Metaphorically, a sacrifice is a selfless good deed done for the benefit of others. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary says it means, “The surrender of something valued or desired for the sake of something regarded as more important or worthy, or in order to avoid a greater loss.”
Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, might do well to reflect on the concept of sacrifice. It is a cause for alarm to people the world over, and not just in the Middle East, that Israel is once again dominated by right-wing politicians and supporters whose paranoia, belligerence, and self-righteousness lead them to assail the human rights of Palestinians and to derail any plan for long-term security in the region. Nelson Mandela called the Israel/Palestine conflict as “the greatest moral issue of our time”.
There is much talk of concessions, but a key question goes unasked. What sacrifices are Israelis and Palestinians prepared to make in order to ensure a peaceful future? Not blood sacrifices, but those that go to the heart of the matter: sacrifices that lead to justice, peace, and security.
Netanyahu is a master of manipulation and deceit founded on political pragmatism. Trading on the politics of fear, he reneges on pledges, justifying belligerence in the name of Israel’s integrity. The most recent example was once again ruling out the establishment of a Palestinian state and vowing to construct more settlements in occupied east Jerusalem. Of course, since then he has backtracked on what he actually said. But let’s remember. On election day he called for mobilization against Arab voters who were “advancing in large numbers towards voting places.” In his article “Netanyahu sank into the moral gutter – and there will be consequences” (The Guardian, 20 March 2015), Jonathan Freedland noted:
“The enemy against whom Netanyahu was seeking to rally his people was not Islamic State or massed foreign armies, or even the Palestinians of the West Bank or Gaza. He was speaking of the 20% of the Israeli electorate that is Palestinian: Arabs who were born in, live in and are citizens of Israel. A prime minister was describing the democratic participation of one-fifth of the country he governs in the language of a military assault to be beaten back.”
Netanyahu’s words were blatantly provocative:
“Imagine if a US president broadcast such a message, warning the white electorate that black voters were heading to the polls in ‘large numbers’. Or if a European prime minister said: ‘Quick, the Jews are voting!’ This is the moral gutter into which Netanyahu plunged just to get elected.”
There was an ancient biblical tradition of sacrifice, especially blood sacrifice. But not everyone accepted the tradition. A famous passage in the fifth century BC book of Micah asks, “With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
The answer to the question is astonishing. Sacrifices are not to be bloody, but peaceful: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
In the conflict between Israel and Palestine, there have already been countless burnt offerings and blood sacrifices. What is lacking is a genuine – rather than politically expedient – peace offering from both Israelis and Palestinians: The sacrifice of creating an integral and permanent space in which justice can take root, and where, watered by trust and humility, peace can eventually blossom.
As Ibtisam Barakat wrote in the dedication to her memoir Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood (2007):
“To Alef, the letter
that begins the alphabets
of both Arabic and Hebrew –
two Semitic languages,
sisters for centuries.
May we find the language
that takes us
to the only home there is –
one another’s hearts.”