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Peace is only possible with reconciliation

08/06/2014 04:36PM, Published by Lev, Categories: In Print, Opinion

By Congressman Joe Pitts

We live in a peaceful land, for that we are incredibly fortunate. War has not touched these farmlands, rolling hills, and towns for more than 150 years. The last people who remembered Confederate soldiers marching through Pennsylvania are long buried. For people who have long lived in peace, it can be difficult to understand conflict.

Because of my previous service on the Foreign Affairs Committee and current service on the Human Rights Commission, I have traveled to areas of the world in conflict and war. I fought in Vietnam as a U.S. Air Force officer. I have met face-to-face with the victims of genocidal regimes and unjust governments. Occasionally, I have seen people set aside their grievances and choose to live in peace. That is difficult, but it is possible.

Today, my heart goes out to the people in Israel and Gaza who are suffering through yet another conflict. I fervently wish that lasting peace can be established.

Those wishes, however, do not cloud the reality of the situation in Gaza. The roots of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians go back decades. There is much dispute about the original sin that set off the violence. Untangling that knot is a task that is simply not possible. Bringing lasting peace will require a great deal of forgiveness on the part of both peoples.

For the present, there should be no question about Israel’s right to defend itself.

In 2005, Ariel Sharon, a man who led Israeli troops in multiple wars, decided that Israel should no longer support any settlements in Gaza. His government forcibly removed Israeli settlers, despite fervent opposition. Israeli soldiers dragged Israeli citizens out of their homes in order to move toward peace.

Unfortunately, the withdrawal did not bring about the wished-for peace. The Palestinian people are not at peace with Israel or with each other. Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party had long been the principal enemy of Israel. But as Arafat sought negotiation instead of confrontation, the radical Hamas party claimed the mantle that victory would be achieved through violence.

Hamas declared open war on Fatah in 2006 and forcibly took over government institutions in Gaza. Hundreds were killed in this conflict which involved no Israeli forces.

The stated goal of Hamas is the elimination of Israel. They do not wish for co-existence. In fact, for Hamas a two-state solution is just a temporary step toward total dominance.

Israel simply can’t be expected to stand by and watch Hamas stockpile weaponry to kill its people. They strengthened their existing blockade to try to stem the flow of rockets and explosives and keep suicide bombers from infiltrating their country.

For years now, Hamas has launched rockets into Israel indiscriminately. These are not targeted strikes. They are in fact launched with the hope that civilians will be killed.

No country would stand by as its citizens were fired upon. Israel’s response to rocket attacks has been strikes aimed to take out launch sites, rocket stockpiles and known locations of Hamas leadership. Hamas has rejected cease-fire agreements brokered by Egypt and the United Nations, even as Israel accepted the terms.

I hope that the U.S. can work with our regional partners to bring about a long-term cease fire. I hope that food and medical supplies can be delivered to the people of Gaza. I hope that Israeli and Palestinian children can attend school without the fear of attacks. Most of all, I hope for lasting peace.

The harsh reality is that peace will not come if Hamas is left alone to plot Israel’s destruction. Their goal is not the enrichment of their people. If that were so, they would invest more effort in building schools and roads and less in tunnels and rockets.

Peace is possible, but it will not come about through Israeli acceptance of strikes against their people. Israel must fight justly. They must do everything in their power to prevent civilian deaths. They know the eyes of the world are on them.

Real peace may come, but only when Hamas is open to reconciliation. I have seen age old disagreements settled peacefully, but it required compromise and the recognition that violence is not the solution. Until that time, Israel has the right to defend itself.

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