THE past is a courtroom without walls, its simultaneous trials a contentious cacophony, every judge sifting evidence through the sieve of self-interest, every jury a sectarian populace driven by rage or outrage. Wars born in perceived injustice reinvent themselves with fierce consistency. If history is guilty, how many generations must be sentenced to death?
For too long and for too many, peace has been an uneasy twilight between wars. Civilians feed on false hope while those in charge of the narrative build arsenals for the next battle. In the origin lands of the three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, peace is being erased from the dictionary of human behaviour, at both the collective and the individual level. The self is not at peace with itself, while crowds roam in perennial pursuit of assertion or vengeance, the difference often indistinguishable. The time-bridge between spasms of brutal conflict is a squalid, fetid calm waiting to spew its toxins.
Life survives death
I am circling around the subject, since blame is a chameleon. Each time you blink, blame changes colour. The not-so-human being has learnt but one thing since Cain killed his brother Abel, that life survives death. Murder is an episode, rather than a finality. According to Genesis, the creation chapter in the Bible, God banished Cain but did not abandon him; he was sent to the land of Nod, east of Eden, instead of the gallows, with divine protection. God promised “vengeance seven times over” upon anyone who killed Cain. The mark of Cain did not signify guilt; it was a device to protect Cain from being killed. This was God’s justice. Murder became a memory.
Human nature, liberated from accountability by the protective armour of a higher cause, slipped into perpetual war. The more religious the conflict, the more bitter the bloodshed. With the promise of heaven we let loose hell on earth.
The desert, the sea, the home and hearth, are red again in the land of Abraham. Antagonists remain hostage to the dreams and defeats of forefathers. Destiny’s doctrine is scrawled in blood upon tombstones.
This round of the conflict in West Asia began during World War I, through the machinations of European imperialism, led by Britain and France. After an acrid century, one feels helpless as television screens fill with the pain of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost those they loved. Anguish is neither justice nor solace, but that is all that remains in the ashes of unending tragedy.
I have seen the Nazi concentration camps created by barbarians for the complete elimination of Jews at Auschwitz and still break down at the memory: did those Nazis go to church? If any did, they must have also planned a final solution for the thesis of a merciful God.
There can be no equivalence, and those who suggest it are ignorant or warped. But generations of Palestinians festering in limbo is not sustainable. No one, including Arab governments, even suggests an answer. The visible is septic, the invisible inflammatory. War is the lava of a bubbling volcano.
Salauddin Ayyubi, more familiar as Saladin, a hero of refugee camps, never fought Jews; his enemy was the triumphant Christian Crusader. But Saladin spoke an eternal truth when he warned that blood does not sleep.
Blood has risen again. As have questions. Hamas began this war, using foot soldiers against military targets and terrorism against Israeli civilians. It paraded corpses to provoke outrage and foment a wider conflagration. But does it have any objective beyond widening the arc of destruction?
Benjamin Netanyahu’s Government, responsible for the worst intelligence failure in Israel’s history, promised vengeance, siege and starvation of Gaza in retaliation. By the morning of October 10, Tel Aviv announced that 1,500 Hamas militants had been killed. The figures are incomplete. The Law of Moses, an eye for an eye, demands precision. Blood sates blood.
It is significant that Arab states have not supported Hamas. They want some return of status quo, although this war has probably changed the status beyond recall. But Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Cairo, Doha, and Tel Aviv must cooperate if only to stop the vultures wheeling across the darkening skies.