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Only Radical Empathy Will Solve the Gaza Conflict

08/07/2014 12:37 EDT | Updated 10/07/2014 05:59 EDT
MARCO LONGARI via Getty Images
A Palestinian man looks on while standing in what remains of his house in part of the northern Beit Hanun district of the Gaza Strip after a 72-hour truce accepted by Israel and Hamas came into effect on August 5, 2014. Israel and Hamas said they have agreed a new 72-hour truce, after increasingly vocal international demands for a ceasefire in the bloody 29-day-old Gaza conflict. AFP PHOTO/MARCO LONGARI (Photo credit should read MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images)

Despite being severely criticized by their co-religionists, several Jews, Christians and Muslims, straight and LGBTQ alike, stand for justice.

Supporters of the IDF -- Israeli Defense Force blame Hamas for the high death toll of Palestinian civilians. Some go so far as to blame all Palestinians for the murder of their children by electing the Hamas government.

Critics of the Israeli aggression on Gaza claim that Hamas rockets are merely a symptom of the real problem -- occupation and apartheid. They assert that Israeli leaders dehumanize Palestinians, refer to their children as snakes and call for the genocide of Palestinians and their mothers.

Supporters of the IDF claim that the Israeli forces constitute the most moral army in the world. Critics blame the Israeli army for committing war crimes. Supporters refer to the indoctrination of Palestinian children by Hamas, whereas critics point out the same for Israeli youth.

While every argument is met by a counter-argument, the fact remains that many innocent men, women and children have been murdered. As with the Syrian situation, the international community has not been able to prevent the tragic loss of human lives.

American, Canadian and several Arab leaders side with Israel, whereas Latin American, Scandinavian, Irish, Scottish, South African, and Turkish leaders stand by the Palestinians. Yet, beyond blaming Hamas or Israel and beyond the narrative of terrorism and Zionism, we have to seriously assume our responsibility to help find a solution to this conflict that has consumed so many innocent lives.

This is not a religious conflict, as many Jews and Muslims stand by each other in the diaspora. Jews have stand against Islamophobia just as Muslims condemn anti-Semitism. Inspiring stories exist where Muslims and Jews have shielded each other from oppression.

There is much that unites the children of Abraham. However, Israeli aggression in Gaza has the potential to strain inter-faith relations. It takes a lot to establish trust and quite little to break it.

Jews, Christians and Muslims are free to follow the higher ideals of their faiths that include human dignity and justice. They can unite to stand together against hatred fomented by extremists within their respective faiths. They can jointly reject ancient absolutist texts, refuse to demonize others and choose to alleviate human suffering.

However, standing by justice is not easy. We have to stand by what is right and just even if we have to go against our own people. Spiritual chivalry demands that we do what is right and just without expecting the same in return.

Muslim reformers who operate the Facebook page 'The Qur'an and the Life of Excellence' posted an excerpt on Gaza. Referring to Qur'anic verses, they assert that Hamas should work towards, peace, education, health and economic development for the people of Gaza.

While such reformers claim that Hamas should accept Israel as a reality, it does not mean that they should forgo a principled stand against occupation, checkpoints and illegal settlements.

Even though Israel remained largely protected against the Hamas rockets, the Prophet's rules for war strictly forbid targeting civilians. This has been exemplified by Muslim legends like Omar Mukhtar, Libyan resistance hero as depicted in the movie Lion of the Desert, who at one point orders his men not to shoot back at the occupying Italian soldiers, fearing that civilians would otherwise be massacred.

Some Jewish voices are rejecting hardened Israeli views, which are born from fear instead of the more difficult path of love. They strongly condemn the human rights violations by the Israeli government and oppose the racist rhetoric of right wing Israelis who unabashedly call for the genocide of Palestinians.

Rabbis for Human rights form human shields to protect Palestinian neighbours and their property from aggressive Israeli settlers. Jewish Voices for Peace and Independent Jewish voices have been asserting their voices against the massacre in Gaza despite some of them being branded as "self-hating Jews" by Israeli hawks.

Concerned by the skewed stand of the Canadian government, Gary Paterson, moderator of the United Church of Canada, boldly opined that while "Israel has every right to demand security" we must look at the larger picture. He strongly asserted:

But how can this invasion of Gaza, so overwhelming, destructive, and so disproportionate, bring real peace and security? If obtained at the expense of thousands of innocent lives, can it last? Hundreds of Palestinian civilians have been killed men, women and children -- children! Thousands have been injured.

The living conditions in Gaza even prior to the invasion are appalling -- so many people lack food, clean water, electrical power, and medical assistance. Such conditions, exacerbated by the siege for the past seven years, are literally life-threatening.

Canada must insist that Israel stop its occupation of the Palestinian territories and dismantle the settlements. Yes, Israel has the right to exist, in safety and security. So do Palestinians. Why does Israel not recognize the right of Palestine to exist within internationally recognized borders?

Despite intense criticism from hawkish Israeli supporters, many LGBTQ activists express their solidarity with Gaza as they recognize that all oppression is connected.

Dr. Sherry Ann Chapman refers to ubuntu -- I am because you are -- to explain why she chose to be a United Church ecumenical accompanier like her fellow Church member Dr. Dawn Waring in Israel and Palestine.

Such activists know what it means to be dehumanized, harassed, tortured and then blamed for inviting such suffering upon themselves. They understand how human beings implode when they are stripped of their dignity, denied their basic human rights and pushed to the extremes.

The straight and LGBTQ children of Abraham along with other activists cannot usurp the agency of the Palestinians to speak for themselves. Yet, silence is complicity and the international community has to recognize its urgent responsibility in protecting innocent lives. Cutesy and empty prayers must give way to concrete, concerted and urgent efforts towards peace.

We have to eschew jingoistic propaganda, rhetorical questions and the blame games to listen to the voices that call for radical empathy. We need to hear the families of the murdered youth Naftali Fraenkel and Abu Khdeir who reached out to each other. It is only this radical love that can help us save precious lives and usher in lasting peace.

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