“The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all of the world’s problems.”
— Dr. Paul Farmer
Abraham Jam is an interfaith musical project. We are three singer/songwriters who each have our own careers as solo artists, but when we gather to sing together, something happens that none of us can quite explain. Dawud is Muslim, Billy is Jewish, and David is a Quaker Christian. Somehow, the act of singing in harmony lends a depth to the words we sing, and opens hearts in a way that has been moving for us to witness. We like to say that harmony can be even more powerful than unity; we don’t have to sing the same notes.
The current events in Israel and Palestine have been heartbreaking and horrifying for us. We mourn and condemn the violence against hostages held by Hamas, and children bombed in Gaza City, for those raped and killed in Israeli kibbutzim, and for those starved and denied medical care in Khan Yunis. Naming the violence on both sides does not mean equating it, but disregarding any of the violence would devalue the lives shattered and taken, and we refuse to dehumanize any of the people involved by failing to mourn their abuse and demand that it stop. If our feelings about victims are influenced by our feelings about their governments, then we are swayed by propaganda. We consciously try not to be.
Over time, we have witnessed both the ongoing, degrading treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and the incessant rocket attacks on Israelis, as well as the pernicious and lethal anti-Semitism and Islamophobia that are again on the rise worldwide. The histories of both peoples include profound mistreatment. We acknowledge that context matters, but if we begin to outline all of the context here, we will never finish.
In 2018, two days after the murders at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Billy and David flew to Toronto and joined Dawud to perform at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. That Friday, we got word that people were gathering at a synagogue in Toronto because there was a threat that it might be attacked as well. The three of us went there for Shabbat services, and Dawud and David stood arm in arm in the protective circle that had formed around the synagogue while Billy went in to pray. So the three of us responded in two ways— we put our bodies between whatever danger might arise and our siblings inside, and we prayed. Had the threat been to one of the others, we would have changed roles. Abraham Jam was originally formed as a response to attacks on Muslims in 2010 near the capitol of North Carolina. We have stood, and continue to stand, firmly against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and all bigotry.
The extremists on either side of this conflict believe that all people on the other side fundamentally hate them, and want nothing but their destruction. But we personally count as friends many Palestinians and Israelis of goodwill, of our three faiths and other perspectives. They care about people on the ‘other side’ of this conflict, as well as their own, but they are not adequately represented by their governments or the media. Those voices are often drowned out by louder ones calling for violence and retribution, but the voices of compassion are worthy of our attention (to begin exploring those initiatives, we suggest this link: Wikipedia – Arab Israeli peace projects). We shouldn’t reduce the multiple agendas and desires within diverse communities to over-simplified, homogenous viewpoints. Humanity is never that simple; there is light in the darkest places.
When we collectively consider Israel and Palestine, “What should happen instead?” is the obvious next question. Regardless of strategic challenges, we believe that first, the incursion,bombing, and collective punishment of Gaza should stop immediately, the hostages and political prisoners should be immediately released, the missiles being fired at Israel should stop immediately, the settler violence in the West Bank should stop immediately, and water, food, fuel, and medical care should be restored to the people of Gaza, where hunger and malnutrition are almost universal. Only then will we be able to consider next steps, and begin working toward a just and equitable resolution. Peacemaking has always required creativity, because the best ways forward are almost never the obvious ones. It will be a long journey, but right now we are walking in the wrong direction down that road. The answer to war crimes is not more war crimes.
In the ongoing discourse regarding what must be done now, many statements have been issued calling upon various parties to take various actions. For us, the phrase “call upon” does not feel adequate. Rather, we say this: in the interest of everything we hold dear and sacred, we implore you, we are pleading from the deepest part of our hearts, please, please, please stop this senseless destruction and killing, and find another way. It is long past time to put the resources we have committed to violence toward finding a just peace instead.
The scriptural prophets of all three of our traditions spoke words of challenge to their own people, asking them to remember their deepest values when they seemed to have forgotten them. All three of our traditions have been twisted to justify all manner of violence throughout their histories, but at their hearts, all three teach reverence for human life, and exhort us to work for peace.
In our outrage and injury, in our condemnation of the brutal disregard for the humanity of those we love, let us not become that which we despise. If the ‘other side’ has dehumanized and devalued the lives of people we hold dear, let us not do the same thing in response. The life of every human being involved is sacred. Let us commit to stopping the staggering violence immediately, and moving toward a better way.
Abraham Jam (Billy Jonas, David LaMotte, and Dawud Wharnsby)