Letter: Can There Still be Peace in the Middle East?

Dear Editor,

In this time of celebrations, joy, glad tidings and “Peace on Earth”, there are two parts of the world where the horrors of conflict, hate and mind-numbing catastrophe are overwhelming any efforts by those individuals who hope for better days. One place, of course, is Ukraine where a war of nearly two years has fallen into a stalemate resembling the Western front of World War I.

And the other place is Israel. On Oct. 7 Hamas, which had gained control of Gaza (with the help of the Israeli government, it should be noted), launched an attack on Israel that started with the launch of 3,000 rockets. The incursion into Israeli territory resulted in 1,139 deaths and the taking of approximately 250 hostages, including 30 children. There were reports of rape and sexual assault, which Hamas had denied.

Israel established a War Cabinet on Oct. 12 and launched a large-scale invasion on Oct. 27. A complete blockage of Gaza was implemented, which immediately caused a shortage of fuel, food, medical supplies, water, and electricity. There are widespread outbreaks of disease. Bombardments have caused catastrophic damage to Gaza’s infrastructure with a death toll that now surpasses 22,000. Of this toll, approximately 70% are women and children.

Will this turn into another type of “stalemate” with mounting death tolls fueling hatred and animosity to Biblical proportions? Is it too late to maintain communication and cooperation in the hope that there will be some kind of peaceful outcome? There have been numerous outbreaks of war and periods of violent instability since the creation of Israel in 1948, but the efforts to bring about some kind of resolution and understanding have also been there for decades and are deserving of greater public knowledge.  

One such group is the Arab-Jewish Partnership Guard. “We are trying to send a message — not just to the local community but to the whole world — that there are people who want to come together and reject the violence that we are seeing,” said Amir Badran, who is Arab.  

Standing Together is another grassroots movement of Israelis and Arabs: “The future that we want — peace and independence for Israelis and Palestinians, full equality for all citizens, and true social, economic, and environmental justice — is possible. Because where there is struggle, there is hope.”

A very specific group is called Rabbi’s for Human Rights. It was formed in 1988 in response to the contraventions of human rights taking place in the Occupied territories. Their reading of Judaism compels them “to defend the weak and the downtrodden in society regardless of race, religion, affiliation or orientation. We strive to live in an Israel true to the call of the prophets of old, and the spirit of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.”  

A very recent effort saw a number of rabbi’s form a human shield to protect the Palestinian olive groves from the incursions of West Bank settlers. Yesh Din (Volunteers for Human Rights) is an organization established in 2005. Its purpose is “to protect the human rights of Palestinians living under Israeli armed forces’ occupation. We view the occupation as a main source of the violation of human rights and therefore seek to end it.”

Machsom Watch, formed in 2001, documents abuses of Palestinian civil rights in the West Bank. “We have all experienced the rounds of violence. Time and time again it is evident that there is no military solution to this conflict, nor can there ever be one. The only way to stop the bloodshed is a political agreement that will guarantee security, justice, and freedom for both nations. There are no winners in war. Only peace will bring security.” 

On March 16, 2003, a 23-year-old activist by the name of Rachel Corrie was crushed to death in Gaza trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Rafah. Rachel’s journals and emails from her time in Palestine are available in a variety of forms. Craig and Cindy Corries, Rachel’s parents, have been instrumental in creating a foundation in her name based in Olympia, Washington. 

Some of their efforts involve creating a lifeline for Palestinian students in the U.S. and sponsoring a number of Arab Festivals. One of the more inspiring projects was the creation of a Unity Field not far from the place where Rachel was killed and where a Ramadan football tournament has been established. The tournament organizers have also worked to create a Tournament for Athletes With Disabilities. A Palestinian Cultural Palace was also created, although this was bombed by an Israeli missile attack in 2018.

Parents Circle Family Forum is made up of individuals who have lost a loved one in the various conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis. This year Pax Christi International has awarded this group the Pax Christi International Peace Award. Women in Black is an anti-war movement started in Jerusalem in 1988, which started in response to what they considered serious human rights violations by Israeli soldiers in the Occupied Territories.

Yesh Gvul (translated as “There is a limit” or “Enough is enough”) was formed by combat veterans in 1982 that refused to fight in the Lebanon war. They also oppose military service in the Occupied Territories. Shared Society in Israel has been in existence for over 25 years. To build a shared society the Foundation primarily focuses on the development of integrated, bilingual public education for Jewish and Arab children in Israel.

The Wikipedia entry for “Arab-Israeli Peace Projects” is an incredible resource that lists close to 40 projects or initiatives of one type or another to foster cooperation and understanding in this part of the world. The creativity and scope of many of these projects is absolutely astounding.  

Economic efforts include Joint Industrial Parks, Valley of Peace Initiative, the Red-Dead Project (aimed to address the shortage of fresh water in Jordan), and the Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce. Policy groups include the Alliance for Middle East Peace, EcoPeace Middle East (focus is the environment), and the Peres Center for Peace.  

