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Finding the middle ground

It is possible to be pro-peace, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine all at the same time.

Hesham Hassaballais a physician and writer living in Chicago

The ground assault on Gaza continues to rage along, with no end in sight. The death toll of civilians caught up in this crisis - on both sides - continues to mount as the humanitarian situation for Gaza residents continues to deteriorate. Shortages of food, fuel and water continue to strain an already strained infrastructure, especially hospitals, and populace. And Hamas rockets - which were purportedly the reason the offensive was launched in the first place - continue to rain down on the villages and towns of southern Israel.

To what end is this horrific spiral of violence? Where will this lead both Israelis and Palestinians, who surely in their hearts know that they eventually will have to learn to live together in peace? There must be a way to solve this crisis besides rockets, bombs, missiles and mortars.

Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer, of the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz, recently wrote about the Jewish Diaspora and the nature of responses to this latest crisis coming out of the Holy Land. Pfeffer wrote that "a vast number, I hesitate to say the majority, are just not that interested." This really surprised me. Of those who are interested, he wrote, they can be divided into three groups.

One group sees "only the trauma inflicted on the people of Sderot, Ashkelon and other parts of [Israel's] southwest," and instinctively position themselves behind the Israel Defense Forces. There is a smaller group, according to Pfeffer, "who feel compelled to atone for Israel's manifold sins and join its enemies in the demonstrations, and sign petitions accusing the Zionist entity of war crimes."

"There is, though, a third stream of Jews," Pfeffer continued, "who have more complex and uncomfortable feelings on the matter. They care deeply for Israel and understand even why its government felt compelled to launch the devastating Operation Cast Lead, but they are extremely disturbed and hurt by the level of civilian deaths and destruction that almost seems part and parcel of the action. Surely, they say, there must, there has to be, another way of doing this."

I think there is a direct corollary in the American Arab and Muslim communities. In describing this "third stream of Jews," it was as if Pfeffer was talking about me.

I am torn apart by the images of the dead and of the Palestinian women and children streaming into the already overwhelmed Gaza hospitals. The looks of terror on the faces of those who have survived the onslaught of Operation Cast Lead are more than I can bear. Yet it would not make me feel any better if more Hamas rockets were fired on Sderot, Ashkelon and Neviot. The conflict would not be any more tolerable if more Israeli civilians were targeted and killed.

I believe the vast majority of American Muslims and Arab Americans feel the same way I do about this conflict. They are terribly hurt by the suffering of innocent Palestinians who have nowhere to run from the Gaza onslaught, but they do not think that the appropriate response is to hurl more death and destruction at Israeli civilians in a twisted form of revenge. Like our Jewish counterparts, we also think that "there has to be another way of doing this."

These voices - those of the "middle way" - need to become stronger in the discourse over what to do about the crisis in Gaza and southern Israel. It is possible to be pro-Palestine, pro-Israel and pro-peace all at the same time; these are not mutually exclusive. And groups such as the Arab American Institute, J Street, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, and the American Taskforce for Palestine, among many others, are showing just that. They are successfully embodying the voice of the middle way.

Although these voices have always been present, the outbreak of violence has moved them to speak more loudly, and they have strengthened their ties to bring about peace in the Middle East. And the two communities are natural allies.

They have much more in common than in distinction, and they both have a religious tradition that comes from and honors a common source, the patriarch Abraham.

In fact, Muslims the world over have just celebrated the Day of Ashura, during which the prophet Muhammad encouraged his followers to fast to mark the day when the children of Israel were freed from bondage in Egypt by Moses. Yes, Muslims do fast for Moses, and this common bond could serve to strengthen ties between our two communities.

President-elect Barack Obama, who, distressingly, long remained silent about the latest crisis, is set to take office in two weeks. He must strive for this "middle way" and work with all of us in the United States - American Jews, American Arabs and Muslims, and many others - who are pro-peace, pro-Israel and pro-Palestine. He must do so for a just solution to the conflict in the Holy Land.