The monthlong air and ground battle between Gaza and Israel seemed to be drawing slowly to a close in early August as the two sides agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire. Israel withdrew its troops and declared it had destroyed all known tunnels connecting the country with the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory. Hamas stopped launching rockets. But the damage had been done.
More than 1,800 Palestinians were killed in the fighting. Like almost everything else, there’s a dispute over how many were noncombatants: Palestinian officials say 80 percent; Israelis say 47. By contrast, Israel lost 64 soldiers and three civilians, but two-thirds of the country’s population lived in daily terror of missiles being launched from across the border.
Even so, there is no disputing that the civilians of Gaza emerged as the real losers. According to the United Nations, approximately 260,000 of the 1.8 million Gazans were displaced during the conflict. The people are without power, without water and without supplies to rebuild. Hospitals and schools have been destroyed.
Peace, for now, is tenuous at best.
Certainly no long-term solutions have been reached. One commentator called Gaza, with its closed borders, “a big jail” for Palestinians, while Israelis point to Hamas’ continued commitment to the destruction of their country. Hamas demands the removal of the Israeli economic blockade and Israel demands a demilitarized Gaza. Without the resolution of these fundamental issues and others, a lasting peace has little hope. But what’s even more troubling is how the two sides refuse to acknowledge the humanity of the other. Those who could be neighbors instead are enemies, and the mutual loathing is passed down through the generations.
In a statement late last month, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, president of the international aid organization Caritas Internationalis, implored both Israeli and Hamas leaders to seek peace. “People have no safe place to hide when the bombs rain down on the densely populated, small stretch of land that is Gaza,” he said. “They see their children slaughtered, their neighborhoods razed to the ground and all hopes for a future of peace torn to shreds.”
A cease-fire, he said, is only a first step. “The path toward reconciliation is long, but it starts with ourselves,” he said. “Israel and Hamas, why do you keep pointing out the speck in the eye of your brother while missing the plank in your own eye? Instead, you should put down your arms and pick up a pair of binoculars so you can see that most of your victims are innocent people.”
When Pope Francis met with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican in early June, he challenged both leaders to have the courage to work for peace. “Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare,” the pope said. “It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity.”
No one knows what the resolution is to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, but what’s certain is that it won’t come until both sides are able to see each other as something other than adversaries. May our prayers echo the pope’s words: that leaders on both sides of this conflict find the courage to set aside mutual fear and hostility for the betterment of their people. Until then, a cease-fire — even a prolonged one — will do no good.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; Gretchen R. Crowe, editor