Whose Lives Matter?

The violence grows apace in Jerusalem. The contradiction with what its name means, city of peace, is stark. Painful. Ugly.

Palestinians line up at an Israeli checkpoint electronicintifada.net
Palestinians line up at an Israeli checkpoint electronicintifada.net

Who is to blame?

Palestinians who throw stones and bombs, stab people, kill parents in front of their children (picture of their car below)? The Israelis who keep the pressure on the Palestinians by building more settlements, forcing ordinary workers to wait in long lines to get permission to go to work, keep biometrics on each adult to track their movements, and whose security forces make, inevitably, “mistakes”?


There is more than enough blame to go around. There always is.

When Jonathan and I visited Jerusalem last year, and when we went to Lod for a program about building peace in that place, and I visited places outside Jerusalem as well–we came away with images of great beauty (the Old City is simply a jewel shining in the sun) and an abiding sense of tension and insecurity. We felt the tension for days after we returned to the United States.


I fear for Israel. I fear for Palestine (which does not exist as an actual state, something it is easy to forget). The pathology of ever-repeating violence pervades all. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks speaks of an Us and Them dualism that runs counter to the three great monotheistic religions, and yet is threaded through each.

Even the beautiful Israeli settlements–making gardens bloom in the desert–overlook areas of Palestinian deprivation. The tension is palpable, if you look, if you are willing to see.

author photo taken from sidewalk in Israeli Jewish settler area on the outskirts of Jerusalem, looking across to very dry Palestinian area.
author photo taken from sidewalk in Israeli Jewish settler area on the outskirts of Jerusalem, looking across to very dry Palestinian area.

I have no answers, yet there must be answers. Things can not go on like this.

When Jonathan and I get into an argument, and we can get pretty ugly at times, eventually each of us has to crawl back from the flashpoint to acknowledge what went wrong, to admit our part in the failure of living side by side in peace.

The only thing I know to do is to get on my knees, making repentance for what I have done that does not serve peace and what I have not done that would serve peace.


I can hear many of my friends say, “Well, if they (the other side, whoever it is), get on their knees, then we will, too. But they have to stop the violence first.”

There is the pathology: it’s the other guy. Always the other. Kill the Jews! Kill the Arabs!

War never solves pathology, it just gives it new outlets and new justifications.

Israeli Lives MatterA dear friend sent me a graphic (see right) that has gone viral on the internet. I know the people who designed it mean to help. I know my friend means to help, too.

Sadly, however, I think it makes matters worse–not least because it is a high-jacking of a campaign by another aggrieved group in another part of the world, namely African Americans who are tired of being the targets of police and social violence.

And it harms because it implies, in this context, that Palestinian lives do not matter. More Palestinians are killed in any given year than Israelis. More Palestinians are forced from land and homes than Israelis. The Israeli Defense Force and police are far more efficient and powerful than their Palestinian counterparts.

I can hear friends reply that the campaign Black Lives Matter seems to say that White Lives Do Not Matter. Or that it should say All Lives Matter (which is what so many wanted to say in response to Black Lives Matter).


The problem is power. It always is. Nearly always, one side or the other has greater power.

My mentioning arguments between Jonathan and me is misleading in one sense: there is no real power differential between us. We both have roughly equal power at any given moment.

But African Americans know that in this country whiteness dominates. We do not need signs saying “White Lives Matter” because our entire social structure reinforces that every day.

It is not dissimilar in Israel and Palestine. Clearly, the Israeli government, and its security forces, generally have the upper hand. For example, it is only the Prime Minister of Israel who can decree that Palestinians may not enter the Old City for 48 hours–what in this country would be considered racial profiling of the worst kind.


I do not intend any of this to absolve Palestinians from responsibility for murders they commit, for violence enacted on the streets. I do not absolve the Palestinian Authority of incompetence and great dereliction of duty over the decades. And of course, Israeli lives matter.

But I do know who still has the upper hand.

Yet I fear for Israel. To live in the constant state of fear is to invite ever greater militarization, ever greater extremism. This will not protect the City of Peace, even as it may satisfy the desire for vengeance and some sort of order.

Palestinians people are going this route, I fear, out of desperation; when you see no hope, then despair takes over. They do not have the armaments, however, to take charge. And much of the current violence seems sporadic and disorganized–we are not yet, yet, at a new Intifada.

Israel does have the armaments, including nuclear weapons. It matters how they use their advantages. Sadly, I am not convinced that the current government, nor clearly many of its allies, understand that with great power comes great responsibility.

Until that changes, I expect the City of Peace will feel too much like the City of War.

Published by

Robin Hawley Gorsline

Robin is a poet (claiming this later in life) and Queer Theologian--reflecting a soul of hope and faith and joy and justice/shalom. He is happily married to Dr. Jonathan Lebolt (20 years and counting), the proud parent of three glorious daughters (and grateful to two wonderful sons-in- law and a new one soon!), and the very proud "Papa" to Juna (6) and Annie (3).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s