I am in Tyre, Lebanon. Ten miles from the Israeli border, chants can be heard in the distance: A crowd is getting closer. Tyre is one of the strongholds of Hezbollah, a paramilitary group and political party that is in control of Lebanon and openly calls for the destruction of Israel due to its occupation of Palestine. It’s a city of more than 100,000 people, draped in the yellow and green colors of Hezbollah, where murals of both Syrian leader Bashar Hafez al-Assad and fallen martyrs line the streets. It reminds me of the same patriotic proclamations of July 4th in the United States.
The chants grow louder and louder. My heart starts to race and sweat starts to pour off our taxi driver’s face. “We shouldn’t be here,” he says. We quickly get out of sight and watch from an opening as the casket of a suicide bomber is paraded through the streets, followed by a procession of members from Hezbollah who chant for the destruction of Israel and of their hatred for the U.S.
It was here, in one of the most anti-Semitic towns in the world, where my hope was returned that a peaceful agreement between Palestinians and Israelis would come to fruition.
I started to talk to a street vendor who, like most in this town, animatedly supported Hezbollah.
“All I want is peace,” he said.
Here, in the depths of hatred and conflict, came the seeds of peace and prosperity. Surely peace must be preferred over war. If an individual who lives in the caldron of hatred can hope for peace, why not whole groups of individuals? Why not whole nations?
This week, we saw the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reach new heights. Both Israelis and Hamas, a paramilitary group in Gaza, fired rockets at each other, killing many. The conflict threatens to boil over, as Israeli forces have massed troops on the border of the Gaza strip.
But once again in this time of imminent war, my hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians is reaffirmed. Reading the comments on twitter, both residents of Gaza and Israel sent hopes of peace.
“Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies,” one sign at an anti-war protest in Jerusalem read.
For far too long, extremist politicians who ignore the will of their people have hijacked the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leaving them to shoulder the burden of continued war. This conflict is not between Israelis and Palestinians: It is between citizens yearning for peace and politicians who stoke the embers of conflict because of political convenience.
Hezbollah and Hamas care not about the fate of their own people but about the ever-corrupting flow of money and power, using religion and self-righteousness to blind Lebanese and Palestinians of their true motives. Hezbollah proclaims that following a strict interpretation of Islam is the path to freedom in Palestine, yet they can be regularly found at the trendiest Beirut nightclubs drunkenly buying bottles of Patron, outlawed in the Quran.
Prime Minister Netanyahu will find that he has much more in common with the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah than he thinks. Netanyahu once depicted a political rival as a German SS-Officer, using his people’s historical suffering as a political weapon. An Orthodox Jewish settler soon assassinated the rival. Close analysis of Netanyahu’s speech shows continuous reference to the Holocaust as justification for his hawkish positions on Palestine, relying not on the merits of his arguments but on how well he can invoke fear in the hearts and minds of his citizens.
From Gaza to Tel Aviv, from the Hezbollah supporter in Tyre to the Israeli on Twitter, messages of peace ring throughout. My greatest hope is that the Arab Spring will plant itself in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where leaders are held accountable for the desires of their citizens.
The great shame in this conflict is that two religions that convey messages of love and peace are used to pit believer against believer, human against human. The things that unite these religions are far greater than those that divide them, as much as the politicians on both sides of the conflict insist otherwise.
No doubt the conflict will escalate in the coming days, no doubt blame will be cast to both Palestinians and Israelis. But the greater blame lies on the governments and politicians, who use conflict and religious ideology as a tool for their own political security.
Traditional strategies of rapprochement and peace have rested upon countries negotiating with each other, state to state. As we assemble a strategy for peace this time, let us focus on striking a deal between people and governments, foregoing the primal nature of politicians in an attempt to satisfy the universal human condition of love and peace.
I have no doubt that one day we will look back on the despotism of politicians and governments, including our own, who coerce war for political gain, with disdain and disgust.
Through the thorns of war in Gaza and Israel, lies the ever-present element of hope.