The outbreak of renewed violence this summer in the Middle East carried with it a sense of tragic inevitability. Even among many people strongly committed to peacemaking, bloodshed in the region is often met with sorrowful resignation—“there they go again”—as if nothing can ever be done to prevent warfare in the area.
There were dire warnings of the danger of the war spreading far beyond the Middle East. Could this be the spark, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich asked, of World War III? Or worse: Some on the apocalypse-watch wing of the Christian right saw in the Israel-Lebanon fighting the seeds of Armageddon.
While civilian deaths multiplied—most of them in Lebanon, which suffered casualties at a rate 10 times that of Israel, along with the destruction of much of its civilian infrastructure—world leaders could not agree on whether or how to call for a halt to the fighting. The U.S., for its part, refused to push Israel (which it backs to the tune of $3 billion-plus per year) to end the attacks against targets throughout Lebanon—and, not surprising, Hezbollah’s supporters in Iran and Syria were ever-ready to add fuel to the fire.
In the midst of the tragedy, it is difficult to move beyond outrage and anger, let alone find any signs of hope.
But a small glimmer began to emerge in the midst of the carnage. The initial conversation centered on achieving a cease-fire in the daily barrage of rockets and airstrikes between Israel and Lebanon. But it was impossible to talk about a cease-fire without acknowledging that this war didn’t begin with the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, or even with the Israeli pullout from Lebanon six years ago. The roots of the conflict in the Middle East, of course, go back centuries—and any genuine, lasting solution must deal not only with the contemporary realities but the complicated heritage of two peoples on one land.