Posted by Alex on Saturday, January 24th, 2009
For the last five years or so, I have been actively working with Jewish colleagues in the US and elsewhere to help broker a lasting reconciliation between Israel and its Arab neighbors. But in the wake of the carnage in Gaza, it is impossibly difficult to be optimistic about the future of the peace process in the region. Though Israel has apparently had its way by force of arms, it has won this so-called “victory,” at a terrible cost to itself and its neighbors.
The real legacy of the Gaza War is likely to be the further hardening and entrenching of the intense distrust of the Arab and Muslim world of the presence of the Jewish state in the heart of the Middle East in addition to a growing conviction that Israel is an inherently violent state that can not be reformed or positively influenced by any party. Is this the outcome the Israeli government and public really desire? Do they honestly think their ongoing security will be guaranteed year after year by forever brutalizing the Palestinian people? Do they think they will acquire the respect and political legitimacy in the region, they crave, by keeping the Arab people of the former Palestine “penned” like animals into their Gaza gulag without any hope of creating a viable economy, a functional political system and a future for their children. The Israelis may think so. But they are wrong.
Has Israel a right to exist? Only the most extreme and intractable elements in the Arab world now say, “No.” As almost all informed Israelis know, most of the Arab world has long ago accepted the reality of a Jewish state in the Middle East. Certainly until now. So why does the Israeli leadership compromise this pragmatic goodwill among the wider Arab community by engaging in acts of such carnage and barbarism as the world has witnessed in Gaza over the last twenty days. It is hard to fathom. It truly beggars the imagination.
Israelis, of course, justify such over-the-top military brutality because of the Hamas rockets targeted on southern Israel. Nobody in the Arab world, with any sense, would have approved Hamas’ ineffective provocations if Israel did not close Gaza’s crossings forcing Gaza’s 1.5 million inhabitants to live in hunger and. And before the Gaza campaign, Hamas was generally a marginalized political force outside of Gaza which been encouraged in the beginning by Israel to weakness the Palestinian Authority. But, in reality, what did all these Hamas missile attacks actually accomplish. Very little. A few—very few—unfortunate Israeli fatalities and a modicum of material damage. For this, Israel proceeded to flatten Gaza to the ground, leave hundreds of thousands of people homeless and destitute and over a thousand souls—half of them children—dead. There is an old phrase, “cracking a peanut with a sledgehammer.” Is there a metaphor that better describes the Israeli government’s action in Gaza? The adjective “disproportionate” has been used over and over again during the last few weeks to describe the Israeli campaign in Gaza. But disproportionate is a sadly “clinical’ world to describe the death, destruction and suffering of the Palestinian people.
So where do we go from here? Again, another ceasefire has been called between Israel and Hamas. But how long will it last? The hatred between many elements on the Arab Street against Israel is now more intense, more visceral than ever. During the course of the Gaza campaign, commentators around the world made allusions to the Holocaust, another instance of a brutal enemy, armed to the teeth, inflicting horrendous suffering on an essentially defenseless people. Obviously, the scale of the devastation is different. But spiritually how different is Gaza from Auschwitz? The lesson the Holocaust taught the Jews was seemingly this: Slaughter your enemy before they slaughter you. Is this the lesson the Israeli government wants Arabs and Palestinians to learn from Gaza? No mercy. Just kill, kill, kill.
Such a strategy is, literally, a complete dead-end for both sides—a course of action whose inevitable conclusion is an unthinkable Armageddon in the Middle East where the casualties on both sides will be in the millions, not the thousands. It is only a matter of time before “both” sides truly possess weapons of mass destruction. So how do we—Palestinian and Israeli, Arab and Jew—pull ourselves back from the brink? COMPROMISE is surely the only solution. But though both sides have been talking compromise (paying lip service to it) since the Oslo Accord, no one, on either side, has really been practicing it. For years, Israel has embraced the “two-state solution,’ at the same time as they systematically permitted hundreds of thousands of Jews to settle in the occupied Arab lands of the West Bank. So much for compromise. So much for the two-state solution. And unfortunately many Arabs today are certain that Israel doesn’t want a two states solution.
Ironically, the Gaza Holocaust occurred just days before the inauguration of the first African-American president of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, an epochal event that is occurring just forty-one years after Martin Luther King made his famous speech, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “dreaming” about a time when the racial divide in America would finally be bridged. Forty-one years ago, Arabs and Israelis were killing each other. They still are.
As we despair the wreckage in Gaza, let us pause to reflect on these extraordinary days in America. Barack Obama is the new 44th President of the United States and Black and White America has been reconciled. Who could have imagined just a few short years ago that the descendents of the slaves who built the White House would be living there as the “lord and master”? Why can such miracles occur in America and not in the Middle East? Well, the reason is because, one by one, Americans began to realize the absurdity of treating one’s neighbor (whether they be black or white, brown or yellow, Jew, or Christian, or Arab, gay or straight) as your enemy as opposed to your friend and colleague.
Barack Obama has often talked, and indeed written a book, about the “Audacity of Hope.” That is exactly what is missing in the Middle East. Audacity. Courage. Hope. It is time to harness HOPE in this beautiful historic part of the world, which we all share together. It is time to preach the gospel that we will all be stronger if we work together to create ONE COMMUNITY in the Middle East—Arabs, Jews and Christians, Sunni or Shia, Palestinians or Israelis. Maybe I am an idealist. But so too was the Reverend Martin Luther King who dared to say, I HAVE A DREAM. Rev. King’s dream has become a reality in the United States. Our dream can become a reality here too. All of us in the region have a choice: more Gazas. More wars. More hatred. Or work tirelessly, day by day, year by year, to make the dream of peace and compromise a reality.
But for now let us all, including our leaders, Arabs and Israelis give the Palestinian People, who are our brothers and sisters, the Audacity of Hope.
Hind Aboud Kabawat/ Damascus, Syria
Recipient of the 2007 Women’s Peace Initiative Award awarded by the Tanenbaum Centre for Interreligious Understanding of New York.