You have no idea how much I want to believe in the possibilities for peace in the Holy Land. I have walked, talked, played, worked, eaten, and lived with the people there.
You have no idea how much I want to believe in the possibilities for peace in the Holy Land. I have walked, talked, played, worked, eaten, and lived with the people there. I have come to love the harsh, arid, occupied land [without, of course, loving the occupation]. Lasting peace with justice is my constant prayer. But as the words I read in the popular media form ideas and images in my imagining, I can run, but I cannot hide from the truths that also come to mind. Both Israel and the United States have, in recent months, made unequivocal statements supporting a future Palestinian state, living in interdependence with its closest neighbor Israel—each state’s security and prosperity dependent on the other’s liberty and safety. If only actions reflected the vision. Further, what you and I and the rest of the American people read, hear, and see in the news give the distinct impression that it is only a Palestinian penchant for violence that paralyzes the peace parade. Let me assure you, as I have many times in the past, that I deplore the use of violence by both sides. It accomplishes nothing but the guarantee of more violent acts, perpetuating the spiral of violence which draws everyone in its path toward destruction. At the same time it is vital that the world has a clearer understanding of what is fanning the flames of fear and hatred in the land. Let me illustrate.
In an article this month in the Washington Post the reporter stated that “in recent months” Israel had virtually closed the border crossing points between Gaza and Israel. The clear rationale in the story is the barrage of homemade Khassam rockets raining down on parts of southern Israel, including the village of Sderot. What is missing from the story is the fact that the closings intensified immediately after Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January 2006. The stranglehold was actually put in place in August 2005 after the much-heralded “disengagement” from Gaza by Israel. Disengagement was the term used by then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to refer to Israel’s actions vis-à-vis Gaza, that part of the Occupied Palestinian Territories bounded by Israel, Egypt, and the Mediterranean Sea, but not contiguous to East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Israel’s actions were to (1) remove the 7,000 Israelis in illegal settlements, (2) withdraw to just outside the border the thousands of Israeli troops who had made these settlements possible, and (3) strengthen the virtually impenetrable barrier which makes Gaza a prison for the 1.4 million Palestinians who live there. Please understand this: There was no end to the occupation in Gaza. Israel still controls completely, and often brutally, air, land, and sea spaces encircling Gaza. It controls the passage of goods—food, medical supplies, essential water filters, fuel—into the people there, allowing through only enough to avoid starvation and widespread death. In addition it controls the exports of the Gazans, mainly agricultural products they have long sold in Israel and elsewhere. Literally thousands of tons of produce have rotted by the gates when they were not allowed through. Fishermen were prohibited from plying their trade more than one mile from shore. By any definition of international law Israel still occupies Gaza and is responsible for the human needs of the people there. The “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza which so many sources have reported is the result of a series of carefully calculated political decisions.
If we are to understand the significance of the homemade rockets, we must know the circumstances under which they occur. It is never enough to hear and consider just one perspective on any situation, much less so one in which the stakes are so dramatically high.
And there is more.
Uri Avnery is an Israeli “peacenik.” Once an Israeli soldier, later a member of the Knesset [Israel’s Parliament], now the head of Gush Shalom [Peace Bloc] founded by Avnery and his wife in 1993. It is his contention that the rockets fired on the village of Sderot provide the necessary provocation for Israel to continue its oppression of this segment of the Palestinian people and of Hamas. As proof he reveals the fact that Hamas several months ago offered a truce to Israel. In return for a complete cessation of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, Israel would end its military incursions into Gaza, stop its policy of targeted assassinations in Gaza, and end the blockade. Hamas repeated the offer last month. The problem is that for such a truce to take effect the two sides would need to talk. That Israel refuses to do. In fact both Israel and the United States are adamant in their refusal to have one word of conversation with those whom the Palestinian people elected to represent them. It was hoped that the Palestinian people would turn on Hamas and drive them from power. As so often happens, the opposite occurred: the people of Gaza—indeed all the Palestinian people—place the blame for their present suffering squarely on the shoulders of the Israeli leaders and on the shoulders of the government of the United States, who could intervene to ease the suffering but who refuses.
There is now an offer from Hamas on the table which goes far beyond that truce. They have offered a hudna, a ceasefire in which they pledge to end armed resistance in exchange for an end to the Israeli occupation. We all need to put aside our determined postures of who is to blame and who is the most violent. The world needs to open the dialogue, yes, talk with those who are sworn enemies. The alternative is simply more pain, more injustice, more fear, more death. If for no other reason, the children of Israel and the children of Palestine deserve to inherit life and hope from their parents—not fear and death.