DeMarco: Can There Be Peace for the Jews and Palestinians?

The Op-Ed Page

Over the decades, the very few hopeful-seeming moments have been pathetically far between.

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

The war in Gaza has galvanized the American public more than any international conflict in decades. To try to educate myself on this faraway conflict, I have spent many hours listening to the voices, both written and spoken, of Jews and Palestinians. Many of them express mistrust, disdain, and even hatred of the other, none of which I feel.

What I feel is profound sorrow that two peoples who believe in a loving God have let it come to this. The barbarous Oct. 7 attack on innocent Israeli civilians was as cruel as it was shocking. There is no way to justify it. It must be condemned as heinous and self-defeating. Hamas knew it would provoke the overwhelming Israeli response that is unfolding. Many more Palestinians will die than Israelis who were killed in the initial attack. It was desperate and senseless.

But if one puts the attack in context, one can see how a young Palestinian man could be radicalized to feel that this kind of vengeance was his only remaining option. I’ve never been to Gaza, but I think I can understand on a basic human level what it might be like. That young Palestinian man could have grandparents who were driven off their land in the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, could have parents who have lived their entire lives as refugees, and could himself be unable to find work because of the economic and travel restrictions Israel has placed on Gaza. It’s possible for me to understand how such a person could have his mind warped into killing for revenge, particularly if surrounded by a circle of jihadist contemporaries.

I can also understand what it might be like to be a Jewish man of that same age whose great-grandparents were Holocaust survivors, whose grandparents grew up in the new, precarious Jewish state in the 1950 and ’60s and fought in the 1967 war, whose parents fought in the second intifada, and who himself has had to live his entire life fearing suicide bombings and missile strikes. I can understand his wholesale lack of trust in the Palestinians, a simmering anger with the Palestinian Authority’s unwillingness to compromise to achieve a two-state solution, his horror at Gaza being run by Hamas, which advocates for Israel’s dissolution, and his fury over the Oct. 7 attacks.

So where do we look for hope? America’s history provides a glimmer. Our nation knows something about forcibly removing a people from their land, as we did with the Native Americans. In addition to Native Americans, we have historically denied many other groups their full citizenship rights. But America has gradually welcomed those it previously sought to exclude or marginalize. The process has been slow, often begrudging, and it is not yet complete. But America’s direction is clear. Israel has the same duty. It drove Palestinians off their land in order to create a Jewish state and has denied them the right of self-determination. It must find a way, as America has, to right those wrongs.

The Palestinians, for their part, must renounce violence. Every group that was treated unjustly in America has won its rights over the past century by mostly peaceful means. It is essential that the Palestinians do the same. As long as they indiscriminantly fire rockets, detonate suicide bombs, and commit unspeakable atrocities as they did on Oct. 7, Israel is within its rights to fight back.

Imagine if after breaching the border wall on Oct. 7, tens of thousands of Palestinians had marched peacefully into Israel in a demonstration similar to the American March on Washington in 1963. They would have been embraced by the international community. People like me, and I believe there are many, who recognize that both Israelis and Palestinians have a legitimate claim to the land and that both a Jewish and Palestinian state deserve to exist side by side, would have been moved by that display. We know that our nation provides substantial aid to both Israel and the Palestinians and therefore has leverage. We are willing to add a candidate’s position on Middle East peace to our electoral calculus. But we will not support violence from either side.

As a starting point, the two sides have an important commonality – a language of peace. In Hebrew the word is shalom. In Arabic it is salaam. It means more than a sterile absence of war. It means completeness, wholeness, a state in which God’s people treat each other as he intended.

These two words can be the cornerstone of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. I had an elderly Jewish patient who would greet me with a resonant “Shalom” when I walked into the exam room. It was so much more powerful than my generic “Hello.” It was tangible, a verbal embrace. Similarly, on a medical mission to Tanzania in 2020, I was sometimes greeted with “Salaam Alaikum” (“Peace be upon you”) by Muslim passersby. One evening, our group was invited to a Christian Bible study by some local missionaries. As we sang a hymn, the Muslim call to prayer could be heard from a nearby mosque, symbolic of the harmony that can exist between the religions.

We in America have a role to play. As voters we should demand that aid for both sides become contingent on seeing real progress toward the two-state solution.

A version of this column appeared in the Dec. 21 edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

14 thoughts on “DeMarco: Can There Be Peace for the Jews and Palestinians?

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    Paul, you’ll see I used the picture you suggested of Clinton with Rabin and Arafat — even though I saw it as wildly inappropriate, in the current situation. I mean, we’re talking Hamas, not the PLO or Palestinian Authority. And on the other side is Netanyahu, not Yitzhak Rabin.

    Hamas has for now accomplished what it wants — perpetual conflict, until Israel no longer exists. It has no investment in a two-state solution.

    In Netanyahu, you have a man that much of Israel despises and would never have followed going forward — except in an emergency of existential proportions. If Hamas can do something like this, and not be opposed, few Israelis can imagine the country continuing to stand and survive.

    I eventually went with the photo because it illustrates how vain hopes of progress have proved in this region thus far. I don’t counsel despair. But I point out that anyone who thinks a solution is easy to identify and achieve simply doesn’t understand what’s going on — as I think you’ll agree….

