In “Notting Hill,” Hugh Grant plays the owner of a travel bookshop into which a famous actor portrayed by Julia Roberts walks, engendering an unlikely love story. Wandering around London on Tuesday, Kathy and I found the movie’s location on Portobello Rd., right where it’s supposed to be. The filmmakers spruced up the alley next door with a fake arch. Otherwise it’s unmistakeable.
So are the rhetorical battle lines over Israel and Palestine, no matter where one travels in a world transfixed by the agony in the land of the Holy One this Advent. On a Notting Hill wall, someone had posted photos of Israeli hostages. Someone else had ripped them all away. One now says “free Palestine” instead.
It it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. Hamas could stop fighting and release its remaining hostages, and Israel could stop trying to obliberate Hamas. But that won’t happen. Dedicated to one another’s destruction, neither Hamas nor Israel has any intention of stopping.
One reason civilian casualties are so horrifying in Gaza is that, as guerrillas, Hamas fighters use civilians and civilian sites, such as hospitals and residential neighborhoods, as shields and sanctuaries. But Israel is using so much firepower that it can’t argue it’s doing everything possible to protect civilians. Destroying Hamas quickly is its primary value.
Experts say that the region can never have peace as long as Hamas is a political factor. But Israeli politics also stand in the way of peace. The only way to redeem the agony that’s occurred since Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attacks is to reclaim the two-state solution from the maw of irrelevance. Yet this week Netanyahu ruled out a role for the Palestinian Authority in postwar Gaza, despite pressure from President Biden and the Arab world. This tells us a lot about what Netanyahu and his far-right coalition are fighting for. You can’t have a Palestinian state without the PA playing a key role. Netanyahu’s way, what you’d have after the war are more West Bank settlements and less hope than ever for Palestinians.
If the people of Israel don’t elect a government that wants peace, including national self-determination for all, then history will have nothing redemptive to say about this war. If Israel’s politics do turn to the center, the war could be the darkest of nights before the dawn of hope. Too bad the people of Gaza have to live through hell to find out if they will have their chance for an unlikely but much to be prayed for happy ending.
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
— Book of Common Prayer