(I've been thinking about this post for the past couple of weeks, and I keep finding new ways to start it and discarding those new ways in the face of other troubles, other thoughts, other news. Not much else to do with this but to dive in and see what happens. I have to get it out some way...)
I started reading a book that has been in my possession for a number of years, but has rarely been cracked open - perhaps once, when I read the introduction a while ago, and then consigned the book to my shelves of Judaica, prayer books, and other related works. Even though my edition dates from 1987, what I have read thus far slams me right back in the present-day Israel-Gaza conflict, and it ought to do the same for those leaders who are charged with ending the killings on both sides.
I found myself indignant that Israel was being compared to the Klan in a recent thread on someone else's blog, and I got angry. So angry that I found myself spouting a combination of knee-jerk pro-Israeli, pro-Jewish "right to exist", "right to be safe now that Israel has unilaterally pulled out of the occupied territories", "right to be left in peace now that the settlers have been wrenched from what they thought could be resettled as Judea and Samaria", and then trying to temper that with the fact that, deep down, I just want the violence to stop, as do many in Israel. None of this is serving the Israelis or the Palestinian Arabs. Hamas operatives sheltering themselves from IDF attacks behind their family members, and Israeli children running for shelter when a rocket from Gaza is about to hit in 15 seconds or less doesn't further the causes of any of these peoples.
However, the ultimate punchline to the sick joke that is the latest conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is how the rest of the world is acting towards these people. Somebody has to be right, and somebody has to be wrong, and everybody in-between has to suffer for it all.
Arabs who make peace with Israel have to do it cautiously, without looking like they are giving too much away to have peace, unless, like Anwar Sadat, they pay for a larger gesture, such as a treaty, with their lives. The case of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, which had not happened at the time the book I am currently reading was published, showed that Israelis were not immune to the extremism of the religious right in their midst, either, a state of affairs that had only been simmering throughout the country since Menachem Begin's leadership of Israel and even before that. An article in a recent issue of The Economist stated that there have been precious few moments over the past century during which both sides have embraced the idea of two states at the same time. The most promising moment of all came at the beginning of this decade, with Mr Clinton’s near-miss at Camp David. But now, with the rise of Hamas and the war in Gaza, the brief period of relative hope is in danger of flickering out.
Somebody, everybody, do me a huge favor and forget about who is right and who is wrong. Kick history out the door for a few minutes, dammit. Yes, many have died up to this point on both sides. Stop it. Please.
I'm dealing with the here and the now. And what I saw this past weekend in religious school at my synagogue shows that my own people, secular American Jews, need to grow up a tad and quit presenting things to our young 'uns such as large maps of Israel that are whoo-eee neat, but do not mark the West Bank and Gaza on there at all. The West Bank is demarcated, sure, but only as Judea and Samaria. I thought Begin was dead. Give this a rest. And in Israel itself, allowing large numbers of ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews, many of whom are not convinced that Israel is a real nation anyhow because the Messiah did not found it back in 1948, to hold these views and have them influence policy in the Knesset will constantly keep Israel in conflict with its neighbors. More of them need to get out of their strict observances and their military draft exemptions and see what the hell is really going on. Just a start.
What needs to happen on the part of the Palestinian Arabs, though, is the end of the idea that replacing hope with jihad will get them what they want. This is not just their fault, it is the fault of the entire Arab world. Again, it is a problem of neither side being on the same page at the same time, and the people of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Yemen, and the other Arab nations in the Middle East did not help here, and are still not helping much. It was - and still is - much easier to encourage the people down the path to perpetual war with Israel by denying them full citizenship in the other Arab nations, much more manly on their part to encourage the rise of the PLO and Fatah, of Hezbollah and Hamas, than to actually put their heads together and help these people become a nation of their own side-by-side with Israel. The efforts the terrorist operatives have put into this ongoing conflict have robbed their own citizens of their rights, their families, and their own lives.
Same page, everybody. Same page.
If each side persists in seeing the other as cardboard pawns devoid of human characteristics, and the rest of the world buys into the whole thing, there will only be more war.
And no, I don't expect this to be solved right off, because to solve this takes massive amounts of work on both sides, for extended periods of time, to see this through. Those who are willing to do so will need to be protected to the teeth so that they can continue this important work...for they will need all the support they can get.
Yes, that's my coupla shekels on all of this. And I know I will keep thinking about it a great deal, especially now that people are looking to our new president to see how he will treat this ongoing conflict.
Tread very, very carefully, Mr Obama.
Update, 1-24: Some other stuff for Obama's envoy to the Middle East to consider is in this article by Gershom Gorenberg.