Is Peace Still Possible? Yes, but we must change the course we are on.
Last October 7th, Hamas operatives surprised Israeli border defenders who, despite vastly superior military capacities, were caught off guard and unable to contain a ghastly and vindictive wave of mass murder, kidnappings, and other gruesome atrocities. These heinous acts produced a wave of revulsion that swept the world. And that wave was accompanied by the sickening realization that the “total war” plan immediately declared by discredited Israeli strongman – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was guaranteed to bring more – vastly and disproportionately more – suffering to the millions of children, elders, and non-combatants locked in, unable to escape the densely populated confines of the Gaza Strip.
Global Exchange joined millions around the world who have urged restraint. We organized appeals to President Biden and our U.S. Representatives, pleading with them to use wisdom with their immense power and influence to stay the hand of Israeli vengeance and to keep the road of reconciliation open.
But despite broad public support for an urgent ceasefire to spare the lives of innocent civilians and hostages, President Biden instead boosted U.S. naval air support in the region, embraced Netanyahu, and gave the Israeli government a green light to escalate their attack. Biden’s mild requests to “minimize civilian casualties” were not enough to avoid the perception of American complicity with the war crimes implicit in the siege: starvation, bombing of civilians, and invasion of Gaza…a territory just smaller than Las Vegas, Nevada, but far more densely packed, with three times its population.
Another wave of revulsion and protest is now sweeping the world – provoked, this time, by the Israeli government’s disproportionate and sickening response and the U.S. failure to restrain its close ally.
I write on Day of the Dead, knowing this article will be published sometime later this month. I pray that by then, the killing will have stopped, that the deadly fire will have ceased, that mass starvation is averted, that hostages are safe at home, and that saner voices have prevailed. That is a lot to hope for, and I also fear that by the time you are reading this, conditions could be far worse – if the politics of vengeance, dehumanization, and unchecked retribution are allowed to prevail.
Around 2000 years ago when troops moved in to arrest Jesus of Nazareth in Jerusalem, his disciple Peter (the guy who later founded Christianity) drew his sword and sliced off the ear of one of their assailants. “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Over the millennia, we’ve boiled that down to: “Live by the sword, and you’ll die by it too.” The core truth of that saying could not be more relevant today.
When violence appears to be the only option and the emotional logic of “protection” or “resistance” leads us to plan and carry out inhumane, soul-distorting actions we must pause, reconsider, and seek higher wisdom.
We live in a time when fires are breaking out planet-wide – literally from the equator to the polar circles. Our survival requires concerted global action. We cannot afford to double down on ancient hatreds or the unresolved post-colonial disputes of the 1900s. Yet that is exactly what is happening in the Middle East, in Ukraine, and elsewhere.
But peace isn’t easy. It is more than just the mere absence of deadly conflict. Even if things “calm down,” real peace and reconciliation must be based on justice and a fundamental recasting of the assumptions and interests underlying the conflict.
But for right now, we need to build a coalition for peace among the majority of people across the political spectrum who believe that killing is wrong, that the killing of innocents is worse, and that justice is never served by more indiscriminate killing.
It is easy to feel disempowered in the face of seemingly implacable hatreds and events that seem to be spinning out of control. But, knowing that we are by no means alone in our revulsion to brutality helps. And it gives us a place to start conversations with our neighbors, friends, and our political representatives that go beyond the biased narratives of mainstream media and the shouting matches that dominate on social media.
To bring you a fresh and in-depth perspective from the conflict zone, Global Exchange is working closely with our longtime partner, Ernesto Ledesma of Rompeviento.TV who has started reporting from the occupied West Bank. This reporting is costly and risky, but we do it in the spirit of reaching out and building “people-to-people ties” and human solidarity even in the most dangerous and stressful times.
One observation Ernesto shared in his first days of reporting from the West Bank is that when he asked Palestinians – intellectuals, construction workers, doctors, aid workers and others across the West Bank the question, “Can anyone lead the way to stop this war?”. To my surprise, they all had the same answer: “Joe Biden”.
As American President, Biden could be a force for peace. No one has more power to halt the Israeli onslaught in Gaza, to feed those who are starving, to treat those who are wounded, and to free those who are held hostage. He has the most power to compel the Israelis to halt the ongoing settlement and annexation of Palestinian lands that Israeli anti-peace extremists have cynically used for generations to sabotage Camp David, Oslo, and every other effort for peace.
But Biden’s positions and actions to date confirm that he has chosen war; and worse, has not even publically insisted that Israel – the largest recipient of American military aid in the region – adhere to the rules of war.
The American people, and his Democratic base of voters, are historically supportive of Israel but polls show sharply rising concerns about escalation and overwhelming support for an immediate CEASEFIRE.
President Biden must wake up to this new reality and show true leadership for peace. The course he has set for our country is morally, politically and strategically unsustainable. We must change it, now!