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Michel SabbahApril 18, 2024
Palestinians inspect the ruins of a residential building for the Abu Muammar family after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Friday, March 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)Palestinians inspect the ruins of a residential building after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, on March 29, 2024. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)  

Editor’s note: America is committed to publishing diverse views on the pressing issues of our time. For additional perspectives on the war in Gaza, read “There Is a Right and Wrong Way for Catholics to Criticize Israel,” by Karma Ben Johanan, and Gerard O’Connell’s interview with David Neuhaus, S.J.

We have already seen six months of war in Gaza. Now, it seems that Israel is beginning its last phase of conquest, after ordering a million and a half people to take refuge in Rafah, a border town with Egypt. Soon, there may be almost no one left in the rest of Gaza.

There have been several wars in Gaza, but this time there are thousands of human victims, and ruins like never before, and peace does not seem to be near. More than suffering, more than the loss of men and women, children and babies, humanity is lost.

Why this new war? The immediate cause is the horrific Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 2023. But another direct cause is the permanent siege imposed upon all Gazan territory in 2007, when the Hamas political party became the governing authority of the enclave. Since then, the entire territory—2.5 million people over an area of 141 square miles​​—has been under total military siege imposed by Israel and Egypt. And since Oct. 7, Israel’s military operations have limited even the most necessary humanitarian aid for Gaza, to the point that it now stands on the cusp of famine.

The real cause is the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, begun in 1948, which no peace agreement has been able to end and which the international community seems to have neglected.

Under Israeli military occupation, Gaza—and all of Palestine—has suffered thousands of deaths, thousands more taken as political prisoners, demolished houses, military checkpoints on all roads that disrupt freedom of movement and daily life, and a paralyzed, dependent Palestinian economy. In short, we are in a permanent state of war. This is the root cause of all wars in Gaza, including the one following Oct. 7. And despite the useless, inhuman violence of the present war, more will come if a just and lasting peace is not reached between the two peoples.

The war must stop without further delay because it is no longer a war. It is a massacre. But what comes after the war?

Israel, as the occupier of Gaza, must take responsibility for seeking a sustainable peace with equal justice for all. Otherwise, we will see an unnecessary defeat for all. It is time for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be put back on the international agenda and for the global community to take responsibility for building peace, which has seemed impossible until today.

Peace means the security of Israel and, at the same time, the security of the Palestinian people. In fact, the fundamental question that arises today is: Do the Palestinian people have the right to stay at home, on their own land, in their own towns and villages? To this question, the current government in Israel has said no. Instead, Israel has been trying to forcibly displace the Palestinian people, making it virtually impossible for them to live a normal, humane life and raise their families on their own land. That cannot be a path to peace or security for anyone.

To achieve peace, we must simply admit that even in this conflict, human beings are equal. Israelis and Palestinians are equally created by God, in the image of God, and are capable of loving as opposed to killing. On this holy land, there is room for both peoples to exercise the same political rights: two states, each at home, independent, free and capable of resisting a return to war. We have experienced war for decades; we now need a new way of thinking that brings about a lasting peace.

Who is responsible for building this peace? First, the two peoples themselves, Israeli and Palestinian. Then, the international community, the friends of Israel and Palestine. The true friends of Israel are those who help Israel achieve peace. Making Israel militarily stronger, to win wars but remain insecure, is not friendship or true help to Israel.

One can ask the question: Are the two peoples capable of living in peace, each in their own state? Why not? There is much suffering and injustice in living memory, that is true. But there is also the will to live and the fundamental goodness that God has placed in everyone. God created the human being capable of life rather than death, love rather than killing.

The surest path to peace is direct engagement with the enemy, especially when two enemies share the same land. A sustainable peace cannot be brokered by outside forces. So for Israel, peace must be made first with the Palestinian people, then with all the nations in the region. But improving relations with other nations in the region, in what has been called the “Abrahamic alliance,” while maintaining hostilities with the Palestinian people, does not ensure peace. First comes peace at home, then it is possible with the neighbors.

It should also be noted that peace among current regimes in the region is not the same as peace with the peoples of the region. Peoples can remain enemies despite peace treaties between governments. Peace will come only when peace is made with the Palestinian people. The world powers can try to impose solutions, but these do not erase the determination of the oppressed.

Therefore, the international community must finally take the necessary steps to end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people, and end the 1948 war with a peace treaty between the two peoples.

The world’s religions can and must help. Pray, raise your voice and act. The Holy Land is both Israeli and Palestinian, and the Christian community there is part of the two peoples. Everyone needs peace. You can help them. Christ came to bring peace to the world—and to his Holy Land, too. The church has the same mission today.

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