Jews and Palestinians are marking time in very specific and distinctly different ways these days as they commemorate historical narratives.
Their dissimilar world views and practices seem fated to produce more bitterness and bloodshed, in Gaza and beyond. It need not be that way between the two peoples. But while one seeks peace and pursues the future with optimism, despite serious challenges, the other seeks revenge and focuses on the past with bitterness and regret.
Let me explain.
Many Jews throughout the world are in the midst of the daily counting of the Omer, the seven-week period between Passover and Shavuot, anticipating with enthusiasm the festival celebrating our receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. (When I write “our receiving,” I have in mind the rabbinic interpretation that not only were the Israelites who fled Egypt present at that small mountain in the desert many centuries ago, but every Jewish soul — past, present and future as well — was represented there. It’s a lovely image evoking a connection to the Divine, and to each other, that transcends time.)
In the weeks between Passover, the festival of redemption, and Shavuot, the festival of revelation, Jews also commemorate Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day), recalling unspeakable tragedy and remarkable victory. During this time we are, in a sense, reliving ancient history and reflecting on contemporary times in the context of our eternal story.
For Jews, whose Torah instructs “choose life,” the lessons of the Holocaust, Israel’s War of Independence and subsequent wars to defend and preserve the Jewish state, are of resilience, moving forward with faith in the future.
During these same weeks, though, the Hamas terrorist group that controls Gaza will continue its “March of Return,” organizing a series of aggressive efforts to breach the border with Israel leading up to the anniversary of the Nakba (the Day of the Catastrophe), the May 15 commemoration of Israel’s declaration of statehood in 1948.
Had the Arabs accepted the 1947 United Nations partition plan, there would have been two states — the larger one Palestine, the smaller one Israel. The Jewish leaders accepted the proposal, reluctantly, but the Arabs rejected it and chose to launch a war that, despite all odds, resulted in the creation of the Jewish state. Seven decades later, the major stumbling block to peace remains Arab resistance to a Jewish state in the region, regardless of its borders.
The “March of Return” is not just an effort to mourn the Arab defeat but an attempt to undo it. Rather than face the reality of Israel, Hamas seeks to destroy it through violent means. Despite claims that the border protests are peaceful, the goal is to break through the physical barrier and wreak havoc on Israel’s citizens. And while the international community and mainstream media have focused on the casualties inflicted by the IDF, Times of Israel editor David Horovitz has observed that “just in case anybody forgot, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip to the pre-1967 lines in 2005. It uprooted thousands of Israeli settlers from their homes. It dismantled all military infrastructure in the Strip. It has no physical presence there. It makes no territorial claims there.” Horovitz added that Hamas fought and defeated the forces of the Palestinian Authority more than a decade ago, and various reconciliation efforts have had little practical result.
Most Israelis hate the violence but are not ready to allow the state’s borders to be breached so that their sworn enemies can come in and kill them. What country would? And while I have much empathy for Gazans who live in poverty, with little hope for the immediate future, they should be venting against Hamas. The Islamist tool of Iran exploits its people by spending precious resources on digging tunnels and stocking up on rockets to attack Israel rather than attending to the needs of its people through schools, hospitals and other institutions that foster civil society. Even worse, Gazans are cruelly exploited as foils when Hamas launches rockets near their homes and schools; Hamas benefits from the resulting world sympathy as innocents become victims of Israeli military responses.
Casualties among Palestinian civilians is the desired outcome for Hamas, not the IDF.
After the Holocaust and the decimation of the great majority of European Jews, the Jewish leaders of Palestine wept but did not whine. They proclaimed a state and fought valiantly to make it a reality. Palestinian leaders lost that war of aggression and still cry “foul,” blaming everyone but themselves for their predicament. They permit and praise violence — the terrorist attacks, suicide bombers, tunnels to penetrate into Israel and tens of thousands of rockets aimed at the Jewish state. (Thank God and the IDF for the Iron Dome.)
Today, Gaza is near collapse. Its failed economy, high unemployment, lack of adequate sewage, electricity and medical supplies make life miserable there. Hamas says it is not able — more accurately not willing — to care for its people, but it refuses to give up its military presence to reach an agreement with the PA for joint administration of the area. The U.S. convened a conference to deal with the Gaza humanitarian crisis last month. Israel and Egypt, allies on protecting the Sinai from Gaza terrorists and preventing what could spread from Gaza to their countries, participated in the meetings, as did a number of Arab and European countries. But not the Palestinian Authority, which cares more about the politics of Gaza than the welfare of its inhabitants.
In mid-May, Israel will celebrate its 70th anniversary, the act of breathing new life into an ancient people and giving Jews everywhere a homeland. That same week Palestinians once more will describe the creation of the state of Israel as a national catastrophe. Sadly, it will remain so for them — as long as they deny the history of the Jewish people and our right to resist suicide.