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NZ Jews and Muslims desire peace in Palestine

By Marie Sherry

New Zealanders with opposing views on the Israel-Palestine conflict agree on one point – the destruction and death of innocent civilians in the region must stop.

In January Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) president Javed Khan and Wellington Regional Jewish Council chairman David Zwartz both expressed hope the ceasefire in Gaza would hold and a peaceful resolution emerge.

Javed says the "bloody and brutal" Israeli attacks on Gaza during the past few weeks were unjustified.

"The excuse was that Hamas was sending those rockets across the border at Israel. This [Israeli attack] was totally disproportionate and it was so heavy handed that it could never be justified," he says.

"There are other ways of dealing with that situation. I’m sure the Israeli Army was quite aware of where those rockets were coming from. They could have stopped them very quickly and not gone in and attack civilians and defenceless women and children.

"They have totally destroyed Gaza. They have destroyed the infrastructure, the hospitals, and the universities. One and-a-half million people are living in a total rubbish dump basically."

Javed says members of his organisation and New Zealand’s Islamic community are outraged by the actions of Israel, as well as the reaction of the New Zealand Government.

"The National Government’s biased stand on the issue has tarnished the good international reputation enjoyed by New Zealand under the previous Labour Government. It is a double jeopardy that the international community including the US, Australia and New Zealand, is continuing to condone such unacceptable violation of international humanitarian laws and rules."

FIANZ is praying the ceasefire will hold and that all parties will be able to conduct peace talks. Javed also hopes the incoming Obama administration in America will take more interest in ending the fighting.

David Zwartz believes Israel did what it needed to do in Gaza and avoided civilian casualties as much as possible.

"I really regret the destruction and the people who have died but I can fully understand why Israel took the action that it did because of the unceasing rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and the breaking of the six-month ceasefire by Hamas on the 19th of December," he says.

"War is a bad thing at any time, but if you can think of a just war as being self defence, then that is a just cause.

"I’m very glad now that there is a new ceasefire and I hope that it will lead to new and different conditions that will prevent the situation from recurring. It’s ruinous for the people of Gaza.

"It’s really important for a new government to take charge over Gaza. Preferably that would be the same government that is in charge of the West Bank, because that was the situation before the Hamas took over," says David.

"We would have a government that recognised the state of Israel and was negotiating with it to reach an ultimate settlement. Then we wouldn’t have the aggression into Israel and the retaliation.

"I’m hoping that whatever they are working out with the Egyptians will happen. The Egyptians are not keen to have Gaza under the Hamas because it causes trouble for them too. If it’s possible to have a proper set of rules for the border crossings then it can happen."

David says the Jewish Council has received a huge amount of support from both Jewish and non-Jewish communities during the past few weeks.

"Everybody realises it’s something that can’t be allowed to go on. There seems to be a real understanding of some of the underlying problems."