I pray for innocent Palestinians as Hamas terrorists intentionally and cynically use them as civilian shields. Their nightmare reality is that when Israel is forced to defend itself (and every nation has a moral obligation to defend their citizens when rockets are being fired at their civilians), tragedy happens despite deeply careful efforts to reduce civilian casualties. The fact that the responsibility for their loss of life is in the hands of Hamas and other terrorists does not take away the horror or pain of their loss of life. This is especially true now as it is a holy time for Muslims.
I have family and friends who are in bomb shelters in Israel. I pray for them too. Literally thousands of rockets have been fired at Israel this week alone. Thank goodness that Iron Dome can do so much to save lives. But still, it can’t do it all, and people are dying. The mental health of all Israelis — 20 percent of whom are not Jewish — is under strain as they are literally under rocket attack and their lives are at risk. So too that of people in Gaza.
I am not a fan of some Israeli policies or extremists. But Israel deserves to survive. So too its residents, including two Arab Israelis who were slaughtered by the horrific rockets from Gaza this week. I mourn for them and the others who have died.
The history is complicated and no side has completely clean hands. However, the majority of Israelis want peace. The policy for decades was a push for Israelis and Palestinians to live side by side in peace.
I got to work with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak who worked so hard for a two-state solution. He, working with President Clinton and others, was so close to success. But Arafat knew that peacemakers like Egypt’s Sadat, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Rabin had each been assassinated by extremists within for making peace. Arafat wasn’t going to take risks. He accepted a Nobel Peace Prize – but rejected actual peace.
Still, Israeli leaders kept working to create peace.
When there was no partner for a two-state solution, then Israeli PM Sharon decided to act unilaterally with a bold unilateral move to withdraw from Gaza. It was then implemented by Israeli PM Olmert after Sharon had a stroke.
Time and again people around the world said that the conflict was caused by Jewish settlers and that the settlers needed to go. Israeli leaders decided all the Jews in Gaza needed to leave. Trust me, the Jews living in Gaza didn’t want to go.
In 2005, I was in Gaza personally and saw with my own eyes how the Israeli government forced the Jews (who the world called “settlers”) who lived there to leave their homes, jobs, synagogues, schools and more so that Palestinians could have a jumpstart to their own state. This was highly controversial. Israeli soldiers had to drag Jews from their homes and communities. Even deceased Jews buried in Gaza were dug up as cemeteries were moved so that not a single Jew – alive or dead – was in Gaza.
Then, due to generous donors, a huge number of greenhouses with plants and agro-industry were also donated to Palestinians. But Palestinians destroyed them and also destroyed more offers for peace. More and more rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israeli towns including Sderot and other areas — intentionally targeting innocent people. People died.
Settlers and settlements in Gaza didn’t cause the attacks on Israel – the determination of Hamas (whose official charter calls for killing Jews) to fully eliminate Israel did.
I was personally on the sidelines of the Annapolis peace talks when then Israeli Prime Minister Olmert offered Palestinians so much. However, tragically, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, like Arafat before him, said no. It was heartbreaking as Abbas could have gone home to create and celebrate a new nation, but instead rejected the opportunities that were in his hands.
Former Israeli PM and President Shimon Peres did so much for peace. He kept trying and trying until he died. Former Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad also wanted peace. But Abbas and others kept saying no to Israeli offer after offer.
With all the rejections, many Israeli voters saw that they didn’t have a partner for peace. The right has grown in Israel which is partially why Netanyahu has been in power for so long. And yes, many Jews (like other groups) do long for their homelands.
These issues are very complicated. I went to the Middle East dozens of times to work on them. I met with Israeli leaders and with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah and other areas. I went to Gaza. I brought dozens of Ambassadors from around the world to the Middle East to meet with top Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Nine years ago, I had to stop my work on Israeli-Palestinian issues as my family needed me closer to home and I frankly was burned out. I am very proud now to work on disability issues. Still, my heart is with the people who are trying to make this all work and have a happy ending. It is the ultimate marathon.
I pray that this conflict will end soon. May there be a two-state solution and a better future for all soon. But don’t think this is a situation where a simple slogan or finger-pointing solves things. It will take hard work and people who want to do that work.
I am deeply grateful for those who are willing to build bridges, defend innocent people, and do the hard work.