Another round is over, another ceasefire, another day of returning to normal, another day of counting down until the next round, which we all know will surely come. What should we expect from people who have lived in abject poverty for decades, devoid of hope, with little or no electricity, most of the time without work, and who believe that just kilometers away other people are living on their land that was stolen from them?
What should we expect from people living in urban slums, called refugee camps, who are caged in on all sides, who have no real right to speak out or to resist their fate? Should we expect them to embrace their Israeli neighbors with love and friendship?
What makes this different?
How is this military operation any different than the tens of military operations before it? How is this round of warfare going to change reality? Deterrence? Ha! How many times have we heard that? I am so sick and tired of watching these events unfold on television – on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides. So many hours of empty words. So many old and tired retired generals and so-called experts joined by so many uninspiring politicians spurting the same garbage for decades. How many times have they promised us change?
It’s the same on both sides. We will hit them so hard that they will think ten times before shooting at us again. We will destroy their buildings and warehouses, hit their infrastructure and cut off the head of the snake. This time we killed the terrorist leader who is responsible and we will have quiet after that.
Or from the other side: We will hit Tel Aviv and they will feel our rage! The crimes they commit will be avenged. The enemy, the enemy, the enemy...
When was the last time we heard something new? Something refreshing? Some alternative thinking and analysis? The IDF spokesman says... The Hamas spokesman declared... The leader of Islamic Jihad threatened... Well, in all honesty, we have been there tens of times and have heard it all hundreds of times.
Our leaders (on both sides) have to do better. We, the people (on both sides), are fed up. How much more suffering and death do we have to succumb to before some inspiring, thinking people understand that we must take a different course ahead of us? I understand the need for our political and military leaders on both sides to sound the alarms, to threaten, to fill their voices with belligerent words and flag-waving national militarism. But, I also expect genuine leaders, statesmen and stateswomen to launch a challenge of hope to the other side.
I particularly expect this to come from the stronger side – Israel – recognizing how much more difficult it is for the weaker side, the occupied and the poor, to offer words of reconciliation while their daily personal and national struggle is so much more difficult. I also expect from genuine leaders’ relentless efforts to open direct channels of dialogue and even negotiations, far from the limelight, behind the scenes in secret, direct back channels. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will never progress out of its current stalemate without direct engagement.
YES, EACH side views the other as terrorists and criminals. We are infected with the same prejudice and can only see the other side as an enemy. This is how we all grew up and this is what we were born with in our mother’s milk. Change of mind takes a long time. We need to develop much more tolerance of different opinions and try to understand different realities. The residents of the Gaza Strip live under unnatural conditions, as do the residents of Israel next to Gaza but we must always recall that you make peace with enemies.
I have learned that the more we continue to hit each other and use violence against each other, the more we create and strengthen the extremists who are committed to continue to use violence rather than trying to find other ways of changing our reality. What do we expect from a young child who sees his home blown up, or his parents killed when a bomb falls and their loss is only collateral damage?
Nowhere to hide
There is no place to hide from Israeli bombs in Gaza. Even surgical strikes have collateral damage. Will that child grow up to be a peace activist? What do we expect from the children living in Israel, next to Gaza, who are suffering from years of post-trauma already? All Gazans are living in a post-trauma reality.
How can someone be normal after more than 15 years of living in a cage? How do we break out of this horrible cycle? Until now, the abnormal behavior of Israelis and Palestinians alike is to call on their leaders to use more force, to hit harder and kill more of the enemy. And our leaders are anxious and willing to comply, boasting about how much force and firepower they have and how they will kill more until they give up. Each side wants their victory picture so that they can end this round until next time.
But there is one big difference between this round and others before it: Hamas. This round was completely between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and while Hamas is the sovereign in Gaza, it sat on the sidelines and did not take an active part in the battle. In fact, Hamas used its influence and power to help secure the current ceasefire.
Hamas’s avoidance of entering into combat should spur us into thinking ahead about negotiations with Hamas on a long-term hudna, including a prisoner exchange deal, the lifting of the siege on Gaza and a great deal of economic development. One of the reasons for Hamas not joining in is their competition for public support with Islamic Jihad, which is not exactly their cup of tea.
But beyond that, 14,000 Gazans working in Israel bring at least NIS 84 million per month into the Gazan economy and Israel is willing to increase that number. Each additional 1,000 workers will add at least another NIS 6 million. That money is a lot more valuable than suitcases of cash coming from Qatar.
The distance between where we are and a new reality is leadership. Where is the Israeli leader who will stand up and say enough? Where are the thousands of Israelis who will take to the streets and say there is no military solution? Where are the Gazans who will stand up and say we want to live in peace and we want to change our
Why can’t we imagine a victory picture of leaders shaking hands and promising their people a new era of calm, while we search together for solutions to the core issues in this conflict? The rounds of fighting in Gaza are not about Gaza alone, they are about the inability of these two peoples to find the best way to share land that each side claims as its own. Until we do that, we will have more rounds of war in Gaza and it will spill over to the West Bank, to the mixed cities in Israel and to Jerusalem.