Edited by Sam Thielman
I SPENT MONDAY AND TUESDAY constantly refreshing the Haaretz and al-Jazeera liveblogs to see if there was finally an agreement for a brief pause in the Israeli bombing of Gaza in exchange for a hostage release. You've probably seen by now that there is one, and it will take effect Thursday, following a 24-hour period where apparently Israelis can register any objections they have in court.
For at least four days—possibly up to ten, depending on additional hostage releases, although Haaretz reports that the Israeli government doubts it will last that long—the bombs will stop destroying Gaza; Hamas will release 50 captive youths, mothers and women; Israel will release 150 Palestinian prisoners, and Sami al-Arian notes that there are hundreds of children in Israeli military captivity; and, according to Sky News reporting of Hamas' understanding of the terms, an increase in trucks entering Gaza through Egypt carrying medical assistance and, crucially, fuel. (Haaretz is citing that same Hamas understanding, so I'm guessing Israel hasn't confirmed the aid acceleration, but I don't know.)
Doves don't consider this deal sufficient. Hawks don't consider this deal desirable. Benjamin Netanyahu is adamant that it won't be the first step to ending the war. Arab foreign ministers and the peace blocs in America and Israel want to create momentum for exactly that. This could go either way. But as my friend Mohammad Alsaafin writes at The Nation, "Forty-six days into Israel’s war on Gaza, [it's] a ray of hope."
The knife's edge upon which Palestinians, Israelis, and I suppose also the rest of us balance is a reminder that peace is something that has to be built. It is not the cessation of hostilities. The cessation of hostilities can build pressure for peace, or it can reset military conditions for war. Peace, especially in an atmosphere of supreme distrust, requires work – work through hardship, work through the inevitable setbacks, work at the bleakest of times.
There is a certain lazy expectation I've encountered in American media circles throughout the War on Terror that holds peace to be weak and indecisive, while war is the strenuous option that dares to settle intractable problems. But that doesn't describe the real world. I've known peace-builders as much as I've known generals, and the peace-builders also campaign hard, if not harder. In Israel, the relatives of the hostages have been campaigning for peace and demonstrating nothing short of heroism.
It's about to be the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States. However you feel about the origins of the holiday, I enjoy the way people use it for what they value: to be around our loved ones (or for blessed solitude from them), to eat, to relax, to hope the Cowboys lose, and to feel grateful. May you feel that spirit of peacefulness. May it take hold in Gaza.
But before we break for the holiday, a couple things about the landscape of the war we have to note.