The world watches as people from all three of the Abrahamic faiths wait to resolve the Palestinian—Israeli conflict in the Gaza. The children of Isaac and of Ishmael, ancient cousins, stand face to face in enmity and warfare while Christians watch, agonize and argue over the conflict. All three faiths, Christianity, Judaism and Islam recognize the quote from the Old Testament: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yet they misconstrue its meaning and forget the true context in which it was used by Cain in reply to God’s questioning of the whereabouts of his brother Abel.
Yes, we are our brothers’ keepers. We bear responsibility for each other, and in those three faiths, religious leaders have the responsibility to practice their true religion. When ultra-Orthodox Jews build settlements in disputed territory, it is the responsibility of the rabbis to help repair the damage the extremists have caused and to recall the ethics of their history of oppression. When radical Islamists resort to violence in opposition to settlements and oppression, it is the responsibility of the Imams to boldly speak against those who pervert the true teachings of Islam. And when fundamental Christians forget that the true teachings of Christ was God’s most important commandment– love one another and to forgive one another— priests and minsters must bear the responsibility of the true meaning of their faith to help heal the rift.
Who is wrong? Who is the victim? Can something be done? What is the answer? Time and again, our best attempts are met with brick walls. “A two-state solution,” says the United States. But there can be no political solution until we open our hearts as nations and, (at the risk of sounding naïve and too religious) forgive. Anything short of that will fall short. The internal wounds that continue to cause decades of this geographic insane dispute need to be addressed before the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be resolved. This is not difficult to understand. And yet we wrap the Arab-Israeli conflict in complex nature, about “The Arab Mind”, about “Islamofascists” who “hate us for our freedoms”, and about mindless, irrational anti-Semites who hate Israel just because it’s Jewish and not because the overwhelmingly non-Jewish population there has to be destroyed in order to make it, and keep it, Jewish.
Simply put, the whole situation is like watching children in a playground fighting (very dangerously) one another in groups. They keep hitting each other first with stones and then as adults with rockets and mortars and other artillery claiming, “You (the other side) hit me first!” Even their cease fires are like children playing a game. It’s like making a New Year resolution to quit smoking and lighting as many cigarettes as possible and puffing away before that clock strikes midnight. So each side shoots a barrage of artillery before the cease-fire, and then every second that passes “past midnight” with respect to the cease-fire is a triumph for each side. The Jewish people feel victimized dating back to the Holocaust, and the Palestinian people feel victimized by the Jews and react to the Israelis. Two groups of God’s children, Isaac and Ishmael living with unresolved pain, feeling abused and so self-absorbed, that they are unable to feel the suffering of the other. And like children they keep hitting each other, as though to say, “You stop it first! No, you started it first! “And so it goes.
Somehow, somewhere, our religious leaders need to become involved and the politics of it all should evolve into supporting forgiveness. Both sides have been wronged and both sides have a great deal of apologizing to do. The concept of brotherhood is not foreign to those who truly wish for peace. There are many Israelis and Palestinians who understand this and support this; many who live in harmony with one another within the region and in the diaspora. Yet, Muslim clerics, Rabbis, and Christian ministers are failing their communities. They should be the ones debating less about the minor theological issues and teaching more the young, angry men of all three faiths the practice of becoming their brother’s keeper. And the United States needs to support this instead of trying to find military and political solutions which continue to fail. The US should start conversations to extend ethical and moral responsibilities in political, social, and economic issues to promote justice and peace, thus paving the way for serious negotiations, away from photo opportunities and lip service, proving we are our brothers’ keepers.