No doubt you heard about the tragic shooting that happened March 26. Ten month-old Shalhevet Pass, infant daughter of Israeli settlers, was murdered by a sniper from the Palestinian Abu Sneineh neighborhood of Hebron. The news broke our hearts, reminding us of the 100+ children who have been killed in the last seven months. We recall 18 month-old Sara Hasan Abdelhaq, who died near Nablus on October 2 of a gunshot to the head, murdered by Israeli settlers as her father was driving her to the doctor. Three year-old Maram Hasuna died of tear gas inhalation on November 23. On March 2, nine year-old Obei Darraj was in his home in El-Bireh when bullets from a nearby settlement fatally wounded him in the chest. Ten year-old Muhammad Nassar was abducted and later found beaten to death on March 17. A sniper with a silencer murdered 15 year-old Husam Al Disi on February 26 in Qalandia refugee camp. These are but a few of the endless stream of young casualties that have become “business as usual” during the past seven months. Little Shalhevet joins the tragic company of so many other children, who lost their lives to their parents’ and all of our grief.
Unfortunately, we fear that the lesson that most people around the world will take from Shalhevet’s death is not one pointing to the tragic results of the conflict. People will not think also of the scores of other dead children, almost exclusively Paleistinian. Rather, we fear, it will be used to demonstrate the brutality and cruelty of the “falafel brains” (a poignant nickname offered by Jerusalem radio) who control the Palestinian Authority. But the truth is that the Palestinian who murdered that girl was imitating what his Israeli oppressors have been doing on a much grander scale – but with no less brutality, cruelty, or terror.
This is the truth which those who seek a just peace in this area must face. We cannot stand with one side against the other, because we risk becoming apologists for terrorism – whether done by Palestinians in black kaffiyes or Israelis in green uniforms. Instead, we must continue to shape a vision which is the only hope of redemption.
This shooting happened just as this Intifada’s non-violent resistance was blossoming. Over the last few weeks, peaceful Palestinian marches and demonstrations against the Occupation have been organized in Gaza, Ramallah, Bethlehem, Nablus, and Jenin. Each time they were met by Israeli soldiers, equipped for combat rather than civilian crowd control. In Ramallah, dozens of women gathered to march peacefully in solidarity and protest the strangulating blockade of their city. Several of them were treated for light wounds after the IDF (Israeli army) opened fire. In the Gaza march, soldiers lobbed tear gas canisters into the group of community leaders and professionals because they had “gotten too close to a sensitive area.” Perhaps the IDF revealed more in that statement than they meant, that non-violent resistance had struck an uncomfortable chord and needed to be stopped lest conversion take place. The Palestinians participating in those demonstrations had come too close – they had suddenly become human. They were mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, teachers, doctors, nurses, all seeking a better life rather than the destruction of the hated other.
But then came another death, another lashing out, another moment of violence, in Hebron. With the coverage we see on our TVs, all of the non-violent protests are for naught when a baby is killed. Were this applied universally to all children, whether Palestinian or Israeli, we would agree whole-heartedly. But the message being broadcast to the world (particularly by Israel and our own American government) is that Israeli life – Jewish Israeli life, that is – is more valuable than Palestinian life. It is the terrorist acts of Palestinians that receive condemnation – and media attention – while those of the Israelis are defended and defined as “security measures”. It is at the feet of the Palestinians that the US Congress has laid the blame for the current uprising, while the world knows that Ariel Sharon ignited the spark. It is this same Sharon who is given the red carpet welcome by George Bush, while Arafat’s official status with the US is being reconsidered.
Putting the death of little Shalhevet into context, it would be foolish to consider this a concerted effort by Palestinians to target Israeli children. Nonetheless, it represents the mistake that is at the heart of the current Intifada: The Israelis are strong, and they use the power of the strong – military weaponry, tanks, airplanes, helicopters, bulldozers, soldiers, snipers, armed civilians, closures, curfews, demonization, manipulation, propaganda, religious fervor. The Palestinians are weak economically, politically, and militarily, but they have resorted to the violent methods of the strong. Doing so, they can never win and achieve justice and peace, because the strong will destroy the weak when they use the same means.
We cannot help but be reminded of the battles for desegregation in America, or the struggles against Apartheid in South Africa. What won? What worked against the institutionalized, violent, and powerful forces of segregation and racism? It was the non-violent, peaceful movement. It was the power of the weak.
The Palestinians – and those in Israel and around the world who will stand with them against the injustices they face – must first embrace their weakness and then manifest the power that is inherent in it. The power of the weak will defeat the power of the strong every time. And in its victory, all of the violence, power, terror, brutality, and cruelty will be redeemed. This is the message of the cross – that the one who accepted its fate is the one who gave redemption to those who sought to destroy him.
Friends, help us to fight our battles here with the power of the weak. We shall celebrate its perfected victory together.