from oppressed to aggressor

the news this week about isreal bombing lebanon has me so sad and frustrated.

i’m continually baffled that a people who have been so oppressed for so long can become such extreme aggressors, such purveyors of violence. i know there’s not a lot of love in the middle east for the presence of israel, and i know some of the arab nations have ill-intent for israel. but israel has become the dominant military power (and economic power) in the middle east, so they are the ones in a position of power.

i don’t pretend to understand all the politics or social and cultural dynamics at play, but i’ve been to palestine, and i’ve seen the systematic oppression that has taken place there for decades.

maybe it’s the influence of hollywood in my life that would like to think a people group so oppressed and violated for so many millenia would result in the most peace-committed nation on earth. or maybe it’s my hope in a gospel of peace. but israel’s actions have continued to be a clear indicator in the opposite direction. maybe the combination of power and a memory of oppression is the worst combination possible for a nation.

14 thoughts on “from oppressed to aggressor”

  1. I’ve been similarly frustrated and almost aghast at the escalation of violence that’s taken place over the past few days.

    I think it’s partly the issue that “hurt people hurt people” as I’ve heard people say. Many abused children become abusers themselves. Oppressed people tend to become oppressors, unless (and this is a huge unless) forgiveness can work its way into the equation. True, lasting peace hinges on the willingness of people to let go of the pain and forgive the offending party. Desmond Tutu and the Truth and Reconciliation Committee managed to deal with South Africa’s very difficult issues of oppression, bitterness and forgiveness in a manner that resulted in very little of the blooshed so many experts predicted was unavoidable. It’s a picture of how the gospel of peace can be worked out practically in race/ethnic relations and international politics. But Israel doesn’t seem committed to a similar path.

  2. Ditto to Ben’s comment. When violence is all you’ve ever known, life only makes sense when it’s lived violently. Peace is literally a foreign concept.

  3. Let me ask you something then, what is the proper response when some of your military personal are kidnapped, and rockets are lobbed into your towns? Considering 90% of the middle east would like to see the country sent into the ocean, I am not sure what they can do to satisfy anyone.

  4. randy — a few thoughts:

    1. i’m not as clear about lebanon, but why do you think palestine keeps terrorizing israel? is it merely religious and racial hatred? i don’t think so. i think it’s a response to a decades of complex and systematic oppression — being told they have land rights, but not the rights to the water under the land (which is sold to them at exhorbitant rates); having palestinian land segmented and divided by highways built between israeli settlements — highways that non-jews are not allowed to live near, and if a non-jew had a home there prior to the highway going in, it gets bulldozed (literally). in other words, i think israel has gone a long way to create much of the regional hatred that exists toward them. they are the powerful oppressors. powerful oppressors are pretty much always hated by the oppressed.

    2. i can’t imagine that “our government will respond to your acts of violence with larger and more aggressive acts of violence” is ever the best first course of action.

    3. i’d like to believe that the biblical ideals of peace and forgiveness have implications for nations also, not just individuals.

    randy, i don’t know you, or your worldview. i don’t know if you come from a christian perspective or not. but if you do, your response scares the crap out of me.

  5. Hey Marko,

    Hope you are well, my friend. What is happening in the Middle East is so tragic. I have made 20 trips there and have both Arab and Jewish friends and acquaintances. This situation is so complicated and sad – building on thousands of years of conflict and hatred. Concerning your comment about people who have been oppressed becoming the oppressor – Miroslav Volf writes in Exclusion and Embrace something along the lines of “The Oppressor is often the Martyr not quite killed.” So true…

  6. Marko, First of end your questioning of my faith, I am a Christian. And I am sorry that it scares the crap out of you. I guess we will just disagre with this then, because there is not much of what you say that I actually agree with. So to take the time and argue each point would be pointless and take too long. I still enjoy your blog and think you have a lot of knowledge and love your student ministry. And unlike you regardless of our difference of opinion nothing about your faith scares the crap out of me.

  7. randy — i wasn’t questionning your faith! i just didn’t know if your comment was coming from a christian worldview or not, which left me somewhat unable to frame it. dude, my pushback is blog-comment stuff — c’mon, tell me why you disagree; that’s good for all of us! i don’t pretend to have everything figured out.

    thanks for your nice comments, btw.

