In the days following the UN vote to grant the Palestinian Authority (PA), non-member observer status, one couldn’t help but wonder what Israel hoped to accomplish with it’s punitive-angry response.
In the days following the massacre of children and teachers in Newton, MA most Americans grieved and wondered how we got to this point and what had to change to prevent similar calamities in the future. The NRA and many gun owners are quite sure that the answer to gun violence is more guns.
The two most widely held explanations on the origins the cosmos, both offer similar constructs for human reasoning: The Big Bang theory and the Genesis Biblical narrative are ultimately all about creating order out of chaos. Likewise, is it not a natural human instinct to want to learn from mistakes so they are not repeated in the future?
So if the Earth and the animal world have been around for millions, if not billions of years, why is it that most of the major religions date the world to be approximately 6,000 years old? Because that’s when people started figuring out how to live together in communities of people and rejected the animal world’s primary modus-operandi: might makes right. Human history is in many ways a chronicle of our struggle to use our minds as effectively if not more effectively than choosing to employ violence to achieve desired ends.
That tension is even evident in the sacred texts of many major religions. The same Torah I study daily, tells us to treat the stranger among us as our equal, not to put a stumbling block before the blind and to remember the widow and the orphan. The same Torah speaks of the obligation to execute the sinner and entire communities of pagans. On one page of Torah, the human spirit is elevated beyond the primitive with the injunction, “Justice, justice, justice shall you pursue;” on still other pages of Torah, we are instructed to stone to death the rebellious child and Sabbath violator.
I’d like to think that civilization is getting more civilized with each passing generation. Regrettably, progress too often comes at high price. For example, in 1919 the U.S. Senate wasn’t quite ready for America to partner in the League of Nations a world body crearted to promote peaceful dialogue. World War II changed that, well, on a very limited basis. Republicans in the US Senate recently voted down an international treaty on the rights of people with disabilities because they didn’t want America to have to play by anybody else’s rules, even if it was the U.S. who wrote those rules. No, change and progress doesn’t come easily to some.
Just a few decades ago, local law enforcement would have told a criminal holding hostages to “come out with his hands up or we’ll come in shooting.” Today, specially trained hostage negotiators in most major urban centers and in the FBI employ highly sophisticated strategies in an effort to negotiate a peaceful resolution. Hostage negotiations is a good example of how our society has learned to employ ideas and strategies in lieu of being totally dependent on the use of force.
The experienced hostage negotiator upon arriving on the scene will quickly try to calm and win the trust of an angry, desperate perpetrator. Thanks to common sense and tried and true strategies taught in police academies across the nation, hundreds of hostage-taking incidents are now peacefully resolved each year. Humanity is slowly learning that our brains are the most potent tool in the human arsenal.
Fact check: Anger cannot resolve a confrontation, it can only exacerbate a situation. Just ask anyone in law enforcement, diplomatic corps and for that matter, seasoned school teachers.
And how did Israel react to the PA’s successful bid win observer status at the UN? With anger and punitive measures that have done more damage than good to Israel-PA relations and Israel’s standing the community of nations. How might the world have viewed Israel’s desire to achieve a just peace with the Palestinians had the Jewish State come out in support of the PA’s UN bid? Is Israel any less secure today because of the PA’s new status at the UN? Is Israel viewed as more or less committed to a peace settlement?
Could any of the following punitive measures taken by Israel really build trust, open communication and move the peace process forward?
Punishment #1: Israel will begin construction 3,000 new housing units for Israelis in predominately Arab East Jerusalem.
Punishment #2: Israel will not transfer to the cash poor Palestinian Authority taxes it has collected on their behalf.
Punishment #3. Israel will begin making plans for building a Jewish settlement on a tract of land known as “E1.” Such a new settlement, would ostensibly deny the inevitable State of Palestine a contiguous corridor between their major cities.
The Israeli response was reminiscent of the incredulous parent or boorish boss who can’t believe a child or a subordinate would take such act without their permission: “How dare you!”
Reality check: If hostage negotiators were to utilize the tactics employed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in this instance, the hostages would be dead long before negotiations ever got started. And please don’t respond that the PA are all a bunch of evil terrorists who can’t be negotiated with. What would you say about the effectiveness and professionalism of a hostage negotiator who wants to tell the perpetrator that because he’s a evil and can’t be trusted, “there will be no further negotiations and oh yes, by the way, we’re going to seal you and cut off your air supply?”
We Americans can’t seem to make up our minds about appropriate and inappropriate responses to violent confrontation. Years ago, a man tried to board a plan with a bomb in his shoe. Since then, hundreds of millions of people have had to take their shoes off before boarding a plan. While some might say that response was excessive, it’s worked, hasn’t it? There have been no more shoe bombs and we didn’t have to give out guns to each passenger to get achieve that objective. But a discussion about more restrictive gun ownership sends millions of gun owners into the kind of panic one might expect of a man being threatened with castration.
Defenders of gun ownership are quick to argue that if all the guns were taken away from law-abiding citizens, only the bad guys would have guns. But aren’t gun owners dictating the terms of engagement with the bad guys? So long as lethal force remains an option for law-abiding citizens to employ, it will remain the only option for the bad guys, not to mention that law-abiding citizen who on some rare occasion finds him or herself in a state of rage and remembers that there’s a loaded gun in their dresser drawer.
Adam Lanza, the mentally ill young man responsible for the horrendous events of December 14 in Newton, Connecticut was certainly not a rational person. That said, there is also no denying that he was the product of a home in which guns were celebrated and considered a necessity. His mom, Nancy Lanza, owned multiple weapons including the automatic assault rifle that Ryan used to shoot each of his victims multiple times.
A very astute mental health professional recently shared with me the observation that the way each of us responds to events in our lives is indicative of the kind of “operating system” at work in our heads. Our minds are not all that different from computers; some people are operating on latest edition of Windows and some people insist that DOS, the first popular personal computer operating system from the 1980’s, is good enough for them.
Those advocating for giving every teacher a gun and putting armed guards in our schools are responding to a complicated problem utilizing the only solution their personal operating system has to offer: confront violence with the threat of violence. Isn’t that a antiqued strategy that predates the dawn of civilization?
At this very moment in American history, the same people demanding we significantly reduce our nation’s spending on education and social programs have made it quite clear that our nation must absolutely not reduce defense spending in any way. In other words, they sincerely believe that the size of our national arsenal will be more important in shaping America’s future than the how we educate and care for our citizens.
I sincerely hope that it won’t take too many more mass murders of children before more Americans are able to upgrade their proverbial operating systems. Guns aren’t the answer to the chaos that is the American gun culture. They are the problem.
As an American and a Zionist, I hope and pray that the leadership of the two most important country’s my life will always opt for the most positive, constructive, cutting edge strategies for governing their people and negotiating with adversaries.
Force or reason? What operating system is shaping your decisions?