Warning - political-religious rant. Come back tomorrow for something lighter.
You have been warned.
A while back in this space, I offered a plan for peace in the Middle East that basically involved walling off the entire area, filling it up with sand, and starting over. It was tongue-in-cheek, of course, but - as I pointed out at the time - it was at least as workable as any other plan anyone has offered to bring peace to that tortured part of the world.
Today, as the political crisis and horrifying slaughter continue in Gaza, I have to reluctantly fall back on my plan as the only one that will ever work.
The problem with the Middle East is that it combines the very best of the very worst in human nature: intense and utterly rigid religious beliefs, irreconcilable political demands, and the presence of a resource (oil) that the world needs and wants. Each side has a claim to the same territory, each side believes their claim is just and all others are illegitimate, each side believes God gave that plot of land only to them, and each side believes that it must deal from a position of unquestioned strength in order to prevail. If ever there was a witches' brew of political, historical, and religious hatreds, it's in what we for some reason continue to refer to as the "Holy Land."
The Israelis contend that they are entitled to a homeland in what used to be called Palestine, and cite both religious history and modern politics (such as the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the 1947 UN resolution partitioning Palestine) as proof of their claim. They point to their sufferings in the Holocaust as a reason why they need a nation that is their own, that they can defend, where they will be safe.
Many Arabs despise the Israelis (Jews) on religious grounds and will never rest in their hatred until the Jews have been driven from the land. Others contend, logically enough, that perhaps the Jews do deserve a homeland as a result of the Holocaust, but that it should be carved out of Europe, where the Holocaust took place, not out of Palestine.
Good luck reconciling all those positions.
The Palestinians don't trust the Israelis. The Israelis don't trust the Palestinians. The Palestinians have earned a reputation for violence that makes much of the world indifferent to their plight, while the Israelis have earned a reputation for intransigence and heavy-handed violence that often undermines their desired image as a plucky little democracy under siege.
Regardless of who you blame for all the historical events that led to today's situation, I absolutely believe the leaders of Hamas bear the ultimate responsibility for the current ongoing carnage. They launched salvos of rockets at Israel in the certain knowledge that the Israelis would retaliate with full force. They chose to launch those rockets from the densely populated Gaza Strip, knowing full well that any Israeli retaliation would kill large numbers of innocent Palestinians. That didn't matter. All that mattered was their hatred of the Israelis. The fact that innocent Gazan Palestinians would be caught in the crossfire was fine with them, because they would be able to show endless photos of devastated neighborhoods and dead children as "proof" that the Israelis were at fault.
I am not an apologist for Israel. I think that the Israelis have brought much of the hatred of the local population on themselves by their actions and policies. But at some point, people on both sides with brains and hearts have to step back and say yes, I may hate you, but enough is enough.
The Palestinians must accept that, however unjust in the beginning and however bitter now, the state of Israel is a reality on the ground. The Israelis will never be rocketed or suicide-bombed into leaving. Such actions will only continue the cycle of violence. They need to stop dreaming of an idyllic past that will not return, and start concentrating on building a future for their children and grandchildren. When Israel withdrew from Gaza, it left behind a territory with an established infrastructure that could have been developed into a thriving center of commerce and tourism. Instead, hard-core Palestinian elements - driven by hatred rather than focused on building for the future - turned it into a constant battleground. Their callous indifference to the well-being of their own people deserves the condemnation of people of good will everywhere.
The Israelis, for their part, must accept that creation of their state resulted in dislocation and hardship for thousands of people who were already living there. They cannot destroy Hamas and the even more extreme groups any more than those groups can destroy the state of Israel. They must stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank, withdraw from that territory as they did from Gaza, and work with the Palestinians to help build a functioning state that can eventually become a partner for development in the region. Given the established hatreds, this will be no easy task, but the alternative is endless repetitions of the same misery and bloodshed.
Regardless of what each side believes, both are at fault.