Who Will Have the Courage to Make Peace?

An Israeli woman holds a drawing of an Israeli flag and a Palestinian flag, side by side.  The Hebrew word for “peace” is written above the flags and the Arabic word for peace is written below them.

That is an increasingly urgent question right now in the Middle East – the region that sits at the crossroads where Europe, Asia and Africa all meet.

Tensions there between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas have intensified in the past week.

Rockets and missiles have been flying back and forth.

And according to media reports from the region, civilians on both sides have been killed.

(A civilian is someone who is not in the military.)

On Sunday alone, approximately 125 Hamas rockets landed in Israel, according to the AFP news agency.

And many others were reportedly deflected by Israel’s rocket defense system.

And in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, which Hamas controls, as many as 29 people were killed on Sunday by Israeli air strikes.

As of early Monday morning, there was talk of a ceasefire – but only talk.

Israel’s ultimate goal is to stop Hamas from firing rockets over the Israel-Gaza border once and for all – rockets that have been landing in Israeli communities for years.

At times, there have been peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians who control the West Bank – another territory on the Israeli border.

(The West Bank is called the West Bank because it’s on the west side of the Jordan River.)

But the Palestinians who control Gaza have consistently refused to consider peace with Israel.

Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have historical, ancestral and religious ties to what is now Israeli territory, as well as the West Bank and Gaza.

But Hamas has repeatedly rejected any attempt to reach an agreement that would allow both groups to live side by side in peace.

At a news conference during his visit to Thailand on Sunday, President Obama said that Israel “has every right to expect that it does not have missiles fired into its territory,” according to a report by Reuters news service.

But he also told reporters he hoped that the conflict would not ramp up even further.

(“Ramp up” means increase or intensify.)

The President added that he’s been in touch with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as the leaders of Egypt and Turkey, according to the Associated Press.

(BACKGROUND:  Gaza is a narrow strip of land sandwiched between Israel and Egypt.  That’s one reason why the Egyptians have gotten involved.  In addition, Egypt and Turkey are predominantly Muslim countries that have also been U.S. allies.   The Palestinians in Gaza are predominantly Muslim as well.  But the United States does not have direct diplomatic ties with Hamas because it considers Hamas a terrorist organization.  So U.S. diplomats hope the Egyptians and Turks will act as go-betweens.)

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was expected to travel to Egypt and Israel this week, in an effort to make the fighting stop.

But as the weekend came to a close in Israel and in Gaza, there were few signs of peace on the horizon – just rockets and missiles.