Selective compassion in Gaza

16 August, 2005 at 7:49 pm 9 comments

It's true, you know: we human beings can always easily see the splinters in others' eyes, all the while breathtakingly unaware of the dirty great planks in our own! If nothing else, the coverage of the Jewish settlements demonstrates how selective compassion works. I've just been watching Sky news, where a Jewish settler asks one of the soldiers sent to ensure the evacuation of the settlement, "Where's your humanity?" And we've had to listen to the Israeli prime minister apologising to the settlers for their "betrayal" as they're "forced to leave the land and homes they have occupied for decades". "Occupied" is precisely the word, isn't it? The Israeli settlement policy has gone ahead with brazen disregard for the rights and humanity of the Palestinian people. Palestinians have been forcibly evicted from the land that their families have owned for generations – millennia, sometimes! When I was there, I spoke to family who can trace their lineage and family land back to the time of Christ. Now the Wall cuts straight through their olive plantation, and they have neither the right nor the means of getting to it. More than half their land has been stolen overnight, and with it, their livelihood.

I spoke to others who were residents of one of the refugee camps. Camps that are over 40 years old! And to others who had had to watch while the Israeli bulldozers reduced their homes to rubble and tore up their plantations because their home had been zoned for the site of the latest settlement. And I want to know, where was Israeli humanity then? Do the settlers somehow think that the grief, andger, fear and heartache is something only they would feel when they are uprooted from their homes? Are Palestinian people somehow less human?

Com-passion means, literally, "suffering with". Compassion is what defines God's nature for Jesus. Look at the parable of the Good Samaritan. What makes the Samaritan different from the priest and the Levite is that he has compassion on the mugging victim, lying half-dead on the roadside. And his response, says Jesus, is not only the answer to the question of "Who is my neighbour?" but, even more fundamentally, also to the question of "How can I love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength?" Compassion is god-likness. It is holy.

It is also non-selective. Compassion looks at everyone and "suffers with" them. In effect, it says, "Imagine if that person were me! How would I feel?" The result? We start to "do to others as we hope others would do to us". This is the mustard seed of a world in which there are no more victims.

The cry of the settler was not one of compassion, but of self-pity. He could see only himself and his pain. Self-pity asks, "Why me?" There is no doubt: the Jewish settlements ought to go. They are an affront not only to Israel but to a world which wages war on Saddam Hussein on the pretext of his non-compliance with UN Resolutions, yet has stood by and watched Israel illegally and in contravention of all that might be named "humanity" steal Palestinian land, build an apartheid style Wall, and thumb its nose against resolution after resolution by the UN.

So what might compassion mean in the case of the Gaza settlers? I find myself dangerously unmoved by the settlers' grief. I want to say, "But you've brought it on yourselves. You've had it all – illegally – for so many years. NOW you're getting a feel for what it's like! GOOD!!!!" But that makes me pause. Without backtracking at all on the rightness of the pull out, I try to see them, not as part of a regime I regard as terrorist and hateful, but as victims of that same regime (albeit willing participants, not those on the recieving end!). They are victims only on this sense: that their humanity has been so stunted, twisted and scarred by being part of Israeli aggression against the Palestinians that they are left lost and bewildered, able only to see their own pain and loss. And maybe – just maybe – this may prove to be the birth of new possibilities. Because it is when we find ourselves victims of the same type of injustice that we mete out to others that our self-pity has the possibility of growing and being transformed into compassion. That is when we make the sorts of vows that say, "What has happened to me must never be allowed to happen to another human being!" Then oppressor and victim are united in a shared experience that just might open their eyes to a shared humanity.

Wouldn't it be great if significant numbers of former settlers found themselves thus converted, and themselves became mustard seeds of a new, compassionate, human way of being Israeli?


Entry filed under: current affairs.

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. homileo7  |  17 August, 2005 at 3:18 pm

    I could not agree with you more wol. The settlers are victims of another type. However visiting Israel three or four times as I do to see my son, it is my experience of ‘normal’ Israeli’s that they cannot abide the displays of nationalistic racism acted out by the settlers in their name.
    It would be astonishing if as you say the settlers ‘became mustard seeds of a new, compassionate, human way of being Israeli?’ However I remain stubbornly cynical. I have a terrible suspicion that this is merely a tactical withdrawal in order to hold on evenly more tightly to the West and East Jerusalem settlements.

