right to self-defense, and he is right to do so.
At the same time, I also acknowledge the horrific destruction that Israel is now inflicting on Gaza; the evil of war is the truth that no side ever really wins anything. War dehumanizes all of us.
On Wednesday this week, I wrote a short email to the Trinity community, saying in the first paragraph, “With horror and sorrow, we have been watching the reports of so much death and destruction in Israel and Gaza. The word “atrocity” seems insufficient to describe the appalling acts of brutality perpetrated by Hamas terrorists against people in the towns, fields and kibbutzim of southern Israel. There can be no justification for the deliberate infliction of so much suffering; the Jewish community has borne the evil consequences of virulent anti-semitism for centuries, and still it continues. We must stand firmly and clearly in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers, and we must continue to confront and root out the racial and ethnic hatred that has consumed and debilitated so many lives.”
Immediately, I received messages from several members of our campus community who are Palestinian. The messages are well-stated and rooted in historic facts. They cited the long history of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, the colonization of Palestine imposed by white Europeans, the incidence of oppression and racism perpetrated by Israelis against Palestinians. One respondent gave me permission to quote her message: “I urge Trinity to remember its Palestinian students and how using words like ‘Terrorist’ can insight hateful rhetoric against visibly Muslim and Arab students. As this issue is very complex and has been an ongoing fight against colonization and occupation for decades. The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians has never been a topic of discussion at Trinity and while all violent acts against innocent people should be condemned, please remember that Palestinians are also being affected and should have been offered these services long ago.”
I agree that we must recognize and acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinian people, and we must always work to ensure that no person at Trinity suffers any hateful rhetoric, discrimination or alienation because of their race, religion, ethnicity, culture, beliefs. Muslim and Arab students, faculty, staff and visitors are welcome here and should feel safe here, along with our Jewish students and colleagues, Catholics, Baptists, Hindu, Buddhist, persons of all faiths and those of no faith. We are a university community founded by religious women in the Catholic faith tradition that is rooted in the principles of social justice that start with the dignity and worth of every human life.
I also received a number of messages from Jewish students, staff and faculty who expressed appreciation for the fact that I acknowledged the suffering in Israel and support the right of Israel to defend itself against the appalling brutality of Hamas. Many of those who wrote to me had family and friends in Israel last weekend when the Hamas raids took place, and the fear and stress of the situation is clear. Fortunately, so far, all are safe.
Another message from a faculty member noted that, for the vast majority of Trinity students, the issues may seem remote, not of concern to them. Many Americans today are unaware of the long history of anti-semitism and oppression of Jews around the world; some may even believe those who deny the reality of the Holocaust, a bizarre and yet disgraceful movement encouraged by some fringe political elements to perpetrate anti-semitism here in the United States. If we can realize that the ideology of anti-semitism is closely aligned with the racial animus that drives white supremacy, we can do more to join together to confront the debilitating hatred that ruins too many lives around the world and even in our own country.
The explosion of violence in Israel and Gaza is a time for Trinity to do what it does best — to teach, to learn, to come together as a community rooted in our common commitment to social justice and racial equity. We join with Pope Francis in praying for peace in the Middle East, a prayer that has been recited often across the decades, and that is as urgent today as ever.
God of Comfort,
send your Spirit to encompass all those whose lives
are torn apart by violence and death in Israel and Palestine.
You are the Advocate of the oppressed
and the One whose eye is on the sparrow.
Let arms reach out in healing, rather than aggression.
Let hearts mourn rather than militarize.
God of Justice,
give strength to those whose long work for a just peace
might seem fruitless now. Strengthen their resolve.
Do not let them feel alone. Show us how to support their work
and bolster their courage. Guide religious leaders to model
unity and reconciliation across lines of division.
Guide political leaders to listen with their hearts as they seek peace and pursue it.
Help all people choose the rigorous path of just peace and disavow violence.
God of Love,
we lift up Palestine and Israel — its people, its land, its creatures.
War is a monster that consumes everything in its path.
Peace is a gift shared at meals of memory with Christians, Muslims, and Jews.
Let us burn incense, not children. Let us break bread, not bodies.
Let us plant olive groves, not cemeteries.
We beg for love and compassion to prevail
on all your holy mountains.