Over the past few months, I have had heart-rending conversations with some of my Jewish friends and Muslim friends. Each of them is zealously making the case for why their community has been wronged.

Sadly, among those closest to the conflict who live in Israel/Palestine, a consistent theme has emerged that denigrates and denies the humanity of the people who are not like them to excuse the inexcusable.

It is safe to say if one’s initial default setting is to deny your opponent’s humanity and assert they are all the same there will be horrific outcomes.  “They” are all “terrorists.”  “They” are all “Zionists.”  “They” are all Hamas … the 12,000-plus dead children, too.

I realize, in advance, that writing this will likely open me up to unrelenting criticism from one group or another, but as a Christian minister, I cannot remain silent any longer.

There must be an immediate cease fire in Gaza/Palestine. Concurrent with that must be an agreement to return hostages, and the bodies of those who are deceased, if possible.

Israel must free the Palestinian civilians who have been rounded up as trade bait to get their hostages back. An initial way to diminish the level of offense one group holds against the other is to eliminate some of the barriers for more constructive negotiation.

As a statement of historical fact, we recognize that Hamas’s attack against Israeli civilians on Oct. 7 started this current iteration of the conflict between these two cousin-peoples. Yes, Muslims and Jews are spiritual cousins through “Father Abraham,” and all are Semitic peoples who are descendants of Noah’s son, Shem, according to our various sacred texts.

It is ironic that Hamas murdered more than 1,160 Israelis, most of whom were civilians, and kidnapped more than 130 people. Most were Israelis who lived closest to them, some of whom were more ideologically inclined to support Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

Why kill allies unless you are trying to provoke Israel to respond with overwhelming force and expose it to criticism throughout the world?  Mission accomplished, but at what cost? More than 33,000 dead, so far, and cities reduced to rubble.

As I noted, this is the latest iteration of the conflict going back to the early to mid-20th century, when Palestinians were dispossessed of their land to establish a homeland for the Jewish people. Given the atrocities the Jewish people faced leading up to and during World War II — The Holocaust — that seemed a noble goal.

However, there have been lingering resentment by the Palestinians from being forced to relocate from their ancestral lands or having those lands “occupied” by a hostile force or overrun with “settlements.” It continues to thwart any real efforts for peace.

Former President Jimmy Carter in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech said, “We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.” Mahatma Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Albert Einstein said “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The combatants must understand, sooner than later, we pray, that regarding each other as less than human will lead to more of the same. They have certainly been participants and foils in an ongoing “man’s inhumanity to man” remix. When will the madness, cruelty and inhumanity end?

If everyone wants peace within secure and sovereign borders, they must come to the negotiation table, compelled by their allies on both sides, to rescue current and future generations of Muslims and Jews from this insanity.

Clearly, the patterns and processes they have followed so far have not worked. It’s time to try something different for the sake of their children and those yet unborn. As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “We must learn to live together as brothers (and sisters) or perish together as fools.”

Published in The Capital Gazette, April 23, 2024

Rev. Stephen Tillett is pastor of Asbury Broadneck United Methodist Church in Annapolis and author of “Stop Falling for the Okeydoke: How the Lie of ‘Race’ Continues to Undermine Our Country.”