Sally Firestone's remarkable path through disaster to glory
A theology of relentless darkness is a path without love

Can anyone write a fair, accurate history of the Gaza-Israeli war?

History is preserved in various ways -- ways that quite often leave conflicting stories of what happened and why. Even in sacred scripture there are instances in which the stories told conflict with each other.

God-For instance, the Hebrew Bible tells the story of God asking Abraham to bind and sacrifice his son Isaac. The Quran, however, tells the same story, except that it's Ishmael whom God asks Abraham to sacrifice, not Isaac.

I thought about that example when I read this Commonweal Magazine story about an effort through the National Library of Israel (NLI), to collect what this story calls “any documentation related to the October 7 atrocities and their aftermath." Because of some similar efforts during and after the Holocaust, humanity has a much clearer account of how Hitler's killing machine managed to murder some six million Jews in World War II.

So collecting historical accounts of the Gaza-Israeli war is a worthy endeavor. And yet the story to which I've linked you asks terribly important questions about whether such an effort can tell anything like the whole story:

"The victims of Hamas’s attack were citizens and residents of the Jewish state, and the Jewish state can and has fought back with the aim of dismantling Hamas’s governance and military structure. This counterattack has led to widespread destruction and death among Gazan civilians. How will the devastation be captured in the NLI’s project? When Jews are capable not only of enduring harm in the name of the Jewish people, but of inflicting it, where does that harm figure in Jewish collective memory? Does the great suffering of Gazan civilians resulting from the counterattack have a place in the archive? It is uncertain whether the archive should or will be a site for helping Israel and its friends grapple with these moral costs attendant even on a justified war."

Simply by raising such questions, the author forces all of us to think about how history is written and how it should be written. The kind of American history I grew up learning offered next to no space for the history of this land's Indigenous people, and that failure led to both ignorance about the cultural and physical genocide perpetrated by white European invaders and to a continuation of the diminishment of Native Americans' importance and culture. What we got was biased history, written not to tell an accurate story but to perpetuate a myth.

That should not happen when the history of the Gaza-Israeli war is told. That will not be an easy task in which the Oct. 7 massacre and hostage-taking are somehow seen as equivalent to the brutal crushing of Gaza. Each is not the other. Could the Hamas terroristic acts of Oct. 7 or Israel's crushing response both be labeled acts of a "just war?" Or does that term even mean anything anymore?

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Religious freedom is at the heart of the American experiment, but a lot happens in that area that doesn't get much coverage. An example has to do with the reality that nine federal agencies recently "have finalized a new rule that officials say will improve religious freedom by protecting the rights of beneficiaries of social services funded by the government," according to this Religion News Service story.

The story adds these details: "(T)he rule will affect those receiving help from the many faith-based social service providers and will ensure providers cannot withhold help based on faith affiliation nor require beneficiaries to participate in any religious activity in order to receive help. The rule restores some religious freedom protections rescinded by the Trump administration. . ."

As religion columnist Mark Silk explains in this piece, the rules adopted under President Barack Obama "gave beneficiaries some assurance that federal funding would not subject them to unwanted religious obligations." But then, Silk explains, the Trump "administration created a new rule that did away with these requirements." But now, he writes, the Biden administration has "issued  a finalized rule of its own that restores the Obama safeguards — up to a point."

Freedom of religion sometimes means freedom from religion. And in a country that places a high value on religious liberty, that's sometimes a necessary requirement.


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