We’ve recently returned from a week with a J Street delegation in Israel in the midst of the fiercest fighting between Israelis and Palestinians in many years. Our trip was undertaken as an expression of solidarity with the Israeli people, Palestinian civilians, and the peace camps in both societies. Our time on the ground confirmed what we all know: Israelis and Palestinians, alike, want the same thing that we all want. They want a secure home and a life of dignity. They want to wake up in the morning, go to work, and at the end of the day to come home to their families. During our week in Israel we saw and heard up close the terrible price this age-old conflict has inflicted.
We visited Sderot where the residents have been bombarded with rockets from Gaza for years on end. We paid a condolence call to the family of one of the 64 soldiers Israel lost in this latest round of violence. We visited wounded soldiers at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheva. We met with Palestinians who have experienced the brutality of the occupation and Skyped with a Gazan who described his life in a war zone, where over 1,800 Palestinians have lost their lives. We sat in the bereavement tent of the Parents Circle-Families Forum, a group of Israelis and Palestinians who have lost family members in the seemingly never ending cycle of violence. Each of these people and so many more have paid dearly for the inability to end this thing they call the conflict.
Like many in the American Jewish community, members of our delegation have family and friends in Israel. We’ve spent significant time in Israel, we speak Hebrew, we’ve worked and studied in Israel, we’ve visited the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and we’ve experienced the conflict in Israel. If there is one thing we’ve collectively learned, it’s that resolving this conflict will be difficult. Illusions of an easy peace have a way of yielding to the hard earned experience of bitter disappointment. But we also know this – there is no military solution to this conflict. Israel has now fought four wars in Gaza since 2006, and it should be clear to all that there is no knockout blow coming. Instead, as the conflict festers, we are promised only more pain and more suffering. It is the height of naïveté to think Israel can continue managing its conflicts with the Palestinian people militarily, rather than making the painful compromises necessary to achieve a durable peace.
We have returned to Chicago only to sense the despair in our community. The idea has taken hold that this is how things are and must be. Blame stands in the place of action. Israeli author David Grossman, who lost his own son during the last days of the Second Lebanon War, however, reminds us that we “cannot afford the luxury of despair.” The very ethos of Zionism is that the Jewish people, as a sovereign nation, will control their own destiny. With a two-state solution – the only realistic way to resolve the conflict – hanging in the balance, it is no answer to point fingers and say that things could have been different but for our enemies. Such thinking cedes to our very real adversaries the victory they seek.
There is a way forward and we all know what it looks like. It is a secure and democratic Israel living next to an independent Palestinian state, along the 1967 borders, with mutually agreed land swaps. It also includes a shared Jerusalem, where the Jewish neighborhoods remain under Israeli sovereignty as its eternal capital, and the Palestinian areas of Jerusalem become the capital a Palestinian state.
It would be easy, perhaps comforting to some, at this moment to resort to the intransigence of past positions, holding out this latest war as evidence that peace is not possible. It certainly does not take much imagination. That script already exists and everyone knows his or her part. What takes strength and vision is to see past this war, to recognize the humanity in the other, and to demand a political solution to this conflict.
We’ve gotten a glimpse of the human cost of continued enmity. And it is the steep price of death and mourning, of wounded soldiers and civilians, and of the suffering of families we will never know that informs the urgent need to move beyond our despair and to restart the long and hard path toward peace.
Richard M. Goldwasser, Samuel G. Kramer, Flora Lazar, and Mark Zivin live in Chicago, Highland Park, and Evanston, and were delegates on the recent J Street mission to Israel.