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Reflections on Gaza and the Ritual of Mutual Destruction

by Hozan Alan Senauke, The Buddhist Channel, Jan 6, 2009

San Francisco, CA (USA) -- Gaza is burning. The violence must end before anything else can happen. We can all think nice thoughts about right and wrong, who acted first, who acted worst. We can argue about politics — national, international, geopolitical, corporate. Whatever intellectual thread my mind pulls at quickly comes to a hopeless tangle.

<< Medics treat a Palestinian boy who was wounded in an Israeli air strike in Gaza City

The reality of fear, death, and destruction is beyond all this. A father weeps for his five daughters who died in their sleep, “collateral damage” in the heart of Gaza City. A daughter cries out for her mother, lost in a Hamas rocket attack on the town of Ashdod.  Multiply that scene by a thousand. See yourself right in the midst of it. In this latest round, to date, more than 400 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli attacks. The Israeli government counts 19 fatalities from Hamas rockets since 2002.  

There is, of course, something pointless to the algebra of comparative suffering.  But Israel’s attack on Gaza is like shooting fish in a barrel. The body count and vast disproportion of weapons, technology, and killing make me ashamed to acknowledge that my government supplies so much of Israel’s weaponry and ashamed to be a Jew, even as I fear for the future of the people I was born to.  Present day Israel seems to have forgotten the words God spoke through the old prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 12:19,20):

…and say unto the people of the land, thus saith the Lord God of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and of the land of Israel; they shall eat their bread with carefulness, and drink their water with astonishment, that her land shall be desolate from all that is therein, because of the violence of all them that dwell therein. And the cities that are inhabited shall be laid to waste, and the land shall be desolate, and ye shall know that I am the Lord. 

I confess, this is not a God I am comfortable with. It seems to be the voice of primitive religion and warring tribes, hardly the standard I’d hope we would be raising today. But in the language of his time and place, Ezekiel speaks the compelling truth of cause and effect. 

Lets return to Gaza and Israel today. If you have heard bombs falling and seen the flash and glare of destruction, then you understand the essence of fear.  Never knowing where violent death may fall upon you. Anyone who has been to war knows exactly what this is like. If you have not felt it directly, please use your imagination.  

Two reflections, 2500 years apart, come to mind. 

As recorded in the Dhammapada, Shakyamuni Buddha said:

    All tremble at violence,
    All fear death;
    Comparing oneself with others
    One should neither kill nor cause others to kill.
                                  — Dhp. 129

    All tremble at violence,
    Life is dear to all.
    Comparing others with oneself
    One should neither kill nor cause others to kill.
                                  — Dhp. 130

    Victory breeds hatred,
    The defeated live in pain.
    Happily the peaceful live,
    Giving up victory and defeat.
                                  — Dhp. 201

Martin Luther King, Jr., speaking to his congregation in Montgomery, Alabama said:

I think the first reason that we should love our enemies…is this: that hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe. If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that's the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil… Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off, and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.
                            — "Loving Your Enemies" 17 November 1957

The rest is commentary.  In Israel & Palestine, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur, Burma, and a dozen other killing fields, no resolution will come from spiraling violence.  There will simply be more wounded and traumatized people who will wittingly or unwittingly pass their wounds to generation after generation.  As Dr. King said, “Somebody must have religion enough and morality enough to cut it off, and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.”

I don’t know precisely how to do this. But there must be a clear intention, a policy of non-retaliation, understanding that retaliation, however emotionally compelling, leads just to more retaliation. Generosity is always an option — offering food, medicine, shelter, and education — rather than death. Generosity is the basis of connection.  This offering doesn’t come from the superiority of one or another side, but on the fact that we need each other if we are to survive. We owe each other life, simply on the ground of our shared humanity. 

I’ve written before that a policy of generosity — which many will see as hopelessly naïve — can hardly be less effective (or more expensive) than the dance of death Israel and Palestine are presently locked into. I have to say that between Israel and Palestine, the vast preponderance of resources — wealth, technology, arms, food, and water — are controlled by the state of Israel. Palestinian militants seem to have one key resource, the will to say to Israel, we will not let you rest easily with all that you have and all you have stolen from us. 

Each side must have the courage and vision first to let go of violence, and then to step very carefully into the very midst of their fears.   Israel’s leaders have to let go of their stranglehold on land and resources. Palestine’s leaders have to let go of the belief that 1. Israel is an implacable enemy and 2. that somehow through their efforts Israel will disappear. (Some in Palestine clearly understand this.  A friend received a card from Wi’am, The Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem that reads: “We do not want to bring the Israelis to their knees; we want them to come to their senses.”)

It is incredibly hard to turn towards ones fears, whether they are personal, communal, or national.  In fact, greedy people and power-hungry demagogues on all sides will happily play on those fears to serve themselves. But we can help Israelis and Palestinians set aside violence.  We can raise our voices in support of peace. We can remind them that we wish their security and freedom from fear, as they wish for themselves.  

