On October 7, 2023, Hamas succeeded in entering Southern Israel, killing up to 1400 Israelis, and taking close to 220 hostages. It was the deadliest attack in nearly 75 years. In response, Netanyahu declared war with the objective of wiping out Hamas. As of October 26, the death toll was 2600 Palestinians and 1400 Israelis. No end to the war is in sight and it threatens to expand into a wider regional war. Two questions emerge: Who started this war? What can end it?
The knee-jerk answer to the first question is that Hamas started it by perpetrating the most horrible attack imaginable. But a more informed answer is that what Hamas started was merely the most recent battle in a 75-year war. The war began in 1948 with the creation of Israel. How did this come about?
Beginning in the late 19th century, the Zionist movement, reacting to anti-Semitism and viewing Palestine as historic Jewish territory, encouraged Jews to migrate. In 1917, Britain’s Balfour Declaration announced support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. In 1947, the UN approved the partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states and proposed that Jerusalem, the birthplace of the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), be placed under a "Special International Regime".
In 1948, Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, established the State of Israel with its Declaration of Independence. This triggered the Arab-Israel War which Israel won. It
immediately unilaterally annexed 60% of what the UN had allotted to Palestine, the West Bank (from Jordan) and Gaza (from Egypt). What has followed has been constant 20th century conflict – the Suez Crisis, the Six Day War, the Munich Massacre, the
Yom Kippur War and the First Lebanese War. In 1978, the Camp David Accords included
a framework for Palestinian self-government in Gaza and the West Bank but it was never implemented. In 1993, the Oslo Accords established a peace treaty between the PLO’s Arafat and Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin, but conflict between Palestinian factions and the murder of Rabin by an Israeli opposed to the Accords, killed any chances of establishing peace. You’ll learn more about all this in A History of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
In summary, Palestinians have been stateless, refugees and effectively imprisoned by Israel in Gaza. They have been victims of settler attacks in the growing West Bank Israeli settlements. Meanwhile, Israel is forced to protect itself from threats to wipe it off the face of the Earth. Does it matter any longer who started this? Must we not focus on how to end it?
The solution is simple but extremely difficult to carry out. Each side must recognize that they are as much the cause of their suffering as are their enemies. Each must accept the legitimacy of their enemies’ grievances and build mutual trust. Palestinians must be granted a self-governing homeland and Israel must be assured the continued existence of their homeland. Each must resist retaliation and, instead, accept that conflict will never solve the problems they face. After all, do the past 75 years not support this?
What can the world do? Must it not resist the human tendency to take sides and instead offer support to both parties? What can we, as individuals, do? Must we not recognize that “there ain’t no good guys; there ain’t no bad guys; there’s just you and me and we just disagree”? Must we all not champion what Christ taught in The Neighbour in the Greatest Commandment? Must it not take all of us?