Violence in the city of peace

EDITOR'S NOTE: Mike Edens is professor of theology and Islamic studies and dean of graduate studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Arab-on-Jewish violence has re-erupted in and around Jerusalem in recent weeks. Is this something new? No; but then again, yes.

Viral footage of a young Palestinian woman attempting to stab a guard at a government checkpoint has heightened tensions between Israel's Jewish and Arab populations.
Screen capture from YouTube
There is something different in these acts. Many of the attacks are inspired by viral social media images rather than calls from religious or political groups. The weapon of choice for these daytime acts has generally been a knife rather than a gun.

Some of the Arab attackers are citizens of Israel and some are women. What has caused this within the nation of Israel?

An oddity of these events is that most of the attackers have little to no involvement in Palestinian political groups. Viral videos seem to be the uniting factor for those who have stabbed Jewish soldiers, policemen and ordinary citizens.

Some viewed footage of demonstrations and riots sparked by the perceived threat of Jewish destruction of the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. While Israeli political leaders have repeatedly declared their commitment to the latest Status Quo agreements reached after the Six-Day War of 1967 for freedom of access to the site, it has done little to lessen the volatility.

Others have viewed footage of previous Arab knife-wielding attacks on Jewish residents. Footage of a young Palestinian woman who stabs a Jewish man and her subsequent treatment by Israeli security forces, for example, was viewed by Arab men who later used knives to strike out at Jews.

In recent days, the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) has issued Hebrew-language threats against Israel and global Judaism. These speakers claim solidarity with the current violence in Israel and support for the perpetrators. Clearly ISIS has no organized presence in Israel or the occupied territories, nor do other organizations seem to have control of these events. Like the so-called "Arab Spring," viral images as well as social media seem to fuel this renewed conflict.

Many of those committing violent acts seem to be religiously marginal. However, this does not mean that they are not nationalistic nor culturally idealistic. The perceived threat to the Al Aqsa Mosque is not just religious. It can clearly be seen as a national and cultural icon. Additionally, images of young women assaulting Jewish men and suffering violence for their actions results in culturally-driven chaotic emotions in young Arab men.

The daytime commission of Arab-on-Jewish violence destabilizes daily life in many ways. The use of cutting weapons, knifes and cleavers, and the nature of the perpetrators allow them to "blend" into foot traffic in Jerusalem more easily. This is in contrast to young men toting AK-47s.

Many of the attackers have their social, economic and political well-being anchored in the nation of Israel. They attend government schools, serve in Arab-Israeli civic organizations and vote in Israeli elections. In the second intifada from 2000-2005, remotely similar tensions arose, but for the most part peaceful coexistence has been the norm. Israeli Jewish populations and security forces could assume that persons who were not part of groups like Hamas were unlikely to be threats to Jewish citizens.

While these issues in isolation are complex and confusing to outsiders to decipher, an additional perspective needs to be considered. To use the word "axis," the values of all societies and persons can be plotted on a graph with two axes. One set of moral values stretches from collectivism on one extreme to individualism at the other. The second set of human norms stretches from honor/shame to innocence/guilt.

Middle Easterners both Hebrew and Arab tend to be defined by collectivism and honor/shame whereas Westerners identify with individualism and innocence/guilt. It is hard for Americans to comprehend choices which value communal life more highly than individual life and expend energies to protect the honor of the community even at the cost of being seen as personally guilty by society.

Behind this growing violence between the ethnically "other" residents of the Holy Land is another reality driven by biblical injunctions. Jews and Christians struggle with the command given in Leviticus 19:18, "Love your neighbor as yourself." The question asked of Jesus in the first century is still being asked today: "Who is my neighbor?" Some are in communities of faith and are struggling to love in the midst of deep communal distrust and individual anger, seeking to walk humbly with God and all their neighbors.

One Palestinian, "Matthew," recounts how becoming a follower of Christ has taught him love and forgiveness for his Jewish neighbors. His words speak of the transformation which Jesus Christ brings to the ethnic hatred and destruction in our world. A Messianic Jewish believer, "Shaul," tells of caring for a pregnant Palestinian woman in the absence of a doctor and delivering her baby. Both of these men responded to God's love in Christ which transformed ethnic pride and cultural superiority into a costly servant heart.

For us outside of Israel, we need to pray for the peace of Jerusalem knowing that the peace experienced by believers like Matthew and Shaul ultimately comes only from Jesus the Prince of Peace.

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