President’s Corner: Finding Hope in our Shared Humanity
by Marta Tienda
December 5, 2023
I was in Buenos Aires when I learned about the brutal, unprovoked attack by Hamas on innocent Israelis along the border of the Gaza Strip. Retaliation would follow—of that, I was sure. In early 1994, I spent three months in Tel Aviv shortly after the first intifada (~1987–1993) in which Palestinians used random acts of violence to protest Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. During my three-month stay, an American Israeli physician opened fire on Palestinian Muslims praying in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, killing 29 innocent civilians and wounding many more. That atrocity strained the 1993 Israeli–Palestinian Oslo Accords, a peace process that had sought mutual recognition of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel. That the Oslo peace process did not permanently resolve the Israeli–Palestinian settlement resulted in a second intifada (~2000–2005), which incurred high casualties among civilians and combatants, estimated at 1,000 Israelis and three times as many Palestinians.
On October 7, 2023, the cycle of violence erupted again, this time polarizing communities, campuses, and countries, and leaving a trail of heart-wrenching human suffering. But even in these times of despair, I maintain hope that a diplomatic breakthrough can achieve a lasting peace that is rooted in our shared humanity, a united commitment to end the brutal atrocities and senseless loss of life, and a recognition of all people’s right to self-determination. Steps toward a lasting peace can build on proven templates for a peaceful coexistence that rejects violence, hate speech, and unbridled revenge.
I have witnessed the kind of peaceful coexistence I hope for in the Middle East. What keeps my hope alive is my memory of crossing the Sinai Peninsula into Egypt with my two sons almost thirty years ago. We had planned to spend the final days of our trip at a popular resort located in Egypt, half a mile from the Israeli border. The 1979 Egypt–Israel peace treaty had previously offered safe passage, but emotions from the massacre in Hebron were still raw and the U.S. Department of State had warned against travel to Egypt following random attacks on tourists in late February and early March. The tension crossing into Egypt was palpable, but despite my fears as a single woman traveling with my sons, we were never disrespected or mistreated. I still remember seeing the flags of Egypt and Israel flying side-by-side, a powerful testament to the possibility of peaceful coexistence across deep ideological, religious, and political divides. That memory reminds me that peaceful coexistence is possible when human dignity and human rights are valued over ideological differences. When it is sustained over time, mutual respect for differences can foster durable peace and, I hope, a long-term solution for a long-standing conflict.
So, I ask, how many lives must be sacrificed before this long-standing conflict is resolved? My heart hurts for the innocent civilians on both sides, especially the children who will forever be traumatized by the carnage inflicted on their communities, families, and loved ones. How many more homes will be destroyed and lives lost within the next week, month, or year? I grieve for the thousands who have lost loved ones, and I hope for a lasting peace. Amanda Gorman said it best in her exquisite poem for young people, “The Miracle of Morning.”
For it’s our grief that gives us our gratitude,
Shows us how to find hope, if we ever lose it.
So ensure that this ache wasn’t endured in vain:
Do not ignore the pain. Give it purpose. Use it.