  • 2. Wol  |  20 August, 2005 at 8:28 pm

    Agreed, homileo … to a point! There are plenty of Israelis who do indeed think like that. But my question is about how many. After all, they elected Sharon. And his electoral madate for hardline policies, like Bush’s, has got bigger, not smaller. It’s a bit like the days when you couldn’t find anyone who admitted to voting Tory, yet the Tories won the election!

    If I’m pressed, I’m not very sanguine about the settlers changing in the way I hope. But I do believe in the possibility of such transformation. After all, I worked for Ian Smith! And I believe in a Christ who is genuinely present in suffering. So I keep praying …

  • 3. Wol  |  20 August, 2005 at 8:30 pm

    Oh – I’m absolutely sure you’re right about the tactical reasons behind the withdrawal! The Israelis want out of Gaza in the same way that the British government wants out of Northern Ireland: it’s a no-win situation for them. But, unlike the Bristish and Northern Ireland, they want to establish and strengthen the settlement programme in other places that yield strategically better dividends.

  • 4. homileo  |  23 August, 2005 at 7:15 am

    Wol, I thought you might be interested in the following:
    A photo album of the apartheid wall by Adam.

  • 5. Lucy  |  2 September, 2005 at 8:31 am

    No. They are not victims just in one sense. They are the latest manifestation of a very well established victim culture.

    One of the reasons why victimisation is such a huge part of the Israeli/Palestinian scene is because abused groups as well as individuals tend ( unless they are unusually self-aware and process- aware) to become abusers.

    Probably the largest single unifying factor at the time of Israel’s establishment – clearly overarching the linguistic, cultural and religious/non religious difficulties which needed to be overcome – was the common experience of being abused.

    The anomaly which Homileo mentions, that civilised Israeli nationals have a real and conscious distaste for what’s going on, will never stop the collective unconscious from continuing to act out the crap. I’m not saying healing can’t take place. It can. Truth and reconciliation programmes are (where they work), the process for the group and the individual of re-humanising by making conscious.

    But, as in any society, compassion only works where we look at ourselves with a cold, clear eye and notice that we may be condemning something monstrous and condoning it at the same time.
    Without making excuses for Israel, I do see them as particularly susceptible to this since their society was, and very recently, built out of Pain.

    To some Israelis the pictures of their settlers in distress will bring very vivid flashbacks which sadly fit bits of their self identity; and further “proof” of persecution.

    Ok. So I’m making it more complicated.

  • 6. Wol  |  2 September, 2005 at 9:33 am

    You’re pointing out real complexity rather than causing it, Lucy! You’re right about the psychology of abuse. The state of Israel is founded on the memory of the Holocaust: “It must never happen again!” And it must never happen again! The problem is that “It must never happen again” so easily trasnposes (via the cycle of abuse) into “It must never happen again to us!

    So it is vitally important to understand where the mindset comes from and never to downplay the terrible history of Jewish suffering (not only at Nazi hands but British, too, I might add!). What is important, though, is that the international community hold Israel to account for their oppressive policies precisely in order to affirm the wickedness of the past. The human tendency is to make it not ok for certain people to soffer, but ok for others. The challenge is to make one race of all humanity: what is good for one is good for all and what is uncountenanceable for one is uncountenanceable for all.

    This, of course, is precisely the dynamic in the prophetic texts of the OT: if God heard your cries in Pharaoh’s brickpits and rescued you from the msiery of slavery, what sort of community ought you to be? Certainly one that is as passionate about freedom for others as you are for yourselves!”

    To be non-selective in compassion for the situation there seems to me precisely to take sides with the Palestinians as victims and affirm their cause in order to bring about a just peace as speedily as possible. It is mwithin the dynamic of ending their suffering and establishing justice that both Israelis and Palestinians will find themselves released from the cycle of violence and oppression into a genuine humanity. In that sense, ending the oppression is the equivalent of the liberation of the camps.

  • 7. Lucy  |  2 September, 2005 at 11:52 am

    Yep. I buy all of that.

    I also want to know why YOU have access to italics when you want to emphasise a point and I have to use capital LETTERS….

  • 8. Anonymous  |  2 September, 2005 at 12:33 pm

    You have to use HTML tags (see the note on the “Leave your comment” box). To make something italic, you need to begin and end your word with the relevant tag. Use the keys with an i in the middle (I can’t write it, or the machine reads it as HTML). Then your word or phrase. Don’t use spaces before and after the tag. Then close with /i in those arrow brackets.

  • 9. Lucy  |  2 September, 2005 at 9:30 pm

    Thank you,very much , Anonymous.


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