Since the end of October I have worn a red and black piece of ribbon tied around my wrist with the words “It wont’ stop until we talk” printed on it. I was asked to wear this by a good friend of mine named Robi, an Israeli mother whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper while serving at a checkpoint in the West Bank. I see her often on my frequent trips to Israel and the West Bank, and on this occasion she was with a Palestinian named Bisam whose 10-year-old daughter was killed by an Israeli soldier. Just after I left them, events there once again dominated our headlines. Yet it is easy for us to keep the violence at a distance. We can cheer on “our side” in the conflict, whichever side that is, but this is no sporting event. When wars are waged, the innocent die along with combatants and perpetrators. Robi and Bisam have paid a price that is too high for any parent to be asked to pay. Yet they refuse to demand that the deaths of their children be avenged, nor are they willing to allow them to have died in vain. Together, and with other Israeli and Palestinian families, they cry out for an end to the violence and for a resolution that recognizes the dignity and humanity of all. Their message is simple. This conflict will not be solved through rockets and bombs, but only through negotiations.
To many this sounds naïve. But as another Israeli friend of mine who lives in a farming community on the Gaza border once told me: it’s those Palestinians who fire rockets on her home thinking she and other Israelis will just go away who are naïve. And it’s her fellow Israelis who think that if they just bomb Gaza “back into the Middle Ages” as an Israeli cabinet minister has suggested, the Palestinians will just give up and move to another Arab country, who are also naïve.
Both sides have those who look at the brokenness, at the insecurity, injustice, and hopelessness around them and draw the conclusion that violence is the only way. And while the pessimists may have the facts, those who believe in a moral universe know that their own future is best secured when you take into account the humanity of the other.
No doubt, there are those on both sides who do not want peace at the price of accommodating the other. They’ve had center stage far too often. These are the maximalists who insist that only their demands are legitimate; justice and security for them is only for them. But there are Israelis and Palestinians who realize they are neighbors, who understand the other is not going away, and even some who recognize that justice and security for one requires justice and security for the other. There are those who preference life over death, building over destruction, dialogue and compromise over rockets and bombs.
Warning sirens, bomb shelters, safe rooms, and rocket attacks have become normal in southern Israel for some time now. Insecurity is the new normal. These are facts that must not be ignored. Closure, blockade, isolation, and humiliation are normative for Gazans. Neither can this be ignored.
A ceasefire is currently in place, and a true ceasefire was desperately needed, yet if it is not followed up with an attempt to address all activities that perpetuate the conflict (and there are many) and honestly try to resolve them, it will be but postponing the next round. Because, as my friend Robi says, “it wont’ stop until we talk.” But the talking has to be accompanied by and lead to action. Core issues have to be addressed, with security, freedom, legitimacy, justice and dignity for all as the aim. Violence in the Middle East is not a video game. Real people suffer and die. If there are any wise leaders here or there they will find a way do the hard work of conflict resolution now while there is calm.