How a deep Palestinian yearning has been hijacked by Hamas

People wave the Palestinian flag during a protest in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Oct. 18. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)The Palestinian people are an abstraction to many Americans amid the horror of the Gaza war. They see a cruel terrorist face in Hamas.

But I also saw how Hamas and other groups hijacked the basic human emotions that I witnessed among Palestinians and used them for their own terrorist purposes. And Israel, in its justifiable rage against terrorism, might have lost sight of the fact that Hamas and Palestinian civilians aren’t the same.

My strongest memory of Halhul is falling asleep on the roof of Kashkeesh’s house. The men of the family slept there in the summer. As I lay under the blanket of stars, my host’s father, Abu Hammadeh, pointed to the town below and said, “This is beautiful.” Several minutes later, the old man repeated, “This is very beautiful.” And finally, as I was nearly asleep, he said loudly: “This is the best!”Abu Hammadeh left the house each morning at dawn with his horse to tend the family’s plot of grapes.

I left that last visit to Halhul thinking the opportunity for peace had truly vanished. The residue of bitterness on both sides was too deep. And that might be true, especially after the awful toll of these last weeks of Hamas terrorism and Israeli retaliation.But Kashkeesh told me a story during one of my visits that suggests the human mystery that allows reconciliation, even after the worst tragedies.

One day, he told me, an Israeli infant fell into the swimming pool. Though he couldn’t swim, Kashkeesh jumped in and rescued the boy. When an Israeli asked him later why he had risked his life to save a Jew, Kashkeesh answered that the child was a human being. How could he do otherwise?

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