Encountering Peace: Memories and the future

For now, it seems we are in a kind of holding pattern. But it is also clear that if we don’t move forward, we move backward.

A Palestinian man holds a symbolic key next to Hamas militants during a rally after Nakba Day in Rafah (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian man holds a symbolic key next to Hamas militants during a rally after Nakba Day in Rafah
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There are no quick fixes or easy solutions for Gaza. Even so, it is clear that we cannot proceed with the “business as usual” attitude. Eleven years of closure, three wars in a decade, devastation of the economy, almost no fresh water left, three hours a day of electricity, more than 65% youth unemployment with an average age of 16 years, in a population of 2 million – this spells despair and disaster. While Israel claims no responsibility for Gaza and places all of the responsibility on the heads of Hamas, even if one chooses to ignore Israel’s role in the situation it is easy to agree that the situation in Gaza is bad for Israel.
Since the election of Hamas in 2006, Israel has hoped that the Gazans would oust the movement once they realized how much damage has been caused by its militaristic, extremist policies and ideologies. Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza to prevent the infiltration of weapons and explosives into Gaza, or dual-use materials – civilian and military. But the blockade has been much more than the prevention of entry of those items – it has been an economic shutdown of Gaza and a lock-down of its people. Gaza has been shut off to the world and almost all of the people living there have never been outside of that small, crowded and impoverished strip of land. For most of the young people there, life has no meaning and there is little reason for any hope of change.
In 2014 war the children of Gaza families bereaved in previous wars, in 2012 and 2008-9, were enlisted in Hamas’s best combat units. These young men were easily recruited, highly motivated with the promise of revenge and honor, and demonstrated a willingness to die in the name of Islam, Palestine and al-Aqsa. The bereaved families of the clashes of the past six weeks will provide the new fighters of tomorrow – and the cycle goes on with no end in sight.
This week, Palestinians marked 70 years since the Nakba – the catastrophe that left hundreds of thousands homeless and destitute. The State of Israel was founded over the ruins of more than 400 Palestinian villages. The people of those villages and towns lived on and the memories of what they lost have been passed from generation to generation. The longing for a Palestine that no longer exists has grown into the collective memory that defines the Palestinian people. This is real and wishing it away or denying its existence will not make the Palestinian people disappear or forget. There is no solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which there is a return of millions of Palestinians to the State of Israel. There is also no solution to this conflict that sweeps under the rug the memory of the Nakba and ignores the pain of that loss.
We Jews with our 2,000-year memory of the loss of our ancestral homeland should be able to understand that Palestinian long for freedom more than any other people. Perhaps we do, and because we know how our determination led to our own freedom, we are so afraid of the determination of Palestinians to achieve statehood and freedom of their own.
The Gaza uprising these past six weeks was called “The Great March of Return.” No one in Gaza actually thought that the six weeks of demonstrations and attempts to breach the border would lead to their return. But the dream of stepping over the line and standing in the lost homeland even for a moment was worth risking death for many young people. The power of that longing and the continued attachment to memory scares many Israelis. That fear is understandable. It is not rational – but little in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is.
Gaza could be a flourishing part of a Palestinian state. The possibility of that happening is not yet dead. Gaza’s future though is forever linked to the West Bank and to east Jerusalem and al-Aksa. The Palestinian people, with all of their differences and internal conflicts, are one people – that is how they see themselves and there is no Gaza-only solution.
There is no escape from the need to confront all of the issues that Israel and the PLO agreed to resolve when they made the breakthrough in Oslo back in 1993. There are no unilateral solutions and no imposed solutions either – not by US President Donald Trump and not by anyone. We must confront Palestinian sovereignty, borders, security, settlements, Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem and the physical link between the West Bank and Gaza. There is no solution that cuts Gaza from the world or even from the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
There are no easy solutions. The leaders of Hamas and the leaders of Israel refuse to speak to each other directly. The internal Palestinian reconciliation has hit a roadblock that no one yet knows how to clear. Nonetheless, there remain opportunities for Israel and the PA to cooperate with our immediate neighbors in support of solutions. There are many common interests among Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others, together with the Palestinians. Those regional interests are very strong, and compel us to all to cooperate to find solutions that are livable, workable and acceptable.
There are no immediate solutions, but principles for long-term agreements are reachable with mechanisms of implementation which can be defined, and linked to performance and benchmarks. There is little chance that the leaders – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas – are capable of even talking to each other, so for now it seems we are in a kind of holding pattern. But it is also clear that if we don’t move forward, we move backward.
We must have a long-term vision and a plan for getting there. This week many Palestinians were killed. This is not the end, and even though Israelis believe that they have solved the military problems of rockets and tunnels, the war is not over and more people will lose their lives – and not only in Gaza.
The author is now working on the development of an All Jerusalem Israeli Palestinian list – “AlQuds-Yerushalayim” – to run for the Jerusalem City Council. His new book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine has been published by Vanderbilt University Press.