In the category of “Co-existence Foundations” (once again from Wikipedia) there are these groups: “Ali Abu Awwad is a Palestinian activist and pacifist. He is the founder of Al Tariq (The Way) and a member of the Bereaved Families Forum, and tours the world together with Robi Damelin, a Jewish woman whose son was killed by a Palestinian sniper. They hope to encourage dialogue and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis. Their life and work has been featured in two award-winning films, Encounter Point and Forbidden Childhood.  

Another such group is Seeds of Peace, founded in 1993, which runs a Peace Camp in Otisfield, Maine. The camp brings together emerging young leaders and educators from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt. Another such group with a similar mission is a UK-based group called Children of Peace.  

Scientists have a specific group entitled the Israeli-Palestinian Science Organization.  NeuroBridges started in 2014 and is specifically for neuroscientists from Israel and Palestine. There is a musical effort worth noting: the West-Eastern Divan, founded in 1998 by Israeli-Argentinian pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim and Palestinian-American author Edward Said. The principal activity is an orchestra composed primarily of young Israeli and Arab musicians. They have performed all over the world. If you think that there is no room for comedy, you are wrong. Comedy for Peace is the brainchild of Ray Hanania, a Palestinian-American standup comic who is married to a Jewish woman.

Both the U.S. and Israel are nations in the throes of political turmoil. As tumultuous as our presidential elections promise to be, the legislative turmoil of the newly formed government under Netanyahu last December was one that sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. 

Facing a judicial reckoning for corruption, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu formed a coalition government with two of the right-wing extremist parties in the Knessnet. Relations with Arabs and Palestinians living within the confines of the Israeli state, which had been getting more and more fraught, kept sinking even further into a potential explosion. By summer of this year the American government was remarking that a “vacuum of extremism” was being created in the Occupied Territories.  

In July, departing US Ambassador Thomas Nides feared that the Israeli government was “going off the rails,” especially with the judicial overhaul being implemented by the newly formed government. This judicial overhaul brought thousands of Israeli citizens out in the street for weeks on end. 

One of these parties is Otzma Yehudit “Jewish Power,” whose leading figure, Itamar Ben Gvir, was given significant authority in the new government as head of the newly created National Security Ministry. He has faced charges of hate speech against Arabs and of supporting a number of Jewish terrorist organizations. He has called for the expulsion of Arab citizens of Israel who are not loyal to Israel. Israeli sociologist Eva Illouz has said Ben Gvir represents “Jewish fascism.”  

Besalel Smotrich, of the Religious Zionist Party, has become Finance minister. According to Wikipedia “he is a supporter of expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank, opposes Palestinian statehood, and denies the existence of the Palestinian people.” He has recently advocated for the resettlement of Gaza by Israelis.  

Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu is the one who suggested that a nuclear bomb might be one way to end the war in Gaza. [At least Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is no longer a guarded secret.] Netanyahu suspended him “indefinitely” from cabinet meetings, but he was still able to participate remotely. He has called for the execution of Palestinian prisoners and that Israel should take complete control of the Gaza strip. He has stated that the Gazans can go to Ireland or to deserts, a remark that did not sit well with the Irish. In regard to his opposition to humanitarian aid going to Gaza, he remarked, “You would not send such aid to the Nazi’s, would you?”

There are numerous questions that need to be answered regarding what has happened in Israel over the last year, and especially since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. How has Israel ended up with such an extremist government? Will Netanyahu ever be forced to stand trial for breach of trust, fraud and bribery?  

If the government of Israel knew of plans by Hamas to launch a major attack, why were these reports dismissed? Why were the Israeli defense forces in such a state of chaos on Oct. 7? Did Hamas launch its attacks to potentially thwart normalized relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia? Will the elimination of Hamas really take months? When Hamas is eliminated, what is the future of Gaza?  

Why does anti-Semitism only refer to Jews [Semites refer to anyone speaking a Semitic language, which includes Jews and Arabs]. Why is the number of journalists killed in Gaza up to 68? Are the claims of genocide regarding Israeli treatment of the Palestinians legitimate? (South Africa has brought this claim to the World Court.)  

Did Israel use white phosphorus in its shelling of Southern Lebanon contrary to international law? After supplying Israel with $136 billion in foreign aid (mostly for defense), is Israel that much safer and secure? [Israel is the largest recipient of foreign aid from the U.S.] Is this foreign aid another subsidy for the military-industrial complex? How did Biden bypass Congress to supply more military aid to Israel but couldn’t do this for Ukraine? Should this aid come with any conditions?  

Perhaps a more important and existential question is taken from the Israeli Declaration of Independence from 1948. After stating that the State of Israel will be open to all Jews from all over the world, there is this.  

“It will be based on the ideas of liberty, justice, and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets. It will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed, or sex. It will guarantee full freedom of worship, education and culture.”  

Would the extreme elements of the Knesset please explain how this ideal is being applied to the Palestinians?


Ed Nizalowski

Newark Valley, N.Y.

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