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Compassion requires more courage than war

  • 07 August 2006

Israeli Defence Force commander General Dan Halutz was asked about his feelings when he was pilot of a plane dropping bombs on people in Gaza in 2002. His reply that he felt ‘a light bump to the plane…and that’s all’ sounds incredible and yet it may be true—how else can any human being bear bombing a family sitting peacefully in their house, or killing innocent people sitting on a bus? To fight wars we have to deny our own and others’ humanity. In fact, compassion takes more courage than war: it means respecting, and acting according to, the basic human rights that form the foundation of our civilisation.

Acknowledging the preciousness of human life is something that all authentic spiritual traditions have in common. Similarly, love, compassion and non-violence are at the heart of religions such as Christianity, Islam and Judaism. And yet, for centuries wars have been fought in the name of God/Allah and ‘goodness’. However, it’s not in rhetoric that a true spiritual person is revealed, but through their actions and their motivation. The truth is that if government and religious leaders were really interested in supporting ‘goodness’ or ‘God’, they would seek out means of reconciliation and be willing to compromise narrow short-term gains for world-wide long-term benefits.

Hezbollah captures two Israeli soldiers and more than 400 Lebanese civilians die as a result. Where is the ‘good’ in either of these actions? Even their motivation is highly questionable. The Israeli government itself doesn’t seem to believe in the efficacy of its response: its own military analysts question whether the bombing is actually having an impact on Hezbollah’s capabilities. How can organisations such as Hezbollah and the US and Israeli governments (and they are by no means the only ones), still claim to represent, or fight for, God in defense of actions that involve the killing and displacement of hundreds of people, and the destruction of their social infrastructure?

George Bush’s reference to an ‘axis of evil’, implying his own ‘goodness’ by comparison, and his claim to defend ‘Christian values’, seems ludicrous in the face of his blocking United Nations and European efforts to promote a ceasefire in Lebanon in order to protect innocent people’s lives. When a government protects the ‘interests’ (access to cheap petrol for example) of its own people by letting civilians in another country die, its claim on ‘goodness’ rings hollow. The division of