Gaza. Religious zealotry v Reason and compassion

Opinion piece published in Barking & Dagenham Post, Docklands and East London Advertiser and Ilford Recorder November 2023.

Barking and Dagenham Post 8.11.2023.

Where do you stand on the ghastly Gaza war? As a Humanist I am on the side of peace. And I will always side with the children and all the other innocent victims of war.

Every Humanist will have their own journey to nailing the colours of this non-religious ethical worldview to their mast. My ‘epiphany’ was the invasion of Iraq in 2001. In my early life I laboured under the false assumption that, however slowly and fitfully, progress towards a world based on compassion, fairness and rational beliefs was somehow inevitable. The sight of President Bush and PM Blair praying together for guidance brought me up with a start. Apparently, their decision to start that war, without UN approval, was part-founded on their belief that it had God’s blessing. For some of us their catastrophic decision was an important milestone in the breakdown of a rule-based world order.

Religious zealotry plays an important role in the Gaza conflict. The Hamas Charter is a long antisemitic diatribe and assertion that it’s God’s will that the land be ruled under Islamic law. On the other hand, there are those in Israel who rely on ancient scriptures to justify seizing land from Palestinians who have lived there for centuries. I’m an East End born Jew, albeit not religious. My grandparents obtained refuge here from pogroms in Eastern Europe. It strikes me as anomalous that I am automatically entitled to settle in Israel, despite my lack of connection for two millennia, whereas dispossessed Palestinians are not. Some 700,000 Palestinian refugees were created by the 1948 war alone.

This is not an anti-religious rant. Rabbi Hillel, who lived 2000 years ago, when asked to explain the Jewish holy book famously replied “That which is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbour. This is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary.”  It’s what Humanists call the Golden Rule. It’s also a central tenet of Islam. My fervent hope is that all religious leaders assert the importance of this value.

War crimes have been committed on both sides and all must be condemned. There are no easy solutions. However, for me the war underlines the importance of working for a world based on both compassion and reason.

Paul Kaufman
Chairperson, East London Humanists

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