A need to dismantle walls of hate

Palestinians celebrate what they claim is a victory over Israel after an eight-day conflict, during a rally in Gaza City last Thursday. Photo by Reuters.
Palestinians celebrate what they claim is a victory over Israel after an eight-day conflict, during a rally in Gaza City last Thursday. Photo by Reuters.
The present ceasefire in Gaza solves nothing, writes Peter Matheson.

It would be churlish not to rejoice at the cessation of hostilities in Gaza. It would be idiotic, though, to imagine it solves anything. We are relieved that the casualty wards have less to do; we run to the statistics, and are glad that the death toll has stopped climbing. But what of the life toll?

Children growing up knowing nothing but fear and hate and anxiety. A friend phoned us from a kibbutz in Northern Israel recently.

Her favourite uncle and his family had just fled their family home in the south.

Could not take any more. Few if any in Gaza, of course, have such possibilities.

A truce, after all, simply allows both sides to regroup, and prepare for the next confrontation. How many truces were there in the Thirty Years War?

It is as if Hamas and Israel have a death pact. They are the mirror image of one another in many respects. Neither recognises the right of the other to exist. Both expect redemption from honing up their military technology, though Israel is infinitely resource richer in that regard.

I'm recently back from a research trip looking at 16th-century Germany.

Everywhere the remnants of the castle walls, or city walls, or village walls, or even fortified church walls. Useless, of course, as artillery got smarter. Today, the defensive wall which snakes through the West Bank increasingly destroys any hope of a two-state solution, not to mention crippling trade and communication. Gaza itself a shut off enclave.

But the key factor, politically, is the walls of hate, enhanced notably by the events of the last few weeks, fired by religious and ideological exceptionalism. Hate in this dimension, fortunately, is something few of us here have experienced directly. But many of us will have walked into a room and met it quite palpably. Words, rational arguments bounce off such walls. All the smart technology of the world is so much junk.

Our natural association with Hamas is the IRA, here in the so-called West.

So the US dismisses it as a terrorist organisation. I had the privilege of working for years with the Peace Movement in Northern Ireland, which moved in and out and across the walls there, real and metaphorical. Like Hamas, the IRA was not the easiest to relate to. It took decades to recognise that the state terrorism it was up against was part of the problem: the thugs in suits.

Political scientists here and world-wide recognise that until a viable political option is offered Hamas and the Palestinian authority in the West Bank, such as was eventually offered the IRA by Mr Major and Mr Blair, the carnage and the hate will go on.

One-eyed in Gaza! We, at a distance from such horrors, need to do more than throw up our hands in appalled sympathy with the victims. We need to plead, not least with the US, for a two-eyed perspective. We need to start pressing for alternatives to walls, real and metaphorical. Otherwise the death pact will maintain its grip, or the geopolitical constellation will explode in as yet inconceivable ferocity.

• Peter Matheson is a Presbyterian minister and church historian.