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The Jewish Report Editorial

A vicious merry-go-round

  • GeoffEditorial
There’s not much we can do from the bottom of Africa about the new spin of the deadly Middle East merry-go-round taking off in Israel and Gaza, except worry.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Jul 09, 2014

The script is familiar: a violent incident happens, Hamas rains rockets onto Israeli towns in northern Israel and even further afield, the IDF retaliates, Hamas responds, the IDF calls up reservists and responds in turn, Hamas shouts to the world about Israeli atrocities, world leaders call for restraint, and so it goes on.

Conflict after conflict. Who knows where it will end this time?

Perhaps, though, there’s something a little new, overshadowed by the developing major events, including rockets over Tel Aviv and numerous other places in Israel.

After the murder of four teenagers - three Israeli and one Palestinian - which triggered this round of violence, people from both sides drew some comfort from a surprising source: each other.  

On Sunday, Palestinians from the Hebron area paid a condolence visit to the grieving Fraenkel famil, whose son Naftali was one of the three boys murdered. One of them said: “They received us very, very nicely. The mother [Rachel Fraenkel] was incredible… I see before me a Jewish family who has lost a son opening the door to me,” he added.

In a statement last week, the Fraenkels condemned the murder of the Palestinian teen, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, saying: “There is no difference when it comes to blood. Murder is murder; there is no justification, forgiveness or atonement for any murder.”

And during a condolence visit by Jerusalem’s Mayor to the Fraenkel family, he called Hussein Abu Khdeir, father of Muhammad, which led to Abu Khdeir speaking to Yishai Fraenkel, the uncle of Naftali.

The two men comforted one another over the telephone. And several hundred Israelis went to the mourning tent of the Abu Khdeir family to extend condolences.

Many people would scoff, saying it is romantic and naïve to think the reaching out between these Arab and Jewish families is significant, or contradicts the horror on the larger level. Until the other side capitulates or makes major concessions, these gestures mean nothing.

Peace, in the bigger political sense, still seems unattainable. But behind the scenes among grassroots people living day by day among their neighbours, things are never quite as compartmentalised.

South Africans view with amazement the intensity of pure, irrational hatred playing itself out. Through all our travails during the decades-long apartheid regime, we never had that here. Which allowed peaceful change to happen, with neither side engaging in a civil war.

A fundamental - and fatal - difference is that the ANC always generally stuck to its Freedom Charter, which was peace-orientated and non-racial, while war and killing in the Middle East are so endemic and long-standing that they have virtually become part of the psyche of the people.

As for Hamas, its hatred of Israel is its raison d’être, masking a deep-seated sense of disempowerment and hopelessness, born of its own choices. Israel left Gaza years ago, forcefully removing its 8 000 citizens who lived there. Gaza could have been turned into a prosperous enclave if only the Palestinians had chosen that way. And the religious element was absent in South Africa, while it is a central factor in the Mid-East.

The posturing of political leaders does not always reflect the reality on the ground of ordinary people. Neither the Palestinians nor Israelis can wish the other side away.

We watch in fear as 40 000 Israeli reservists are called up and the country embarks on a new operation to protect itself from Hamas rockets and terrorism. It’s a truism that it’s easy to start a war, but much harder to know where it might end up. Inevitably, there will be casualties and this will outrage people in the Middle East and elsewhere.

It will be difficult for the Fraenkel and Khdeir families to hold onto the tiny thread of compassion between them before the rage of war creates a new reality. 

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