As I walked out of the Intercultural Center after my 11:15 a.m. class on Jan. 12, I was greeted by a dramatic demonstration against the Israeli military campaign in Gaza. It was as eye-catching as it was persuasive, with protestors milling around Red Square wearing double-sided signs on their bodies. Many of the signs were emblazoned with the words “I am Gaza,” accompanied by some particularly disturbing statistics from the three-week-long Israeli offensive. I learned that morning that the bombing and ground occupation had already claimed the lives of 277 children.

These numbers are as staggering as they are horrifying. The protesters on Monday were out, of course, to raise awareness, but also to gather signatures for a petition and to pass out information sheets they had produced about the fighting. As I walked by, a middle-aged woman with a microphone was also making a brief speech. She made reference to the need for demonstration against what she considered to be the immoral and unjust actions of Israel, but also voiced her concern that most of the protesters at Georgetown and around the country seemed to be Muslim or of Middle Eastern descent.

I walked back to my dorm, more secure in my opinion that, at minimum, Israel’s actions have certainly not helped to promote what is most needed in the Middle East right now: that is, good will and cooperation on both sides. But I was also troubled by what this woman had said. It was true – too few Americans of non-Middle Eastern descent are speaking out against Israel’s actions.

The Bush administration supported the Israelis and placed the blame squarely on Hamas and its rocket fire. Meanwhile, Congress passed two resolutions offering its “unwavering” support to Israel, recognizing Israel’s “right to defend itself.” President Obama stuck to his pledge to stay silent on the issue until taking office, but either way, our country has failed to recognize Israel’s actions for what they are – unnecessary, excessive and counterproductive.

Amid my concerns, however, I was forced to recall another recent violent and destructive world event that might have merited some protest. I was disappointed along with many others when, after militants clinging to a contrived interpretation of Islam massacred at least 173 people in Mumbai last November, many in the Muslim world failed to speak out against such hateful, vicious and equally unnecessary acts being carried out partly in the name of their faith. The problem was the same as the Israel-Hamas protest problem, only reversed – outrage at what happened in Mumbai was most common among Indians and Westerners.

In both cases, there has been no mutual and consistent denunciation of violence. While I don’t doubt that last Monday’s protesters find many of Hamas’ actions abhorrent, the protestors should also have demonstrated against Hamas for killing Israelis in ongoing rocket attacks. Instead, the Israeli civilian casualties were a footnote, a statistic in a broader argument about Israel’s disproportionate and excessive response. Instead of recognizing the violence that provoked Israel and calling directly for an end to fighting in the region, the protest only assigned blame for Israel’s violent actions.

The Oxford Pocket Dictionary defines compassion as “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.” If peace is ever going to be achieved in the Middle East, the process will need to begin with a rejection of the blame game and end with enough compassion and mutual understanding to acknowledge the reasons why both sides may be disposed to violence.

Those who oppose Israel should consider the likely response of the Israeli government after enough rockets have been fired upon the homes of innocent civilians near the Gaza border. At the same time, Israel has in recent years behaved as if completely ignorant of the suffering of impoverished Palestinians living in substandard conditions inside occupied territory. This only encourages more violence.

What we need is not anger – on either side – justified by a sense of defensive self-righteousness. The Israel-Hamas conflict was precipitated by both sides, and its solution will be found only through a mutual commitment to peace.

Tempting as it is to find fault in the motives of others, in assessing the conflict in Gaza we would do well this week to heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

As we celebrate the inauguration, I can only hope that in this new era of promised change we may resolve to denounce violence wherever we see it and dedicate ourselves instead to the compassion, understanding and love we will need to achieve lasting peace.

att Buccelli is a sophomore in the College.

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