by Logan Bayroff, Special Assistant to the President, J Street

Zakaria, Mohamed, Ismail and Ahed Bakr decided to go to the beach yesterday.

Their parents did not want these young pre-teens to leave the house. They feared for their lives, as so many Palestinian and Israeli parents fear for the lives of their children at the moment. In response to the ongoing Hamas rocket attacks raining down on Israel, the aerial and naval bombardment from the IDF has made the densely populated Gaza Strip an extremely dangerous place to be. Already, the boys’ parents had kept their four kids cooped up inside for nine days, taking shelter from the strikes. The boys had had enough. Like all little boys, they wanted to get out and play.

I now know the names and stories of these four boys only because their playtime at the beach ended in death and destruction. All four Bakr boys died when they were hit by fire from an Israeli ship just offshore. Even as I mourn each of their lost lives as a unique tragedy, I recognize that they are far from the first innocent children to die in the latest round of this tragic conflict. Sadly, they’re already not even the latest.

All children – Palestinian and Israeli alike – should be able to live safe and secure lives, sleeping soundly in their own homes and playing soccer on their own beaches. Their parents and uncles and sisters and cousins should be able to do so too. We in the American Jewish community expect and demand these rights for Israelis. But our commitment to peace and security is hollow unless we are equally loud in demanding them for the Palestinians as well. All of us must call on our leaders to ensure that these rights are enshrined and protected for both peoples.

The unending appreciation and relief I have felt for the miracle of the Iron Dome system and for the security of Israel’s extensive network of bomb shelters over the last 10 days is matched only by my worry and fear for the innocent Palestinian civilians who have no such protections in Gaza. Hamas’ intent to kill civilians is well-documented, appalling, and inexcusable. While I deplore their actions, I also realize that there is no military solution to the conflict. It can only be ended by finally addressing the reality of Israel’s 47-year rule over millions of Palestinians, as well as Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist.

Every day this conflict continues is another day in which Palestinians and Israelis live in fear and terror. I hope and pray that whichever responsible leaders remain on both sides are doing everything they can to bring this violence to an immediate end. Zakaria, Mohamed, Ismail, and Ahed had so much to offer the world. So do all the innocent children of Israel and Palestine. And they deserve better.