For as long as I can recall, one of the motives behind insisting on a demilitarized West Bank during peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, is because “we have to be absolutely sure” who our partner is on the other side. We cannot make peace with an entity that shakes our hand one day and launches shoulder fired rockets the next. Especially when said rockets can reach Ben Gurion Airport.
That exact location and the chance of terror hitting that place is an existential fear for all Israelis. The Tel Aviv airport is a fortress that reminds me of The Tower of London meets Fort Knox. But that space was violated last week when Hamas rockets reached the general vicinity of the airport, albeit with little precision. Still, the damage was done. United, American and Delta Airlines, three US based carriers that all offer daily non-stops to Israel from locations including Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, cancelled their service last week out of an abundance of precaution while Hamas fired rockets were flying and landing aimlessly throughout the heartland of Israel.
Etihad and Fly Dubai, the latest travel fruits of the Abraham Accords followed suit, though it is unknown if that was done out of safety concerns or in solidarity with Palestinians.
Once terrorists and their missiles can reach the airport and cripple incoming and outgoing travel and hold tourism and ports hostage by rocket fire, the worst fears of Israelis are actualized. The rocket never needs to leave the shoulder launcher to wreak its havoc. All we need to know is the rockets are there, and they can be shot when we are least suspecting. Hamas aiming in the direction of the airport was no accident. It was only luck and poor precision coupled with Iron Dome that made sure no rockets landed on the tarmac.
The Tel Aviv airport closing temporarily because of Hamas rockets and those flights being cancelled is a worst fear of security vulnerability, which was sadly realized this week in Israel.
The ardent and religious in the Muslim Middle East is up at night over fears that “the Israelis are tunneling underneath Al Aqsa in an attempt to take it from us.” The existential fear for many religious Palestinians is that Israel will soon look to conquer and claim sovereignty over the area of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa, and this holy site will be lost to the Muslim world and be under full rule of the State of Israel. Fears like this are given fuel when political officials flaunt their access to the site, when religious Jews insist on sneaking up to the site to engage in public prayer and when other extremists claim and publish their intentions of making Israel Muslim-rein.
This year Ramadan and Jerusalem Reunification Day coincided, a phenomenon that happens about once every twelve years. When that occurred, passionate Zionists along with fanatical zealots unwisely thought it would be satisfying to march down the narrow corridors of the Arab quarter of the Old City toward the sacred Mosque and other holy sites while draped in Israeli flags and chanting all types of tropes about Jewish land and destiny. They were thoughtless to the fueling of fears their actions would cause and the power these actions would give to false narratives. If they were not thoughtless, then they were proudly instigating. The IDF choosing to deny access to those sites on the sacred beginning days of Ramadan made the tense matter even worse. Ramadan is a sacred month for Muslims. Every opportunity for each who desires to pray and commemorate this holy time, should be afforded in the space needed.
Stoking these fears on both sides is tantamount to pouring gasoline on a campfire that we think might be out, but really has embers and coals that are aglow beneath the surface. That accelerant will cause the seemingly quiet pit of wood to erupt in flames and cause everyone to jump back and say, “No. That fire of anger and hatred was not out at all. It is still burning strongly beneath the surface.”
One of the experts I turn to in Israel related diplomacy has long proclaimed that peace will only arrive when each party is able to see the other side and know what they need, and then provide for them to better allay their fears. For Israelis, it is about providing unwavering security guarantees at all costs, and a cessation of all future claims of land. For Palestinians, it is about not having to wake up in fear of losing their home and the ability to establish a place to call their national country. Both are reasonable yet, they have been unachievable.
For these dreams to become reality, both sides need to demonstrate empathy. Not the kind of empathy that only asks for compassion on victimhood, but understanding for the real life, and existential challenges the other side faces daily. Only then can we ever make sure that this fire is really extinguished, and no lighter fluid will bring it back to life. May that happen soon. We have all waited long enough!