Opinion: The responsibility not taken


For the Monitor

Published: 10-30-2023 8:36 AM

John Buttrick lived for 3 months in Jayyous, Palestine as an Accompanier for the World Council of Churches. For 2 years he was Media Coordinator and Communication Strategist for Kairos Palestine. He lives in Concord and can be reached at johndbuttrick@gmail.com.

Whenever war breaks out the debate about who is responsible quickly follows. Denying responsibility for death and destruction is a mantra in the daily reports of the war between Israel and Hamas and Palestinians. It is a practice that harkens way back in history and in morality tales. I’m reminded of that ancient account in the Christian scriptures when the Roman governor, Pilate, is burdened with the responsibility of ordering the death of Jesus. He “took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this blood, see to it yourselves.”

Relinquishing responsibility usually means shifting it to someone else. Responsibility involves the ability to influence and control. To give it up is to give up the power and sense of purpose to make a difference. When Israel passes onto Hamas the responsibility for involvement in the war, it gives Hamas the power and renders Israel helpless to do anything but to continue contributing to the horrors of the war. When the United States pledges “unequivocal support” to Israel, and accepts no responsibility as Israel wreaks havoc, death, and destruction on Gaza, the United States forfeits any influence over Israel’s actions.

Contributing to the confusion over responsibility, Palestinians are caught in the middle between occupier Israel and militant Hamas. Under the Israeli occupation, they suffer restricted freedom of movement, demolition of houses, destruction of their olive trees, invasion of their homes, and arrest of teens. And without effective representative government, the Palestinian Authority lacks the power to influence belligerent Hamas. Of course, Israel passes on the responsibility for oppressing  Palestinians to those who are perceived as a threat to Israel’s security. And Hamas blames Israel for its belligerent attack on Israel. Thus, the circle is complete – Palestinians are surrounded by the U.S. supporting Israel, and by Hamas aggression.

With no responsibility taken, the war between Hamas and Israel is a morass of confusion and helplessness. Sabastian Salicru writes in Psychology Today, “Avoiding responsibility destroys a sense of purpose.” What follows is confusion and a relinquishing of power to a puppeteer. Denying responsibility or putting it onto another, frees the denier from being faulted for its actions. It’s not complicated – anything goes.

However, acceptance of responsibility gives clarity. Salicru explains, “responsibility… constitutes the foundation for understanding our experience, developing our sense of identity, and leading a purposeful and meaningful life.”  “Purpose comes from a sense of contribution and connection to something larger than yourself.” The United States must acknowledge its purpose for being an enabler, with words and with military aid, of Israel’s massive killing of innocent Gazans and the oppression and collective punishment of Palestinians in the West Bank. This admission can begin to clarify the reality of the relationship with Israel.

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Taking responsibility for seeking an honest relationship will lead to the ability to discuss difficult issues, such as what does it mean for the United States to “have Israel’s back? How does Israel’s democracy relate to violations of humanitarian law, active racism, and apartheid policies? What are the democratic implications of a Jewish State? What changes in Israel’s oppressive military administration of the occupied Palestinian Territory in the West Bank will motivate the United States to continue giving the billions of dollars in military aid to Israel? What methods of security can be enforced that do not require death and destruction in the West Bank and Gaza?

Purposeful meaningful discussions will breed trust and stimulate vision. Perhaps “security” comes to mean striving to become good neighbors. Perhaps military aid becomes humanitarian aid. Perhaps a nation is formed that welcomes Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze, among others. Perhaps Israel becomes a model democracy among the nations of the Middle East. The path of responsibility not taken has given the impetus for the war between Hamas and Israel. Perhaps when all parties take responsibility for their part in the war, a way will be found for negotiations with purposeful goals and peaceful resolutions. No handwashing necessary!