Saliba Sarsar: A plea for peace 50 years after war | Opinion

The writer is a professor of political science at Monmouth University in New Jersey. He wrote this for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

As a native of Jerusalem, I am acutely aware that this year marks a half-century since the Six-Day War.

However, 2017 is a marker of multiple significant anniversaries in the connected history of Palestinians and Israelis: 120 years since the first Zionist Congress, 100 years since the writing of the Balfour Declaration, 70 years since the U.N. General Assembly Partition Resolution, 40 years since the visit of Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem and 30 years since the first intifada.

The threats, riots, blockades, military campaigns and terror bloodying our sacred landscapes have resulted in more than a hundred years of destruction, death and injury to our peoples.

How many of us must become casualties or collateral damage before the lessons of conflict and war are learned? How many of our children must be compelled to address life-and-death questions and not be allowed to dream of hope and peace?

There is enough blame to go around; innocence is not the exclusive domain of one individual or community.

In war, we become hostage to and victims of fear and insecurity. There are better ways to resolve conflict than through violence. Violence is not a path toward peace.

Whether we all like it or not, Israelis and Palestinians are and will be neighbors forever. The Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are the garden fences of our respective homes and the bookends of our respective narratives. The sooner we grasp our reality, the quicker we can work through the issues that divide us.

Whether we all like it or not, whatever separates us religiously is minuscule to what unites us. Only by honoring each other’s religion can we be faithful to our own.

Whether we all like it or not, the space between us nationally is also minuscule. We have inhabited the same land for generations but forgotten the meaning of inclusion and sharing.

Let our amnesia dissolve into the reservoir of acknowledging our own wrongs and considering each other’s rights.

Palestinians and Israelis have a responsibility toward each other. Wishing each other away is foolishness.

We must change our minds and change our ways. Crossing the border, physically and psychologically, is definitely possible.

On the morning of June 5, 1967, I heard Jordan’s King Hussein asking his citizens to fight the enemy (the Israelis) “wherever you find them.” Yet on Oct. 23, 1998, just months before his death, he pleaded for peace during the Wye River Middle East conference.

Egypt’s Sadat was a main architect of 1973’s war against Israel. Yet, on Nov. 19, 1977, he landed in Israel and opened the door to direct negotiations that culminated in a peace treaty.

Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin, who commanded the Israel Defense Forces in the Six-Day War, spoke on behalf of the Israeli people at the signing of the Oslo Accords: “We who have fought against you, the Palestinians; we say to you today, in a loud and a clear voice, enough of blood and tears . . . enough!”

Unfortunately, both Sadat and Rabin were assassinated by extremists within their respective community. But that is why there is an urgent need to have leaders at all levels of our societies stand up and demand change for peace.

We must impress upon those in authority to be empathic with each other and to rise above ideology, party politics, national identity and religious affiliation. Is not the main goal of good governance to advocate for all citizens equally, to manage needs and to resolve conflict so as to create social justice, peace and prosperity?

It is time that we turn our nightmares and suffering into hopeful dreams and positive action. This year must not pass without each of us contributing to the mosaic that is peace.

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