Why are we so ignorant of the past?
Monday 14th May marked another stage in the tragic history of Israeli- Palestinian conflict. At least 58 Palestinians were killed and almost 3000 injured by Israeli defence forces on the West Bank.
This number included more than 200 children and 17 medics who were certainly not trying to invade Israel. The Palestinians have been protesting for the last six weeks, mostly about the building of Israeli settlements on land Palestinians consider their own but Monday’s massacre had a different focus. It was the opening of a new USA Embassy in Jerusalem by Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka. Both nations claim Jerusalem as their capital and hitherto Tel Aviv was where embassies were located.
Any serious analysis of this horrific incident and the long term conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has to take a binary approach. Peaceful protest is perfectly legitimate but allegations that Hamas, a terrorist organisation, was using the protest for its own ends have to be borne in mind. Equally, Israel has a legitimate right to defend its people from terrorist attacks but the scale and intensity of its response seemed to observers to be excessive. Neutral ambassadors accused Israel of using disproportionate force amounting to genocide.
Predictably, the Israeli Prime Minister defended what his troops had done, claiming “every country has a duty to defend its borders”. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described Monday as “one of the most ferocious days our people have seen” He blamed the USA as well as Israel. “Before we were suffering from illegal Israeli settlements. Now it’s another illegal settlement by Israel and the United States.” President Trump congratulated Israel and said the opening of the new Embassy was “a long time coming”.
Friends of Israel remind us frequently that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have fired thousands of missiles from Gaza onto Israeli territory and built numerous tunnels through which their fighters can enter Israel to commit terrorist acts. Even if they recognise that some of the Palestinians are non-violent they believe that Hamas uses them as shields behind whom their terrorists can operate.
What is obviously needed is a peace making process that stops clashes like those on Monday and finds a long term two-state solution. Currently that is impossible because the Israeli Government cannot understand the Palestinian cause and most Palestinians cannot understand the Israeli perspective. Those who can are ignored or silenced by the extremists on their own side. That included even a previous Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a fellow Israeli in 1995.
The USA had a potential role in a peace-making but President Trump almost certainly destroyed that with his foolish decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem. Egypt has influence amongst the Palestinians but not the Israelis. As a genuine neutral, the United Nations has an important role to play but on Tuesday the US blocked a UN motion calling for an investigation into Israel killing the Gaza protesters.
A further obstacle to peace is the physical and political division of Palestine into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The former, which is geographically East Jerusalem, is governed by Fatah, led by President Abbas, whilst the latter is dominated by Hamas. Abbas is seen as a moderate who accepts a two-state solution and is open to a peace process. Hamas is a proscribed terrorist organisation and seeks only the elimination of Israel. Persuading these peoples, especially Hamas, to sit down with Israel in a peace process is currently beyond any would-be mediator. Those who rightly deplore Monday’s massacre and the leaders on both sides responsible for it, have no way of bringing them together to work for peace. If ever there was a need for prayer for God’s merciful and gracious involvement, this is it.