Despite the violent intransigence of both sides, Henry Carse remains hopeful that “the political aspects of this ugly struggle will be resolved, and that two nations will dwell side by side.”
“Where is the balance between wisdom and force?”
I’ve thought of that question several times over the last few days, as accusations and counteraccusations fly over Israel’s May 31 fatal commando operation against the flotilla of humanitarian aid ships attempting to break the blockade of Gaza.
That oh-so-relevant question of wisdom and force is posed in one of a series of essays written by Henry Ralph Carse, a theologian and scholar living in Jerusalem during the Palestinian uprising known as the Second Intifada. They’ve just been published by Ziggurat Books in a collection titled “No-One Land: Israel/Palestine 2000-2002” (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Henry Carse is from Vermont and we have known each other for many years. He has lived in the Middle East for four decades, drawn there at the age of 18. “With my guitar and long hair and idealism, I was running away from many shadows, the least subtle of which was called Vietnam,” he recalls. “Israel was the place I chose. I found it more interesting than Canada, so here is where I ended up.”
Henry married and divorced in Israel, had four children, became an Israeli citizen and was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces, as were his kids. When I visited him and my friend Anne six years ago, he was teaching at St. George’s College, an Anglican-Episcopalian school for continuing education in East Jerusalem in the West Bank.
Henry expressed a deep love for this place often tinged with despair and a sense of futility, just as it flows through No-One Land.
“I believe, even now, that the nonviolent option is the only way for Israel and Palestine,” he writes. “Whatever the caliber of my weapon, if I am shooting the ‘other,’ I am forced to deny that the ‘other’ is like myself. I can only kill from a desperate position, a position behind a veil, from which I cannot afford to see the human beauty and uniqueness I am destroying. This is true whether I am detonating a powerful explosive from 100 meters away to rip through a busload of children, or launching the missile that shatters the body of the doctor on his way to care for a neighbor. The rock in the hand and the high-velocity projectile in the gunbarrel are unalike in strategic weight, but they are identical in the fear and desperation, the bluster and the numbness they represent. It’s all bad magic, bad medicine, and it is turning us to stone.”
And yet despite the violent, mad intransigence of both sides present and past, Henry remains hopeful that “the political aspects of this ugly struggle will be resolved, and that two nations will dwell side by side.” Hopeful enough that a few years ago he founded Kids4Peace, a program that brings Israeli, Palestinian and American children of the three Abrahamic faiths to summer camps in the United States and Canada, places where they can talk and play and learn to be friends.
That may be the only hope, to catch potential antagonists when they’re young and pray they learn to outgrow the bitterness and revenge.
“What is the balance between wisdom and force?” Henry Carse asks. “… As our power to be compassionate falters, the Occupation and its consequences continue killing us all. Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, have swallowed enough evil tidings to destroy the souls of both nations, and still neither has the courage to loosen the deadly grip.”
Real peace, Henry writes, “can only be realized between two very real enemies who are ready to compromise. We need Israeli peacemakers, and we need Palestinian peacemakers, too. Where are they?”
Another good question.
Michael Winship is senior writer at Public Affairs Television.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.