  2. Ken

    As I wrote, in part, to the Israeli Embassy US:

    The current Israeli prime minister, senior Israeli military leadership and some members of the Israeli cabinet should be brought before the ICC. They can share cells with Hamas leadership.

    Paul, the reference to a generic Holocaust survivor is misplaced. There are too few of them left for their views to count for much. It’s the misuse of the Holocaust memory by Israel in shaping Israeli identity and world opinion should be interrogated. If everything is a potential second Holocaust, then no counter-measure is ever wrong. See Masha Gessen’s piece in The New Yorker:

    Also, just for general context, read Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks and We Could Have Been Friends.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I just keep reading this over and over:

      “Paul, the reference to a generic Holocaust survivor is misplaced. There are too few of them left for their views to count for much.”

      1. Ken

        In terms of numbers of living individuals with a say in this and other current affairs, that is obviously true.

        What you should be considering is how their experience is being misused to legitimize mass slaughter, as the current Israeli government has clearly done. Ought we be comfortable with the notion that evoking the Holocaust implies that one Israeli victim is worth (at this point) the lives of 20+ Gazans? It does no honor to victims of the Holocaust when their suffering is used as incitement. As this commentary put it, this abuse of the past disgraces the victims of the Shoah and opens the doors to any excess in response:

        Unconsidered slogans, such as “I stand by Israel,” does not honor them either.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I believe it does, because the alternative is to go along with the Hamas approach, which is to eliminate this safe haven for Jews.

          I am of course the enemy of ones-and-zeroes thinking, but Hamas makes it pretty stark. The alternative to “I stand with (not ‘by’) Israel” is to pretend that we can just go on and live our lives peacefully and everything will be fine. Hamas will not allow that. It will continue to engage in such actions as Oct. 7, sparking response that brings the world’s condemnation upon Israel, until there is no Israel.

          This does not in any way “legitimize mass slaughter.”

          I don’t know what the solution to the problem is. When you face an enemy that hides behind a civilian population, and you can’t ensure the safety of your own country’s civilians without destroying that enemy — reducing it to where it no longer possesses the power to murder your own people, what do you do?

          I don’t know. If I knew, you’d see me offering that advice on a regular basis. But I stand with Israel. It deserves to be…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            As for the “mass slaughter”…

            The deaths of innocent civilians in Gaza are appalling, sickening. Of course, such horrors are always a part of any battle in civilian areas. We celebrate the triumph of D-Day every year, but about 20,000 French civilians were killed in the battle of Normandy, mostly by Allied bombing.

            It’s even worse here, beyond the human grief and suffering. Here, we have to calculate how much each such casualty strengthens the enemy. Every civilian death is a victory for Hamas, which depends on increasing global condemnation of Israel. That’s key to Hamas, which can’t possibly win an open military battle. Hamas brutally murders Israeli innocents, up close and in person and COMPLETELY deliberately (reveling in the act), so that Israel will come after Hamas and — inevitably and unintentionally (especially since each such death is harmful to Israel’s cause) — kill Palestinian innocents.

            The best solution is to remove Hamas from power (and from proximity to Israel) without bloodshed. I don’t know how to do that, and I’m still waiting for someone else to suggest a credible plan for doing that….

            1. Ken

              It is an abdication of morality to conclude that, because you can’t think of another way to achieve Israel’s goals, you must by default support Israel’s campaign in Gaza. And reference Allied actions in WW2, when warfare was fought with much blunter means, as an excuse for the ensuing carnage in Gaza. (Setting aside the blockades on water, power and other necessities, which constitute war crimes in and of themselves.) It is not necessary to offer alternatives if the actions taken are brutally disproportionate to the harm suffered.

              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                I don’t recall saying I “support Israel’s campaign in Gaza.” I’d very much love to hear of an effective way — other than this, which is arguably NOT an effective way — to remove Hamas as a threat to Israel. Please explain how that would be done. I want to know, because as I keep explaining, I stand with Israel.

                I did not offer “an excuse for the ensuing carnage in Gaza.” I did say that you can’t militarily defeat an enemy that has no problem with using civilians as shields without civilian casualties. That’s why I, and I suppose most Israelis, would be profoundly grateful for an alternative method, both for humanitarian reasons, and because we know that every civilian casualty strengthens Hamas.

                And yes, you have to offer alternatives if you want it to stop. Because it’s not conscionable to say, “Just stop, and let Oct. 7 happen again whenever Hamas chooses.”

          2. Ken

            “I believe it does, because the alternative is to go along with the Hamas approach, which is to eliminate this safe haven for Jews.”

            Sorry, but this IS ones and zeroes thinking. Where the only alternatives are mass death, destruction and suffering in Gaza OR the end of Israel. Which, again, simply confirms the confusion brought about by the evocation of the Holocaust in support of Israeli policies, both in the current war specifically as well as in relation to the Arab populations in Palestine more broadly.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              One, that IS the Hamas approach. It’s not my opinion. Their goal is the end of Israel.

              And yeah, that sure is ones and zeroes thinking. Which is what I don’t like about the situation.

              It also helps emphasize how absurd the ones-and-zeroes approach is in this country, because we’re almost always talking about issues that are subject to negotiation and compromise. Our excitable folks of left and right aren’t usually facing people who would just as soon — in fact, would rejoice at the opportunity — kill them…

  3. James Edward Cross

    There will be no peace in the Middle East as long as either side believes it can “win”, however that is defined by them.


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