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Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns’ statement on Gaza
January 16, 2009

A ceasefire, already long overdue, should be declared immediately in Gaza. The world will feel relieved when the onslaught that has claimed the lives of 1,100 Palestinians and a dozen Israelis has been suspended. But peace is not merely the absence of war, and a fragile cease-fire is still a far cry from peace.

What if we viewed peace, not as a final agreement on paper, but as a dynamic, living, just relationship? Negotiations might quickly shift from discussion of boundaries, settlements and rockets to the quality of a relationship – especially the elements each party brings to a relationship to make it work.

Without mutual respect and inclusion of all interested parties there will be no Middle East peace, but only underlying dis-ease, persistent tension and the potential for new hostilities. A continuous cycle of ceasefires and ceasefire violations leaves no one secure. Hope for an Israeli-Palestinian settlement is fatally flawed if key parties such as Hamas are excluded from peace talks. Hamas was democratically elected and remains popular with much of the Palestinian population in the West Bank as well as Gaza.

Setting preconditions for talks has also been a non-starter, even when they are desirable ends. The last ceasefire called for an end to the launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel, and for the opening of Gaza border crossings. However, neither side upheld its end of the bargain, with tragic results. Unconditional talks, accompanied by confidence-building measures on both sides, would encourage the parallel progress called for in the Oslo Accords and give more traction to weightier issues of borders, settlements and capitals of two independent states. 

The international community has denounced Israel’s onslaught in Gaza as a disproportionate response to Qassam rockets – a criticism Israel has rejected, asserting its right to self defense. But words alone will not protect Gaza’s civilian population, which has made up half the victims of the recent violence. Israel’s principal arms supplier, the U.S. should end its arms shipments to Israel and initiate an international arms embargo on both sides. The U.S. should also press for a lifting of the blockade on Gaza for all non-military goods, and for an increase in humanitarian aid to the 1.5 million Gazans in the densely populated area.

The principal parties in the conflict are rife with political, ideological and religious differences. Some groups among both Israelis and Palestinians seem to be adopting more extreme positions and becoming more inflexible. If the U.S. is to be an effective broker, it must try to persuade both sides to moderate their positions and come together. Israelis and Palestinians will have to work through their grievances of the past 60 years, but the U.S. and its international partners could help create favorable conditions. As in other conflicts, an effective arms embargo would help create a viable process.

U.S. rhetoric has usually fallen short of acknowledging core issues, damaging the perception of the U.S. as an honest broker. Recent U.S. Senate and House resolutions condemn Hamas for the rocket attacks from Gaza and uphold Israel’s right to defend itself. They also acknowledge the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza, and they support a two-state resolution of the conflict. However, neither mentions Israeli settlements nor the ongoing appropriation of Palestinian land in the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem – issues that, left unaddressed, can only torpedo any peace process.

The crisis in Gaza caught the world’s attention after Israeli aircraft dropped more than 100 tons of bombs on the 140-square-mile coastal enclave on Dec. 27. If any solace can be found in the carnage that followed, it might be only this: that after 60 years of conflict, violence between Israelis and Palestinians still has the power to shock the civilized world. It is this enduring sensitivity to human tragedy that preserves at least a glimmer of hope for peace between two suffering peoples.

Faith in action:

U.S. Americans should study the conflict with the help of prominent Israeli and Palestinian academic and political figures. Organizations such as the Foundation for Middle East Peace and Churches for Middle East Peace offer reliable background and balanced perspectives.

Contact the Obama transition team at http://change.gov/. Urge President Obama to support an arms embargo and convene a peace conference that would promote real dialogue among all parties to the conflict. The U.S. must become fully engaged to help Israelis and Palestinians resolve their differences and build two viable and independent states co-existing in peace.

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