The war in the Middle East has been framed as an Israel vs Palestine, Muslim vs Jew conflict. I fear that within this paradigm, looking through these lenses, a solution will never be found.
I would like to offer a different paradigm with which to view this conflict.
The problem with the Middle East is not the Jews nor is it the Muslims, it is extremists and extremism.
What does it mean to be an "extremist"? An extremist is someone who believes that their way of thinking and behaving is the one and only correct way to think and behave. If you do not believe and behave as the extremist does then you do not exist and should not exist. The opposite of extremism is moderation. Moderates accept that people are different and can be different. We can live as neighbors even though we have different beliefs and customs. This is called mutual respect. I respect your right to be different and still exist.
Hamas is an extremist group because they do not recognize Israels' right to exist. They never have. Further, they reject any peace negotiations and will not rest until all non-Muslims are subject to Jihad.
Article 13 of the Hamas charter specifically states:
"[Peace] initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement. Those conferences are no more than a means to appoint the infidels as arbitrators in the lands of Islam... There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad."
Israel also has its extremists. These are the settlers and the religious right who do not recognize the Palestinians' right to live on the land.
The problem with extremists is that extremism begets extremism. The more extreme you become the more extreme your enemy becomes which causes you to become more extreme, which makes your enemy become more extreme, and so on. Thus, left unattended parties become so extreme that…. Well, we all see what is happening.
The solution to the problem in the Middle East is not to get rid of the Jews or the Muslims but to get rid of the extremists who deny the right of others to live peacefully as neighbors. The solution is for each side to reign in and police their extremists while nurturing and promoting moderate voices.
For example, schools in Gaza could stop "regularly calling to murder Jews, and creating teaching materials that glorify terrorism, encourage martyrdom, demonize Israelis and incite antisemitism," as was reported by UN Watch on March 14, 2023.
Note that Israel is not perfect in this regard either. When The Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace organization dared to bring Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families together they were targeted by the extreme right. Breaking the Silence, which is an organization of veteran IDF soldiers speaking out for the plight of the Palestinians, was also targeted in a similar way.
So yes, both Israel and Gaza should do more to reign in their extremists.
Now, if both Israelis and Palestinians need to do more to reign in their extremists then are they not both equally at fault? And if Israel kills women and children when defending itself against Palestinian extremists then should not the Palestinians be able to kill women and children in their defence against Israeli extremists? Are not all lives worth the same? This is the moral equivalence question. Let's talk about it.
In Israel, extremists have political power. No question about it. But they are challenged. There are huge demonstrations in the streets. Many organizations in Israel are fighting to develop a common understanding with the Palestinians. Israeli Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace and Breaking the Silence are just the tip of the iceberg. Peace Now, If Not Now, Holy Land Trust, and Combatants for Peace are just a few of the others. Israelis are vocally in conflict with their in-house extremists.
Further, there are entire sections of Israel that have Jews, Muslims, Bahai, Christians… all living together peacefully. There are currently nine Muslims in the Israeli parliament and they are not the first. They join a list of no less than 93 previous Muslim parliamentarians going back to the formation of the nation. Khaled Kabub is a Muslim sitting on the Supreme Court of Israel. He joins a list of 15 previous Supreme Court justices who were not Jewish. Can you imagine the same happening in Gaza?
If you are an Israeli who speaks out against the IDF and for the plight of the Palestinians, you may not be popular but you will be respected. You may even end up with a professorship at a university.
If you were in Gaza and spoke out for the plight of the Israeli children being slaughtered at the hands of Hamas gunmen, what would happen? Have we ever seen Palestinians demonstrate on the streets of Gaza asking for Peace? In Israel, when some settlers killed a Palestinian, those settlers were arrested and put in prison. When a Palestinian kills a family of Jews they are treated as heroes.
Sure, the IDF does kill civilians but it does not TARGET civilians. Obviously in non-traditional war settings, where soldiers do not wear uniforms, do not have military bases and use civilian shields, women and children will be killed. Hamas on the other hand TARGETS the innocent as we have seen. They target the elderly and children. This is something that even the notoriously vicious narcos won't do.
So where is this moral equivalence?
Israel is a multicultural, multi-religious society. It is willing and eager to negotiate for peace. Hamas, by the admission of their own charter, specifically rejects any attempt to create peace short the murdering of all non-Muslims.
Israel allows people to challenge its stance. Hamas will murder anyone who dares challenge its stance.
So YES, FREE PALESTINE! Free Palestine from Hamas and other extremist groups. And similarly free Israel from the oversized political power its extremist groups have.
But most importantly, let's stop talking about the problem in the Middle East as one between Jews and Muslims. Let's start talking about extremists vs people who are willing to accept that not everyone is the same nor do they need to be the same. We can pray to the same one and only God with different words, actions, and traditions and still find a way to live peacefully as neighbors.