In the closing days of the 2012 war in Gaza, a recent immigrant to Israel told me that the war had radicalized her and made her feel more Israeli. I asked her whether she meant that she felt more strongly that Israel was endangered, or that Israel was right.
She thought for a while and said, "Neither one. I felt like part of the family, and I understood that every time they fire a rocket, they are firing it at me. Every rocket is personal." Being family, she added, meant "I felt the deaths. Those boys were our boys."
I bit back my response, because Israelis and Gazans are not fond of being compared.
Six years late, here is my response: Gazans say the same thing.
- Hamas to Egypt: Israel targeting youth on Gaza border to drag us into war
- Hamas prepares for its annual UN ritual: Stabbing Palestinian Authority presidents in the back
- Most of UNRWA's foreign staff in Gaza evacuated to Israel after death threats
- 37 Palestinians reportedly wounded by IDF fire in Gaza border clashes
They feel exactly the same way. They go to the funerals of their soldiers and civilians and they grieve as personally, because those children were everyone’s children.
Let me offer a few facts: neutral, decontextualized and therefore, hopefully, not in dispute.
1. Conditions in Gaza have gone from dire to calamitous. The World Bank last week described it as an economic "free fall" and a humanitarian "collapse." No one would sit still and raise their children in such conditions.
2. Ceasefire talks appear to have stalled.
3. Protests and violence are increasing along the fence, in step with Gaza’s deterioration.
4. For these and other reasons, the risk of major confrontation is looming once more.
If that happens, more of everyone’s children are going to be killed. But:
5. With the prospect of each war, commentators discuss the unknown cost and uncertain result of trying to remove Hamas by force.
6. Presently, commentators also cite Hamas’s loss of popular support.
What a positive, powerful idea.
Israel holds the power, and therefore the initiative. Israel could take the advice of its own generals, and ease the blockade of Gaza. In so doing, Israel would demonstrate that there can yet be a future, based not on violence and the funerals of more people who felt like family.
No one has to like Hamas. I’m not fond of them, either. However, Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not Hamas. Distinguish their interests.
The blockade gives Hamas a free hand, and escalation affirms them as the interlocutor of violence. De-escalation would speak past them. Peace would put them out of business.
One step at a time. Easing the blockade would begin by acknowledging the rights and the interests of Gazans, as people and as parents. That step speaks a different language.
There is still time, and there are still choices, to spare everyone’s children.
Bakesh shalom, v’radfayhu – seek peace, and pursue it.