A ceasefire has been declared in Gaza and the joyful celebrations of the U.S. Presidential inauguration fill our TV screens. There are reasons for us to celebrate and Gaza residents are relieved that the attacks have stopped and no more of their children will be killed.
But their grief is not over and moving on will be very difficult. Bloody bodies still fill the hospitals and morgues. Neighborhoods are decimated. One U.N. observer said it looks like a major earthquake has hit Gaza.
The "terrorist" violence of the Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli towns north of Gaza and the Israeli bombs dropped on Gaza are only one form of terrorism. While the rockets and bombs have stopped, another form of terrorism remains: the daily terrorism of lives lived under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza and in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and wherever the Palestinian refugees of 1948 and 1967 have found shelter. These people still wait for peace and they wait for justice. And they wait for the freedom to control their own lives.
I think of our tour guide last summer, who spends several hours every day waiting in lines at checkpoints to get to his work, meeting tourists like me, in Jerusalem. When he shows up at the checkpoint in Bethlehem at 6:00 in the morning, he never knows whether he will have to wait an hour or three hours. He never knows whether this is the day his permit will be revoked, without cause, by a surly soldier. He sleeps fitfully, because he worries that, even with his permits in order, he may not be able to meet his tour group - he worried about what we would do if he did not show up! And then what will he do for work? How will he feed his family? How will he provide for his wife and three small children?
A ceasefire is an important first step, but there is much more to be done. All of the terrorism needs to stop:
- the arbitrary and demeaning treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints
- the system of checkpoints and permits, whereby Israel (which has the sole power to issue travel documents) controls all movement between Israel and Palestine and within Palestine
- the refusal of Israel and the U.S. to work with duly elected Palestinian governments when we do not approve of their politics and their tactics
- the stated embargo of goods to Gaza and the de facto embargo to the West Bank - which not only denies Palestinians medical supplies, fuel and food, but also prevents commerce in Palestine and denies Palestinians the means to make a living. For example, Israel denies permits to wine growers in Palestine to ship their wines abroad.
- the denial of travel permits to Palestinian students who want to study abroad
- the ongoing building today of new Israeli settlements and the enlargement of existing settlements in Palestinian areas
So, today, as we celebrate new beginnings with a new president, let us not forget the new beginnings that are needed in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank and the role our new government can play in bringing peace and justice to the region.