Over 200 dead in Gaza my newspaper reports today. A military strike on "Hamas compounds". Violent reactions and demonstrations beginning all over the Middle East. Yet what moves me most is the account of a father weeping in the street for a son he had just sent out for cigarettes, beating his head with his hands in surrender to complete despair. It is hard for me to imagine the weight of suffering that is being borne now in so many places and most especially in Gaza.
I live in easy California, yet I found myself in a grinding circle of dark thoughts yesterday simply because a small feral cat that i feed was missing, and new, somewhat combative neighbors had spoken of having two raccoons i also feed trapped and removed. Had she been caught in their trap? Was she even now terrorized in a facility somewhere, scheduled to die. I have fed this cat for 15 years, worried over her well-being, tried vainly to bring her in from the cold, and been rewarded only by her willingness now, not to run as i stand 5 feet from her, sweet-talking away. The thought of her suffering brought grief that i could not shake. And even worse the thought of others causing her grief brought unaccustomed anger. A whole drama of surging possiblities and dark emotions over the welfare of this little cat took me over. Lying in bed at night my thoughts raced uncontrollably, a tortuous energy that no amount of self talk turned off. For the first time in my life i took a sleeping pill. The cat reappeared the next day. The neighbors had done nothing.
What oh what then do those whose children or parents or beloved husbands or wives are destroyed in front of them feel? What can life be like for those whose houses and whole neighborhoods are destroyed as a "lesson" in revenge. What black racing thoughts wrack their dreams? What repeating loops of internal agony haunt their days - their years?
I think sometimes that much of mankind is now suffering from a kind of mental illness - a plague of anger so intense it blocks all light and reason for months at a time. Surely many in the middle east must now live in this maelstrom of unease. And those who take action, take revenge, always see only the imperative of their own need to get even, never the similarity of their own actions to what was done to them. Worse, too many don't seem to mind at all that the main damage of their revenge falls more often than not on those who have done them no wrong.
I'm not sure why so many, myself included, generally expect the Israelis not to fall into this cycle of back and forth revenge so easily. And yet they do, and have, repeatedly, and did again yesterday. Hamas sent 60 rockets over several days into Israel border communities, mostly missing, but in the end killing several people and reawakening self righteous fury in the whole nation. The old justification - if we don't respond in kind they will never stop, "they will drive us into the sea" was again the mantra. And so, again, they brought the full weight of a military assault against residential neighborhoods in Gaza, a tiny captive nation they have cut off from food and medicine and energy for months already, a nation with no army, a people so damaged and scarred from conflict and hopelessness i am continually amazed they function at all. Hundreds of tons of bombs fell and "over 200" is the acknowledged casualty list. Clearly the number of savaged lives is far more. Many of them are HAMAS, men and youths dedicated to "getting even"for past assaults. Many many more surely were just men women and children trying to live in that desperate place, now wounded or dead or grieving. This way of responding to terrorism IS terrorism just as clearly as the rockets that went in the other direction. It is a blind assault on a group you want to get even with, never mind who pays the price. The price must be paid. Because.... that will make Israel feel better??
I guess what astonishes me most is the sheer inability of most Israelis and Palestinians to see, after decades of repeated demonstration, what comes next after such expressions of blind hatred. Everything gets worse, much worse, for many months. Hundreds more will likely die, with a ratio, if this back and forth of getting even follows previous patterns, of about 1:8 Israeli to Palestinian casualities. And the mental anguish they all live within will worsen. And nothing at all will be solved until once again total horror at the level of violence may bring outside mediators and force a cease fire. Its like watching Siamese twins fight. And in one of these mini-wars, in all the mutual madness, someone may at last set off an atom bomb and then..?
I do not judge either side for this. I know it is human. I know if i lived within it, on either side, that my own mind would be constantly anquished and whipped by angry thoughts. Nevertheless, it is a fruitless war, fought immorally on both sides, and above all futile, futile, futile. There is one road that leads out of this hell realm and ONE ROAD ONLY - to learn how to see life from the group's point of view. And little by little to find a way love those others - and consider their needs as important as one's own. The final negotiation of a permanent ceasefire must allow both groups a full and free and hopeful way of life - EVEN IF more blows fall in the interim - as they surely will. Terrorist acts will continue - with so many made mentally ill by anger over so many decades - but they must be treated appropriately as police matters, NOT part of a war against a whole population.