The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has tragically intensified in recent weeks. What is needed now more than ever is progress toward peace, and peace is where Christian efforts should be centered. In some circles, however, the opposite is happening, with shrill and angry voices hurling vicious accusations that only sustain the conflict. Two things are clear: one will not find the truth by listening only to passionate supporters of one side, and before making public statements great care is needed to get one’s facts straight. Reckless rhetoric does nothing but inflame hatred.
The humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip has gotten progressively worse. The international community, including the United States, stands ready to commit resources to alleviate Palestinian hardship there. Gaza could have an airport, a seaport, and economic development. Gaza could become the Singapore of the Middle East. How can this happen? There is only one path to a better future for the Palestinian people in Gaza, and that is peace with Israel. There is no other way, and it is as simple as that.
The international community can either hope the leaders of Hamas abandon their poisonous obsession with the destruction of Israel, or work to create conditions for the Palestinian people to choose new leaders to better serve them. Acceptance of peace with Israel is a decision to be made by the Palestinian people, not the leaders of Hamas, not Mr. Abbas, not the PLO, and not outsiders such as the PCUSA. It is their future at stake and their right. Instead, most Palestinians are locked out of the political process and their voices are shackled by both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas dictatorship in Gaza. There are many Palestinians, particularly young Palestinians, who long for peace and hold no ill will toward Israel. They deserve the right to be heard and a chance to govern.
For Israel, Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the international community, it must be recognized that the isolation of Gaza beyond what is needed for legitimate security purposes has accomplished nothing. It has made things worse and not better for all parties. The leaders of Gaza put their hatred of Israel before the welfare of the people. They have made clear that no level of hardship on their people will make them put down their arms and surrender power, and the people do not presently have the power to replace them with new leaders.
The Palestinian Authority strategy of cutting off the funding of Gaza, in the hope of pressuring Hamas to relinquish power, has failed and needs to be reconsidered. Israel and Egypt can help by easing border restrictions on commercial goods into and out of Gaza and helping the local economy there. Israel permits shipments of humanitarian aid to Gaza but Israeli leaders can do more without compromising Israel’s security. The international community should increase direct humanitarian aid. Improving living conditions for the people of Gaza should be the highest priority. As difficult as all of this may be, these steps benefit both Palestinians and Israelis and advance the cause of peace.