Smoke billows from Israeli air strikes in Gaza City, May 11, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Anas Baba-AFP via Getty Images)
Smoke billows from Israeli air strikes in Gaza City, May 11, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Anas Baba-AFP via Getty Images)

The horror show in Israel and Gaza serves only the powerful

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

The violence taking place in Israel and Gaza is horrifying. Hamas continues to fire rockets indiscriminately into Israel, and the IDF continues to respond with devastating retaliatory strikes. We condemn both. Our thoughts are with the people of Israel and the Palestinian territory — including our families and friends forced to live through this nightmare.

There is no military solution. The fighting must stop. Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israeli communities. Israel must use its military to calm the situation and refrain from attacking civilian neighborhoods. Both must de-escalate and not further actions that only encourage more fighting and more extremism.

There are Palestinians who want to destroy Israel and Israelis who want to push Palestinians out of Israel and the West Bank. But most Israelis and most Palestinians want to live in tranquility. War permits the vocal few to control the situation and make normal life impossible.

A lasting resolution requires a factual understanding of what sparked the conflict. The immediate cause was the Israeli attempt to evict Palestinian families in Jerusalem from their longtime homes in Sheikh Jarrah, the closing of the Damascus Gate and the invasion of the Temple Mount, considered Palestinian holy ground and one of the most sacred places on Earth. The Palestinians responded — youths with rocks and fists, and Hamas with rockets now more numerous and powerful than before.

Some Israelis, backed by their military, believe they are entitled under Israeli law to property in Sheikh Jarrah and access to the Temple Mount as part of their religious homeland. However, this is in conflict with international law and the facts on the ground. Israel is the more powerful player here. It can resist international law and political pressure, forcing its authority at the expense of the right of Palestinians to live in their own homes in peace and to pray in their own space at the al-Aksa mosque.

Jews, who themselves were homeless for 2,000 years, now find themselves in the role of deciding the fate of another downtrodden people.

The violence has served the needs of those in power on both sides. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now stronger than he was a few days ago after failing to form a government. On the Palestinian side, Hamas is trying to fill the power vacuum left by the lack of effective leadership in the occupied territories.

It is ironic that Jews who themselves were homeless for 2,000 years now find themselves in the role of deciding the fate of another downtrodden people. Of the two parties, Israel is undisputedly the stronger. It has the power and the ability to act that the Palestinians do not. Therefore, it has the responsibility to take the lead in efforts to de-escalate.

The efforts by the radical right to establish full Jewish sovereignty over the city and to change the status quo on the Temple Mount amount to playing with fire. The United States must lead the international community in conveying to the Israeli government that these actions must stop, that the potential for two capitals for two states in the city must be maintained.

The U.S. and the international community must also address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza that fuels despair and powers Hamas. This means rebuilding the damage from this and past rounds of violence but also improving the lives of the residents: the movement of goods and people, the rebuilding of infrastructure, and ensuring that the population’s basic needs such as clean drinking water and vaccination are met. All require international leadership.

The Palestinian mission in Washington and the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem must be reopened. A very senior U.S. official must play a prominent role and make it known to all that not only must the violence cease, but international law must be respected and the human rights of all peoples must be observed and protected. U.S. military aid to Israel must be restricted, as it is elsewhere, and used only for legitimate defensive purposes. Congress and the president himself must speak out unequivocally against eviction of Palestinians from their homes, against invasion of the Temple Mount and in support of a permanent settlement that guarantees peace, security and statehood for both parties.

Jon Kaufman
Jon Kaufman

Jon Kaufman is the Bay Area advocacy co-chair for J Street and a former board president of J. He lives in Oakland.