Days after the fragile Egypt-brokered ceasefire that ended the Israeli-Gaza war went into effect, the New York Times on its front page published individual photographs of the more than 60 children who had been killed. Almost all were Arabs.
The war constituted a humanitarian catastrophe. It echoed previous conflicts and is likely to be repeated in the not too distant future unless meaningful compromise steps are taken by both sides.
What precipitated the last round of fighting: Israel certainly disrespected the sanctity of the Al Aqsa Mosque, so holy to Muslims, and the adjacent plaza. There was an avoidable clash. The Meuzzin’s call to prayer was deemed interference with Israeli President Rivlin’s nearby speech celebrating Memorial Day. Israeli authorities were unwilling to reschedule the speech. Instead they sent police to disconnect the Mosque’s loudspeakers.
For Arabs, the incident was further evidence that their presence in Jerusalem is subordinate to Jewish interests. This is especially true when seen in combination with the periodic demolition of Arab dwellings and evictions of Arab residents. This is obviously true in the occupied West Bank where Jewish settlements have proliferated. Such policies are huge obstacles to a lasting peace and a two-state solution. Israel can have a Biblical Empire or peace, not both.
To move forward, Israel must curtail the embargo so that living conditions for Gazans can be improved. Many are living in misery.
Hamas must recognize the legitimacy of Israel. For its part, Israel must accept Hamas as a negotiating partner. Diplomacy does not work if states negotiate only with allies. To be successful, it requires negotiations with enemies no matter how repugnant. The alternative is more deaths of innocents.
In 1903, an especially brutal, bloody pogrom occurred in Czarist Russia, in Kishinev, today the capital of Moldova. It claimed approximately 49 Jewish lives – men, women and children. A Jewish poet, Chaim Bialik, composed his epic poem “On the Slaughter” in response to the appalling bloodshed. Bialik opined that Satan himself could not forgive the death of a child. There is no comparison between Kishinev in 1903 and Gaza in May 2021. Still it is difficult to forgive the killing of the innocent children for which both Palestinians and Israelis are responsible.
Emeritus Professor of History, URI