Some grasping to explain or justify Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel, which killed 1,400, said that Palestinians had finally had enough of the agonies of occupation. This was nonsense. Hamas was at least as responsible as Israel for abysmal conditions inside Gaza. Besides, as anyone knows who lived through and remembers 1967-73, including the Munich massacre, the principal source of violent Palestinian extremism is and always has been opposition to the existence of a Jewish state, a view which, surveys show, is shared by the preponderance of Palestinians (though every Palestinian I know opposes violence).
My guess is that many U.S. progressives also don’t believe a democratic Jewish state makes moral or logical sense. It would be clarifying if they would just say so. It would help everyone understand that their fundamental issue is less what Israel does than what Israel is. As for anyone’s acquiescence in Hamas’ slaughter of innocents, I can’t account for it. The proposition, in which we all must share today, that Israel must do all it can to protect noncombatants in Gaza carries no weight if we don’t condemn Hamas’ terrorism without condition.
The occupation has been terrible for Palestinians. While I can’t agree with them, I understand the feelings of those who call Israel an apartheid regime. But both sides have missed chances for peace. It’s true that the “greater Israel” cohort, which for nearly a century has wanted to drive out Arabs as much as Arabs ever wanted to drive out Jews, has made the most of the long, maddening diplomatic quagmire by illegally expanding West Bank and east Jerusalem settlements. But Israel’s reluctance to end the occupation was rooted most of all in its hesitancy about having a Palestinian state next door whose leadership stood a better than even chance of being the crew that just committed the most notorious slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust.
All in all, all these years, peace has been a chimera, a coexistence that neither side really wanted or felt it would be able to trust. In The Episcopal Church, I’ve been in the middle way cohort, trying to temper our church’s sharpest criticism of Israel. Yet I confess that Israel was on the verge of losing me because of Netanyahu’s toxic coalition, which enabled settler terrorism. Today, everything’s changed. Netanyahu had already reawakened the Israeli center by trying to destroy the independent judiciary. Now he’s failed to defend his country, leaving it utterly exposed to savage attack. Polls show his support is liquifying.
There is no way to predict what will happen. We must continue to pray and advocate for peace. The U.S. and all Israel’s friends must do all they can to restrain its most vengeful impulses (as I wish someone had done for us after Sept. 11) as well as to keep the war from widening. After the war, what we can reliably pray and hope for is that we’ll get a more moderate government in Jerusalem. If only by default, Fatah and the Palestinian National Authority will be stronger vis a vis the extremists. Violent religious fanatics on both sides will be weaker. All people of good will abhor their bloodthirstiness. Israel and Palestine may get just one more chance for a just peace.
While neither side may long for coexistence, both may finally have lost so much that the status quo becomes impossible to bear, with peace the only humane alternative. Churches such as ours that want to help will need a less partisan vocabulary, rooted in the value that all in the region, like people everywhere, deserve peace, freedom, security, and national self-determination. This will be natural middle way, win-win work for Episcopalians and Anglicans as we pray and work for the peace of Jerusalem in the name of the Prince of Peace.