Thirty years ago in Beirut, Lebanon, a horror was carried out in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila by Israeli selected militia. The camps were sealed off so that potential victims could not escape. The plan for this had been carefully designed with the full knowledge of Israel’s President Menachem Begin and his lead general, Ariel Sharon. Actually Sharon had discussed an even more extensive plan for dealing with the Palestinians in the Israeli cabinet in July 1982.
I had the opportunity to go to the Middle East a few months after the massacres in September with a diverse group of people of faith. The intention of the group was to find out as much information about the situation in the region and to let the faithful there know they were not alone in their struggle for peace and justice.
We visited Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. We met many people in every state who were seeking peace and who were willing to make great sacrifices to achieve it.
This trip changed my life. I had never been in a war zone before, so seeing the destruction of war left me speechless on most days. But what is as clear in my mind today as it was 30 years ago is the site of the large mass graves holding massacred Palestinians which towered hundreds of feet in the air in West Beirut. I will never forget them, and I thank God for that fact. None of us should ever forget the evidence of the ways in which justice and freedom are treated as if they belong to a few worthy people and not to every one of God’s children.
Our group visited a hospital where survivors of the massacre were taken and we walked through that facility. There were little children with missing arms and legs, facial wounds as well as adults. My heart was broken into many pieces on those days in Lebanon and I was rarely able to speak. What words does one use to speak about such things? Silence seemed to be the most appropriate response at the time.
Thirty years have past and so little has changed. Perhaps there will come a day when we as human beings will actually find the capacity to learn something from our past. The Israelis should learn from their past suffering that it is important to seek paths that do not lead to such suffering for themselves and others. We should learn from our past that it is important to seek the path of peace.
The Palestinians should learn from their suffering as well. But it seems that too much time is spent by all who have suffered in seeking paths that lead to more pain. So many are victims and cannot see the way ahead to peace and the victimizers are blinded also by their own hardened hearts.
Many hold the idea that the Palestinians can be treated in any manner that Israel chooses because they seem to be a great threat to Israel. This ignores the fact that all of the folks in that region are God’s people as well as everyone else on the planet. No group has the right to decide to withhold justice, freedom or peace from another group. No one has the right to kill anyone else. Of course we have done it across the world and we will continue to do it until we begin to accept that violence breeds violence.
People of faith are called to love one another and when people are trying to practice love there is no space for violence. This idea of loving one another is certainly a challenging notion, but it is at the core of all of the major religions. It must be critical for the welfare of human beings because it is such a central theme. Love removes fear. When fear is absent killing is unnecessary.
This column by Catherine Meeks, Ph.D., appears twice monthly. Meeks is also a contributing writer for the Huffington Post. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.