Ceasefire & New Leadership
Heroes in positions of leadership are difficult to find today. Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the United Nations, is one such leader. Recently, he called attention to the horror of war in Gaza and called for an immediate cease-fire. This was seconded by numerous nations at the UN, and vetoed by the United States and Israel, among a small number of other nations.
Mr. Guterres had the courage to state what many of us know. Hamas triggered the current war by slaughtering innocent civilians, and children. This was totally unacceptable. Yet, he notes that it occurs in the context of 50 years of Israel “suffocating Palestinians”. He did not condone terrorism. The Israel right or wrong groups have called for his immediate resignation.
The real question is what Israel hopes to gain by bombing Gaza into the dark ages, or Hamas by randomly killing civilians. Major conflicts in Gaza between the two parties happened in 2009, and 2014. In both cases, fact-finding missions resulted in documented acts of terrorism by both Hamas and Israel.
State of Destruction
Since Israel began its air strikes in Gaza, over 8,500 Palestinians have been killed including approximately 3,000 minors. Over half of the adults who are being killed or at risk voted against Hamas in free elections. Entire neighborhoods and buildings are being bombed into rubble. It is a humanitarian crisis caused by Israeli state terrorism. It may have little or nothing to do with killing terrorists. It has become an automated genocide against civilians. These actions are against international law, as is Hamas taking civilian populations hostage and killing them.
According to Oxfam, a non-governmental organization, starvation is being used as a weapon of war against Gaza civilians. This includes blocked food deliveries and limited supplies of water. A staggering 2.2 million people are in urgent need of food and water. Food as a weapon of compliance is reminiscent of the Kissinger era in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. Kissinger, as Secretary of State under Nixon, made starvation and saturation bombing part of U.S. policy. He is quoted as telling military officials to “kill anything that moves”.
The logic of revenge is being used by both sides: you hurt me, and I, in return, will hurt you, only more. This behavior leads to an endless cycle of punishment, retribution, and recruitment of more terrorists.
Israel’s response is having a radicalizing effect on normally moderate members of the population. A Palestinian mother, whose son died in Gaza, expressed that her son “died defending our home”. There was no mention of Jihad or greater political conflicts. Young Israelis as well have signed up to fight.
Some of my Jewish friends have expressed concern that many groups who normally speak out against social injustice are not speaking out against Hamas. Too many, this feels like a ‘punch in the gut’. Given the circumstances, this sense of betrayal and indignation is understandable. Yet, it easily leads to a sense of more indignation, righteousness, and violence.
Opportunities for Solutions
After the Holocaust, a group of social scientists founded a social institute in Germany to explore how to move forward after entire populations in Germany committed atrocities against Jews. It seemed overwhelming to propose reconciliation and solutions to the fact that 6 million Jews were killed by normally sane Germans.
Dr. Mitscherlich, one of the members, wrote The Inability to Mourn, which explored the need for reflection and mourning to grasp the enormity of what happened. They traded victimization, righteousness, and indignation for analysis, compassion, and collective mourning of events. They gave us the social tools for insight to behave differently, outside of revenge. Humanity increases with compassion, insight, and reconciliation, not reiteration of righteous indignation and violent responses to being wronged.
Desmond Tutu, the South African leader who lived for many years under the pain of apartheid, when asked about Israel, said it was unfortunate that Israel was operating as an apartheid state. He noted that conditions for Palestinians were all too similar to South Africa’s relationship of whites against blacks. He noted that while the ANC (political organization) hotly debated committing violence against whites to change the regime, in the end, it was necessary.
What was different about South Africa, and something that we can apply to this crisis, is that they were able to get beyond mutual hatred and establish a national commitment to implement Truth and Reconciliation committees. This included the establishment of a special court—over and above the Supreme Court —- to provide social and community structures for dialogue, reflection, and healing, as well as to seek mutual affiliations and in some cases legal actions. The terrorist part of the ANC was able to bring Mandela, their leader, out of prison while isolating the more radical factions that continued to call for violence.
The South African model was also applied successfully to address the Rwandan genocide where Hutu militias killed Tutsis. Over 500,000 people who once lived side by side killed each other over 100 days, in 1994. There were long-standing tribal and economic conflicts that were easily fomented into genocide.
U.N. Solution in Administration and On the Ground
Israel may find it difficult to acknowledge that Jews committed terrorism against the British and Palestinians to find the state of Israel. They seem unable to recognize that they once blew up hotels, or executed civilians in hand-to-hand combat, some of whom flew white flags of surrender.
Antonio Guterres deserves our support to stand up against being silenced. He is courageous to face the onslaught of historical ignorance, and power politics of the U.S. and its client state Israel. Hamas will need to be dealt with as terrorists, and isolated by providing Palestinians with rights, respect, and a homeland. We need to put 10,000 UN peacekeepers on the ground and new leaders in positions of authority. They need to stay for a period of five years to help mediate and rebuild Gaza. Funding can take place through Arab and other nations.
In the end, Israel and the U.S. will need to seek a genuine, federated solution to live with peace in the region. As Amos Oz, the renowned Israeli writer once said “It’s not about loving your neighbor, it’s about grin and bear it to survive”.