During the Second Arab-Israeli War in 1956, an Israeli security officer named Roy Rotenberg was murdered by marauders from Gaza. At his funeral the next day, the legendary commander Moyshe Dayan, who was the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces at the time, gave a famous eulogy. He said that his countrymen had to be made of steel to resist their enemies. But his words about the Arabs of Gaza still ring true:
“What can we say against their terrible hatred of us? For eight years now, they have sat in the refugee camps of Gaza, and have watched how, before their very eyes we have turned their land and villages, where they and their forefathers previously dwelled, into our home …
“Beyond the furrow of the border surges a sea of hatred and revenge; revenge that looks towards the day when the calm will blunt our alertness, the day when we shall listen to the ambassadors of malign hypocrisy who call upon us to lay down our arms …
“Let us not fear to look squarely at the hatred that consumes and fills the lives of hundreds of Arabs who live around us. Let us not drop our gaze, lest our arms be weaken. That is the fate of our generation. This is our choice – to be ready and armed, tough and hard – or else the sword shall fall from our hands and our lives will be cut short.”
In almost 60 years, little has changed. If anything, Gaza seems filled with more hatred and Israel with more determination. Now Israel has launched another incursion into Gaza to stop the rain of rockets. Nearly 600 Palestinians have died, most of them civilians, and 27 Israeli soldiers. More will die before the fighters yield to exhaustion and declare a ceasefire.
But even if all the rockets are destroyed and even if Hamas is crushed, is there anyone who thinks that this is the last battle?
Israel has legitimate fears. It cannot allow its citizens to live under a rain of terror from the skies. Hamas, the party which Gazans elected to govern them, is a gang of corrupt, murderous and fanatical thugs who have vowed to wipe Israel from the face of the earth.
But when the war is over, Israeli soldiers will return to a free and prosperous country while Gazans will continue to live in what British Prime Minister David Cameron once described as 140 square mile “prison camp”. Gaza is blockaded by land, sea and air; it has a 50 percent youth unemployment rate; there is an acute water shortage; exports last year fell to 2 percent of 2007 levels. As Israeli journalist Amira Haas wrote recently in the Israeli daily Haaretz:
“Those who turned Gaza into an internment and punishment camp for 1.8 million human beings should not be surprised that they tunnel underneath the earth. Those who sow strangling, siege and isolation reap rocket fire.”
I have none. But there will be an end point to this poisonous conflict. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth, with one of the highest birth rates. Sooner or later the walls of the prison will crumble, either peacefully or with terrible slaughter.
It is at times like this that the world needs real statesmen, men of vision who can see a peaceful resolution beyond the historical grievances of the Palestinians and the legitimate claims of the Israelis. It was this lack of magnanimity and foresight which, according to Oxford historian Margaret Macmillan, tipped Europe into the catastrophe of World War I. in The War That Ended Peace she argues that that Europe could have pulled back from the brink. But key men in high places were too stubborn, vengeful, rigid, ambitious, venal or greedy to defend the peace.
“If we want to point fingers from the twenty-first century we can accuse those who took Europe into war of two things. First, a failure of imagination in not seeing how destructive such a conflict would be and second, their lack of courage to stand up to those who said there was no choice left but to go to war. There are always choices.”
Is Barack Obama this statesman? After all he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Instead of repeating that “We don’t want to see any more civilians getting killed”, isn’t it about time that he earned his medal by decisively knocking Middle East heads together in some tough diplomacy? As he said in his Nobel acceptance speech, “The belief that peace is desirable is rarely enough to achieve it. Peace requires responsibility. Peace entails sacrifice.”
If there is one man who could change the history of the Middle East, it is the American president. He is the leader of the most powerful nation on earth, Israel’s chief ally. Unlike the kings, kaisers, prime ministers and presidents of 1914, he can easily imagine the calamity ahead. All he needs is the courage to stand up to those who say there is no choice but to stumble on through seas of hatred and revenge without making concessions.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.