Word on the Street: Difficult Questions and Hard Truths

August 8th, 2014

By Jeremy Ben-Ami

For 72 hours, the guns, rockets and bombs fell silent, and the people of Gaza and southern Israel finally had a brief respite from the horrific violence of the past month.

With the resumption of rocket fire from Gaza at the very moment the cease-fire expired this morning, all of us at J Street feel sick that the fighting is starting up again. How can it be that more people – whether innocent civilians in Gaza or Israeli soldiers – have to die? Why can’t the leaders chart a path that ends this nightmare?

The pain and anguish of the past weeks have been beyond belief for all who care about the Israeli and Palestinian people. To see the tragic look in the eyes of a father who has lost his whole family, to hear about four children killed on the beach while playing, schools serving as shelters bombed and young teens kidnapped and murdered - these weeks have been as tragic as anything we’ve experienced in the six years J Street has worked for the resolution of this conflict.

Rather than let the horror and the anguish tear us apart or our anger fuel the flames of hatred, we have to turn our emotions into energy that helps bring this conflict to an end.

International negotiators are still working feverishly to renew the ceasefire, and we urge them to act quickly to prevent a return to open conflict. Even if a ceasefire is hopefully reached, we’ll tragically find ourselves in another round of violence in two years (or less) if efforts fail to start addressing the roots of this awful conflict.

We must not let that happen.

Getting to the roots of this conflict means that we – as friends of Israel – have to put forward some hard truths that have become even clearer over the past month:

  • Keeping the Palestinian people locked up under near-total blockade or occupation only strengthens extremists like Hamas, undermines moderate partners like President Abbas, and increases the threat to Israel rather than making it more secure.
  • When members of Israel’s sitting government openly oppose the two-state solution, spout racism, and promote ideas that undermine Israel’s democratic fabric, it’s hard to view this government as a credible partner for a real and substantial peace.
  • The Israeli government should pay more heed to the advice of its friends in the White House and the State Department and at a minimum should show them the respect that the country’s closest ally deserves.
  • Failure to solve this conflict is eating away at support for Israel around the world, damaging the country’s legitimacy and, in some cases, fanning growing flames of anti-Semitism.

The growth and extent of hatred of the other, intolerance and outright racism in our own Jewish community – both in Israel and in the United States – is frightening. It needs to be addressed directly and combated seriously by our community’s leaders here and in Israel.

For all these reasons, we need a new course forward for the homeland of the Jewish people - one that guarantees Israel’s security in both the short and long-term. One need not come at the expense of the other.

The main points of this new course are outlined in a position paper we’ve just posted on our blog, calling for a focus on conflict resolution, not conflict management.

In it, we urge renewed and proactive American diplomatic leadership to help achieve a comprehensive regional solution to the conflict. We urge American Jewish leaders and institutions to put as much energy into supporting efforts to achieve peace as they have into supporting Israel while at war. And we highlight the need to fight the racism and intolerance that are growing too quickly in Israel and in the American Jewish community.

We’ll be in touch in the days and weeks ahead with specific actions we can all take to advance agenda.

Even when the guns of war fall silent, the occupation continues, and the underlying conflict remains unresolved. Our work for peace – rooted in the two-state solution – must move forward with ever greater urgency.

I look forward to working with you to turn the anger we feel over the events of the past month into productive action toward lasting peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians.