When the murder of the three Israeli boys - Naftali Fraenkel, Gil'ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, may their memories be blessed - was announced last week, there was almost universal condemnation of their abduction and killing.
But there were also some extremist Jews who called for revenge. Violent demonstrations broke out in Jerusalem. The three Jewish families issued the following statement: “There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder, whatever the nationality and age. There is no justification, no forgiveness and no atonement for any kind of murder."
Still - and quite surprisingly - even the head of a mainstream religious Jewish youth movement wrote on his Facebook page a call for violent revenge. Unfortunately, almost immediately, the murdered and burned body of a Palestinian boy - Mohammed Abu Khdeir, may God have mercy on him - was then discovered in Jerusalem.
In addition, barrages of rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, and Israel retaliated by attacks on Gaza. Perhaps the most worrisome development of the last few days has been the rioting within Israel and the tensions and hostility between Israeli Jews and Arabs. The recent events have set us back within Israel about 14 years to the beginning of the Second Intifada and more than 20 years vis-à-vis Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The ICCJ is not a news agency; neither is our expertise in diplomacy or military operations. We are an organization for inter-religious dialogue. The prophet Amos (5:13) says, “Therefore the prudent keep quiet in those times, for the times are evil.”
Is there anything we can contribute at this time?
- We can denounce acts of revenge. Although Psalm 94 calls upon “the God who avenges,“ we are not meant in this case “to walk in God’s ways.” The late Bible scholar and theologian Tikva Frymer-Kensky has written, ”‘Imitation of God’ never prescribes behavior that takes advantage of power and dominion. On the contrary, ‘imitation of God’ always involves self-control, self-abnegation, and love of others. ‘Imitation of God enumerates as God’s behaviors those behaviors that we hold morally superior and beneficial to humanity, like love, forgiveness, and compassion.”
- We can model self-restraint and hope. As Lutheran Bishop Mounib Younan of Jerusalem has said - and we took this as the motto for our May 2013 ICCJ statement on Israel and Palestine - “As long as you believe in a living God, you must have hope.”
- We can - we must - continue and strengthen our efforts for peace through dialogue. I have been heartened and encouraged by supportive e-mails from Palestinian friends and dialogue partners. Professor Yohanna Katanacho, a Palestinian Baptist, has written: “Both Palestinians and Israelis are part of the family of Adam and Eve. Their blood is precious in the eyes of God. Further, we need to listen with love and merciful hearts that seek to heal rather than rush to condemn, and to pray instead of cursing. We need to listen wisely avoiding dehumanizing anyone or believing lies. It is our responsibility as believes to declare love in the face of hate. It is our responsibility to empathize with the mourners on all sides. We cry with both Israeli and Palestinian mothers who lost their children.”
With hope for some better news
Debbie Weissman, ICCJ President, Jerusalem