WITH a sigh of relief, another ceasefire is now in place between
Israel and Gaza. The optimistic gloss is that this will hold better
than in previous times, especially given the prospect of opening up
the blockade on Gaza, and the promises given from Hamas and from
Israel that appear to prevent an irreparable breach of trust on
Past experiences, however, suggest that we need to be cautious
about being over-optimistic. The eight days of fighting felt like a
long time for many living here, as we saw the images of
destruction, of slaughtered children in Gaza, and damaged
infrastructure both in Gaza and in Israel. The images make us feel
less hopeful about a sustainable settlement.
In such circumstances, secular NGOs in the Holy Land play an
important part in providing humanitarian aid and some immediate
repairs. Yet we need to be reminded of the important work of the
Churches. The Anglican Church's Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza remains
steadfast, despite its fragile budgets and the level of casualties
that depend on its free services. A recent report suggests that it
has been offered some options for keeping its ministry going,
despite the withdrawl of funds from UNRWA (News, 22 June).
The truth is that NGOs would do a better job if they worked more
closely with Churches, because Churches are better connected at the
local level, while the NGOs often labour under abstract and secular
assumptions. This, of course, puts a responsibility on the Churches
to reach out to the NGOs, who could help them make a difference to
ALL of this, however, remains short-termist. An ecumenical
prayer service called by Sabeel in Jerusalem reminded people of the
need for justice. Now the nagging question remains: what do we mean
by justice here? If we are concerned about a long-term settlement,
justice cannot mean a comprehensive victory for one side over the
other; both sides have their share of delusions.
We see these delusions at work when Israel is surprised that
Hamas has the resolve to engage with escalation, despite Israel's
superior power. Yet Israel continues to believe that its military
sophistication could determine the result of the conflict. Its
economic embargo on Gaza has not worked effectively, and did not
achieve its diplomatic goals.
It is also a shame that every Palestinian, whether in Gaza or
Jerusalem, becomes a de facto member of militant Hamas in
the eyes of the security forces. Young Palestinian men are often
seen harassed on the streets of Jerusalem when they are not
carrying anything to suggest a threat.
On the other hand, Hamas's unfortunate delusion has been that
further atrocities perpetrated by Israel could make the world take
its side. It does not seem to mind that the infrastructure in Gaza
is ravaged. Somehow, in God's future time, all will be restored,
but this time under the banner of victorious Islam, as if
Palestinian lives are cheap enough to be sacrificed as part of such
It is important to register, too, that Christians in Palestine,
like Christians in the rest of the Middle East, have concerns about
the triumph of certain elements in the Islamic world - a fact that
shows how much the state of affairs in the Holy Land is connected
with the stability of the rest of the region. Of course, Israeli
short-termist politics exploits that sensitive issue, but it
remains a genuine concern for Christian communities.
THE point remains that both sides need to come to terms with
their delusions, and to accept that neither is going to win over
the other in this kind of context. Israel has constantly argued
that it has to defend itself against enemies who would not grant
its right to exist, most notably Hamas.
But we have been reminded by various Israeli commentators this
week that the problem lies less with aggressive neighbours than
with a failure to tackle the underlying issues about Gaza's
stability, economically and politically, which encourages a complex
tit-for-tat policy on both sides, producing indiscriminate rockets
and desperate anxiety in Israel over security.
So it remains important to clarify, under the ceasefire, who
will take responsibility for mutual failed concerns that could
threaten any stability that is achieved. Israeli and Palestinian,
and perhaps Egyptian jurists need to explain more about what this
ceasefire means in legal terms. Gaza needs to maintain the
integrity of its civil society, and Israel wants assurances against
This, of course, puts many responsibilities on both sides.
Israel has to ask what sort of neighbours it wishes to have -
stable or unstable? If Israel wants secure borders, it needs to
work actively for the stability and flourishing of its
Similarly, if Hamas is truly interested in enhancing a good
Islamic ethos in Palestine, it could benefit from the teachings of
the most celebrated medieval Muslim theologian, al-Ghazali, who
focuses on self-reckoning for true reform. Hamas could do with a
collective self-examination, like that which we are all called to
carry out - muhasabah, as Ghazali called it - instead of
finding solace in war.
THE Israelis' fear and Hamas's unstable tactics have eroded the
rule of law. Only the presence of law accepted by all would provide
the guarantee for well-intentioned negotiations and the ability to
exercise religion properly. Al-Ghazali, like Augustine before him,
argued that good order in the world was the only guarantee for the
good order of religion.
Similarly, the law is a gift in the Hebrew Bible, which
regulates the affairs of the people of God, so that they can
achieve what God truly calls them to be as free human beings. A
common religious witness from the leaders of all the Abrahamic
traditions on the need for law, let alone other humanitarian
concerns, remains weak, but could have a strong impact.
The conflict urgently needs the resolve of a firm policy
declaration from the UN, and perhaps more importantly, from the
State Department in Washington. Meanwhile, I shall be praying for
the BBC Arabic reporter, a Gazan Palestinian, crying and holding
his dead newborn child, and for the many other wasted lives.
The Revd Dr Yazid Said is Scholar in residence at the Tantur
Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem.