Once again we witness the same flare up that has become the legacy of the 2000 brutal takeover by Hamas of the Gaza stip. Since that takeover, the Muslim brotherhood of Palestine (Hamas) has used numerous pretexts to launch missiles against Israel’s civilian populations. Israel seeks to destroy these missile sites placed in houses, schools, and public buildings, causing civilian deaths. This eventually leads to a cease fire that is destined to be broken.
We must recognize that the roots of this conflict lay not in the struggle between Jews and Arabs but in a radical Middle East moving more and more toward a version of Islam that breeds death and destruction across multiple countries in the region. Peace between people of different faiths is possible under democratic regimes, but not under the current conditions in the Middle East.
Israel has just launched a third military operation to stop Hamas missile attacks. The context that led to this is telling. It would be easy to attribute this flare up to the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers on June 12, as well as the brutal killing of an Arab teenager. Yet here again we look for a cycle that does not exist. Hamas rockets starting raining down on Israel within two days of the kidnapping and before the murder of the Arab teen. Moreover, Hamas has not accepted any cease-fire predicated on the agreements of 2012 that stopped fire from both sides., Instead Hamas is seeking the release of prisoners rearrested by Israel after the teens were murdered, as well as salary payment for civil employees in Gaza that were discontinued by the Palestinian Authority itself. This of course has little bearing on Israel directly but point to tension and inner Palestinian strife.
A broader examination of Hamas’s situation points to a deflection of its own weakness and its choice to sacrifice its citizens for its political purposes. The Hamas has alienated not only the Egyptian regime (because of its support of the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt), but also most other Arab regimes through its support of Syria and Iran. Citizens of the Gaza strip are denied underground shelter to the miles of missile and attack tunnels under Gaza and must instead make do with shelter in UN-funded buildings. We need to ask if the new constructions built in Gaza include the basic protections of secure rooms that are standard with new construction in Israel and could have been implemented in Gaza after cement shipments were allowed since the last ceasefire. But most damning of all is the policy of using human shields to deflect Israeli attacks. It is not surprising that the Israeli Prime Minister can say, "We’re using missiles defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles."
Let’s be clear: the great majority of Arab Muslims do not partake in beheading, bombing, or the killing of innocents. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, has made a point that Jewish scripture are mostly silent on the benefits of the afterlife. His reasoning is that the source of such hesitancy is rooted in the recognition that religion can be good or become a source of brutal acts of violence. We know from our work on interfaith issues here in Utah that most religions, including Islam, focus on life and peace. On the other hand, the leadership of Hamas seeks a glorification of missile attacks and the kidnapping and killing of teenagers, all with the promise of great rewards in the afterlife. The Jihad against the Jew, part of the official Hamas charter, is but a symptom of the radicalism of Islam. No peace in the Middle East will be possible until the majority of Arab regimes in the region discredit such beliefs. If peace cannot be achieved, we can at least seek to minimize death. Arabs in the Middle East can adopt more tolerant regimes, ones that protect the right of women and LGBT populations and seek to lower incitement against their fellow Arabs Jews and Christians. Let us hope for a time when even these ruling minorities will seek life over death.
Ron Zamir is a resident of Salt Lake City and serves as vice president for Community Relations for the United Jewish Federation of Utah.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.