And for clarity - I am a secular (atheist) Jew and have visited Israel a few times, and parts of the West Bank once. One of the trips was a Journey of Peace, from which I posted to this blog (use the search function for the term "Israel.")
The present round of violence - There is no question that Israel has the right to defend itself against constant attacks by Hamas and other factions from within Gaza, or anywhere else. Over the past several years, since Israel pulled out of Gaza, more than 10,000 rockets and mortars have been launched from Gaza into civilian areas of southern Israel. The targets have been either random or specific civilian sites including schools and hospitals. The physical, psychological and economic impacts to the people of the region have been very great; deaths and injuries have been minimized by warning systems and bomb shelters. Israel's response to this constant barrage has been mostly restrained, using economic pressure (blockades, sanctions, etc.) and limited military actions - against military targets (yes, there have been civilian casualties, because the Palestinian rocket launchers typically hide in residential areas).
I think every one of us would agree that if someone started launching rockets into our neighborhood, we would expect our government to take decisive action immediately to end it!
Is the military response by Israel too much? This is a tough one to answer from where I sit. The information I've seen is that Israel has targeted military and government (Hamas) installations, and has tried to warn civilians in Gaza to get away from any military or government sites because they are targets. I believe that Israel does not target civilians (unlike Hamas and other terrorists), but there have been civilian casualties (I refuse to call these unfortunate persons "collateral damage."). I do support the suggestions that Israel call and maintain a 48-hour cease fire, asking Hamas to cease launching rockets into Israel in order to get discussions going to build a truce.
Can Israel or Hamas "win" this battle? No. Hamas cannot defeat Israel in a war. And, short of complete annihilation of the people in Gaza, Israel can only achieve a lessened amount of violence against it from within Gaza, with an accompanying strengthening of resolve of Palestinians, particularly the young, to fight "the oppressor."
The situation is an ongoing cycle of violence that seems to have no end. The fact that Hamas has the stated goal of eliminating Israel as a main part of it's mission is a major roadblock to peace.
Is there hope for the future? I'm not a citizen of Israel or Gaza or the West Bank, so these are armchair musings based on my study of the situation and my few visits there. I do think that there are some positive steps that can be taken for a better future for all people in the region.
- Mutual respect for each other.
- Israel - A civil rights movement is needed in Israel to provide Arab Israelis equality and greater integration into Israeli society. Prejudice against Arabs in Israeli society needs to be identified and eliminated.
- Gaza and West Bank - the teaching of anti-Semitism in schools and mosques, as well as on TV and in other mass media, has to end.
- Gaza and West Bank - accurate history and geography of the Middle East need to be taught in schools; Israel (not "the Zionist Entity") exists and needs to be shown on maps; the histories of the Jewish people, the Palestinian people, and the region are complex and rich, and should be a focus of education
- Israel - the history and claims of the Palestinian people need to be recognized and taught, including an objective history of the creation of the modern Israel within the context of world politics and local realities at the time
- State Building - the West Bank.
- Israel - Israel's future will be best served by helping establish a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank (based on the pre-1967 border). Building of Jewish settlements and outposts in the West Bank should be halted immediately, and existing ones either disbanded or traded with the Palestinians for land of equal value inside Israel. Israel should work closely with moderate Palestinians and their leadership to forge a lasting peace based on mutual respect, security, and economic cooperation. Israel and other nations should be encouraged to invest in West Bank economic ventures, education and infrastructure development.
- West Bank - Palestinians need to end fighting between political factions and find common ground based on building a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank. A vision of statehood needs to reject extremism/terrorism and hatred of Israel and work towards cooperation with Israel for mutual benefits.
- Jerusalem. Control of Jerusalem is a major and contentious issue between Jews, Muslims and Christians. The Old City (within the walls) contains important sites for these and other religions, and each group has important historic ties to the City. The Old City of Jerusalem should be re-established as a World City - perhaps a Heritage Site - under the auspices of the United Nations, and administered by a board of atheists. The remainder of Jerusalem should be divided between Israel and the Palestinian State based on negotiations. (Yes, this idea is way out there!)
There are once again many public anti-Israel demonstrations in the United States and around the world. I find it strange, and frankly disheartening, that there have been no public demonstrations in the U.S. against Hamas as they launched thousands of rockets and mortars into civilian areas of Israel over the past few years. Where were the demonstrations and letters to editors when Palestinian suicide-bombers and shooters killed and injured hundreds of Israeli civilians? I'm afraid there is at best a double standard in the liberal community - and at worst an ugly strain of anti-Semitism.
Let's be clear - Hamas, Hezbollah and others of their ilk are not "freedom fighters" - they are terrorists. The Palestinian people have legitimate grievances with Israel, but terrorism and violence are not acceptable tools. Israeli military strategy, like the current U.S. military strategy that relies on massive air power ("shock and awe") is also not acceptable. The State of Israel has, in my opinion, lost it's moral compass and needs to change direction. The 40 year occupation of the West Bank, and the continuing land grabs by Israeli Jews, as one example, needs to end now.
The present violence in Gaza will end, just as it did in Lebanon a couple of years ago; unfortunately, the toll in lives and property will be high, and the result will be the same tension that existed before - a status quo between armed camps waiting for the next round of violence. This is a failed paradigm, a cycle with no end. There has to be a better way.