Gaza: A 40 Year Struggle to Maintain Hope

July 18, 2008 at 4:24 pm | Posted in Peace Process | Leave a comment

Mair Shalev, a leading Israeli author, wrote in a recent article that 40 was a popular number in the Bible: It was 40 years the people of Israel wandered in the desert, and it was a 40-day flood before Noah’s dove retrieved the famous olive branch. Now, 40 years after the Six-Day War, Israelis ask whether the violence will end. Will this tragic story come to a close that brings hope to Israelis and Palestinians?

John Lennon and Yoko Ono once suggested that Arabs and Jews should gather on the border and have a shouting match and let the louder party win. I am not sure shouting is the way to do it – talking may be better – but open communication is definitely required. The Middle East has been dominated too long by a rigid, singular method of resolving disputes: violence. I think it is high time the people and leaders of the Middle East understand that it is more important to live for your cause than to die for it.

Two stories from the Six-Day War remain with me as symbols of the cost of war.

The first is that of a banner raised by Israeli paratroopers at the closing stages of one of the fiercest battles in the outskirts of Jerusalem: “Buried here are brave Jordanian fighters.” I am moved still today by the value these Israeli soldiers placed on human life; they felt it only right to commemorate their falling enemy.

The second account is that of Israeli Druze solders who fought in the heavy battles against Syria in the Golan Heights. When battle ceased, they discovered from the ID cards of fallen Syrian solders the names of fellow Druze from the other side, some of whom were family members. No one wins in war, and everyone loses.

I was too young during the Six-Day War to recall details, but I still keep the postcards that my uncle Waleed sent my family from the front lines. In the postcards he asks about me and prays that when I reach military age, there will be no need for me to serve, as we would have peace. This is the common prayer of every mother and father in Israel, the prayer of peace.

Many people forget that immediately after the 1967 Six-Day War, the Israeli government offered to return all lands gained in return for peace agreements. The answer of the Arab leaders: a resounding “no.” No to peace, no to recognition of Israel, and no to negotiation.

Sadly, these were not the last rejections of peace the state of Israel encountered. The first intifada in the mid-1990s and the wave of suicide bombers in Black March of 1996 came after the Oslo Accords. In May 2000, President Clinton, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Chairman Yasser Arafat were two yards from an agreement that could have brought lasting peace, but again peace was on the losing side. The second Palestinian intifada started thereafter.

The current anarchy in Gaza rejects peace yet again, not only with Israel, but in principle: It feeds a culture of violence, and violence does not differentiate between Palestinian children in Gaza or Israeli children in Sderot. How sadly ironic it is to hear leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad calling for the reinstatement of Israeli occupation to prevent a Palestinian civil war. It is important for me to repeat what every moderate Palestinian should know: Israelis do not want to see a Palestinian civil war. We understand and respect the value of human life and can see clearly that unrest in Gaza means unrest in Israel.

My uncle’s prayer for me was not answered, and I was drafted along with his three sons. More war followed in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. It is now my generation’s prayer that our sons and daughters will not enter war’s losing battle and that the dream of peace will become a reality, that moderation will prevail over extremism and that violence will be replaced by tolerance and mutual understanding. These are the challenges of history and remain the challenges we face today.

Article appeared in the Atlanta Jewish Times on July 13th, 2007

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