An interfaith inquiry into war, peace, and history

Editor’s note: This commentary originally ran in our sister paper, New Times, on Nov. 2, and we updated the number of casualties on both sides with data from the Associated Press.

The tragic spasm of war in Israel and Palestine shocks the senses. Hamas militants launched their vicious attack into Israel on Oct. 7, killing 1,400 and taking hundreds hostage. Israel struck back, killing more than 11,000 in Gaza to date. In the West Bank, Palestinian protestors clash with Israeli Defense Forces and Jewish militants.

This troubled land, steeped in centuries of martyrs’ blood lies at the crossroads of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. How, in the name of God/Yahweh/Allah, is such savage warfare even possible? In this region where so many profess sincere religious faith, why do so many suffer from the carnage of war?

I consulted two friends—one Jewish, one Muslim—to address this question: 

Richard Carsel, a retired attorney, a leader in Congregation Ohr Tzafon in Atascadero, and a frequent speaker at interfaith gatherings in SLO, and Rushdi Cader, an emergency physician and a leader in our local Muslim community. Rushdi feels called to Gaza to stanch the bleeding—literally—of its besieged children.

I asked them to address these questions in 150 to 200 words. I also asked: What are the underlying values of our faithsvalues that we hold in common—that might lead to a lasting solution in the Middle East? 

Here are their responses:

Richard Carsel 

From a political perspective, it shouldn’t be “perplexing” why the cradle of three religions has a long history of “such savage warfare.” It’s a simple real estate problem. The land is holy to each of them, and they can’t all have the same land. Add to that “religious” issues and it’s not really complicated. 

Israel is surrounded by dictatorships or kingdoms (except for Lebanon, a failed state and the headquarters of Hezbollah). It’s not in any of their interests to have a more democratic Palestine on their borders. It’s also not in any of their interests to have Hamas exist (because it is Iran’s proxy, and they all hate Iran). 

Iran’s stated goal is wiping out Israel completely. Its proxy militias, Hamas and Hezbollah (are) both well-armed, well-trained (and) on Israel’s borders. Hamas exists for the purpose of killing Jews. Through Hamas, Iran has inflicted great physical and psychological pain on Israel, and caused a major upheaval in internal Israeli politics. …

Who represents the Palestinians for the purpose of signing a peace treaty? Hamas was elected by the Gazans in 2006 and there hasn’t been an election since. A lot of Gazans don’t like Hamas. The West Bank is controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA). … Who does Israel make peace with? Hamas and the PA don’t like each other. How can there be a two-state solution if the Palestinians can’t agree on one of the two states?

The essence of Judaism, and its core value, is The Golden Rule (Leviticus 19:18). As I write this, my dog is staring at me with a face that says, “And how’s that been working for you?” I think that religion is the problem, not the solution. There can only be a political solution, which is not going to be “faith-driven.”

Yet another key value in Judaism is optimism. I believe that there can and will be a political solution which will allow Palestinians and Israelis to live at peace in their own lands: Each with access to their holy sites in the other’s land; with the integrity of the borders of each land internationally and meaningfully guaranteed; with each side protected from acts of terrorism on their lands from the other; and with enforceable contracts between citizens of each land. 

Slogans are not going to work. Good guy, bad guy doesn’t work. There has to be a political reason why both sides finally agree to make peace. Remember, one does not make peace with a friend—it takes at least two enemies to make peace. It can be done.

Dr. Rushdi Cader 

Editor’s note: Rushdi Cader read Richard Carsel’s piece and commented on it.

I agree that long-term solutions must include justice and security for both sides. I, too, have my criticisms and kudos for both Israel and the Palestinians and thoughts on long-term solutions, but more pressing is what we have watched unfold on and since Oct. 7.

In the past six weeks we have seen 1,200 Israelis murdered by Hamas … and nearly 10 times that number by Israel (including 4,100 children). Adding to this is the collective punishment and war crimes against a population of 2.3 million innocent Palestinians locked in an open-air prison, cut off from food, water, fuel, medicine, electricity, while being bombed. This is a historic atrocity in response to a preceding historic atrocity. … Israel’s leadership and military is blind with rage and has shown a degree of uncommon cruelty, inconsistent with the teachings of Judaism. Hamas and Israel must both be condemned for their actions. As a nation supporting such atrocities, we are also culpable.

Two hundred words are not needed to communicate the most pressing advocacy regarding what’s happening in Gaza and Israel—six words will suffice: “Stop killing civilians, return the innocent.”

Brave Jews in New York City have broadcast a message of solidarity with the people of Gaza, “Not in my name,” and, “Let Gaza live.” Now more than ever, a united voice for peace, justice, and reconciliation is needed.

The number of children killed and wounded in Gaza is now nearly equal to the number of children in the Atascadero Unified School District. It is quite horrific and on a biblical scale. Their lives are pure hell. Silence in my heart feels to be complicity—especially given our role in supporting this mayhem.

A deeper analysis can take place when hostages are returned to their families and the entire people of Gaza are allowed access to basic human needs. It’s shameful; all of us have a responsibility to speak up. ... If we believe in God, we will most certainly be answerable.

John Ashbaugh seeks peace in this community and throughout the world. Send a response for publication to [email protected].

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