I write this post on the eve of the commemoration of the Six Day War of June 1967, which was a turning point in my life and the life of the State of Israel. On the one hand, I thought that the victory in this war prevented a major catastrophe in Israel. I remember well the period of waiting before the war, in which people were digging mass graves in Tel Aviv, in case of a defeat. There was existential fear in the Jewish community of Israel at that time. On the other hand, there were missed opportunities after that war to trade land for peace, which was the policy of the Labor government for a while. Instead, the State of Israel has occupied the West Bank for 56 years, with no end in sight, and no commitment anymore to peace talks with the Palestinian people. Too many people have been killed on both sides of the conflict during all this time.
On Israeli Memorial Day last month, I attended the annual Israeli-Palestinian joint commemoration (hosted by Combatants for Peace and the Parents Circle-Families Forum, as I have done in recent years. Before the Covid pandemic, I attended this event in-person several times in the Tel Aviv area.
At the end of the ceremony this year, as in past years, a joint Israeli-Palestinian women’s choir sang the contemporary haunting song entitled “Chad Gadya” which has become almost an anthem of this annual event.
Based on the well-known Pesach melody, the song was written to be a protest song in the light of the ongoing violence and counter-violence of the second intifada 1987-1993) and the ongoing war in Lebanon (which lasted from 1982-1999). It was written by the famous Israeli songwriter and singer Hava Alberstein in 1989. Since then, it has become one of the most famous anti-war songs in contemporary Israeli memory.
These are the words that have stayed with me since I heard them at the ceremony again this year:
Spring has not come yet, Passover isn’t here
what has changed for you? what has changed?
I myself have changed this year.
And on all nights, on all nights
I have asked only four questions,
Tonight, I have another question:
How long will the cycle of horror last?
Hunter and hunted, beater and beaten
When will this madness stop?
I think of these words almost every day, especially since the cycle of violence and counter-violence has spiked in our region in recent months. It continues to affect Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs in Israel and Palestine alike.
Palestinian terrorists murder innocent Israeli Jews in their cars and on the streets as revenge for attacks upon their people every day, not to mention humiliations of the Occupation and the arrests of hundreds of young men who are then kept in administrative detention for months or years. Israeli Jewish settlers in the West Bank take revenge and attack innocent Palestinians in their villages and in their olive groves, which they also vandalize often by cutting down hundreds of those beautiful historic trees, just for spite or revenge.
When indeed will this madness stop?
Does either the Israeli government or the Palestinian government do anything meaningful to stop this horrible and hopeless cycle of violence ?
Unfortunately, the answer is no.
The Palestinian government is too weak to control the militant groups which have developed in certain cities in the West Bank in recent years, which have fallen under the influence of rejectionist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These groups are contesting the Israeli Defense Forces all the time, with many casualties but with a growing sense of independence, daring and power. They don’t show any signs of giving up soon.
On the other hand, the current Israeli extremist government promotes ongoing violence and occupation forever as explicit official policies. They offer no horizon of peace, neither for themselves nor for the Palestinians. On the contrary, they only see the path of war and domination of another people. Between the army and the settlers (who now run the government of Israel, especially its policies in the Wild West, known otherwise as the West Bank, or as they prefer to call it “Judea and Samaria”, as if we are living in biblical times), violence is the way of the lords of the land. Every day there is more killing of suspected terrorists as well as innocent civilians. And more arrests and raids of homes in the middle of the night, which only create more humiliation, harm and despair and desire for revenge.
How can this cycle of violence be broken?
One thing is for sure: more military force will not do it. Demolition of homes will not help—this will only create more desire for vengeance? So, there must be another way.
Actually, the other way is quite clear. Only a serious and resolute peace process will end the violence. Only a process with firm security guarantees for both peoples—the Israeli Jewish people and the Palestinian people—can convince protagonists on both sides of the conflict to stop the madness.
So, why doesn’t it happen, you ask? The answer: the current “leadership” on both sides is failing their people! They have only self-interest in mind. Or they are afraid of their own extremist flanks. Bibi is beholden to Ben Gvir and Smotrich, to whom he has ceded control of the West Bank. He only cares about his own trial and his own political survival. On the Palestinian side, Mahmoud Abbas is afraid of everyone—his own people, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al Aksa Brigades (Fatah). He is a weak and unstable president in a very weak political structure.
However, these current political leaders will not last forever. They too will at some point be replaced by others.
What is clearly needed is bold, daring, creative, committed new leadership on both sides who will see the light and understand that this current madness cannot go on forever. While I agree that this is not very likely in the very near future, for the long run I believe that this is the only hope we have.
In the meantime, we are in the midst of what I call “political despair”. Most people on both sides of the conflict do not see that their current political leaders have any real desire or plans to resolve the conflict. While this is a very frustrating situation, it is important that we not lose hope in the possibility of peace, despite the intractable nature of the conflict at the moment.
We can be bolstered by contemporary history. There have been other long and bloody conflicts which were seemingly impossible to resolve but nevertheless did come to an end. Apartheid ended in South Africa, wars in the Balkans have ended, and the decades long conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland came to an end with the “Good Friday” Agreement of April 1998. All of these conflicts ended even though many of the people involved in them thought that they would go on forever. Accordingly, we must not say that our conflict is destined to go on without end; on the contrary, we must continue to believe and act so that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can become a reality, for the mutual benefit of both peoples.
We need to send a clear and urgent message to the current “leaders” of Israel—who are engaged in a “judicial revolution” in order to carry out their anti-peace ideas of annexation and “Occupation Forever”– and the leaders Palestine, who all too often encourage and support terror and rejectionism: Enough of the madness! Enough of the senseless cycle of violence and counterviolence. It is high time to find an alternative path.