As President Obama opens a new chapter in our history, the world looks to him with hope that now, finally, we can give peace a chance.
Television and computer screens across America and the globe were filled with the moving spectacle of Obama’s inauguration as our 44th president, cheered by more than 1 million Americans filling the National Mall as far as the eye could see. When George W. Bush left Washington hours later, the nation and the world breathed a collective sigh of relief.
But only a day or two before, our TV and computer screens were filled with very different images — death and destruction, parents weeping over corpses of their children, husbands crying for wives killed by shrapnel. This was the scene in Gaza, and it has thrust its way to the forefront of President Obama’s crowded agenda.
The fighting has stopped for now in Gaza, more or less, but the human tragedy continues.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs cites “widespread destruction of houses, infrastructure, roads, greenhouses, cemeteries, mosques and schools.” The Red Cross says “a number of areas … looked like the aftermath of a strong earthquake.” Aid workers report that “entire urban blocks have disappeared.”
As of Jan. 19, Palestinian health officials reported 1,314 Palestinians dead, of whom 412 are children and 110 are women. This figure will likely increase as rescue workers retrieve more bodies, the UN agency said. The number of injured is reported as 5,300, of whom 1,855 — more than a third —are children and 795 are women.
An immediate need is for U.S. leadership in helping the people of Gaza to rebuild their homes, communities and livelihoods.
Hopefully, negotiations will produce a longer-term cease-fire there. But there will be no peace, no security and no justice for any side in this terrible conflict unless a settlement is reached to the underlying problem: the decades-long struggle of the Palestinian people for a state of their own, alongside Israel.
Known as the “two-state solution,” this is the only viable way forward, one that fulfills the national aspirations of the Palestinian people while providing the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel the peace and security that decades of conflict have failed to produce.
In Gaza viewing the wreckage as Obama was being sworn in as president, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told CNN, “The repeated violence felt by Palestinians and Israelis is a mark of collective political failure.”
The Bush administration bears a heavy responsibility for that failure. For eight years it backed reactionary, militarist Israeli policies and undermined the elected Palestinian leadership. Instead of promoting moderation, negotiations and peace, its one-sided blind support of the Israeli right did horrible damage to both the Israeli and Palestinian people. It spoke of peace but its actions and inaction led to the carnage in Gaza.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a flashpoint with global implications. It destabilizes the entire Middle East, fuels violence around the world, and threatens our own security. At a time when we can ill afford it, our country is spending billions on military aid to countries in the region — not only Israel but Egypt, Saudi Arabia and others as well.
That is money better used on humanitarian aid there and people’s needs here at home.
“I sincerely hope that President Obama will take as a matter of priority these Middle East policies,” the UN secretary-general said.
“As a leader of the world,” Ban said, the United States “has full responsibility to lead this peace process so that there’s a two-state solution. Israel, Palestinians can live [in] peace and security side-by-side.”
Now is the time. Contact the White House and your senators and representative, and urge them to give peace a chance in the Middle East.