The carnage in Israel and the Gaza Strip seems to have no end, with hundreds if not thousands of fatalities on both sides and a region ready to explode. Who is to blame and how can this end? Peace or justice first, under whose interpretation and on what terms?
For people like me who have been following the Palestinian-Israeli saga over many years what is happening now is nothing new, but it is of a different complexity and scale. The “shock and awe”, multi-front and multi-means attack on Israel by Hamas is unprecedented and has apparently taken by surprise the Israeli and other renowned intelligence services. Similarly, the severity of Israel’s response seems well placed to break past records too, with the fate of more than two million Palestinian residents of Gaza hanging in the balance.
As is often the case, especially when guerilla groups are involved, it is civilians on both sides that bear the brunt of this conflict, suffering physical and emotional wounds that will be very difficult to heal. And yet, for those who attempt an attack from one or the other side it is or it should be known that the conflict will not be solved, the decisive blow will not be delivered to the opponent, shared peace and prosperity will become an even more distant dream shared by fewer and fewer people… Perhaps this is what they are seeking, extremists on all sides (to include interested regional and global actors)?
Absolute beliefs, involving absolute “truths” and claiming a direct line to God, lead to a shut-down of inhibitions and absolute crimes “with the blessing of God”. It is difficult to reason with people who hold such beliefs, unfortunately too many of them on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most political and religious leaders encourage this, either because they actually share the absolute beliefs or because they see this as the way to gain and hold on to power. One would hope that there would be enough sane voices to moderate if not pacify the extreme feelings but no, national unity is achieved at the most nationalistic level, in a survival mode, against the other side that is portrayed as (in)human vermin and should be eliminated.
If there are not, as is apparent, enough safety valves within the two communities in conflict, what about external actors that may be able to defuse the situation? Unfortunately, one cannot find many honest brokers in this conflict, and that shows from statements made by leaders around the world on the occasion of the latest conflagration too. Long past are the days when Clinton was bringing together Arafat and Barak at Camp David to talk peace.
The two-state solution – Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace, with the respective parts of Jerusalem as their capitals – has repeatedly been recognized as the only way forward. The two-state solution cannot happen, though, with Israeli settlements expanding in the West Bank, East Jerusalem encroached upon, Gaza an open-air prison and every movement of people and goods controlled by Israel, with periodic strikes to remind who is in control. There is no respect, no human dignity, no fairness of any kind in this. The two-state solution cannot happen either if the right of Israel to exist is not accepted by the Palestinian population and the Muslim world more broadly, not only on grounds of economic or diplomatic expediency but in a deeper sense of mutual recognition and respect.
One cannot but feel deeply sorry for all the lives that are being lost on both sides of this latest confrontation in the Middle East. Every effort needs to be made by the UN, the EU, states of the region and beyond to bring an end to the killing and destruction. Anybody with clout and reasonable policies that recognize the interests and frustrations of both sides should intervene as soon as possible. This is for the sake of the people directly affected by this war but also for the rest of the region and the world.
Nobody should want to see more people shot or bombed, abducted or mistreated, nobody should have to deal with a population of millions strangled through starvation and severance of basic utilities, nobody should want to see another front with global repercussions festering for months and years and becoming part of a global confrontation. For those believing that they are safely afar let them selfishly think of potential refugee flows, spreading terrorist acts, skyrocketing energy prices and more that could affect them, even across the oceans. For all those trying to play God, let them remember of hubris and its destructive impact first and foremost on those who display it and those around them. For the rest of us, we should not allow anybody claiming to be bringing their heaven on earth to make it hell for all of us.