I tried to stay with the commemorative service for World War I at Westminster Abbey which was televised last night, but there was too much talking going on, too many worthy people being interviewed and too much colour. War is fundamentally monochrome, apart from the colour of blood.
I searched i-player for something which might resonate more truthfully with the events being commemorated and came across a sensitive dramatisation of diaries written by people from all the nations who had been caught up in that conflict.
It was not great drama, except for the real footage of shelling and of thousands of ordinary Belgians summarily forced into exile or murdered. As I watched I thought of Gaza City, its people so very like the citizens of Louvain.
Wars look much the same as they ever did. In Gaza, as happened in the First World War, we get glimpses of fragility set in courage. Children still play in what is left of their streets when they are not being shelled. We also see wrong headedness and a total disregard for the uniqueness of the human person before God.
War is not concerned with human persons, although it is very much concerned with human blood, to the extent that the desire for blood becomes an animal desire, having more to do with satisfying an insatiable need for retribution than it has for actual conquest. There are no winners because everyone wants retribution. So the war that was to end all wars is still part of present day reality.
The tragedy is not just that we have never learned the lessons of the two world wars. It is that we fear to offend those of whom we are afraid, so the cycle of retributive violence perpetuates itself. Think, for example, of the situation in Nazi Germany, the driving of people from their homes into what the Nazis hoped would be ultimate extinction, because they were afraid of them. Place this alongside what is being done to Palestinians in Gaza.
Think also of extreme ideologies of conquest and domination which have poisoned the best of religions, and continue to do so today with respect to Islam, and ask what is Hamas really about? The best of causes, as well as religions, are easily taken over by the worst ideologies, and these in turn poison the hearts and minds of the best human beings.
Palestinians have a right to freedom of movement, freedom of commercial exchange and, above all, to their lands and their homes. Theirs is a just cause, but one which is open to exploitation by religious extremists who have power agendas of their own. These extremists know that injustices do not get forgotten.
But neither do the events which led to the creation of Israel. The difference today is that the standard of living of the average Israeli is on an altogether different level to that of someone residing in Gaza City. There may be rocket attacks threatening the shopping malls of Tel Aviv but the fact that it has shopping malls, whereas Gaza City has neither sanitation or safe drinking water, alone suggests that Israel has a moral obligation to make good the wrongs that have been done to those whose lands have been taken from them. But the Israeli mindset makes this impossible.
A mindset comes with having had certain events so ingrained in the collective psyche that it is impossible for that people to countenance any other way of thinking. The persecutions and exiles which the Jews have experienced throughout their history, (and not just during the Second World War) are now part of their national DNA. It is hard to imagine how, as a nation, they could think of themselves as anything other than victims. Nevertheless, historic victimhood, and the mindset which it creates, does not exonerate Israel from committing genocide today.
The truth which few people dare to speak is that tacit acceptance of Israeli aggression towards Palestinians will only make Israel a victim once again. Israel will lose the goodwill and the trust of a great many people who until now have supported it in relation to Gaza and the rest of Palestine. Many of these people may be supportive of Israel against their own conscience or better judgment, not daring to challenge the Israeli aggression that has gone on for decades, for fear of being thought anti-semitic. But this kind of truth avoidance will not only fuel the anger felt by Palestinians but ultimately destabilise Israel by undermining its standing as a valued member of the world community.
The situation returns us, once again, to the question of justice, or to use a more theological word, righteousness. Righteousness is the apotheosis of all religions, but especially of the three Abrahamic faiths, whose adherents all pray to a merciful and righteous God. God, being righteous, is not concerned with vengeance and retribution, no matter how much one side believes the other deserves it. He is concerned with mercy.
Mercy comes at a great price, a price so great that only the Son of God could pay it in full, and he continues to exemplify this mercy in the lives of those who are merciful. He paid it, not to a wrathful and vengeful father figure desirous of sacrifice and blood, but by becoming the price of Love itself. The reward was new life, the Resurrection of his physical body in its state of divine glory.