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Shalom, Salaam

Those two words mean the same thing and are used in the same way, but one is Hebrew and the other is Arabic. They both mean “peace.” I have little hope that peace will come to the region of the world that Jews and Muslims have shared for thousands of years. There has been so much blood spilled, so much hatred generated, so much invested in the history of holy places like the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall and so many others, that the fever of war and killing will likely last for a long time. I hope I’m wrong because if I’m not, it could get much worse.

The modern history of the bloodshed begins in 1948 when the British gave up control of what was then called Palestine and the U.N. recognized the new state of Israel. Arab and Jewish militias fought for six months until Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Israel signed an agreement in 1949 establishing new borders.

Since then, there have been 14 military actions involving Israel and its neighbor states and/or non-state groups like the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hezbollah and Hamas. One, the Yom Kippur War in 1973, eventually led to the 1978 Camp David Peace Accords and Egypt’s recognition of Israel. Since then, no other Middle East country has formally acknowledged Israel’s right to exist. Even in Egypt more than 20 years after the Accords were signed, the vile, hateful anti-Semitic propaganda that has plagued Jews for centuries continued on Egyptian state television with a series called “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

One of the worst accusations in that blatant forgery is that Jews used the blood of Christian children to make matzo for the celebration of Passover. I have no idea how many Arab Muslims in the Middle East believe that, but the spokesman for Hamas apparently does:

So where is the way forward? For Israel, the optics of their latest incursion into Gaza have been terrible. Bloody children and accusations of attacks on U.N. schools turned into shelters did not win Israel any friends, nor did the video of the 15-year-old American-Palestinian boy being brutally beaten by Israeli soldiers. Far worse, Israeli extremists beat and burned a Palestinian boy alive. At least in that case, arrests have been made and the trial of the alleged attackers has begun.

But in Gaza, when three Israeli teens were kidnapped and murdered, many Gazans responded by celebrating in the streets. Israel says it has detained a member of Hamas in the case, but there is no evidence that Hamas launched its own investigation.

Israel is surrounded by threats and ringed by countries that do not even officially acknowledge its existence. Some of its neighbors in the region are barely countries anymore. Syria and Iraq are basket cases and breeding grounds for enemies more ferocious than Israel has ever faced. Jews are still vilified by millions around the world infected by anti-Semitism, which is making a comeback in the heart of Europe. This tiny nation of fewer than eight million people (1.4 million of whom are Arab) I know will defend itself to the death. World leaders, especially those in the Arab world, should understand that. If they don’t, and Hamas and others succeed in their goal to “push Israel into the sea,” the terrorists will have won, and those Arab leaders will lose, because the terrorists won’t stop with Israel. They already control much of Syria and Iraq. They remain embedded in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their cells and sympathizers are present everywhere from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia, and across northern Africa. If they win, there will be no kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, no presidents of Egypt and Iraq. For their own futures, every moderate Arab Muslim should reach out to Israel and say, “Salaam.” Terrorism is everybody’s enemy.