  8. Sorry last post did not make much sense. Guess I should not talk on the phone and blog. I will say that I am not saying that Israel is perfect and does no wrong. However when you have even some Arab countries saying that Hezbollah is wrong and started this, then you know something is wrong. Back when it was Arafat and Sharon in charge of their countries, they could of had an agreement to end all of this mess, but Arafat did not want to. The only reason why Hamas, Hezbollah, and Fatah keep fighting is because they like the power and they hate Jews. Otherwise this could be settled. Israel has a problem with countries like Iran, Syria, and Lebonan because they support the terrorists that try to knock Israel down.

    Israel won their land by war, if you are saying that war should not determine what your borders should be then what you are saying is that the US Goverment should give the land back to the Native Americans because this country was founded on land being stolen from one group or another.

    Regarding the 6 day war back in the 60’s, I do believe it was started by the other Arab countries who wanted the land that Israel had. One final thing, Palestine could of been a country already if countries like Egypt and Jordan back in the 60’s would of given them the land. But they did not want the Palestinians either.

    If you listen to what some of the Arab countries are saying, does not even sound like they really care about the Hezbollah group either. Remember that while these attacks are going on in Lebonan, it is actually happening in the southern section that Hezbollah has been in control of.

    Not sure if this made sense, but the fact that you would say my Christian perspective scares the crap out of you actually pissed me off! Because not every Christian thinks like you, just like they do not think like me either all the time.

  9. hey marko,

    first of all, coming from a Christian worldview, and love your stuff & ministry. agree with a good bit of what you say, and enjoy all of it.

    with respect to the current situation in Lebanon, not even Saudi Arabia criticized Israel, instead opting to blame “elements” inside Lebanon – namely, Hizbollah and its Iranian backers. that should tell you something about the justification of, at the very least, Israel’s current military actions.

    with regard to your broader question about Palestine, I would offer that the society of “resistance” — I think it could more appropriately be called insurgency — results primarily from generations of breeding Islamic hatred. it certainly is a matter of racial and religious hatred: a stated desire on the part of militant Islam to spread their beliefs by the sword.

    Hizbollah is an organization founded and dedicated to the elimination of Israel; the president of its Iranian backers, Mahmoud Ahmadineajad (who appears more with each passing day to be at the helm of this flare-up), has stated his desire that Israel be “wiped off the map.” Hamas in Palestine is no better — and yet members of both terror groups have been democratically elected in Muslim states. is every Muslim in the world walking around making plans to kill the “kuffar” — or unbelievers — in his life? of course not! and it would be ridiculous and ill-reasoned to make such a generalization. but at the same time, I think it’s equally unreasonable to pretend those elements don’t exist, and to suggest that they are not a driving majority force (either democratically or dictatorially) in Middle Eastern politics. I don’t doubt that many Palestinians are legitimately upset at their way of life, and I appreciate that — but with all due respect and consideration to their situation, I don’t think Israel can be reasonably held responsible (a harsher way to say it: they have no one to blame but themselves).

    if what we consider terrorism is purely a regional response to oppression, and is not driven by a broader desire for religious subjugation, then why were there synchronized train bombings in India last week? why were militant Islamists plotting to behead the prime minister of Canada? who has Canada ever oppressed?

    are all Palestinians supporters of these militant organizations? of course not — but their current democratically-elected ruling party is, and that, along with Hizbollah (democratically elected in Lebanon) is who Israel is fighting.

    I also wish that individual Christian virtues always applied at the nation-state level, and I believe it’s the moral obligation of any leader to ensure that his government acts in accordance with those virtues. but — and I don’t ask this rhetorically with the intent of making a point; I ask because I honestly don’t know the answer — can a state be expected to turn the other cheek when doing so will result in voluntary acquiescence to complete extermination? Jesus turned the other cheek to the point of death; many of His followers throughout history have done the same. but is a state in any way acting ethically or morally to impose that decision on its entire populace?

    I would hold that it is doing no such thing.

    love your work & looking forward to a reply,


  10. What he said. I was going to respond to your question this morning, but I think Dave has actually said mostly what I would of said, or at least tried to say. All I want to add is that no country is perfect today, we all have problems. No country will ever be perfect as long as humans run things, since no person not even a Christian is perfect. But when your back is against the wall with very few friends in the world let alone the same region, you do have to defend yourself at best you can.

