I was in Tyre, Lebanon, 10 miles from the Israeli border, chants heard in the distance. A crowd was getting closer. Tyre is one of the strongholds of Hezbollah, a paramilitary group and political party that is in control of Lebanon and openly calls for the destruction of Israel due to its occupation of Palestine. It’s a city of more than 100,000 people, draped in the yellow and green colors of Hezbollah, where murals of both Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad and fallen martyrs line the streets.
The chants grew louder and louder. My heart started to race, and sweat formed on our taxi driver’s face.
“We shouldn’t be here,” he said.
We quickly got out of sight and watched from an opening as the casket of a suicide bomber was paraded through the streets, followed by a procession of members from Hezbollah who chanted for the destruction of Israel and expressed their hatred of the United States.
It was here, last March, in one of the most anti-Semitic towns in the world where birthed my hope that a peaceful agreement between Palestinians and Israelis would come to fruition.
When I talked to a street vendor who, like most in this town, animatedly supported Hezbollah, he said, “All I want is peace.”
Here, in the depths of hatred and conflict, came the seeds of peace and prosperity. Surely, peace must be preferred over war. If an individual who lives in the cauldron of hatred can hope for peace, why not whole groups of individuals? Why not nations?
This week, we saw the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reach new heights. Both Israelis and Hamas, a paramilitary group in Gaza, fired rockets at each other, killing many. Though a ceasefire has now been reached, fighting will happen again if political leaders ignore the will of their people.
Despite the war, my hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians is reaffirmed. Reading comments on Twitter, both residents of Gaza and Israel sent hopes of peace.
“Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies,” read one sign at an anti-war protest in Jerusalem.
For far too long, extremist politicians who ignore the will of their people have hijacked the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leaving them to shoulder the burden of continued war. This conflict is not between Israelis and Palestinians; it is between citizens yearning for peace and politicians who stoke the embers of conflict because of political convenience.
Hezbollah and Hamas care not about the fate of their own people but about the ever-corrupting flow of money and power, using religion, violence and self-righteousness to blind Lebanese and Palestinians of their true motives. Hezbollah proclaims that following a strict interpretation of Islam is the path to freedom in Palestine, yet they can be regularly found at the trendiest Beirut nightclubs drunkenly buying bottles of Patron, outlawed in the Quran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will find that he has much more in common with the leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah than he thinks. Netanyahu once depicted a political rival as a German SS officer, using his people’s historical suffering as a political weapon. An Orthodox Jewish settler soon assassinated the rival. Close analysis of Netanyahu’s speech shows continuous reference to the Holocaust as justification for his hawkish positions on Palestine, relying not on the merits of his arguments but on how much he can invoke fear into the hearts and minds of his citizens.
From Gaza to Tel Aviv, from the Hezbollah supporter in Tyre to the Israeli on Twitter, messages of peace ring throughout. My greatest hope is that the Arab Spring will plant itself in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where leaders are held accountable to the desires of their citizens.
The great shame in this conflict is that two religions that convey messages of love and peace are used to pit believer against believer, human against human. The things that unite these religions are far greater than the things that divide them, as much as the politicians on both sides of the conflict insist otherwise.
No doubt the conflict will escalate; no doubt blame will be cast to both Palestinians and Israelis. But the greater blame lies on the governments and politicians who use conflict and religious ideology as a tool for their own political security.
A ceasefire was signed between the two sides recently, but as we search for a greater peace, let us cement this peace by holding both governments accountable to the will of their respective peoples in an attempt to satisfy the universal condition of love and peace.
Justin Lynch, of Saratoga, N.Y., is in his senior year at the University of Maine, where he is majoring in economics and political science. He is the president of the University of Maine International Affairs Association. This piece first appeared in The Maine Campus.