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Where is the hope?
By SAMUEL HEILMAN
27/11/2012
Now is the time for the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government to reach out to each other and show the advocates of hatred and violence that more can be gained by each of them through peaceful negotiations with one another than through any other means.
 
In the aftermath of the most recent conflict between Israel and the Islamists in Gaza, the natural question one must ask is have the chances for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, or at least a truce for 99 years, been enhanced at all by the events.

In the war, Israel demonstrated its overwhelming superiority in the skies, its remarkable ability to successfully neutralize incoming rockets aimed at population centers, its stunning intelligence about the location of Hamas command and control structures and personnel, the steadfastness of the home front as well as the state’s ability to restrain its destruction of Gaza so that far fewer non-combatants would be harmed (although still far too many) than was the case during Operation Cast Lead. It also proved its ability to marshal international support for what most of the world saw as a justified response to continued unprovoked attacks on its population by those committed to its destruction.

For its part, however, the Islamists in Gaza also perceive the conflict as showing their own remarkable abilities, including a capacity to remain unbowed and unbroken under the Israeli onslaught, an ability to continue firing rockets and missiles despite Israel’s unending counterattacks, and finally the dramatic show of support for its view of Israel as the aggressor from regimes in the Arab world, most prominently Egypt and its new Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi – support that included visits from Arab leaders to Gaza in the midst of the war.

All this proved to them that the tide has shifted, and the days when Arab opponents of Israel ran out of their shoes and left their arms behind while they tried to escape the Israelis were over. As the Hezbollah Islamists in Lebanon had shown, so too their Gaza counterparts did now: Islam is the answer to Israel, if not to the entire world. Those who fight under the banner of Islam, who remain true to their beliefs, and are willing even to be martyred for their cause can never lose in the struggle against the infidels who have dared to invade Dar al-Islam, the House of Islam. Their steadfastness, they believe, will wear down the enemy and lead to his ultimate defeat.

Given these two contrary visions of what lessons of the latest war in Gaza teaches, how likely is it this war will lead to a prolonged cessation of violence? For an answer, I look to the children and what they have learned. While no comprehensive survey of this is yet available, two examples stand out as perhaps symptomatic.

As reported in The New York Times on November 18, “from the time he was a boy, Ali al-Manama dreamed of joining the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Hamas movement. His commitment intensified when his father, a Qassam fighter, was killed by an Israeli drone in 2001 as he fired mortar shells over the border. Ali joined up at 15, relatives said, and by 23 had risen to be a commander in this neighborhood in the midsection of this coastal Palestinian territory. On Friday, at the funeral of a fellow fighter, Mr. Manama leaned over the body and said, ‘I’ll join you soon, God willing.’”

The other story comes from a radio report on the BBC in which a Gaza teacher describes the “therapy” provided for young Palestinian children traumatized by the eight days of bombing and fire rained upon them by Israel. To allow them to express their feelings, the little children were taken to a public square and lined up. Some were dressed in the green uniform of Hamas fighters and were “armed” with toy machine guns that they were encouraged to shoot in the air at Israelis.

Then an Israeli flag was placed on the ground in front of them and set ablaze while all the youngsters stamped on it and screamed epithets of hatred toward Israel and Israelis, with the encouragement of their teachers, as passersby in the square watched. This, she said, allowed them to give voice to their feelings so that they would not remain bottled up inside.

This stands in sharp contrast to the children in the Hof Ashkelon region who, according to a report in The Jerusalem Post, were “welcomed by a clown and a man dressed as a panda bear who hugged them and danced with them as they entered the gate, in order to ‘lighten up the atmosphere.’” In these episodes, we can see the future. For the children of Gaza it is one in which hatred of the Israeli supersedes all else. For the children of Israel, it is a need to be taught again to smile, however briefly, in the face of trauma.

As long as the dream of a Palestinian boy is to join a brigade whose only goal is to lob bombs and rockets at Israelis and to die as his father did doing the same thing, or Palestinian youngsters heal themselves by pretending to shoot Israelis and expressing loathing for them, there is neither hope for peace nor likelihood of a decent future for the Palestinian people.

Those who encourage the Palestinians to see the source of their victimization in Israel are only paving the road to this dead end. The true enemy of the Palestinians is the hatred of Israel that they and others nurture and encourage.

For those who long for another, more hopeful prospect, a turn toward those Palestinians who have agreed to give up violence and recognize the idea of two states for two people is the only reasonable option.

Now is the time for the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government to reach out to each other and show the advocates of hatred and violence that more can be gained by each of them through peaceful negotiations with one another than through any other means. An olive branch from the Netanyahu government and from the PA – not dependence on Egyptian Islamist negotiators or UN bureaucrats – is the best way to silence the hatred from Gaza and bring an end to the violence that poisons the future.

Anything less is tragic.

The writer is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology Queens College CUNY Holder of the Harold M. Proshansky Chair of Jewish Studies, The Graduate Center.
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