If I compare the current situation in Israel to an incident in a schoolyard, will you think I am not taking it seriously? I wonder myself, but the image persists in my mind.
In fact, I take the situation very seriously. How could one not, when people are dying and the Jewish, democratic State of Israel may follow them?
It is the leaders in the area who do not seem to take it seriously. They persist in making inflammatory statements when they surely know these will only exacerbate the problem.
President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority may not have known that his statement that the Israeli authorities had executed a 13-year-old Palestinian who, in fact, was alive and being treated in an Israeli hospital was untrue, but he surely knew that it would inflame his countrymen at a time when this could be least afforded.
But Abbas’s untruth was not the only one spoken by a leader involved in this conflict. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement that the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem had originated the Holocaust was blatantly untrue and Netanyahu undoubtedly knew it. The Mufti was surely a nasty, nasty man who supported Hitler’s murderous campaign against the Jewish people, but converting him from Hitler’s fanboy to his mentor was ludicrous and exceedingly dangerous.
The schoolyard image that persists in my head is of two boys, one of whom taunts the other mercilessly until the other assaults him with as much force as he can muster.
Now the attacker is surely at fault, but can anyone reasonably say that the taunter bears no responsibility, especially if he is bigger and stronger than the attacker?
Netanyahu and his government have clearly been taunting the Palestinians. He has promised them that their legitimate aspirations, the same aspirations that the Jewish people and every other people on earth share, to control their own destinies in a state of their own, have no hope of being met as long as he has anything to say about it. He has made racist statements, and the fact that they pale in the face of the more outrageous statements of other government ministers that he elevated to power does not excuse them.
Netanyahu may not actually believe the unconscionable things he says and tolerates in his associates, but that doesn’t matter. George Wallace apparently didn’t actually believe the racist statements he made for political purposes, but the damage they did was immense nonetheless, and he was only a governor, not the prime minister of a sovereign state.
But perhaps the most dangerous part of this whole situation is that the leaders have allowed religion to get mixed up in it with the events surrounding the Temple Mount. I value religion, but when it is abused, as it has been here, to stir up hatred, it has the potential to bring passions to a level that makes dialogue and reason impossible.
In a better time, I had the privilege of visiting the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. I did so with respect for people whose religious sites they were and with a sense of reverence that these were places holy to both the Muslims and the Jews. Religious sites should elevate us, imbue us with awe of a power greater than any of us and that is our common heritage, not incite us to murder our brothers and sisters.
When Israeli and Palestinian leaders act like children, they threaten to destroy any chance that their people will live in peace and security alongside the other. The dream of a Palestinian state can only be achieved by diplomacy. An Israel that does not end its occupation of the Palestinian territories in favor of a Palestinian state will either become the undemocratic, apartheid ruler of another people or a state that forfeits Jewish self-determination by allowing a growing Palestinian population to outvote the Jewish population. Or it may cease to exist entirely.
We need adults leading Israel and the Palestinians, and if the current leaders are unable or unwilling to grow up, let us hope that the Israelis and Palestinians have the wisdom to find leaders who will.