Commenting on the violence in Gaza, Jon Stewart quipped that those who hate Jews were overthrown by those who HATE Jews. So why should we care? The people in Sederot care, because they have suffered unrelenting rocket attacks since Israel left Gaza. The rest of us should also care because chaos anywhere threatens chaos everywhere.
Fouad Ajami’s Op-Ed in the New York Times last week blames the situation on Arafat for staying with the political myths of his people that they could have it all “from the river to the sea” rather than accept a decent and generous compromise offered by then Prime Minister Barak during the Clinton Administration. As someone once said, the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
However, there is certainly enough blame to go around for what is happening.
Some blame goes to the Arab countries for funding families of suicide bombers and other “martyrs,” rather than adequately investing in businesses, schools and other institutions that would have created jobs and hope. Last time I was on the West Bank two years ago, a Palestinian cab driver explained to me as we drove through a refugee camp that all he wanted for his children was to have a better life than he had. Most parents would agree. Arab investment in the West Bank and Gaza would have given the Palestinians the economic opportunities and real quality of life improvements that would have made peace, rather than terror, attractive.
Some of the blame falls on former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Three years ago, I met an Israeli journalist who just came from a gun fight between Gazan factions. He predicted that unless an Israeli pullout was orchestrated to give Abbas the credit, Hamas would claim victory due to their violence, as did Hezbollah when Israel pulled out of Lebanon. That would lead to Hamas winning control of Gaza. Sharon could have used the pull out to bolster Abbas, even though Abbas seemed incapable of collecting weapons or stopping rocket attacks on Israeli cities.
Much more of the blame goes to President Bush for forcing elections in Gaza over the objections of PA and Israeli leaders. Abbas said he needed more time otherwise a Hamas victory was likely. Why the press is not slamming the Bush administration for again claiming “no one saw it coming” is beyond me.
However, most of the blame falls on the Palestinians themselves. They have gotten the leadership they deserved, for they–not President Bush–ultimately elected Hamas. They followed a corrupt and manipulative leader, Arafat, who, for years, was more concerned with maintaining his own power than leading his people to peace. He lined his pockets and suppressed the small group of intellectuals who sought to (ironically) bring an Israeli-style democracy to their fledgling nation. When Abbas failed to quickly deliver on his promises for transparency and reorganization (bread and roses), the people turned to Hamas, who, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, had spent years building its reputation for honesty through its social service programs (which were funded by donations from well meaning Americans as well as others).
So what do we do now? Thinking Gaza can be contained as a separate entity and not spill over into the West Bank is the kind of wishful thinking that got us into this mess there (and in Iraq).
As a rabbi, when all else fails, I turn to prayer. I pray God softens the hearts of our enemies and guides our political leaders to make wide decisions. I pray for the Palestinians caught in the crossfire who want a better life for their children. Is that a sign of my sense of helplessness in the face of such madness? I am not sure. I also believe God helps those who help themselves. Perhaps our politicians would do well to seek the advice of the journalists who have been covering the fractured West Bank and Gaza for years. if they had listened to them to begin with, we may not be in this mess.