21 July 2014

Civilians and human tragedy

The word 'civil' is an adjective and has the following meanings: 1) relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns, as distinct from military or ecclesiastical matters (such as 'civil aviation' or 'civil marriage ceremony.' This could also include conflicts occurring between citizens of the same country such as the "Civil War" in Yugoslavia. 2) It can also mean (in Law) relating to private relations between members of a community which are not criminal like the phrase 'civil action.'

There is another meaning 3) which sounds courteous and polite, urbane, polished, cultured and cordial. And maybe that's where the problem of human shields and shooting of civilians is having a hard-sell in the public of late. Let me explain.

The word's origin appears to be from the Latin 'civis' which is the word for 'citizen'. So the assumption to most in the West where I live is that civil people should behave more properly towards citizens;  we should be cordial with fellow citizens. I always had a hard time with the phrase of the conflict in the US in 1861-1865 titled 'Civil War.' How could you possibly title it 'civil' if you are killing your brothers just because they are wearing the other uniform?

(For more info see Civil War pain

Words are powerful in all their meanings and when the definitions conflict, so too do ideas about them. That's what we are seeing and experiencing in the current crises in Ukraine and in the Jewish state of Israel. Civilians are being murdered and a part of our conscience cries out 'NO!" to that un-civil activity. Think about the 298 people on board Malaysian flight MH17 which left The Netherlands last week bound for Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. AIDS workers, parents, grandfathers, kids, 3 babies, a flight crew... all kinds of people from Australia, Holland, and around the world were murdered on Thursday.

A nun, a teacher, a husband-and-wife pair of doctors, a businessman and his three grandchildren are just some of the Australian lives cut short by the attack on MH17. The Australian ambassador to the UN's Security Council drafted a resolution.  United Nations Security Council is considering this resolution to condemn the "shooting down" of the Malaysian passenger plane, demand armed groups allow access to the crash site, and call on states in the region to cooperate with an international investigation.

Australia, which lost 37 citizens and residents in the attack, circulated a draft text to the 15-member Security Council late on Saturday and diplomats said it could be put to a vote as early as Monday. The draft resolution "demands that those responsible for this incident be held to account and that all states cooperate fully with efforts to establish accountability."

We don't understand war, and we certainly don't understand the role of the armed guards near Donetsk, Ukraine, who are the only governing body over the area of the fatalities. Wait, why are we skirting the verb/ gerund which mostly applies? The 298 were not shot down only. They were murdered. And casualties of a war about which most are completely ignorant. They were civilians, after all, and not Russian or Ukrainians at all. The pain in our insides is severe. The pain for the families is unbearable.

The other locale of global interest these days is Israel. There Hamas-driven military action is using human shields and shooting from civilian areas to self-protect. It's so odd. The media campaign by certain Arab peoples like Mossawa in Haifa are not moderate at all.  On their website today is a call for 'civility.' "We, the undersigned organizations, express extreme concern at the rapidly deteriorating situation within the Gaza Strip and urge the international community to take immediate action to halt the deadly aggression being waged against Palestinian civilians in Gaza. We also urge the UN to initiate a fact-finding mission to investigate alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity."

We don't understand war in general, and if you don't live in the Middle East, you will probably never understand these kinds of war-statements at all. And taking a simplistic "Us vs. Them" kind of stance will not be very helpful in civil conversation, I've learned. That said, when the Hamas government uses children as weapon bearers as they have increased to do this weekend, or send missiles from neighborhoods and not from military venues, they put their own citizens in harm's way. From what I've read, that's considered a war crime.

I can only imagine what it would be like to live in trauma each day from missiles fired into my neighborhood. I was in Israel in November, 2012, when the last bombing by Hamas/ Gaza was taking place. It was a daily annoyance, but ducking into a bomb shelter for a few minutes over six days is much different to what children and families are being put through the last 12 days in Israel, especially in S'derot and the South Shore. It's psychologically dampening and harmful. It's wrong. It's un-civil.

Mostly, from here in Australia, I reckon we can use the word 'tragic' to title both of these trouble spots in the world just now. And we can hope for calm minds, wise decisions, civil action, and bearable pain. In the meantime, we pray for our leaders to make those wise decisions and trust the Almighty to lead people in His way.

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