Palestinians inspect their destroyed houses following overnight Israeli airstrikes in town of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip, Friday, May 14, 2021.

Photo by: AP Photo/Khalil Hamra

Not enough for Israel and Palestine: No one wins with (just) a ceasefire

Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon and Kevin Vollrath

June 22, 2021

The world paid close attention to the May 2021 hostilities between the Israeli military and Hamas in Gaza and the precursory events of protests on behalf of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, rallying cries for religious freedom to be protected on Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount), demonstrations for equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and other flareups between Israelis and Palestinians.  

While the May 21 ceasefire between Hamas and the State of Israel was welcomed by many, all concerned parties worry that the end of the recent violence that resulted in more than 200 deaths in Gaza, including more than 60 children; and the deaths of more than a dozen people in Israel, may only be temporary. 

Hamas fired rockets into Israel on Monday, May 10 in response to Israel’s failure to remove forces from the Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Access to Islam’s third most sacred site seems to teeter on the brink of regular outbursts and clashes because of the underlying tension of religious Jews also wanting access to the Temple Mount and its proximity to their most sacred religious site of the Western Wall.

The land dispute in Sheikh Jarrah which threatens to displace 58 people remains unsettled, with Israel’s Supreme Court setting a hearing date of July 20. A suspected appeal will follow. Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) continue to intimidate residents who are unable to safely leave their home. Residents continue to experience instability and fear of movement because of attacks from settlers or IDF.

As of early June, violence at al-Aqsa mosque continued unabated and Israel continued to harass Palestinian activists. Far-right Israelis continued to march in the Old City and chant “death to Arabs.” Palestinian Israelis also acted violently against Jewish Israelis. Israel has temporarily stopped granting permits to allow Palestinians to enter Israel for medical treatment. Authorities also suspended the insurance benefits of 11 nonviolent protesters living in East Jerusalem, preventing them and their families from receiving proper medical care. Around the world, including in the United States in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and other cities, antisemitic incidents have been on the rise with increased vandalism, attacks on synagogues, and violent harassment of Jews. Mosques have also experienced increased incidents of vandalism since the May 2021 hostilities. 

The ongoing effects and underlying core causes of the May hostilities must be addressed for the sake of both Palestinians in their quest for self-determination, and for the sake of Israelis being able to live in peace and security.  

What other underlying issues remain? 

Palestinians still do not have elections rescheduled. Fair and independent elections are an essential step in cultivating democratic culture in Palestine and moving towards a two-state solution or any just resolution to the conflict. The Biden administration ought to continue to support Palestinian elections if there will be lasting peace in Israel and Palestine. 

Now is the time, with the world watching and holding relevant parties to account, to work towards a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine. The underlying core issues of the conflict must be addressed—for both the sake of Israelis and Palestinians. 

Gaza is still under blockade. Without access to its own sea, airspace, and borders, Gaza’s economy is severely restricted, resulting in mass unemployment and inadequate food supply. The people of Gaza need long-term advocacy against future bombings that have indiscriminate effects on civilians, including children and youth. 

Many West Bank homes risk demolition. For example, in March 2021, the United Nations Special Rapporteur condemned the human rights violation in Israel’s demolition of the Palestinian village of Humsa where approximately 60 villagers, including 35 children, were rendered homeless. In addition, it is notoriously difficult for Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank to obtain building permits, unlike for their Israeli neighbors living in settlements. Home demolitions are also pending in Isawiyya and Batn al-Hawa (other neighborhoods in East Jerusalem), and elsewhere in the West Bank.

Another core underlying issue of the conflict is the more than 50,000 temporarily or permanently displaced Gazans who need immediate aid to rebuild homes. The Biden administration’s provision of $360 million in funding for economic development in Gaza, peacebuilding through USAID, and UNRWA is a significant improvement from the previous administration’s cutting of all funds to the Palestinian Authority. However, this amount is still less than one tenth of the $3.8 billion in military aid and support the US gives to Israel on an annual basis. It would be far better to stop the destruction of schools, hospitals, homes, and other workplaces, than to only commit minimal funds to slowly rebuilding them. Nonetheless, redevelopment funds remain critical.

But even if infrastructure were to be rebuilt immediately, and the land miraculously healed, no amount of humanitarian aid can restore lost limbs, lost children, lost parents. Nothing can take away the traumatic stress to a new generation of Palestinians in Gaza. Nothing can take away the pain, anger, and confusion a child experiences when discovering the death of their friend, sibling, parent, teacher, coach, neighbor, sheikh, rabbi, or pastor.

So, what change did the ceasefire bring? A return to the status quo from before the May hostilities, with some 250 fewer lives in Israel and Palestine. The good news—the ceasefire saved an unknowable number of lives, at least for now. But now is the time, with the world watching and holding relevant parties to account, to work towards a lasting peace in Israel and Palestine. The underlying core issues of the conflict must be addressed—for both the sake of Israelis and Palestinians. 

Only some of the physical damage of May’s bombings and rockets can be fixed, but much similar loss can be prevented in the future. The United States gives massive military aid to Israel and relatively miniscule humanitarian aid to Gaza. Israel’s military is one of the most advanced in the world—and it continues to be the US’s largest recipient of military aid in recent years. The Biden administration recently allowed Boeing to sell Israel $735 million in precision-guided missiles. Could there be more obvious evidence that the ceasefire is itself a ticking time-bomb?

As long as the Israeli occupation and indiscriminate US military aid to Israel continues—and as long as the core issues of the conflict go unaddressed—an increase in violence is the only certainty on the horizon. For the sake of the children of Palestine, for the sake of the children of Israel, may the ceasefire just be the beginning of the world holding Israel and Hamas to account. Human rights and equality provide the framework for how a just peace might be pursued for all in Palestine and Israel.

Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon is executive director, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP). Kevin Vollrath is the Ambassador Warren Clark Fellow (AWCF), Churches for Middle East Peace.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

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