It’s a sunny autumn day in Gaza. A Palestinian family is waiting in a long line of traffic to cross the border into Israel. Inching along, they finally reach the checkpoint. The Israeli border patrol agent asks for their passports. He gives a wink and slight grin to one of the children in the back seat. He then hands the passports back to the father, and welcomes them to Israel.
It won’t be a long drive to Jerusalem — just under an hour — but this is a family vacation they have been looking forward to for months, and they are eager to arrive. They are Muslims. Jerusalem is one of the most sacred cities in their family’s religion, and for the first time in their lives, they can travel there safely. There is finally peace between Israel and Palestine.
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At this point in history, the scenario portrayed above seems impossible. “These two will be fighting forever,” the cynic would say. And unless you’ve been living in a cave in recent weeks, you might agree. Fighting has once again broken out between Israel and Palestine. In response to nearly 1,000 rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel, the Israeli military has carried out airstrikes over Gaza, forcing many Palestinians to leave their homes. According to the United Nations, 70 percent of casualties resulting from Israel’s airstrikes have been civilians — many of them children. Though there have been many calls from the international community to end the airstrikes, Israel does not seem willing to do so until the militant group Hamas stops its attacks.
There is a long history of tensions between Israel and Palestine. This region was once a land that was almost entirely Palestinian, but Jews eventually became the majority there, entering the land as refugees. Israel proclaimed itself a state in 1948 after the end of the British Mandate for Palestine. This statehood was immediately recognized by the United Nations.
As of 2012, Palestine is a sovereign state, also recognized by the United Nations. It controls the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. In recent years, Israel has expanded its borders in an effort to make them more defensible in an attack. As a result, many Palestinians have been evicted from their homes and lands. President Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, both have called for Israel to cut its borders back to their original 1948 location.
Many world leaders believe the solution is a two-state arrangement. The international community has wished to achieve this for years; even the British wished to accomplish it before ending the mandate. The problem is that there has never been a deal proposed that could be agreed upon by both Israelis and Palestinians. Israel continues to insist on a completely demilitarized Palestinian state, while Palestine seems to still have its eyes set on obtaining all of Jerusalem, which is considered the third most holy city in Islam after only Mecca and Medina. There was a great deal of hope that a two-state solution would be achieved after John Kerry became the 68th U.S. secretary of state. After all, Kerry has a passion for this issue and has a great deal of experience in foreign relations; he served as chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee from 2009 to 2013. But even with these hopes, talks between Israel and Palestine have been mostly dead for the past year.
A two-state solution is vitally important. Not only will it bring peace, but it will show the rest of the world that peace can be obtained even between the worst of enemies.
Many Americans believe it is not our place to get involved in conflicts in other parts of the world that, in their view, do not concern the United States. But what if France had chosen to not get involved in the American colonies’ fight for independence from the British crown? More than likely, the United States would not exist today. Or what if our nation’s leaders decided that during World War II, helping stop Hitler from taking over Europe was not our place and that instead we should focus on our true enemies, the empire of Japan?
The fact is the United States has a great deal of power and influence in the world, and we have fought hard, suffering great losses, to earn that position. We now have a responsibility to exercise that influence. It is my hope that the White House and State Department will take the most recent outbreak of violence in the Middle East seriously, and that they will actively take steps to pursue peace talks between Israel and Palestine. If the United States does not take the lead on this, nobody will.
Bryan McDowell is a Christian theologian and ordained minister with the Assemblies of God. He lives in Greenfield, Wis.