The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Israelis and Palestinians can’t go on like this. Weep for us.

This picture taken from Sderot in southern Israel, shows rockets fired from Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, on Thursday. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM — We could go on forever this way, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cheering squad wanted us to think. The intifada was long past. We were secure.

We were supposed to believe Gaza could suffer quietly under blockade. The conflict, if not over, was under control. We would make peace with far-off oil kingdoms, without giving anything up or seeing the people living next to us.

The police could crush protests angrily, as if protesting were primarily a rude insult to the police themselves. They could neglect the daily violence of despair in Arab towns in Israel, and yet turn violent at protests against their neglect. Their anger came out again at the weekly protests at Netanyahu’s residence and at recent protests at Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem against expelling Palestinian families.

We could go on forever, like driving across a bridge where we could see cracks, like watching a safety rope fray.

Europe would go on helping pay the bills for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and Qatar would continue sending cash to Gaza. The occupation was a bargain, the people there living 10 miles away from us and yet beyond mountains of darkness, settlements could grow, and we could skip reading those stories. It was elsewhere; it had gone on so long it could clearly go on longer.

The former president of the United States “took Jerusalem off the table,” so Jerusalem was no longer a problem. Peace plans withered quicker than cut flowers. The United States could give up on diplomacy. It had only so much attention and problems elsewhere. Nothing was blowing up here, so nothing would.

In Ramallah, Mahmoud Abbas was president forever. In Gaza, Hamas ruled and built rockets. News stories about Palestinian reconciliation bloomed briefly and faded. Each side would hold onto its fiefdom and platform. There were two different Palestinian governments, which was convenient for Netanyahu because it meant there was no one to talk to, and things could go on as they were.

In Israel, we held elections. No one won. The government increased the number of ministries and governed less. Netanyahu helped the party of the racist right get into parliament so it could help him stay in power. Only a small, tired remnant of the left, proving it was obsolete, talked about occupation.

The threat of families being evicted in Sheikh Jarrah coincided with Ramadan and with the annual march of right-wing Jewish youths to the Old City in Jerusalem. The police used familiar aggressive tactics against protests at al-Aqsa Mosque, ignoring the effect of clashes on sacred ground. Because nothing had blown up, the government acted as if nothing would blow up.

The cracked bridge collapsed; the frayed rope snapped.

At night, the furies, Jewish and Arab, fill streets in Israeli towns and attack people. Hamas, finding a chance to be noticed, throws rockets, not caring who they hit. Israel’s military aims carefully at Gaza. Either way, people are shredded.

I remember the first time I saw a pool of blood after a terrorist bombing in my neighborhood, and the first time I saw torn pieces of what had been a person on a downtown storefront. Bombs did not liberate anyone. If you have looked on these things, and you now hear of the rockets hitting Israel and buildings bombed in Gaza, then it is impossible to bear hearing people far away talk with certainty about which missiles are evil and which are necessary.

Weep, damn it, weep for us. Weep for this place in the season of wildflowers when it should be beautiful, weep for the dead and the living, weep for God who can’t get us to stop, weep for humanity.

Somehow this will stop. May it happen now, as you read this. We will see each other’s faces, each other’s pain. We will realize this cannot go on. We will find each other. It is what can come after anger and grief, what must come. I have to believe.

These words are what I have left after all the explanations and counterfeit certainties. I have tears for two peoples, tangled together, and hope that we’ll finally see that this can’t go on. We can’t let it.

Read more:

Rashid Khalidi: What we’re seeing now is just the latest chapter in Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinians

Noura Erakat and Mariam Barghouti: Sheikh Jarrah highlights the violent brazenness of Israel’s colonialist project

Jennifer Rubin: Biden wants to avoid another Israeli-Palestinian war. It will be even harder this time.

Max Boot: So much for the Abraham Accords. Trump made things worse in the Middle East.

The Post’s View: New Israeli-Palestinian fighting serves political agendas on both sides