Friday, January 16

Tipping Point

We live near one of the largest mosques in Amman. At noon today hundreds of Muslims will stream to the King Abdullah Mosque for Friday prayers. Across the region, the scene will be repeated in thousands of locations. Sermons will focus on the crisis in Gaza. Later today there will be demonstrations in the streets throughout the Middle East.

This week, Osama bin Laden issued a call for holy jihad against Israel and criticized Arab leaders for their lack of response. Anger at the mounting suffering in Gaza is growing – and not just among Muslims.

According to BBC this morning, the Palestinian death toll has reached 1,105 -- with more than 5,100 wounded. Roughly a third of the casualties have been children. Thirteen Israelis have been killed and 233 soldiers wounded.

As Peter Miller pointed out in his posting several days ago, it is easy to get lost in the numbers. To get a scope of the losses in Gaza during the past three weeks, a proportionate number of deaths would be 18,415 Canadians or 220,980 Americans. (Some 3,000 persons were killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.)

MCC partners in Gaza report that their offices are closed and that they are working from home – venturing out during the lulls in shelling to distribute food staples and relief kits to persons whose homes were damaged or destroyed. The conditions are extremely difficult and dangerous. Yesterday, the Israeli military shelled the UN complex in Gaza city, setting it on fire and injuring three persons. A Middle East Council of Churches health clinic was also destroyed by Israeli fire earlier this week. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to fire rockets into southern Israel.

In the past several days, diplomatic efforts for a ceasefire have increased. Leaders from Hamas and Israel shuttle in and out of Egypt for truce talks. UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon has been in the region meeting with Arab and Israeli leaders. Unfortunately, he does not plan to meet with leaders of Hamas, even though they are a party to the conflict.

This is day 13 of my fast for peace. At some moments it feels that – while the root issues of the conflict are far from being addressed -- the immediate fighting may be drawing to a close. At other moments I’m aware that one demonstration that turns violent, or one hostile act by a third country, or one too many egregious strikes by Israel, or one Hamas rocket that kills a large number of Israeli civilians could spread this conflict to a whole new level.

We are at a tipping point.

J. Daryl Byler, lives in Amman, Jordan. He and his spouse, Cindy, are MCC Representatives for Palestine, Jordan, Iraq and Iran. They have young adult three children living in the United States.

No comments: