Voices of hope spur us to seek peace now

University students had the opportunity to meet two courageous men from the Middle East on Friday. Rami Elhanan, an Israeli Jew, and Ghazi Briegieth, a Palestinian Muslim, have both lost family members in the ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

The men are on a national speaking tour for the organization Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace and spoke as part of Dean J. Brian Atwood’s International Policy Forum at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. We support the work of Elhanan and Briegieth, who share grief and a simple conviction – without a compromise in the Middle East, people will continue to die needlessly.

Last weekend, 19 people died in Haifa, Israel, when a suicide bomber blew herself up in a local restaurant. Israel retaliated by bombing an alleged terrorist camp in Syria, the first attack on Palestinians outside occupied territory in 30 years. News reports were replete with images of mothers in unfathomable grief. Despite such harrowing images, or perhaps because of them, the world appears frozen in its demands for a solution.

It is not that Americans are against a solution in the Middle East; we just stopped believing in the possibility. And Americans are not alone. The ubiquitous “conflict in the Middle East” is the equivalent of a political cliche. Somehow it entered a category of inevitability from which it might never escape.

Elhanan and Briegieth cut through all the socio-economic-political-religious rhetoric that paralyzes progress. Elhanan, an artist and seventh-generation Jerusalemite, spoke eloquently, with thoughtful sadness and measured, purposeful speech. “I lost my daughter,” he said. “But I didn’t lose my head.” Briegieth is an electrician who wears a baseball cap. He looks naturally jovial and unaccustomed to pain.

Both men have round, comfortable midsections that reveal their age. Theirs are the true faces of a complex political problem. If we see their pain, and it is impossible not to, then we also see the necessity for peace now.