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The cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is giving people on both sides time to breathe. But it is not a real step toward peace in the Middle East, says Sarah Hofmann.
The full significance of a cease-fire can possibly be comprehended only by those who have experienced what it is like while the firing is going on.
I still get tremors when I think back to the evening barely two weeks ago when the sirens in Tel Aviv started wailing for the first time. The children had just fallen asleep, but we took them in our arms and ran quickly to the shelter a floor down. At that stage, we still thought the children could simply keep sleeping.
Then came the first blast as a rocket fired by the Israeli defense system hit a rocket from Gaza. Another came, then another, then another. The children were clinging to us in terror. We had barely left the shelter when the sirens started up again. The whole thing repeated itself four times before calm returned at last. At three in the morning, a fresh detonation woke me; our bed seemed to shake. This time, the sirens began to wail straight after the explosion.
I can barely imagine how deafeningly loud it must have been for families in Gaza during the following days and nights. How scared the children must have been when they heard the countless bomb explosions! And how the ground must have shaken as nearby high-rise buildings collapsed!
With this in mind, it seems banal to say that the prevailing truce between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in the Gaza Strip is a good piece of news. Of course, it really is — for all civilians, especially for children on both sides. Calm at last. Time to catch our breath and get some real sleep again.
But it could just be the calm before a renewed storm, as the issues behind this latest military confrontation have by no means been resolved. This is particularly the case in Jerusalem, with the looming eviction of Palestinians from their homes in favor of Israeli settlers in the East Jerusalem district of Sheikh Jarrah and the clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces at the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary holy site. And that is to name just two sources of tension.
The problems go further still, however. This time, the conflict occurred not only between Gaza and Israel: There were also clashes and violence between Jews and Arabs within Israel itself. Will this stop again now that a cease-fire agreement has been signed? Or was it simply a manifestation of all the tensions between Arabs and Jews that have long simmered in Israel and are not likely to vanish any time soon?
Cities like Acre (known locally as Akko) were up to now seen as a positive example of what peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians could look like on a large scale. Israeli friends of ours who have been involved in the peace movement since they were teenagers have named their daughter Akko for this reason. Now, however, there was rioting even in this city. For example, a restaurant was burnt down whose owners have been working for years to help people live together peacefully.
The parties to the conflict must talk to one another at last. That could sound like a platitude. But the last substantial peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian leadership took place in 2008! Many analysts believe that a two-state solution is no longer possible because so many Jewish settlements have now been built in the West Bank.
For all these reasons, I am still sad and worried despite the relief provided by the cease-fire. What is there to look forward to when even one of the leading commanders of the Israeli army says he would consider it a success if there were to be calm for the next five years? In what kind of country will my daughters' friends live? How often will children on both sides have to suffer trauma?
It would seem that any hopes for peace are currently met only with derision. At present, the best thing children in the Middle East can get is a cease-fire. It can only be hoped that it continues — at least for a while.
This article has been translated from German.