Dear President Abbas,
I was in the audience on Monday evening when you spoke at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. I must admit that the news of your appearance sent shockwaves through the Cooper Union and New York University Jewish student community (the two schools are in close proximity to each other). Some called for students to protest your appearance, while others thought it best to attend and hear what you had to say. As a student, I believe nothing in the world can be accomplished without speaking and listening.
“I come today to pledge to create the new peaceful State of Palestine. I come here to ask you to rethink Palestine,” you said at the beginning of your speech. You said that ISIS and Al Qaeda are not faithful Muslims and that you want to end discrimination against women in the Arab world. These are excellent points and I am sure that most would agree with you.
You then began to discuss the Palestinians’ relationship with Israel. You said, “My people in Gaza live under siege by Israel.” President Abbas, your people in Gaza are not living under siege by Israel. They are living under siege by Hamas, a terrorist organization which shares similar ideology with ISIS, who you previously said are not faithful Muslims. Can you please explain why the organization, with which you formed a unity government in June, authorized the reckless kidnapping (which led to the murder) of three innocent Israeli teenagers 10 days later? The Israeli army withdrew from Gaza unilaterally in 2005. There is an Israeli military presence on the border with Gaza (there are military presences on many international borders) because Hamas is an internationally recognized terrorist organization, which calls for the destruction of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
This past summer, Hamas launched thousands of rockets into Israel (and some into the Gaza Strip which failed to reach Israel). In response, Israel bombed parts of the Gaza Strip where Hamas was storing rockets and where terrorists were hiding but took extreme caution to limit civilian casualties. Some of these locations included United Nations schools and civilian houses. Who dares to store rockets in schools and intentionally involve civilians in war? Hamas does. President Abbas, I urge you to tackle Hamas. If you took on Hamas and eliminated their terror inducing devices, then the quality of life for the people in the Gaza Strip (not to mention many Israelis) would improve dramatically. Since the method of condemning Israel does not seem to be working, maybe you should try condemning Hamas instead.
At this critical juncture in the history of the Israeli and Palestinian people, I believe, as you mentioned, that the seeds of peace have been planted. No example demonstrates this notion more than the fact that there were minimal visible protests against your visit outside of Cooper Union’s Great Hall. Jews and Muslims alike sat with other students and residents of New York City to hear what you had to say because they believe in peace.
President Abbas, you were a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization when it was an internationally recognized terrorist group. But, as you mentioned in your conclusion, “We have all made mistakes.” Please make no more mistakes. It is not worth another family’s pain to see their loved ones suffer on either side. You mentioned the Eighth Commandment, which prohibits stealing. While there are elements for the Israeli government to improve upon, I call on you to not steal an opportunity from your people to have peace.
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, begins on Wednesday night. Jews all over the world, including within Israel, will be looking inward to try to better themselves in an effort to better the world. President Abbas, look inward at your own people and ask how, as a group, you can better yourselves. Israelis and Palestinians can achieve incredible heights when they work together. I hope you can work with Israel to build a strong future and strive towards a peaceful co-existence so that the world can rethink the relationship between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
My best wishes on your quest to ensure peace in the Middle East.
Joshua Z. Lavine