This past week we watched as President Obama spoke to the Muslim world and raised, yet again, the prospect of peace in the Middle East. Many of us are praying that the new administration finds a way to accomplish what so many others have failed to do, but we’re skeptical. I’m not yet an old man, but even I remember five other American Presidents trying and failing to bring the Palestinians and Israelis to a peaceable compromise. I’m not necessarily a cynical man, but I don’t imagine that the tag team of Obama and Hillary will manage it this time either. I used to love NBC’s The West Wing, but as soon as President Bartlett managed to create a peace settlement, the entire show lost credibility!
And yet, despite my frustrations, I continue to pray for peace along with millions of other Muslims, Jews, and Christians. We pray and hope even as we doubt. We’re frustrated and exasperated in part, because it all seems so petty; these fights over who owned what strip of land six decades ago. The original protagonists are largely dead and gone, so the remaining fighters are stuck fighting a kind of absurd proxy battle, waging war over hurts and harms that they themselves experiences only vicariously through the stories of their parents and grandparents. Certainly, there have been other outrages and attacks on both sides since the 1940s and 1950s. Yes there has been plenty of death and violence to keep the old wounds open. But surely (and this suggestion comes so easily to those of us looking at the conflict from a distance) the price paid in lives and limbs has not been worth it.
“Peace! Peace!” We want to cry. “Just knock it off! Enough already.” But of course it is not so simple. There is an epic battle being waged not only between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but between two different conceptions of the fight in the Middle East. What then is our first calling? Are we called first to be peacemakers or are we given a divine mandate to fight for justice.
As the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel noted in different times and slightly different language, “Peace, peace,' they say, when there is no peace.”