I had occasion once to interview a lawyer for the Menendez brothers. Remember them? Lyle and Erik Menendez, who shotgunned their parents to death in their Beverly Hills mansion in 1989. In the course of the interview I asked this lawyer, how could they have done such a heinous thing? And his response has stayed with me: “There are no unexplainable crimes.”
That is, though it’s impossible to get inside anyone’s mind, even the most terrible acts don’t come out of nowhere. There’s always a reason. That’s why motive is a key factor in any criminal trial.
I thought about that as I’ve wrestled with a month’s worth of terrible news from Israel and Gaza – first the unforgivable atrocities committed in a surprise attack by Hamas militants, and now the devastation inflicted in Israel’s response of aerial bombing and artillery. As terrible as its actions were, Hamas – in their minds – had their reasons. And Israel certainly has its reasons to respond. In the court of world attention, the motives on both sides are apparent.
How do we process the news and images we’re seeing out of this troubled region? As a lover of peace, my knee-jerk response is to pray for peace. Peace and justice both. But here’s the thing: sometimes peace and justice are at odds with one another. What did justice look like in response to Hitler’s quest for world domination? It looked like the most terrible war the world had ever seen. It wasn’t peace, but it executed justice.
So I can’t fault Israel for wanting to erase Hamas, and certainly the militants have made the purely evil choice to hide behind civilians – women and children – and expose millions of innocent people to the risks of the war they provoked. They claim to be fighting for the Palestinian people, but they’ve drawn those people into a conflict none of them wanted. Not good.
But meanwhile, the conflict rages on, the collateral damage to infrastructure is vast, and real human beings are being ripped apart every day. Anguish isn’t too strong a word. Anguish among all who are bearing the brunt of this violence. And anguish for all of us, safe in our homes, wishing for justice, praying for peace.