Israel-Hamas war is a teaching moment, but what is the lesson?

by Mick Rhodes |

This week some of my kids are talking about what’s happening in Israel and Gaza and I’ve had to formulate thoughtful responses and attempt to answer their questions.

But the truth is the horrifying events of the past week have stretched my parental skill set to the breaking point. How to explain the ancient grievances, the interconnectedness of the U.S., Israel, and the greater Middle East, and the utterly inhuman horror, war crimes, and indiscriminate slaughter we’re all seeing on our screens and in print media?

Rather than wade in too deeply here and expose my profound lack of understanding, I just want to take this opportunity to say my heart goes out to all the families everywhere that have been affected. The violence is gruesome, with children murdered and whole families wiped out. It would appear atrocities are occurring on both sides. Good God, how to process what we’re seeing?

I’m at a loss.

This is nothing new. Many times my children have queried me on any number of complex issues, and I’ve meandered down a word salad highway only to realize I’m at a dead end, at which time I finally pause and say, “Uh … you better look that up.” Thankfully, learning things is a snap since we all began carrying tiny computers in our pockets about 20 years ago, so a-Googling I often go.

And yes, I am aware my lack of knowledge about the labyrinthine, longstanding underpinnings of this latest conflict is a profound privilege. I wasn’t born into war. I don’t have family in Israel or Gaza, and I do not live with the weight of thousands of years of ethnic, religious, tribal, and military conflict. I’ve been lucky in a great many ways, but this one may top that lengthy list.

My youngest kids are 13, 17, and 21. They’ve all grown to be smart and self-aware, and as such have relied less and less on my limited knowledge of worldly things. My two youngest still humor me every now and then and pepper me with questions about school- and life-related issues, though less and less as the years go on.

I’ve quizzed my middle school son and high school stepson and neither report having discussed the war in class this week or with their friends. I was relieved in a sense, because again, how to process the horror? But on the other hand, don’t schools have a role to play in trying to help kids contextualize what’s happening in the world? I don’t know the answer, and I may be wondering out loud because I need all the help I can get.

My college freshman on the other hand is devouring the news and like me, is not sure how to proceed. We talked for hours about the genesis of Israel, and our government’s long held support, both militarily and financially. She told me that X (formerly Twitter), where she gets most of her news, is alight with primarily pro-Palestinian sentiment. It’s confusing for her, and me, to see atrocities happening on both sides of this conflict, to see American weapons killing children and Hamas soldiers executing innocents, and arrive at an understanding of where justice lies. I know I’ll inflame both sides with that last sentence, but it’s the honest truth that I, we, are not sure.

It’s horrifying to fathom what may come of this if — as every analyst I’ve heard speak over the past week says is inevitable — the Israeli Army moves into Gaza. The way I understand it there are millions of civilians there with no escape route, save a lucky few who can move through the southern Egyptian border for medical reasons. It’s a slaughter waiting to happen, and apparently Hamas has accepted this inevitability, seemingly wagering the more than 150 Israeli (and some American) hostages they’re holding there will blunt Israel’s response. Judging by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s comments this week, including ordering a “complete siege” of Gaza, it would seem an unlikely deterrent.

What a tragedy that will be.

What a tragedy this whole thing is.

And how to talk about it with our kids? These are the humans we’ve raised to be kind, to “use your words,” to stand up to bullies and help the helpless. How to square those lessons with what they’re seeing and hearing from Israel and Gaza? Again, this is a privileged position, one I am grateful to be in. But it’s also an important teaching moment in American parents’ lives, one I am loathe to fumble.

I write this not in retreat or to hedge, nor to resort to “bothsidesism” to avoid taking a stand. I’m not Jewish. I’m not Israeli. I’m not Muslim. I’m not Palestinian. I am human, and I am not sure about the best way forward.


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