Throughout my lifetime (rapidly approaching seven full decades) the term “Middle East” has been synonymous with any problem that has become intractable to the point of hatred and war. I remember, as a boy, reading a grim genre of humor emanating from that region. The following joke was typical:
One day, a poisonous tarantula discovered that a sudden rain had created a rushing wadi right between the point where he stood and his home and family, to whom he desperately wanted to return. Seeing a camel on his way across the wadi, the tarantula shouted in his most charming voice, “Please, Mr. Camel, could you give me a ride across the wadi to my home on the other side?”
The camel took one look at the tarantula and shook its huge head. “Of course not,” he said. “You are a tarantula, and it is in the nature of tarantulas to sting other creatures. Knowing that I am a particularly sensitive creature, I am certain that one dose of your poison will kill me.”
“How crazy of you to think such a thing,” replied the tarantula. “If I were to sting you as we crossed the wadi, we would both drown.”
The camel thought about this response and decided it made unquestionable sense. He therefore agreed to allow the tarantula to ride on his back, but he also decided, just to be on the safe side, to shake the tarantula off his back just before reaching the other shore.
Midway across the wadi, at its deepest point, the tarantula stung the camel, and as the poison took effect, the camel realized he would be dead in only a few seconds.
“Why on earth would you do such a thing?” he asked the tarantula. “Don’t you see that now we will both surely drown?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” replied the tarantula. “This is the Middle East.”
I have seen many variations of this story, but the point is always the same. Ideological hatred runs so deep among so many factions in the region that one cannot possibly hope for long term peace.
And yet, diplomats continue to try.
Why, you ask, is a temporary cease-fire worth the attempt when history shows that another outbreak of hostilities is almost certain to follow?
The answer, of course, is that even one hours-worth of cease fire represents a chance to move dozens of children or injured civilians to safer places. With a few more hours that number becomes hundreds, even thousands. Those few hours might represent the only chance for humanitarian supplies and medical equipment to move closer to places where suffering is the greatest. And, though far less probable, that break in hostilities might provide a window in which reasonable people can find peaceful solutions to their differences.
Cease-fires might not last forever, but they give peace a chance.