Enemy twins: Israel and Hamas unite to massacre innocents

Nov 9, 2023
Massacre of the Innocents in Bethlehem, an ancient fresco in Elmelunde church, Denmark, October 10, 2022

Hamas’s refusal to recognise Israel as a state is as absurd as Israel’s belief that the current massacre of Palestinians will destroy Hamas. If all this were mere stupidity it would be bad enough, but the consequent violence against innocent people is extreme and it is accelerating.

The 1500 Israeli deaths and hundreds of kidnappings from October 7 onwards is the stuff of terrorism. Yet the Palestinian death toll in Gaza at the hands of the Israelis is greater, now approaching 10,000 – with 4,000 of them children.

This is an example of the classic human response to violence: imitation. This is violence dressed up in all the finery of mutual victimhood, revenge and hatred. It is a macabre competition about who has the most grievances, who is the greatest victim. In this case it is about who controls a strip of land disputed for millennia.

Matthew’s Gospel Chapter 2 presents an incident worthy of reflection here – the massacre of the innocents. The Gospels are theological texts, not necessarily historical accounts of events. The account of the massacre during the infancy of Jesus points to the opposition he experienced from the great and the powerful throughout his life.

Herod the Great, trembling on his throne as all despots eventually do, gets wind of a threat ­– someone is coming who might take his power, his land, his kingdom. He employs the age-old weapon of lies and trickery, and then deals with the problem by killing the little boys of Bethlehem. The story is a true depiction of the means too often used to cling to power – kill. Sometimes the killing occurs between those who are more or less equal; at other times the violence is employed against weaker ones, but its aim is always the same – to shore up power.

The essence of the same story was retold in the massacres of Australian Aboriginal people, in the Holocaust, in My Lai in 1968, in East Timor, and is currently being told in Yemen and West Papua – and so on throughout history and across the globe. It is articulated for us nightly in Gaza in 2023. The difference between current death tolls is numerical; the determination to annihilate the other remains the same.

The French-American philosopher René Girard investigated the effects of “sameness”, maintaining that ancient societies saw clearly that when people resemble each other, it is likely that they desire the same things which usually leads to rivalry, dissension and violence. He taught: “Human beings fight not because they are different but because they are the same, because in their attempts at asserting their difference they have made themselves into enemy twins, human doubles in their reciprocal and exclusionary violence.”

The concept of “enemy twins” is a potent symbol of this human tendency, expressed in storylines the world over – Cain and Abel, Castor and Pollux, Romulus and Remus, Esau and Jacob. Hitler and Stalin fit perfectly: apparently at opposite ends of the political spectrum but in effect, murderous mirror images of each other.

No commentary on the genesis of modern Israel or the dispossession and oppression of the Palestinian people is complete without looking in yet another mirror, the one facing the writer of this piece, the one facing the so-called Christian West. The Abrahamic faiths have texts that inspire and encourage humans to be their best selves, but distortion, lack of context, over or under-emphasis, ignorance and duplicity have made them into weapons. Centuries of Christian hatred and scapegoating of the Jewish people, enabled by scriptural sleight-of-hand, culminated in the Holocaust. Assuaging the West’s conscience led to the Naqba, providing land to the Israelis that had been home to the Palestinians for centuries. Inevitably, as we have seen, this has led to the root and branch rejection that those people have experienced ever since. The Warsaw ghetto finds echoes in Gaza.

Christians cannot in conscience look at the current disaster without shame, and a desire to understand the history and admit the errors, the machinations, the self-serving politics. Neighbouring Islamic nations also need to tell the truth about how deep their fingers are in the pie, what manipulations they are honing, and how they calculate the prospects for greater power.

Who is Herod the Great today? The Hamas leadership, willing to sacrifice their babies, their sick, their innocent ones and their future in the maintenance of the ridiculous notion that Israel does not exist as a state and all the implications of that position? Is it credible that they did not anticipate what would happen after 7 October?

Or is Herod now Netanyahu, dressed up in fatigues in a perverse imitation of Volodymyr Zelensky? How is it that the surveillance capability of Israel failed to pick up Hamas’s plans? Did the problems facing Netanyahu arising from his poor leadership and attacks on Israel’s judiciary consume all of Israel’s intelligence services? Really? What is he gaining?

How much of Herod’s mentality is embodied in the responses of Joe Biden, Anthony Albanese and other leaders who refuse to stand unequivocally for a cease-fire – to enable some hope for Palestinian families – because of what Hamas may do? Does the possibility of future danger demand the sacrifice of innocent people today?

Where does each of us stand in the face of the violence and brutality that confront us daily?

 When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”      (Matt 2:16-18))

Rachel continues to weep, and the world continues to gallop towards extremes of violence.

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