In July, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasir Arafat seemed on the brink of bringing their people to lasting peace. Now, however, their people are on the brink of despair. We deeply mourn the loss of life that the past two weeks have brought, but we fervently hope that peace is still attainable. We urge all involved to work toward the common goal of lasting peace. We look to the students at Harvard to demonstrate a willingness to share this burden, instead of dividing themselves along the same divisive lines that are tearing apart the social fabric in Israel. There is a moral mandate to do so--these two weeks have illustrated the alternative all too vividly.
The violence that has swept Israel and the occupied territories since the visit of Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount two weeks ago reignited yesterday after a brief period of respite. Two Israeli reserve soldiers seeking shelter in a Palestinian police station in the West Bank town of Ramallah were killed by a mob of Palestinians; in retaliation, Israeli helicopter gunships used rockets to destroy the police building, a security forces headquarters and a radio and television station the Israelis accuse of having incited violence.
Such spirals of retribution will only lead to greater loss of life. Almost 100 people have died over the past two weeks, near 90 of them Palestinian. The ensuing anger on both sides makes peace seem ever more unrealistic. But these deaths, especially those of children and bystanders to the tumult, remind us of the high price of failure.
We join the chorus of world leaders in asking that Arafat and Barak, as well as the Israeli and Palestinian people, find the strength they need to continue to work towards peace. For Barak, the challenge will be to convince the Israeli public that unilateral action for peace, rather than escalating retribution, will ultimately bring harmony to the region. He should make sure that Israeli police and military forces act with care and only where necessary to protect Israeli citizens; he must also act to prevent the continued fraying of national bonds and the increasing conflict between Israeli citizens of Jewish and Arab origin. Israel could further defuse tensions by showing a willingness to cooperate with an international commission, led by the United States, that would investigate the claim that excessive force has been used; regardless of whether such claims are accurate, such cooperation would serve as a powerful sign that Israel is willing to re-commit to the peace process. Finally, we urge Barak resist calls to form a coalition government with Sharon and the conservative Likud Party, a government with which the Palestinians would not negotiate.
For his part, Arafat must repair two serious flaws in his credibility as a negotiator of peace. First, Arafat must demonstrate that he can control the groups frustrated with the peace process, both in the occupied territories and within Israel proper, and prevent them from taking more lives. The peace process can only succeed if those involved feel they have more to lose by continuing the violence. Second, he must use his authority to present a good-faith counterproposal to Israel's Camp David peace offer, and he must honestly seek a permanent peace. Arafat must stand up to those opposed to the peace process who urge defiance to international pressure, and he must take steps to maintain negotiations while there is still hope for peace.
Yet as the situation turns bleaker in the Middle East and is complicated by acts such as the kidnapping of three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, we here at Harvard must remember that we are not entirely exempt from the demand for peace. Earlier this week, Hillel and the Society of Arab Students held separate demonstrations; Hillel had sought a joint vigil, but discussions came apart over the issue of mourning those Israeli soldiers killed in the conflict. The Society of Arab Students' vigil was marred, however, by the presence of Israel supporters distributing inflammatory fliers. If students thousands of miles from the scene living in the safety of the Harvard campus cannot agree on the need for peace, how can such agreement be expected from those whose lives may be endangered? By adding our voices to those around the world calling for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, and by showing our solidarity with each other in this community--whether Arab or Jew, Israeli or Palestinian--we reinforce the worldwide pressure for an end to the violence.
Let us begin to show in word and deed, here at Harvard, that we are true advocates for peace.
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