Opinion: Why can’t we make room for peace on this vast planet?

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I’m confused.

In second grade in the 1950s, my teacher taught us that Columbus discovered America. We learned about the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, the three ships that Columbus mastered on the difficult voyage from Spain to our land in 1492. . Then these heroes came to earth and founded our country and named it New World.

Too shy to speak, especially to raise uncomfortable questions, I continued to ask my mother, wondering, what about the Indians? Weren’t you here first? Throughout my school days, this same Columbus discovered America was told in our history classes and texts. Confused and frustrated but too confused to speak, I kept quiet throughout high school.

Decades later, this version was replaced by a more accurate version based on research, DNA evidence, and a mission for truth and reconciliation. Long overdue, Native Americans reclaimed their rightful place in North American history as Native Americans who inhabited the Western Hemisphere for tens of thousands of years.

And I learned about the forced displacement of natives from the 1830s, the Trail of Tears. Until then, Native Americans had dreamed of millions of acres of land in the Southeast for generations. Federal laws confiscated their land and gave it to European settlers to grow cotton. Our first people were forced to leave the dry and dusty “Indian Territory” beyond the Mississippi. Their journey west was treacherous and cost thousands of lives due to disease, harsh weather, thirst and starvation.

In my life, I have often been perplexed and appalled by people being forcibly displaced from their countries, stripped of their homes, often forcibly removed from their communities and left without a way to go. This is the story of black Americans: first enslaved, often separated from their families, always mistreated, never compensated, and eventually left with nothing.

and the Holocaust. And, recently, Ukraine.

Hamas and Israel are now at war. The Palestinian armed group, which is classified as a terrorist group by the United States, Canada and the European Union, killed 1,200 Israelis on October 7, destroyed their homes and massacred them in the streets. The Holocaust. Israel is understandably retaliating, but the north is expelling thousands of Palestinian civilians from nowhere with devastating force. It was 75 years after Israel’s independence that Palestinians were first removed from their homes and communities, literally excluded from the outskirts of Israel. I was still confused and frustrated.

Maybe I was still in second grade and couldn’t understand why Native Americans weren’t recognized as original Americans. Or why they were removed from their rightful land. Our earth is huge, with sparsely populated regions and vast waterways. Why can’t we be comfortable with each other and live together in peace?

I am not a historian. I am not a politician. I am Jewish. My great-grandparents fled Belarus, Austria, and Germany when anti-Semitism targeted and displaced them, and the threat of extinction was widespread. I am also an American and I am very grateful that my family has found a mostly safe haven here in the United States. (I say “mostly” anti-Semitism on the rise.)

I am a 71 year old woman who believes that everyone deserves to be respected, embraced and valued. And I am so grateful that my life is full of diversity. We have been married for 44 years to a wonderful Zoroastrian from India. I live in a community with people of all ages, income levels, languages, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, and national origins. (In my Maryland county, one-third of the 1 million people are foreign-born.) This fact makes my heart happy.

Call me naive. Say I’m not true to my Jewish roots. It doesn’t agree with me. But please, please, please, pause for a moment to reflect on the preciousness and magnificence of human life. We can live together on this great planet, right?

Patricia Steckler has been a psychologist for 38 years and is a 2019 graduate of the Johns Hopkins Science Writing Masters program. She wrote this for the Baltimore Sun.



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