A Lament for Peace

Jul 24

This was a Featured Blog on Huffington Post. Also appears in the Florida Times Union. Slated to run in the Tallahassee Democrat also.

This post has been co-authored with Rabbi Jack Romberg, Temple Israel, Tallahassee, FL.

We write this as two friends, a Jew and a Muslim, both with leadership roles in our respective communities. Together we have broken bread, facilitated interfaith dialogue, and come to the realization that we have the same goal of peace, understanding and respect for people of all faiths and backgrounds. The recent spate of violence between Hamas and Israel presents a new test for us. Yet, in the end, even as we might have some disagreement on the details, or in parsing the conflict, we find that we share the same hopes, ideals and values. We both must wrestle with some inconvenient truths.

Whether the blood spilled is Israeli or Palestinian, it is red. Responsibility for spilling that blood is on the hands of both Israel and Hamas. Both of us recognize that while the rocket attacks on Israel are a despicable act of terror, we also both recognize it is the civilian Palestinian population that is paying the steeper price with its blood. In looking for reasons why this situation exists, one of us would first point to Hamas’s refusal to accept the existence of Israel, its constant use of terror tactics, and its indiscriminate launching of rockets against Israeli civilians. The other would emphasize the brutal blockade of Gaza that has created shortages of the basic necessities of survival for the residents of Gaza, the refusal of the current Israeli government to work seriously towards a two-state solution, and the horrifyingly high level of civilian deaths, especially children, with each Israeli reprisal.

Despite our obvious deep connections to different sides in this conflict, we both are appalled by the never-ending cycle of violence — rockets get fired, Israel responds. Israelis keep running to shelters, Palestinian civilians keep dying. Both of us are appalled by the evidence that Hamas is placing innocent Palestinians in harm’s way to score sympathy points. Both of us are appalled by Israel’s shelling of four Palestinian teens playing on a beach while professing not to be targeting children. We are both tired of narratives that cast one side as “good” and the other as “evil.” We both believe that Israelis and Palestinians have a right to exist in peace, prosperity and freedom.

Neither of us are politicians. Neither of us are experts in foreign policy. We do not have any understandings of the palace intrigues that take place in the great halls of power. So we offer no long term diplomatic solutions. But we do have opinions that are aspirational without being utopian. Start with an immediate cease fire. The warring parties need to cease and desist immediately. No more Hamas rocket fire. No more Israeli shelling. And most importantly, both sides need to not cheer the death and destruction of the other. War is never holy. Perhaps sometimes war can be just, but there is nothing holy or just about Hamas targeting Israeli civilians or the death of Palestinian children caused by Israeli bombardment.

Next, the borders of Gaza must open and the blockades by Israel and Egypt must end. Hamas must be disarmed and if necessary, peace monitors can be put in place to insure both sides abide by the agreement. Let us recognize that Hamas is a failed organization whose rockets have not purchased one ounce of improvement for the Palestinians of Gaza. Given the tools to create a workable economy and government in Gaza, they have chosen violence and despair for Palestinians. Let us recognize that by perpetuating the blockade of Gaza, in essence creating a large open air prison, Israel has created a situation that breeds violence.

Both of us believe that peace will come to the Middle East only when all sides love their own more than they hate their adversaries. Peace will come when the benefits of living with each other exceeds the cost of killing each other. Peace will come when our own country, the United States, acts as a true neutral broker and not heed those voices that marginalize Arabs and Muslims and sees further militarization as a solution to the conflicts in the region. Israelis and Palestinians both have a proud history of survival and heroism against all odds. Both need to recognize that an eye for an eye only makes the world go blind.

Parvez Ahmed a Fulbright Scholar teaches at the University of North Florida. Rabbi Jack Romberg is with Temple Israel in Tallahassee, FL.