I spent this evening with two dear friends whose lives are committed to peace and justice, and whose hearts are breaking over the horrific violence in the Middle East.

Jean Zaru is a Palestinian Quaker whose daughter just told her on the telephone, “Mother, if you came back to Ramallah, you wouldn’t recognize it. The Ramallah you knew is not here anymore.” Jean left there on March 1 for a speaking tour in Europe and America, and is now trapped outside her own country. Emotional conversations with family members tell of “unbelievable destruction.” Her daughter’s family has had no food, water, or electricity for days. Jean’s relatives, like most Palestinians in Israeli-occupied West Bank cities, can’t leave their homes, except when ordered to by Israeli soldiers going house to house – like two of her elderly sisters-in-law who were forced to stand in the cold rain until 1:30 in the morning while their home was ransacked. “I don’t mean to just tell my personal stories,” apologizes Jean Zaru, “but unfortunately these are cases of what everyone is experiencing now.”

Then Michael and Deborah Lerner came to our home for dinner. They are in Washington to protest what the Israeli government is doing to Palestinians. Michael is the editor of Tikkun magazine and a rabbi who condemns the Palestinian suicide bombings in the strongest terms, loves Israel, but hates what its government is doing on the West Bank. “When such a slaughter is going on, one has to cry out!” anguishes Michael. Both believe the daily carnage and pain in the Middle East again reveals the futility and tragedy of the cycle of violence.

Attacks by the Israeli army on the cities and refugee camps of the West Bank have entered a second week. Reports from the international media, human rights organizations, and both Palestinians and Israelis grow in daily horror. Israeli tanks roll through the streets of occupied cities, stopping food shipments, disrupting water lines, shelling and rocketing the civilian infrastructure, raiding hospitals, and even preventing ambulances from reaching the wounded and dying. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, traditional site of the birth of Jesus, remains under siege. Reports suggest that hundreds may have been already killed, thousands injured, and thousands more arrested, detained, and interrogated.
Prime Minister Sharon claims to be uprooting those responsible for a horrible wave of terrorist suicide bombings in Israel, which killed more than 100 people in the last month.  And those who committed the bombings claim to be resisting the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

“Terrorism!” shouts one side. “Occupation!” shouts back the other side. Each side seems to have only one message, never hearing the other. “Occupation! Terrorism!” The competing claims fly through the air while innocent civilians die. Both realities are true. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is illegal and immoral, and it must end. Palestinians are entitled to live in peace and security without blockades, closures, and the daily harassment of their entire population. But bombing innocent Israeli civilians is not the way to end the occupation. The moral truth that condemns both is that there is nothing – no cause, no ideology, no true religion – that can ever justify the deliberate killing of civilians. That is the definition of terrorism.

Whether it is a Palestinian with an explosive belt blowing up a Seder celebration or an Israeli pilot in an Apache gunship firing rockets into a refugee camp – it is terrorism. Elderly people and children, women and men, deliberately killed for political objectives is terrorism.

The Israelis have the superior firepower, and, in these past 18 months of bloody conflict, Palestinian deaths (1,381) outnumber Israeli deaths (434). But the mothers and fathers of dead children take no interest in talk of relative political power or symmetry. Dead children simply rend the souls of their parents and cause the God who created those children to weep.

The immediate question is how to stop the current violence.

It will take immediate action by the U.S. and the world community to achieve a situation in which a secure State of Israel and a viable State of Palestine live side by side in peace. The United States should immediately work to bring about the creation of an international protection force to shield both Israelis and Palestinians from further violence, and call a regional peace conference including Israel, the Arab states, along with religious leaders and civil society organizations.

There has been enough killing – it’s time for peace.

Jim Wallis is editor-in-chief of Sojourners.

Reprinted with permission from SojoMail, Sojourners’ free weekly e-mail magazine. www.sojo.net

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