As a Muslim Imam born in the Middle East, I've watched from afar with a deep and growing concern as the region (which holds so many wonderful memories from my childhood and youth) is being decimated by an assortment of animosities that are pitting Muslims against Jews, Jews against Muslims, and Muslims against Muslims. My heart aches.
But the specific horror of what has transpired during the past few weeks has impacted me even more forcefully and at a deeper level. And it's because I'm a parent.
As the news broke about three Jewish youth having been abducted near Hebron on June 12, I thought about what those boys' parents must be going through -- because I know the terror I would face if one of my beloved children disappeared under such sinister circumstances.
As the days passed, I shuddered at what the boys themselves might be facing -- or had faced, if no longer alive. I tried not to entertain the thought. Understandably, I believe, I could relate more readily to what the parents of the missing boys must have been experiencing as they vacillated between hope and despair after each new fragment of news trickled out.
I don't know if the abduction and killings were committed by one or two mentally sick opportunists, or if they were carried out as part of the schemes and plotting of a large group bent on evening a score that has been kept for generations. But it makes little difference to the parents, really. The well-being of their beloved child was what their hearts longed for even before that child was born.
Irrespective of who committed these acts, the motive was hate. And what was done violates the teachings of every major religion of the world. There's simply no way to justify such crimes.
I understand the anguish and collective anger that erupted when the three boys' bodies were found. I understand the rage. The overwhelming sense of need to avenge. But retaliation doesn't bring back what has been lost. It merely ensures that more people are forced to experience the unremitting pain that comes with such loss.
So I understand what a Palestinian family went through when their son was found brutally killed in what was apparently a revenge killing in response to the slaying of the three Jewish students.
I understand because I too am a parent.
Parents have the God-given role of protecting their children. The need to do the job well is implanted in parents long before a child's birth. So when evil people molest or maim or murder that child, parents are haunted for the rest of their life -- surely there must have been something more they could have done, they reason. They blame themselves. They play and replay the "if only we'd... " tape. It's an inescapable part of parenthood.
I understand why an entire community would take to the streets to protest the grisly killing of that Palestinian youth. I understand because I'm a parent. And I understand the outrage when a 15-year-old American-Palestinian was allegedly beaten into unconsciousness by those who should simply have been maintaining law and order.
I understand. But my understanding doesn't mean I accept what has happened.
The Hebrew scriptures tell us that "children are a heritage from the Lord." The Quran says that "wealth and children are an adornment." They make life more beautiful. More secure. More rewarding. They guarantee a future.
In fact, I would say that our children are our greatest form of wealth. It is through our children that life's essential values will be transmitted. But it is through our children that we also transmit our prejudices and hatreds.
I understand how generations-old hate and rage simmer and then boil over into barbaric acts that serve no positive purpose except to ensure more rage, more hate, more simmering and more boiling over. The tragedy is that we rarely keep such rage to ourselves. Invariably we pass it on to our children. Then they make it their own and add to it. It becomes a downward spiral.
There's more than one way our children can be destroyed. It can happen when people deliberately perpetrate crimes against them, as we've just seen happen. But it can also happen because we as adults, as parents, as mentors, have failed to forge a path showing how to address injustice, animosity and disagreement through dialogue and peaceful negotiation rather than through hatred and violence.
Somehow we have to break this tragic cycle. And if we're not willing to do it for our sake, we absolutely must do it for the sake of our children.