&otAs the bombs and rockets fell on civilian populations during the recent war between Israel and Hezbollah (although much of Lebanon received the brunt of the destruction), U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice declared that we were all witnessing the ;birth pangs of a new Middle East.” I was deeply confused by her statement. What sort of “new” Middle East did she have in mind?
Was it a Middle East with wars being waged on civilian populations? Was it a Middle East with continued military occupation? How could the destruction of both northern Israel and much of southern Lebanon – in the mind of Ms. Rice – be associated with “birth pangs,” a distressful experience ultimately associated with the beauty of life and regeneration?
Something needs to change. Hope needs to be re-injected into this increasingly hopeless, yet vitally important, region of the globe. The peoples of the Middle East need an alternate version of the “New Middle East,” one that does not include war, death, and destruction.
First of all, do we need a new Middle East in the first place? Is the status quo post bellum a Middle East with which the world can afford to live? I do not think so. The Middle East is aflame with military occupation, economic stagnation, stifling despotism, sectarian violence, and ethnic and religious hatred, just to name a few. One country already has hundreds of nuclear weapons, and another country seems to be bent on developing one of its own. Is the Middle East the place where we want another arms race?
The recent war between Israel and Hezbollah has shown, among other things, that war in the region is futile. The almost complete destruction of much of southern Beirut as well as southern Lebanon did not vanquish Hezbollah. Raining rockets on the civilians of Haifa did not make Israel go away. In the September 4 issue of Time magazine, Tim McGirk wrote: “What riles Israelis is that Olmert and his generals didn’t hit harder and with more deadly effect.” More deadly effect? What’s next for Israel to do? Completely raze Beirut to the ground?
No, more war is the last thing the Middle East needs. What the Middle East needs is peace: a just peace; a comprehensive peace; a lasting peace. And it needs it now.
First thing first: there must be and end to the conflict with the Palestinians. The Palestinians deserve a state of their own – independent, free, and sovereign – living alongside Israel in peace. Palestine will be located within the 1967 borders, or – as recently suggested by Egypt – close to the 1967 borders with land being mutually swapped between Israel and Palestine.
East Jerusalem will be the capital of Palestine, and West Jerusalem will be the capital of Israel. The holy sites will be open to all, and all worshippers will be protected from harm (perhaps a Swiss guard will be erected?). In return, the Arab nations, including Palestine, will recognize the state of Israel, and the state of war between Arabs and Israelis will come to an end. The Arabs proposed this – in Beirut, ironically – back in 2002; the proposal must be revived once again.
All occupation must end. Syria should get back the Golan Heights; Lebanon should have Shebaa Farms returned. The “Coalition of the Willing” must be willing to leave Iraq as well. No more foreign armies on the ground in the Middle East; it has had enough of this for centuries. No more militias will be allowed to roam free and threaten the new peace. Perhaps peacekeeping troops may be needed in the interim in the new Palestine. Eventually, however, Arab and Jew will lay down their arms and usher in a new era as friends rather than foes for the first time in nearly fifty years.
Eventually the Middle East should become a nuclear-weapons-free zone. Such weapons – that have the capability to destroy all life on earth as we know it – should not be stockpiled in the Middle East: the region is too precious to allow that to happen (the rest of the world should follow its lead). Neither Israel nor Iran should be threatened with violence from the other. One day, there should be an Israeli embassy in Tehran and an Iranian embassy in West Jerusalem.
Will accomplishing this vision of a “New Middle East” be easy? Absolutely not. Many entrenched interests must be overcome, interests that want to see the status quo continue ad nauseum. Yet, the interest of life and peace must be made supreme. Too many innocent lives have been lost; too much blood and too many tears have been shed. The blood of an Israeli is not more precious than the blood of a Palestinian. The tears of an Israeli mother are just as painful as those of a Lebanese mother. No more war, please O Lord, no more war.
To achieve this new Middle East, an enormous amount of political capital may need to be spent. Politicians may lose their political careers. Yet, once again, life and limb is at stake here. What is the price for peace? Can one even be placed?
Right now, it is easy for people of the region to hate the other because the suicide bombs, truck bombs, laser-guided missiles, and cluster bombs still rain their death upon the innocent. When they stop, however, I believe things will change. When the smoke has lifted and people have hope once again, the age-old hatreds will die down, and people will learn to live with each other in peace and brotherhood. We must strive to bring this new Middle East to fruition.
As we mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the pain and agony of that day is still fresh in our minds as if it happened yesterday. How can we sit idly by as the people of the Middle East suffer through similar pain and agony on a daily basis? It is unconscionable that the Holy Land – the land over which the footsteps of the Prophets (peace be upon them) have tread, the land where our fathers Abraham, Ishmael, and Isaac (peace be upon them) are buried – continues to burn with the fires of death and destruction, hatred and anger, war and violence. It must end.
This is a rallying cry that all – Muslim, Christian, and Jew – can join. This is all of our land; let us reclaim it from the forces of darkness, hatred, and death. Let us, once and for all, bring peace to the Middle East, and let the land “around which God has blessed” shine once again with the light of God’s glory. Let the name of God be sung from its churches, synagogues, and mosques in peace once again. Can it become a reality? I believe it can, with the help of God. And with God, all is possible. And so I pray: Precious Lord on High, let there be peace in the Holy Land once and for all. In Your Most Holy Name I ask this, O Lord. Amen.
Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago physician and writer. He is the co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam,” published by Doubleday in 2006. His blog is at godfaithpen.com.