When will it end?

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On Saturday night, Israel declared a unilateral cease-fire in Gaza, and on Sunday, Hamas agreed to a weeklong cease-fire. Much of the world will now breathe a sigh of relief that "it's over" and will turn to other matters. But it is not over.

Danny Schiff is the community scholar at the Agency for Jewish Learning and rabbi of B'nai Israel in White Oak (d@schiff.com).

At some point in the near future, missiles will again be fired at Israel from Hezbollah in the north, or from Hamas in the south, only this time they will be longer range and more deadly than before. The world will mostly pay no heed. Those who do will counsel that Israel should show restraint. They will say the same even when the rockets start to hit major population centers, causing fear, death and injury. Then, one day, enough will be enough. Israel will again respond with force to the assault upon her sovereign territory. And the world will immediately demand that Israel stop forthwith.

When will it end? When will Israelis finally get to live in peace?

There is a surprisingly simple answer to this question. It will end when the Palestinians, the surrounding Arab countries and Iran decide that the existence of a Jewish neighboring state in their midst is acceptable and can be accommodated with equanimity. That's it. Once that happens, all the other conversations about borders and settlements and capitals will readily be solved around a table.

We Jews have many disagreements among ourselves. But there is at least one topic upon which there is widespread concurrence between American and Israeli Jews: We harbor no ill will toward Palestinians, and we want them to have a flourishing state of their own.

Think about it this way: Imagine if the Palestinian leadership in Gaza said to Israelis, or to Jews anywhere, "We would like to build a wonderful society here, but we don't have sufficient resources or manpower … we will guarantee your safety; please help us to build schools, hospitals, universities, and to make this place prosper." It is 100 percent certain what the result would be: Jews would flock from around the world, including from Pittsburgh, to help in the endeavor.

Think now of the request being reversed: if Israelis were to ask for assistance or support from their Palestinian neighbors. The only assistance that has ever been on offer is help with dismantling Israel and driving Jews away.

This pivotal asymmetry is at the root of great suffering: The vast majority of Israelis, and Jews worldwide, are prepared to help build a stable, secure Palestinian state that will ensure the safety and well-being of the Palestinian people. Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran do not want this, because it would detract from their chief stated goal: the destruction of the state of Israel. That is precisely why Hamas spent the last three years acquiring weapons to be used in an ongoing war against Israel, rather than feeding and governing its own people. Jews stand ready to build two states that can live together. Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran want to destroy the Jewish state that exists, along with its people.

This asymmetry also has been palpably on display in another way: For more than three years, Hamas has deliberately targeted innocent civilians in Israel. As a terrorist organization, it succeeded in spreading terror and death. Hamas greeted every rocket that took innocent life in southern Israel with contentment and celebration.

Contrast this with Israel's conduct over the last three weeks: Israel has done everything in its power to avoid civilian deaths in Gaza, including frequent warnings to civilians about impending strikes on Hamas terrorists. Still, tragically, there have been around 600 innocent, civilian fatalities, as well as many injured. It is likely that a proportion of the casualties did not die because of Israeli munitions, but because of the multiple booby-trapped areas set up by Hamas and because of forced proximity to Hamas weaponry. Nevertheless, every loss of innocent life is heartbreaking. It is the horrific, disastrous outcome of a futile war endlessly conducted against Israel by a Palestinian leadership focused solely on an agenda of destruction.

And what has been the Israeli and Jewish reaction to these Palestinian losses? We mourn, we profoundly regret and we are deeply diminished by the death or injury of every Palestinian innocent. It brings no satisfaction, only a sense of shared pain.

On Jan. 11, speaking in Trafalgar Square, the chief rabbi of Britain put it this way: "You want Palestinian children to grow up with hope. So do we. You want Palestinians to be able to live in dignity. So do we. You want Palestinian parents to have work, income and a life for their families. So do we. We care about the Palestinian future. We care for Palestinian children. We care about life."

Amen to the chief rabbi. Will Hamas ever say the same about Israelis? Will the leaders of fundamentalist Islam? Only if they do will the suffering of the Palestinians come to an end. Only if they do will Israelis live at peace. Let's pray that the rejectionists will soon be swept away, making way for those who are determined to shape a more hopeful tomorrow.


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