In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
In case some of you don’t regularly read Beliefnet, I have posted my most recent Beliefnet article about the Gaza pullout:
The events that have already unfolded—and are currently unfolding—in the Gaza Strip are truly historic. The Israeli government decided to evacuate Gaza of its 9,000 Jewish settlers as part of a unilateral disengagement plan by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Now Israeli soldiers are forcefully evicting their fellow Jews from their homes, and the rest of Israel along with the rest of the world watch in awe and amazement.
This turn of events has brought a slew of mixed emotions. For Israelis, it is particularly painful to watch Jew evict Jew. Amir Mintz was quoted by the Chicago Tribune as saying, “I can’t watch it. It hurts. I believe in the disengagement, but they are still my people.” Hana Sa’adon, a hair salon manager, said that for her, “This is worse than a terror attack.”
For Palestinians, the Gaza pullout has also brought out a host of mixed emotions. Many have openly expressed satisfaction, with no sympathy at all: “Let them taste the bitterness,” said Amona Aksham to the New York Times. “No, I can’t sympathize with them,” she continued, “they didn’t sympathize with us.”
The intense emotions on both sides are understandable. For me, an American Muslim watching from afar, I see the Gaza pullout as a rare opportunity: an opportunity to bring some semblance of hope to a Holy Land enmeshed in a hopeless, brutal, and bloody conflict. The Jewish settlers who came to Gaza under government-sanctioned settlement construction over the 38 years of Israeli occupation feel betrayed and violated by the decision of their government to evacuate this land. And it is quite obvious to all who can see that it is extremely painful for the settlers to be forcibly removed from their homes and have their houses demolished.
But it has also been painful for the Palestinians to live under military occupation and to suffer the indignities that have gone along with it, such as the restrictions on their freedom of movement and house demolitions for families of suspected militants and terrorists. In Gaza, 1.3 million Palestinians were crammed into 67 percent of the land, while 9,000 Jewish settlers enjoyed the best 33 percent. It was a terrible injustice.
Maybe, just maybe, the settlers can reflect over what has happened to them and realize that their Palestinian neighbors have endured this and even worse pain and despair for decades. While it is safe to say that the Palestinians are happy to see the soldiers and settlers go, I was surprised by the feelings of sympathy on the part of some Palestinians: “I feel that as a Palestinian this is my territory, this is my land,” said Mkhaimar Abu Sada to The New York Times. “But on the other side,” he later remarked, “it’s something on the human level, it’s not an easy thing to take someone from their property and make them leave.” Dr. Eyad Sarraj, a Gaza City psychiatrist who was made a refugee as a boy in 1948, also told The New York Times: “It provokes feelings of victimization and a kind of feeling we are all victimized by the whole thing.”
These comments give me hope that out of the Gaza disengagement will come a mutual acknowledgment of the humanity of the other. The decades of bitter conflict and bloodshed have created feelings of hatred on both sides. Fundamentally, this hatred stems from and leads to further dehumanization of the other side. And when your adversary is no longer a human being, it is much easier for a terrorist from either side to kill unarmed civilians and justify such a crime. Yet maybe, just maybe, the Gaza pullout will allow the Arab to see the Jew for the human being he is and let the Jew see the Arab for the human being she is. And maybe, just maybe, the bombs, and guns, and missiles will stop exploding.
Perhaps the most important outcome I hope the Gaza pullout brings is an era of lasting and comprehensive peace. For far too long, this land so holy to Jews, Christians, and Muslims has been poisoned by the blood of innocents. For far too long, the pristine vistas of this land where the footsteps of the Prophets have tread have been clouded by the choking smoke of warfare. For far too long, mothers and fathers have wept over sons and daughters, and funeral processions have become a woefully mundane part of life.
The children of Abraham have been fighting each other for far too long. I hope and pray that the Gaza pullout will be the first step toward a future of hope and peace rather than guns and bombs for Israelis and Palestinians for generations to come. In Your Most Holy Name I ask this, O Lord. Amen.