Is it not this biblical passage of the “massacre of the innocents” which resonates strongly in the news of these last days? Like a terrible cry that spans the millennia, this story recounts the murder of hundreds of young children, killed in the arms of their mothers on the orders of King Herod, who simply feared being dispossessed of his power. History unfortunately repeats itself. There, Israeli civilians, including women and children, killed by Hamas terrorists, in their sleep or during a party or taken hostage as trophies. Here Palestinian civilians, sometimes entire families, caught under bombs which, whatever the IDF army says, cannot differentiate between combatants and others. Here again, teachers in France who are victims of the bloodshed of some young people radicalized to the point of madness. It is this innocence that violence always hits the hardest. Thus awakening the worst instincts of revenge which only maintain the cycle of violence. To strike the innocent is to provoke the worst.
FLIGHT TO EGYPT
To escape the worst, on many occasions, the people of Israel (and many others) took refuge in the fertile lands of the Nile, in the land of the pharaohs always in search of labor for their grandiose projects and their agriculture. Jacob’s sons are fleeing a terrible drought. And centuries later, it was Joseph who took Mary and Jesus there to flee the bloodthirsty madness of Herod. There are moments of violence where the only response is distancing to wait for more serene times. Even today, the populations of Gaza are fleeing towards the south, having no other solution to escape the bombings. Will they find sufficient hospitality to escape the worst?
There is no doubt that the shock wave of these massacres in the kibbutz of Israel will damage the lives of the bereaved families for a long time. And the conscience of Israeli society. From generation to generation, the disasters which strike a people are transmitted not only as a bruised memory but also as an unconscious feeling, with its overflowing share of feelings and passions which sometimes awaken without warning. This is also how we must understand the painful memory of many Palestinian families who feel humiliated, having had to flee their family lands for decades, taking refuge in uncertain camps and often limited in their movements and their projects. This is also how we must understand the painful memory of the Jewish families who miraculously survived the pogroms and the Shoah, and who found refuge in the ancestral land of biblical Israel. This wounded memory, when it is not recognized by everyone, endlessly fuels the most radical positions, and silences the moderates made inaudible in the face of emotion and mourning. It is a terrible danger for a society to allow this cycle to take place. This shock wave phenomenon can last from generation to generation, especially if new violence is added to old ones.
Faced with the madness of murderous acts on our soil by apprentice terrorists or radicalized individuals, the urgency is, more than ever, to remain in a state of law where justice is pronounced by its legitimate representatives, and not popular vindictiveness or the opinions of experts who parade on the continuous news channels. Because French law applies in the same way to everyone. Even the worst criminal. But when an Israeli minister claims that his adversaries are no longer humans but animals, is he not abandoning the essential and falling into the trap he denounces? How can the Jewish people, who have also so often suffered from this refusal of humanity, authorize today the worst abuses against Hamas? Pretending that there is exceptional justice – necessarily expeditious – which should be reserved for the worst criminals is already preparing the game for the most extreme of all sides who like force and virile impulse. Above all, it means renouncing the very foundations of our society, whose freedom is based on a justice that functions in a distant and equitable manner for all. “Love and truth meet, sings the psalmist. Justice and peace embrace.”
How can we not feel deep within us this anger against the unjustifiable, the unbearable? The savage murders of families and children touch what is most precious to us. Is the inhuman still possible among us? This anger is legitimate and testifies that our hearts have remained sensitive to the fate of our fellow human beings. In biblical literature, the authors of the Old Testament often wondered whether terrible events were not a sign of God’s anger towards his creatures. “Will you turn from your anger? Will you cease your resentment against us?” sings the God-fearing psalmist. But in doing so, he above all questions our own ability not to transform our anger into a destructive force in return. “Will you resist the beast that lurks at your door?” God asked Cain, jealous of his brother Abel to the point of being overcome by the desire to murder.
The count of victims over the days is grim. Both those of the victims of Hamas terrorist acts and those of IDF bombings. As if, in the end, one justified the other. Is this not a sign that the law of retaliation – an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth – remains active in many minds, even among senior political leaders? And isn’t this observation terrible? Because the teaching of Christ showed to what extent this old law dating back to Moses must be outdated. Certainly, it undoubtedly constituted an important step in the organization of justice which attempted to stop the endless escalation of the cycle of revenge. But for all that, this justice only repairs in appearance. It does not heal the sick heart of the violent man. Thus, the call to love our enemies that Jesus makes to his disciples profoundly transforms our view of the world and of the humans around us. Exercise sometimes seems impossible. But this is what should keep Christ’s disciples alert. Because nothing is impossible with God.
It is not in the most painful moment that we should expect possible forgiveness. Sometimes being able to forgive is a long process. But, nevertheless, it is on this path that the most beautiful humanity is revealed. Especially since forgiving never consists of forgetting the wrong committed or suffered. On the contrary, it is being lucid about the evil that has expressed itself while refusing to let it invade our entire lives. In the prayer of the Our Father, Christ teaches his disciples to constantly ask for this ability: to forgive those who have offended us. Not out of simple greatness of soul, but above all to feel that we too are loved and forgiven by this God who joins us and relieves us from all evil. Let us never give up believing that it is indeed all humanity that is called to encounter the salvation of Christ.