  11. dave and randy — i’m glad you guy both wrote extended comments. thanks. sorry i pissed you off, randy — it was a snarky comment on my part, i’ll admit that.

    you both have lots of good points. and believe me, i know it would be ridiculous of me to portray palenstine (or other arab countries) as absolved in any of the conflict that continues to bring crisis to god’s creation in that part of the world (this was actually a point in my sermon this morning). hatred always brings crisis. terrorism should never be “explained”.

    AND — i think this is important — both arab culture and jewish culture do not seem to have forgiveness as an ideal, as we do in christianity (not saying us christians are very good at that).

    but back to my original post, which was more about the dynamics of power and oppression. i think you would agree that, while isael continues to experience lots of hatred toward them, they are the most powerful military force in the middle east. and when that kind of power is exercised, it will always bring violent response from those on the receiving end. again, i’m not excusing palestine, or arafat’s refusal to come to agreement, and certainly not hezbollah’s actions this week.

    as to our own country — as i travel internationally, i see so much hatred toward america. and i think it’s for the same reason: we’re a political power, and we have a clear tendency to exercise our military power (throughout our short history) in ways that might occaisionally be helpful, but are often tainted by arrogance and self-interest. i’m probably pretty naive here — but i think we can (in our own violent history with native americans) both acknowledge that “giving the country back” is unfeasable at this point, while still having a repentant perspective for the violence and deceptive means we used. i think restoration (at a personal level, and a national level) requires that sort of humble perspective. for instance, i applaud germany for their apology to the jewish world — it doesn’t change what happened, but it’s a critical step for everyone.

    i’m rambling now, so i’ll wind down. there’s plenty of blame all around in the ongoing conflict in the middle east. i DO think, however, that americans (i don’t see this as much from people in other countries) have been too quick in exhonerating isreal over the years for their actions, based on a goofy zionistic/christian idea that israel can do whatever they want to people (and nations) because they are god’s chosen people.

  12. i’ve been enjoying the conversation…good stuff. my thoughts: both sides are messed up…

    Since 1948, when Israel became a state, they have removed arab people from their land, and destroying their villages…they have destroyed litterally hundreds of villages over the last 50+ years. (check out “Blood Brother’s” by Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian for more on this). Israel also has a troubled past when it comes to human rights abuses, both in war (1950′ and especially in Lebanon during their last occupation), and in domestic situations (buldozing palestinian houses, travel restictions, etc). Not onlt that, but Israel’s “deals” with the Palestinians are often very one sided (in Israel’s favor). The Palestinian population has a lot of reasons to be upset with Israel.

    On the other side of the issue, it seems that Israel is not totally to blame here. Regardless of why Israel was founded, it is here now. And the suicide bombers that have plagued Israel over the past decade (but especially since the last inifada started) are enough to freak anyone out. combine this with a population that “martyrs” people who engage in this activity (not everyone, but at least enough), then this is a scary thing for Israel. Israel also has to deal with other Arab nations that have throughout its history done much to fight against it (both outright and behind the scenes). much of this is also covered above.

    As a Christian though, I am nervous whenever someone tries to defend all the actions of a nation. I want justice and mercy and purity to reign, not just in individuals lives, but in nations. Whenever an organization, like Hezbollah fires rockets into train station and kills 9 workers, i want to scream out against this. Whenever Israel drops bombs into beriut and kills an entire family of 12, i want to scream out against this. None of this, i believe, is pleasing to God.

    I believe it is my job to speak out against any injustice…and i don’t care if someone is “provoked”, or has their backs against the wall…

    another thought. I agree with Marko that israel, has the power to help make change. They have the strongest military, allies, and economy in the region. they have the power to reconcile this situation… but i also believe that the Palestinian people must work to stop the violence…

    a final thought…i wonder what our Palestinian and Israeli Christian brothers and sisters think about all this…

  13. With this post coming out from marko, I thought it was interesting what the pastor said at my new church.

    He just came back from Jordan with a group of pastors and asked somebody this same question. The person responded with “I hope it is sort of like the cross”, the Jews on one side of the arm, the Muslims on the other. We as Christians are in the middle, our job is to bring them into the center where Christ is”. He said it better last night, but I still thought it was cool.

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