By Katharine Gregg
WHO IS DESTROYING WHO[M]?
I was born two days before the D Day. The war was beginning slowly to turn around. Of course, I don’t remember VE Day-of VJ Day-but as a child I experienced the milk and honey of postwar optimism in the United States and, bit by bit, in war-ravaged Europe, Asia-and the Middle East. I don’t remember the establishment of the State of Israel-I wasn’t quite 4 years old, but as the postwar revelations of the Holocaust continued, I felt the Jews deserved a country where they would be safe. I watched with admiration the new state turn the desert into a real-life miracle. Watched its military prowess against its enemies. Israel could do anything. I myself have never been to Israel, but my family visited in 1961 and planted a tree on a kibbutz near Galilee.
So the disillusionment and anger I have felt growing in me over the last thirty or so years have made me very sad. Yes, the surrounding Arab countries vowed to destroy Israel-and Hamas still does-but in 1977 Egyptian President Awar El Sadat recognized Israel and spoke before the Knesset. The Camp David Accords, signed by Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, took place in 1978. They agreed to begin negotiations over an autonomous area for the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
However, Prime Minister Begin’s government also encouraged Jewish settlement in the Palestinian West Bank and in 1980 passed a law making the divided city of Jerusalem, already under de facto Israeli jurisdiction since 1967, the official capital of the country. Yet in 1947 the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine had recognized Jerusalem as the holy city of three religions, a separate entity administered by the UN.
And so the struggle continued. Israeli settlers continued to occupy Palestinian lands; Palestinians continued to conduct guerilla warfare against Israel. The safety of Israelis was still a concern for Israel, so the government built greater and greater defenses against the Palestinians. The first Intifada occurred, then the Oslo Accords giving the Palestinian National Authority the right to govern the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist. In 1994 Jordan became the second Arab country to recognize Israel. But the settlements in the West Bank and checkpoints continued and rendered Palestinian life impossibly difficult. The second Intifada began. Israel began building the West Bank Barrier. The Gaza Strip had long been cut off by barriers. Today the Palestinians are enclosed, cut off from economic centers, squeezed into de facto ghettos.
Why is it surprising that Hamas behaves like a guerilla terrorist organization? Its actions are the actions of desperate people. Yes, it vows to destroy Israel, but if we stand in Palestinian shoes, how might we behave if our land were summarily taken and broken up, steadily chipped away and finally completely imprisoned with walls and blockades? Surely with despair and violence. And with each escalation of violence the Israeli government sees justification for applying more repression, greater destruction.
Besides it vow to destroy Israel, what does Hamas want? What do the PLO and the Palestinian people want? Hamas says it was excluded from the most recent ceasefire talks. It rejected the ceasefire because it failed to lift the blockade, to remove the checkpoints so Palestinians could take back their lives and move forward. I’m sure the Israeli government would respond, “Impossible! That would give them access for more terrorist activities.” But if Israel gave a little, might not Hamas be more conciliatory? Has anyone asked the question in that way? What scares me is that Israel seems to feel the only way to respond to Hamas violence is by battering and squeezing until Hamas and the Palestinian people are all destroyed. So you see, it’s not just the Palestinians vowing to destroy Israel’s right to exist: Israel appears to see no other solution than to destroy that right for the Palestinians. Kathy Gregg lives in Mason.