Saturday, July 26, 2014

Reflections on the Holy Land during Unholy Times

Resolute.  Resurgent.   Depressed.

Allow me to identify for you three states of mind that describe the interested parties in the latest skirmish in what has become known, simply, as “The Conflict.”

 The first term, “Resolute,” refers to the mainstream attitude of the Israeli people.  According to their narrative, Hamas is the sole aggressor in this battle, having provoked the fight by rejoicing at the capture of three Israeli teenagers, lobbing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli land, and refusing the Israeli invitation to stop the bloodshed early on.   The Israelis have long stopped waiting for international support for their plight; quite the contrary, they expect to be condemned internationally simply for acting in self- defense.   And this means that they feel the need to be supremely focused on that very task.   Such focus is seen as especially important in this latest round of violence.  Israelis cannot help but notice how difficult it has proven to locate and destroy Hamas’s tunnels.  But the fact remains that the IDF continues to have the upper hand when it comes to military might.  So the Israelis have steeled themselves to a lengthy conflict in which the tunnels are destroyed, one by bloody one, at whatever the cost.   The mood of Israel will remain resolute until its government has satisfied itself that it has eradicated the short-term threat from these tunnels and has a plan in place to deal with Hamas as a long-term threat.    

The second term, “Resurgent,” refers to the attitude of the Palestinian people and especially their sense that ultimately, they will come to control the land formally known as Palestine.  When polled, the majority of Palestinians report that they are “winning” the war against Israel, and very few believe they are actually “losing.”  Just as the Israeli partisans are shell-shocked about how difficult it is to uproot the tunnels, the Palestinians are thrilled that their forces are putting up such a formidable defense.   What’s more, Palestinian partisans believe that they are winning the public relations battle around the world and are actually beginning to make inroads with the American media, perhaps for the first time.  According to the Palestinian narrative, the IDF is mowing down children and other non-combatants at a ridiculous rate, one that is completely out of whack with the threat that Israel is facing from the Palestinians.  As more and more pictures of dying children are covered by the media, the Palestinians feel that their cries for freedom are beginning to be heard.  It is just a matter of time, they believe, until they are liberated and so is the land known to them as Palestine.

The third term, “Depressed,” refers to the attitude of those among us who seek a two-state solution in which a majority Jewish state will survive adjacent to a majority Palestinian state in peaceful co-existence.  At present, that prospect seems unlikely.   We look at the situation as it stands now and envision a new generation of Israelis and Palestinians who are raised to hate each other and can think of nothing more ennobling than fighting in a war against their Semitic “enemy.”   We look at the extremists on both sides, and ask ourselves: how are we ever going to have a two-state solution if they are constantly doing their best to destabilize it?   We see all the passion on the ground for a solution in which either one people or the other will control the disputed land – and both sides appear to believe that their side will carry the day.  And then we listen to the advocates for the two-state solution, and they seem so measured, so lifeless, so … what is the word? … depressed.  

My friends, we are approaching a very critical point in this conflict.   Are we looking at a situation where the two sides become increasingly extremist, militant, and willing to incur deaths and casualties in support of the “greater good,” and where ultimately we will know peace only after witnessing a war of Biblical proportions?    That outcome is certainly the expectation of Hamas – don’t take my word for it, read their Charter:

Or are we looking at a situation where the moderates of the world come together and accept that paying casual lip-service to the idea of a two-state solution won’t get the job done?  Rather, they must become passionate advocates of such a solution.  And that requires replacing the tired rhetoric that two states represent the only FEASIBLE solution with arguments that two states represent the only JUST solution.   In other words, the two-state solution must become the preferred choice of the young, vibrant set – those who are passionate about justice and fairness -- and not merely that of their war-weary parents and grandparents.  This will only happen if enough young people from the two sides are able to engage in ongoing dialogue opportunities with one another.   Difficult?  Yes.  Impossible?  Not at all.

As long as the support for two states is tepid and grounded in mere pragmatism, we as a species will continue to get what we’re getting now – heartache for the would-be peacemakers, and blood and machismo for the partisans.  Once, however, we begin to equate two states with justice, then and only then will peace have a fighting chance.

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