Spiritual Side Steve Hammer

I woke up this mornin’ and none of the news was good

And death machines were rumblin’ ‘cross the ground where Jesus stood.

Steve Earle’s haunting song, “Jerusalem,” came alive again last month following the kidnap and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Amid calls for restraint and cease-fire, the conflict in Gaza has intensified and there is no sign that it will end any time soon.

For longer than I have been alive, the death machines have been rumbling. As a freshman in high school I read Leon Uris’ “Exodus,” about the formation of a Jewish homeland after the horrors of World War II. Shortly after the Six Day War of 1967 and I began to wrestle with the complexity of the situation, but I could not have imagined its longevity.

There are, as always, at least two sides to every story. The partition of Palestine by the United Nations in 1947 resulted in the displacement of around 700,000 Palestinians. There are now more than 7 million Palestinians, living mostly in the West Bank and in Gaza.

The Palestinians argue that they are virtual prisoners of high walls and military checkpoints that limit their freedom. Most residents of Gaza do not have reliable electricity and the unemployment rate is as high as 40 percent. The sense of desperation has fueled Hamas, a militant group of Palestinians that has declared its intention to eliminate Israel.

The Israelis point out that enemies have surrounded them since the beginning. The first invasion began only months after the 1947 partition. They insist that they are willing to coexist with demilitarized Palestinians, but have also made it clear that they will respond to terror attacks with amplified military intervention.

There is truth on both sides, but the more glaring truth is that civilians are more often than not the primary victims of the violence. In the current conflict, the United Nations estimates that 70 percent of the casualties are civilian. Those not wounded in military action suffer from the loss of infrastructure, food, shelter and electricity.

Although it is sometimes dressed in the sacred robes of faith and adorned with crowns of theological imperative, this is a battle for territory, control and power that is rooted in ancient tribal divisions and contemporary political schemes. The salient religious issues are not doctrine, practice and tradition but ethics, and morality. Balancing those issues with the need for security and safety has proven to be elusive.

In the middle of the first century, the apostle Paul appealed to the Christian community in Rome to do something that was both counter intuitive and counter cultural. After more than a decade of banishment from Rome, Jews and Jewish Christians were allowed to return following the death of Emperor Claudius. Paul encouraged the Gentile Christians to accept the Jews as fellow members of the same family. He pleaded for unity in the midst of diversity.

I am at a loss to assign blame. I can be sympathetic to the displacement and disenfranchisement of the Palestinians as well as the full commitment to security of the Israelis. I wonder what can possibly be gained by the seemingly endless flow of rockets, especially when it is answered by such deadly force. Is unity in diversity possible? Must freedom and security always come at so great human expense?

I believe that one fine day, all the children of Abraham

Will lay down their swords forever in Jerusalem.

• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.

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