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PEACE PROCESS : Israel: Where the Strong Weep and the Weak Kill

<i> Martin E. Marty, who teaches history of religion at the University of Chicago, is senior editor of the Christian Century and co-editor of "Fundamentalisms Comprehended," due from U. of Chicago Press</i>

Rachel is weeping, weeping again.

The news reports from Israel do not put it quite so poetically, so biblically. They say that, once again, terrorists on a suicide mission bombed a bus in Jerusalem, killing five and wounding a hundred people. Morning had barely broken Monday when the shadows of death blighted the urban landscape at Ramat Gan. And so: Rachel weeps. She has to weep too often.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the organizations that took credit for the bombing, were not aiming for the children, though they killed such innocents, and would and will kill more. They were trying to force the end of the peace process that is bringing Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Army closer to the always elusive, never guaranteed and certain to remain tense peace. Their target, for the moment, was “No. 1 terrorist Yitzhak Rabin,” the Israeli prime minister who will remain in their gun sights until elections in Israel in November, 1996. They will also indiscriminately target anyone who happens to be at their bomb sites in the mean time.

Rachel weeps, however, because the terrorists cannot reach the leadership and will settle for anyone who happens along. By random suicide bombings the militants evoke thoughtless rage; sounds of weeping are too passive, too soft, to distract them from their fanatic and anarchic goals.

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Rachel, though figurative today, was the wife of Jacob (Israel), mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Jeremiah (31:15) hears her sobs in Ramah--her burial place. Many commentators picture him imagining that Rachel has returned to haunt her tomb. In stark biblical language: “She refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.” They were no more because they had been exiled. Now they are no more because a bomber killed their successors.

Not only Rachel weeps. “Why Are the Angels Crying?” is the song often heard in weeks like this one on Israeli radio. The editors of Maariv weary of the crying. The too frequently repeated sequence of killing, mourning and resuming daily life has almost become routine. “It has all turned into a kind of ceremony . . . . We have accepted that from time to time many of us have to die. Life goes back to normal.”

Rachel, however, can never be acceptant. Parents of those who lose their young will never find their lives to be normal again. Rachel weeps, while the voices of rage drown the sounds of her suffering.

What every rational person at the slightest distance from the scene has to know is that rage and reaction, if it would bring down the peace process, would serve the purposes of few but the terrorists. The killers announce they wish to see Rabin defeated next year. Would the end of the peace talks cause them to moderate? Would the replacement of Rabin by anyone else, including anyone who would bring Israel back to a state of war with the PLO, cause the bombings to cease?

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For some years I have been in the company of those who study militant fundamentalists and now ethno-nationalists--people who claim God, by whatever name, for their side. We have watched some governments try to adapt in order to mollify the most aggressive minorities. That never works. The appetites of the belligerents are never satisfied. Their hungers only grow with partial victories. Their boasts become emptier but louder whenever the voices of rage and not the sounds of weeping are heard around them.

I have misrepresented Rachel, however, if the picture given in those lines makes her sound weak. Rachel is strong. She has to be. Those who take risks for peace and have to pay a price are always the strong ones. Those who rage and react are weak, gaining merely the appearance of strength from the crowds that surround them.

It is easy and clarifying to oppose Palestinian self-rule, because through such a policy one simply re-establishes war zones. Thereupon the sides can re-place the cannon and aim the artillery, replacing the random deaths of the few with rational warfare, which means the killing of many.

Rachel was strong, according to Jeremiah because she heard “there is hope for your future.” Exiles would return. Rachel is strong because she hopes for the establishment of policies that promise more measures of justice and peace than did those that prevailed from 1967 until 1995. Self-determination for Palestinians is a concept that demands strength from both sides. But today when movements toward peace offer promise, the weak strike out suicidally.

The weak? Yes, the suicide bombers needed little courage as they calculated how to enter “the Heaven of the Righteous” while leaving behind a hell of unrighteousness. Those on both sides who continue the peace talks are the ones who need courage and stamina.

Mere mention of “both sides” does not do justice to the complexities of Yasser Arafat, no stranger to violence himself, but now a worker for peace; or of Rabin, whose nation has inflicted death even as it has suffered it. Both see their majority support dwindling as extremist voices exploit the moment. These extremists never differentiate in their calls for murder. Thus Jewish Defense League demonstrators at the bus bombing site blended shouts of “Death to Rabin” with those of “Death to Arabs.” Such screamers want to provide more tombs for Rachel and her cousins to haunt.

Something in the self-protective bystander naturally elicits rage and calls for retaliatory killing; one can empathize with the enraged. During the peace talks there will be more buses bombed, more innocents killed. The capture of a Hamas band at Nablus two days after the bus bombing did help both Rabin and Arafat appear to be partially effective and wholly serious about ending the violence. But other bands plot other killings.

Thousands weekly die in violence elsewhere, so regularly that eyes of many glaze, and tears dry. But Israel and the PLO authorities in their small world have taken on special importance. They are agents and symbols of the rare, barely sustainable art form called a peace process. If the impatient play into the hands of those who would interrupt--which means end--this process, they will have made no contribution to shalom or security. Only to the number of occasions where Rachel will weep for her children because they are no more. And for the death of hope and foreclosure of the future.

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