A personal reflection on the unfolding events in Israel-Palestine from The Rt. Revd. and Rt. Hon. Dr Rowan Williams.

The Rt. Revd. and Rt. Hon. Lord Williams of Oystermouth We are all still stunned by the unexpectedness and the savagery of the events in the Holy Land, stunned and inarticulate. Just sitting with the horror is about all we can do. But there are some things to bear in mind as we try to make sense of it all and to direct our prayers thoughtfully.

For anyone who deeply wants to see justice for the Palestinian people, it is essential not to sentimentalize or romanticize the brutality of Hamas.  This is not the despairing and ineffectual violence of the intifadas but a calculated atrocity, aiming to maximize shock and outrage by the killing of innocent civilians and the taking of hostages.  It is undertaken in the full knowledge that it will invite the most uncompromising retaliation and the deaths of more innocent people.  It treats all this suffering as propagandist theatre. It is part of the ongoing manoeuvring in the region for political influence in the region on the part of Iran and its allies.  Nothing can make it into some sort of liberating act, and it is important to be clear about this. It merits nothing but condemnation.

Israel's response is entirely predictable.  If Hamas had intended to consolidate Israeli unity at a time of unprecedented national debate and confusion within the country, this was the way to do it. Israel is bound to defend its citizens; that is part of what a state does, what a state has both the right and duty to do. But the Hamas atrocities have immeasurably strengthened the hands of those who want the most extreme measures taken against the Palestinians, who want any two-state solution decisively rejected, and who will see civilian casualties and the further degradation of infrastructure in Gaza as the necessary price of asserting their capacity to control.

So, what this sequence of events has done is to expose the deeply disturbing fact that there are forces opposing each other who believe that there is no solution to their conflict except the eradication of the other. Hamas remains dedicated to the destruction of Israel; there is an increasing number of strident voices in Israel for whom there can be no political settlement for Palestine - and these voices have been emboldened by some in the present Israeli government.

We talk about the 'cycle' of violence.  What we mean is that no-one seems able to act so as to change anything.

Yet the heritage of faith that we all share tells us two things at least. One is that it is impossible to imagine that enemies will simply disappear because they have no right in our eyes to be there.  We are creatures, not gods; always set in the midst of forces, human and otherwise, that are not under our control.  We cannot once and for all re-order the world according to our agenda.  This means that we must again and again find ways of living with what we have not chosen - at worst, what threatens and paralyses us.  In human terms this means that we have to seek for moments and contexts where we recognize each other as sharing something - where the common language of pain allows us to see another's humanity. I think here of the ongoing work of the Bereaved Families Forum in Israel/Palestine and more widely, which has been under great pressure recently, and now faces unimaginable challenge.

The second thing is that there are acts that change things.  Human beings are not doomed to replay the mutually destructive script until the end of time, and even the most superficial glance at human history underlines this. Christian faith speaks of an act that 'made peace' - not by negotiation, grudging concession, balance of power, but by bringing into being a new level of connection and common purpose or communion (and the tragedy is that the present situation in the Middle East owes so much to the utter and disgraceful failure of Christians to live this out in regard to their Jewish brothers and sisters over centuries in Europe).

What on earth can we pray for, then? For all those who have been victims of arbitrary, heartless brutality.  For all who cannot think, feel or see beyond the pain and the fury.  For all contexts where people are seeking to hold on to the possibility of recognizing each other's suffering and remembering that it is everyone's issue. For the freedom here and in the Holy Land for people to see where there are actions that speak of real change.  For justice for everyone, that true justice that seeks what will express the value of every human child of God. For perspective, realism, self-criticism, empathy in all who take decisions, and all who comment and speak about the current crisis.  For courage to change, and for words to speak that will not just reinforce the prisons we and others live in.


Rowan Williams


The views and opinions expressed in this reflection are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Friends of the Holy Land.