Call and write to the United States government and the United Nations to press for a full and immediate ceasefire, and an end to the devastating blockade imprisoning Gaza’s people. Open the border between Israel and Gaza, between Israel and the West Bank. Since the U.S, is the world’s largest arms dealer, we can press U.S. makers and vendors of high-tech weapons to stop this flow that feeds the Israeli military violence. 

The essential work of peace will begin in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. But each of us, and our governments, must help rather than toy with them for our own geo-political purposes.  We cannot close our eyes or turn away. 
(Update 1.5.09.  As we all can see, things have gotten much worse, and there is a full scale Israeli invasion cutting Gaza in half.  The Palestinian death toll is well over 500 and rising, the vast majority of these fatalities civilians. Each day this mad yet calculated violence makes hundreds or thousands of converts to hatred on all sides.  It is hard to keep despair at bay.)
The following links may be useful to you. Information for action - you can go directly to two websites:

  • End the Occupation http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article
  • United for Peace and Justice  www.unitedforpeace.org  and get to working links.
  • You can email Obama or post comments at http://change.gov/.
Contact the White House, the State Department, your Representative and Senators, and the Obama Transition Team to protest Israel's war on Gaza and demand an immediate cease-fire.

  • White House: 202-456-1111 or comments@whitehouse.gov
  • State Department: 202-647-6575
  • Congress: 202-224-3121 


Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Gaza Emergency Appeal: Gaza  Hospitals Already Filled to Capacity; Medical Supplies on the Verge of  Depletion

Since the beginning of attacks in Gaza three days ago, over  300 people have been reported dead, more than 1000 wounded, and many  hundreds more are in need of immediate medical attention. With a medical  system already on the verge of collapse as a result of the ongoing  closure, 1.4 million civilians are in desperate need of urgent medical  help from outside the Gaza Strip. PHR-Israel has the means to transfer  this help within days and is seeking to raise 700,000 USD during the  next week for purchase and direct transfer of supplies to Gaza  hospitals.

Palestinian hospitals in the Gaza Strip have  asked us for help in securing the following items:

  • Basic Sterilization  equipment
  • Needles
  • Dressings
  • Anesthetics
  • Catheters
  • Medical  gases
  • Endo-tracheal  tubes
  • Laryngoscope
  • Oxygen • Portable monitors, ventilators, ultrasounds and  x- ray machines
  • Clothing for medical teams
  • 105  Essential Medications
  • 225 Additional Medical  Supplies
  • 93 Laboratory items
  • Electric Shaving  Machine
  • Trolleys
  • Hospital beds
As the situation stands, Palestinian doctors are  performing surgeries without surgical gloves, local or general  anesthetics, gauze, sterilized equipment or sufficient oxygen for  patients. All together, there are only 1,500 hospital beds available in  Gaza's 13 publicly run hospitals. A fleet of 60 ambulances is now  reduced by half. The endless flow of new wounded and the need for beds  has led to a suspension of care for dozens of other patients, including  cancer, cardiac, and other chronically ill patients, who have all been  sent to their homes for the duration of the crisis. Patients are not  being permitted entry to Egypt and all referrals out of Gaza via Erez  crossing have been suspended. We are turning to organizations and individuals  like you who have demonstrated your respect for the right to health by  generously supporting PHR-Israel in recent years. PHR-Israel accepts donations via check or bank  transfer. To send a check by post, make check payable to Physicians for  Human Rights-Israel and send to: PHR-Israel

Attn: Gila Norich, Director of  Development
9 Dror St.
Jaffa Tel Aviv 68135 ISRAEL.

To make a bank transfer, our details are as  follows:

Account Holder: Physicians for Human  Rights-Israel
Bank: Hapoalim #12
Branch: Hashalom #662
Address:  106 Levinski Street, Tel Aviv, Israel
Account Number: 25938
IBAN: IL-70-0126-6200-0000-0025-938

US residents may make a tax-exempt donation via the New  Israel Fund (NIF). Checks should be made payable to "New Israel Fund". A  note with the check should be marked "donor-advised to Physicians for  Human Rights-Israel, ID# 5762."

NIF Address in Washington:

New  Israel Fund
P.O.Box 91588
Washington  DC

NIF Bank details:

1000  Vermont Ave NW
Washington, DC 20005
ABA #254070116
Acc#  66796296

For additional information on the current health  crisis gathered by Physicians for Human Rights, Al Mezan Center for  Human Rights (Gaza) and the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) on  the current crisis please click here. For more information on donations please contact Gila  Norich, Director of Development: gila@phr.org.il or by  phone, +972.3.5133.102 To contact Ran Yaron, Director of PHR-Israel's Occupied  Palestinian Territory (oPt) Department send mail to: ranyaron@phr.org.il , or call  +972.547.577696.


Two additional charities (besides PHR-Israel) you can contribute to online:

  • United Palestinian Appeal (UPA)
Both have long experience in providing emergency aid and programs in Palestine and are rated 4 stars by Charity Navigator.

Contact the White House, the State Department, your Representative and Senators, and the Obama Transition Team to protest Israel's war on Gaza and demand an immediate cease-fire.
 Thanks to Annette Herskovits for working on this piece with me. — A.S.

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