It's worth noting that the first priority of the newly liberated Palestinians in Gaza was the destruction and vandalism of roughly two dozen synagogues, the only traces of the Jewish presence in the region and of the 38-year Israeli occupation.
Most U.S. citizens, including myself, view with favor Israel's decision to withdraw its forces from the Gaza Strip and uproot 8,000 Jewish settlers, although we seem not to appreciate the irony of a Jewish state evicting Jews from land by virtue of their Judaism. Most people don't think to ask: Why does a piece of land intended for use as part of a multiethnic Palestinian state need to be utterly Judenrein? But we still support the measure, because the Palestinians need a state, too, and because it's a gesture of peace in a conflict where no one seems willing to take the first step.
For some people, though, the emancipation of Gaza and exile of its Jews aren't enough, even for a first step. The residents of Gaza are free, their shackles shattered, and yet it seems the first concerted effort they care to organize is the destruction of two dozen empty synagogues. The synagogue controversy and the riots are symptoms of the hatred that pervades and disables the peace process.
It may be that Israel left the synagogues standing simply to make the Palestinian Authority appear inept and to make the residents of Gaza appear unruly and violent. If that was the intent, Israel deserves criticism for its counterproductive actions and deceitful rulings. But the rioters in Gaza should realize that torching the holy buildings of their supposed peace partners may not be the gesture of goodwill called for in these days of tenuous hope. They should leave them standing for the same reasons that Israel left standing the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque, which were built squarely atop the Jewish Temple Mount after the Muslims conquered Jerusalem in the seventh century. When Israeli forces gained control of the Temple Mount in 1967, their hands were stayed by a mixture of hope, respect and pragmatism. Not only did they spare the holy Muslim sites, but they also left them in the control of Muslim authorities.
I won't pretend that this was done solely out of kindness and mercy. It's clear that destroying these ancient holy structures would have provoked a torrential reprisal that not even Israel could survive. But it displayed a willingness, if a grudging one, to coexist, which is the only way to end this conflict.
From the behavior of these rioters we can infer one of the primary obstacles to peace between Israel and the Palestinians - simple, robust hatred. The Palestinians of Gaza, freshly free of 38 years of Israel's occupation and Arafat's incitement, are not ready for peace. A progressive people seeking to build a society would use the empty synagogues for their own benefit. But the Palestinians have spent so many years languishing under occupation and corrupt leadership that destroying Jewish buildings is more important to them than building or procuring their own.
This is the tragedy of Gaza.
Boaz Munro '09 is ready for anything.