Gene Stoltzfus

A moment of opportunity in Gaza?

By Gene Stoltzfus
January 18, 2009

We have all been tortured by the suffering in Gaza. As we take time to absorb the latest developments, including what appears to be some break in the Israeli action, we continue to ask: Is there anything I can do? Am I limited to government statements, diplomacy, realpolitik and immobilizing personal outrage? How do I respond to, and out of, the despair? Is this the time when the posture of prayer may provide the spirit of openness for a solution waiting to be recognized from the treasures of mystery?

What has been at issue in this crisis? Israel is outraged due to persistent rocket attacks from Gaza. Hamas is outraged by the Israeli authorities’ ongoing harassment at border checkpoints where supplies and people must travel from Gaza’s confined space to the rest of the world.

There is also an elephant in the room that most governments across the world are ignoring; the attack and destabilisation of a duly elected government. In the most recent elections in the Palestinian territories including Gaza, Hamas won with wide popular support. There were good reasons for this, relating to governance by the Palestinian Authority over the past decade.

But when democracy is promoted across the world and the people elect a government that other nations do not like, by what guide of democracy can the outside world unilaterally decide that this is not acceptable and deliberately undermine that election? Grumbling about an elected government is part of democracy everywhere, but destabilizing an elected government is not a part of the democratic way of life.

There is also a stark military economic inequality between the two sides in this violent conflict. Isn’t it suicidal for Gaza residents through their defence institutions, to attack Israel? Why would anyone make a fight that will surely bring harm to one’s family and neighbors? One answer may be that when people are pressed to the limit of their flesh, they find a way to struggle.

The people of Gaza are not the first peoples to do so. Suicidal mission is inherent in any war. Soldiers in service of a cause - freedom, empire, democracy or religion - know that they may die for that cause. They believe, sometimes with positive outcomes, that their sacrifice might reach beyond the limits of today’s reason into tomorrow’s solutions. In this case self-sacrifice in their mind is honourable.

Where do we turn for a lasting resolution? Thousands of board rooms, staff meetings, and grand peace councils set up to deal with crises like this have not produced solutions. When diplomats desperately grope for chimerical cease fires, the time is ripe to feel and acknowledge despair and guilt over lost opportunities.

Will solutions ever come from diplomacy or councils of peacemaking? Will the 60 year stalemate continue for another 40 years, a full century to explain to the children of Christians, Jews and Muslims?

Alternatively, can the fruits of our imaginations be ignited through the Gaza crisis? Can we believe that our collective imaginations might help? Have we been given one more opportunity to sharpen our seeing and listening for what wants to be revealed from divine mystery?

People who are deeply committed to social justice and peacemaking, religious and secular, are suspicious that meditation belongs only to the pious and spiritual ones who hide behind their exercises to avoid engagement. The split between people of action and people of prayer is a false dichotomy that appears in every tradition.

If political analysis, dissecting the holy, the manipulation of shame and guilt, or raw activism could have provided the basis for peace in this region of God’s earth, it would have happened long ago. What has been lacking is the acknowledgement of the mystery of unknown forces at work among and through patterns of violent conflict so heavily focussed on Israel and Palestine.

The continuing tragedy of Gaza invites us to go on praying. We do so knowing that liberation from false myths of security is born in moments of irrational violence. We share our common desperation for a breakthrough beyond the surges and remissions of power politics. When a sign or nudge to action comes we need the courage to acknowledge, develop and share it. We may be here for just such a time as this.


(c) Gene Stoltzfus is founder and director emeritus of Christian Peacemaker Teams. He is currently touring Britain and Ireland - details here:

This article is adapted from Gene's blog:

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