Violence in Gaza — failure all around
When I was a younger man, I helped teach an international relations class at a summer camp for “gifted” middle schooled-aged students in the small town of Davidson, North Carolina. It was the summer of the year 2000, and the Israelis and Palestinians came as close as they ever did to reaching a comprehensive settlement of their issues during two weeks of negotiations at Camp David. We followed the negotiations closely in that class, so it was with a heavy heart that I had to tell the class near the end of the course that everything had fallen apart.
To my surprise, one young Jewish student started, for lack of a better word, celebrating. He’d been taught (not by me) that Israel shouldn’t be so soft on the Palestinians as to dare to compromise on issues like the status of Jerusalem. I think of that reaction sometimes when I see the competing narratives unfold surrounding the violence currently taking place in Gaza. Now the willful blindness is perpetuated by adults, many of them representing us in Congress, rather than a 13 year-old boy.
Neither side, neither peoples – most of whom have dutifully lined up behind hardline leaders – have much to be proud of as far as the current violence is concerned. Israelis, and many of those supporting them, seem blind to the frustration, hopelessness, and anger that living in an “open air-prison” one’s entire life must engender. Rather than aggressively seeking solutions to the problem, Israelis have been far too willing to support ineffectual leadership that is content to hunker down and accept the long term status quo without much of a nod toward making any concessions.
On the other hand, Palestinians and their supporters seem blind to the one thing Israelis want – total security (or as an Israeli tour guide once explained to our group – Israel will be ready to make peace when its neighbors treat them as Canada treats the United States). All too often, Palestinians seem to default toward supporting those fighting an emotionally gratifying, but ultimately counterproductive “resistance” that targets civilians and makes peace impossible by denying Israelis the one thing they need to support any type of peace effort.
The group that bears the most blame, however, is Hamas (many would claim I say this as a “mainstream narrative” — in this case, the mainstream is correct). The religious zealots of Hamas have no interest in ever providing Israelis the assurances they need to live in peace. Sure, there has been talk in the past of accepting a long-term ceasefire with Israel, but, for what they perceive as religious reasons, Hamas members can never accept the existence of an Israeli state. Peace cannot be achieved as long as Hamas holds any significant influence anywhere among Palestinians.
The Israeli government, backed by the United States, missed what increasingly appears to have been a golden opportunity earlier this year when the Palestinian Authority (under the leadership of the moderate, and I’d say largely admirable, Mahmoud Abbas) proposed a “unity government” that would have sidelined Hamas in all-but-name and extended the PA’s authority into Gaza. Rather taking a bold diplomatic risk, Israel chose to take a military course-of-action that was bound to kill over a thousand people.
Now that they’re there, however, Israel should finish the job as best as possible. Finishing the job means destroying as much of Hamas, killing and imprisoning as many members as possible, destroying its infrastructure of tunnels and rocket stashes, and avoiding civilian casualties even when it means foregoing military gains or even endangering troops when necessary. The more this is accomplished, the less likely another invasion will happen again anytime soon and the more lives that will be spared in the long run. At the very least, it is essential to the future that Hamas comes out weakened rather than as torchbearers of continued resistance.
Sometimes, tragic events like those unfolding in Gaza can end up leading to unexpected new paths. My hope is that Israelis come more to terms with the fact that, however justified they may feel their reasons to be, hundreds of innocents are dying at their hand and in their name – and that is not the type of people the typical Israeli would want Jews to be. I would hope that Palestinians come to see their problems as being exacerbated by Hamas, not solved. Unless the Palestinian Authorities’ reach can be extended into Gaza, there is little hope things will ever get better there. Maybe all that is happening will provide that opportunity. I think, if I live long enough, I’ll see peace in the Middle East in my lifetime — but things feel further than I’ve ever seen from the optimism that pervaded the Summer of 2000.