With family living in Israel and two cousins in the Israeli army, I have been watching the Gaza situation carefully. It is heartbreaking. It is tragic. Innocent people on both sides are suffering. But now is not the time for inflammatory remarks. Now is not the time to callously throw around words like “genocide.” Now is not the time to point fingers at only one side, without taking a critical look at what both sides are doing.
I’m afraid that this only adds fuel to the fire, in a time when we should all be self-critical, to look at the facts on the ground, and call for an end to violence on both sides. At the end of the day, I believe the Palestinian people are suffering the most, but the blame cannot be placed solely on Israel, but on the Hamas leadership as well.
In 2005, my Israeli cousin and friends attended a peace rally that called for withdrawal from Gaza. Israelis believed that the Palestinian people have the right to govern themselves. It was a hopeful time, and was the beginning of the end of the occupation. A year later, my cousin was in the army and was pulling his own Israeli people out of their homes in Gaza. The hope was that this would be the first step toward peace.
Sadly, this did not happen. I remember the shock and dismay Israelis felt when Gazans voted Hamas into power. In July 2006, Hamas leaders issued this statement: “The annihilation of the Jews here in Palestine is one of the most splendid blessings for Palestine. This will be followed by a great blessing, Allah be praised, with the establishment of a Caliphate that will rule the land and will be pleasing to men and God.”
Contrast this with the statement made by Israel’s foreign minister recently: “While confronting Hamas, Israel continues to believe in the two-state solution and remains committed to negotiations with the legitimate Palestinian Authority in the context of the peace process.”
Whose leadership, then, is outwardly calling for genocide?
Since taking power, Hamas has worsened the situation for the Palestinian people. Hundreds of Palestinians have been murdered by fellow Palestinians. In 2007, at least 344 Palestinians were killed by their own people. One wonders why a Palestinian life is worth more when it is taken by Israeli soldiers. Why is there no outrage when Hamas calls for the public to serve as human shields for terrorists as it did earlier this year?
Since the Israeli withdrawal in 2005, about 6,500 rockets have been fired into Israel, largely at
nearby Sderot. Children became used to hearing the alarm and having 15 seconds to run to a shelter. If Mexican terrorists (or worse, the Mexican government) fired an average of 40 rockets on San Diego daily, would the United States not have the right and responsibility to protect her people? The same is true for Israel, which has tried negotiations and waiting for more than two years. But Hamas ended the cease-fire and also now is getting more powerful rockets that reach further into Israel. Israel had no choice but to respond. Every country has a right and obligation to protect its people.
With that being said, I am greatly saddened by the numbers of innocent Palestinians killed. I can assure you the last thing Israel wants is to send her young soldiers into harm’s way, unless absolutely necessary. I can assure you this is not meant to be an attack on Palestinians, but on the terrorist organization that is Hamas. Humanitarian aid, food and ambulances are allowed into Gaza, and I consider it my responsibility as an Israeli and a Jew to hold Israel accountable, and to make sure it does all it can to avoid a humanitarian crisis.
To be honest, I am not sure what the end result will be. I fear that in an attempt to take out the terrorist infrastructure that fires rockets into Israel, that the destruction, trauma and loss of life will only breed more hatred. I am especially concerned for the Palestinian children whose trauma I fear will lead them toward extremism.
In the end, I believe the average person on both sides wants peace. I must believe this to be so. I dream of a time when our people can come together, play sports, travel to each other’s countries and have two states living side by side peacefully. I don’t think this can happen without brave and forward-thinking leadership, willing to do what may be unpopular for the ideal of peace. I pray for the Palestinian people and for my own people in Israel, and I challenge us all to do what we can to quench the fires of misunderstanding and hatred, rather than to fuel them.
It is so easy to blame one side or another. I know our communities and families may do so easily, but we are a generation that believes we can make a difference, that has traveled and been able to see life from another’s perspective, and that still holds onto the ideals that one day we may all sit together in peace. Inshallah. Shalom.
Maital Guttman was a Robertson Scholar at DukeUniversity and is an independent documentary filmmaker in Hollywood. She is the daughter of Fred Guttman, rabbi at TempleEmanuel in Greensboro, N.C.