As the conflict in our region has continued for ten months, the sad news of innocent victims, including children and babies, has tragically become a regular occurrence. And with each violent act, representatives of both Palestinian and Israeli authorities appear in the media, without fail throwing accusations and placing blame on the other side. Israelis accuse the Palestinian Authority of inciting and supporting violent acts. Palestinians accuse Israelis of having no respect for human life and dignity. With each incident, each side points fingers, saying that they have lost all moral and ethical standards. As a result, hatred has become a prevailing force on both sides.
Israelis accuse the Palestinians of calling for the death of Jews, bringing quotations from Muslim clergymen’s speeches, video and sound clips to prove their point. Israelis charge that children are taught in schools to hate Israel. (The role of education in promoting prejudice and hatred will be discussed in a second article.) Palestinians counter with their own charges, quoting the words of the Orthodox Sephardic spiritual leader, who recently called on the army to kill Arabs. They point to the graffiti written on Israeli walls, “Death to Arabs,” which is also used as a popular slogan at football games.
At times when an outsider looks at us and our societies, his description can alert us to the severity of our situation. In an interview with Ha’aretz newspaper on April 27, a senior photographer from National Geographic spoke of the 2 weeks he spent photographing his travels between Jerusalem and Hebron. In his five visits, he perceived the situation growing worse. He noted that he could sense and feel the hatred between people. According to his experience photographing around the world for 20 years, being 100 countries and many war zones, the magnitude of hatred between Palestinians and Israelis was matched only in Rwanda when the Hutu massacred the Tutsi. However, there the hatred was not with the same intellectual or religious connotations.
Scholars engaged in studying and evaluating conflict between groups have observed certain phenomena that can help us to understand some aspects of hatred and prejudice. This article will highlight a few of these trends and look at the Bible’s exhortations in the area of hatred.
Trends among groups in conflict.
Division between us and them.
Individuals tend to evaluate one’s own group with sensitivity and favor. We are able to understand our own group, recognize its good qualities, and become attached to it. We overlook our own shortcomings because it is important to distinguish between us (who are right and good and merciful) and them (who are evil and wrong), and thus we can blame them.
Failure to see plurality within the other side.
It is more difficult to understand ‘them.’ Instead of recognizing their qualities, we generalize and stereotype the other, saying things like, ‘They all hate and want to kill us,’ or ‘They are the animals, they are the evil ones.’ We are unable to see them as individuals with unique feelings and thoughts.
Palestinians generally view all Israelis as being right-winged and wanting to take their land. They do not recognize that many Israelis are writing and speaking out for peace and compromise. On the other side, Israelis tend to feel that all Palestinians would like to kill them and do not realize that many Palestinians simply want to live in peace. Jews feel that all Arabs are the same and cannot be trusted. Arabs feel that all Jews are the same and cannot be trusted.
Due to the language barrier, Israelis and Palestinians do not read each other’s newspapers and watch their TV programs. Thus they are dependent on very selective information given to them about the other side. One example is when a Western group associated with Holocaust denial wanted to hold an international conference in Lebanon. The conference was canceled due to the strong protests of Palestinian, other Arab and international scholars and leaders. However, Israeli media focused on the issue of the conference and its supporters, giving little attention to those who blocked the event.
On the other side, when the previously mentioned rabbi cried out for the destruction of Palestinian homes and their death, Palestinians attributed these sentiments to all Jews. They failed to hear the voice of many Israelis condemning the rabbi’s words.
While we understand and perhaps accept the variety of feeling and opinion within our own group, we do not recognize the debates and disagreements within the other group. Rather, we see them as one group united together against us.
Thus, we decide that we are more peace loving, trustworthy, and honest. Our values become a moral authority, and we view with contempt those who have different values. Often we will not mix with those who do not share our moral standards, as they might change or corrupt us. The feeling of moral superiority allows for separation and protection, and can justify hatred or legitimize mistreatment of them.
During the pope’s visit to Syria, President Bashar Assad gave an example of this attitude of moral superiority, when he likened the actions of the state of Israel to those of the Nazis; declaring that they are violating all human, moral principles. On the other side, Israeli President Moshe Katsav recently gave a speech where he spoke of a huge gap between us and the enemy [Arabs] in the areas of morality, ethics and conscience, as the Arabs are coming from a “totally different galaxy.”
Both Israelis and Palestinian Arabs strongly perceive themselves as victims and therefore are unable to see themselves as a threat to the other. If we are the victims, then we cannot be the victimizers. The victims’ mentality causes them to be blind to others’ pain, aspirations, and needs and therefore justify their attitude towards the other. This perception of themselves as the threatened and injured party also allows for fear and hostility towards the other. Therefore violent action is justified, and some politicians use these fears to promote their political agenda.
Biblical Principles and Response
As Israeli and Palestinian believers we feel and experience with our people the effect of the conflict. Awareness of the dynamics of hatred can help us not to allow hatred to overcome us. Biblical principles can help us in this difficult situation.
“So God created man in his own image,” (Gen. 1:27). All people are created in God’s likeness. Thus, as believers we are not permitted to dehumanize or demonize the other, as all are formed after the image of God. We are commanded to act in love and respect towards all of God’s creation.
“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) All of the humanity is fallen and in need of restoration, regardless of their ethnicity or religious background. The prophet Amos spoke to not one, but many nations on their responsibility for their own sin. Also as individuals, it is clear that “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). We are all in need redemption from the sin of hatred and restoration through the power of resurrection.
Hatred is a destructive sin. In Romans 3:10,14-17, Paul quotes: “There is no one righteous, not even one…. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery make their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” As believers, we should mindful that hatred and hostility lead to violence and murder of those created in God’s image. We must be alert, for Jesus warns that in the time of trial, “many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other” (Mt. 24:9-11).
We must deal with the sin of hatred within ourselves and our people before judging others. The blame that we assign to others, our bitterness at their offenses, falls second to the recognition of our own sinful natures. Jesus spoke to individuals, asking us to take a sincere look at ourselves before passing judgment on others. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Mt. 7). We are called to introspection and self-examination before confrontation with others. Before we preach about the other’s hatred we much check our own hearts.
How then are we to respond to our enemy? How do we react to hatred? Jesus’ answer is clear: “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Mt. 5).” In many conflicts around the world, even believers in Jesus find themselves on opposite sides of the fence. However, we cannot follow God and stay in the darkness of hatred, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness” I John 2:9. Jesus asks us to take more than a passive role. We are prompted to take a stand against evil, and to take action by loving one another and even those who hate us.
Paul instructs us on how to treat one another: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves…Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse….Do not repay anyone evil for evil….Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12: 9-21).
As humans, to love those who hurt and persecute us is difficult. Thus we rely on the Holy Spirit to help us fulfill God’s calling on our lives. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26). Although we might be unable to resist the anger, bitterness and hatred that so quickly springs up, we remember that “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). In this world that preaches revenge, we must stand in radical opposition to the sin of hatred that separates us from God and from each other. “Above all, love each other deeply, for love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).
Many thanks to all who proofread and made suggestions; also thanks to Brittany Browning for her help in writing the article.
Brewer, M.B. (1999) The psychology of prejudice: ingroup love or outgroup hate?
Journal of Social Issues.
Ha’aretz Weekend Edition, April 27, 2001.
Stephan, W.G. & Stephan, C.W. (1996). Intergroup relations. Dubuque, IA: Brown & Benchmark.