Sadness, anger, frustration, and perhaps a small flicker of hope. These are the emotions that a lot of people are carrying into the new week across Israel and Palestine.
A cease fire came into effect from Friday at 2am which has stopped Israel’s bombing of Gaza and Hamas firing rockets out of Gaza into Israel. People are celebrating and claiming victory on both sides, but there is little to be thankful about with 248 people having lost their lives in Gaza and 13 in Israel.
As soon as the cease fire came into effect, the United Nations and other NGOs started pouring into Gaza to assess the damage and to coordinate humanitarian aid. Yesterday the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Palestine announced that US$18 million dollars would be made available to rebuild Gaza. Like the Gazans, they have been here before.
Some of the projects funded by the aid money that was poured in after the 2014 war, had only recently been completed and beautiful new apartment buildings complete with solar panels and other infrastructure has once more been destroyed. They say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting different results, and that feels very apt here.
Of course, the aid money is critical to prevent further death, disease and suffering in already challenging circumstances, but where is the strong political response to accompany the clear up and stop it from happening again? I fear that many politicians, like the news headlines, have already started to move on.
Last week, I spoke to a friend that has lived in Jerusalem for many years. She was in tears over the phone. ‘We have been here before and we always say that we will never let it happen again, but it does’. In fact, the term ‘mowing the grass’ is commonly used to describe the Israeli tactic of bombing Gaza every few years to keep it down.
Haaretz today has a good comparison of the statistics from the six periods of conflict since 2008. Looking at the civilian death toll, I can’t help but feel that most of those deaths were preventable had there been a stronger commitment to forcing a resolution in the region. I stand corrected if anyone can point to recent and meaningful peace talks.
And let’s not forget that those deaths, caused by direct bombing, are a fraction of the deaths that have occurred in Gaza since 2008 as a result of poverty, poor healthcare and third world living conditions that have been artificially created by Israel when they sealed Gaza off from the rest of the world. Every few years it hits the news again and everyone thinks ‘how awful’, and then it retreats into the shadows again as not being newsworthy enough, despite being one of the biggest human rights abuses in history.
For now, both sides are taking a small breather and the pot that has bubbled over and exploded over the previous weeks is back on a gentle simmer. Things are much calmer in Sheikh Jarrah, but crowds of people are regularly still gathering near the houses to be evicted. There has been no resolution yet on the fate of these families. Similarly, in the Al Aqsa mosque compound, the Israeli police are back to escorting Jewish people to worship on the site and tensions remain very high on both sides.
So where is this flicker of hope to be found? The movement over the past month has been self-organised by a new generation of Palestinians. They are young, educated, committed and they understand using technology to connect to the world. From what I understand, there has been very little political leadership throughout this time, and more than ever there is a feeling that both Netanyahu (Israeli PM) and Abbas (President of the Palestinian Authority) are has-beens from an earlier time.
Change is overdue in this little corner of the world with so much worth defending. It now needs to be supported to have a proper ending, not another repeat of violence and tragedy. In a slightly corny nod to history, I wanted to end with a quote from Martin Luther King. I was surprised to find that almost everything he said is relevant here. History is not being made for the first time. So what is it to be, an opportunity for something better or more insanity?
In Martin Luther King’s words:
‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’.
‘The time is always right to do what is right’.
‘Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter’.
‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends’.
‘We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools’.