A few hours ago the bodies of Eyal, Naftali, and Gilad were found in a shallow grave near a small Palestinian village. The story couldn’t possibly have had a happy ending. And now the public reacts. Some grieve. Some express anger, surprise, or sadness. Many call for revenge. We must, after all, ensure that this sort of thing doesn’t go unpunished. We can’t let it happen again. We hurt because we see ourselves in these boys, in their parents and in their friends. It could be any one of us next and of course we want to feel safe. But the best way to guarantee our safety after this tragedy isn’t to tighten our hold on the West Bank or fly more sorties over Gaza. If our goal is security, then we have to immediately restrain the IDF.
I am not suggesting that we forget about these boys, about the pain an entire nation shares, and the legacies that they leave behind. What I am proposing however is that enough is enough. Since June 12, three Israeli and two Palestinian teens have died in the West Bank. Thousands of drafted Israeli youths are risking their safety daily. Thousands of innocent Palestinians are under extensive lockdown. We can always hit Hamas back. We can turn 5 unneeded deaths into 500, or thousands of distressed actors into millions. Or we can break the cycle. This is the Israeli narrative since the inception of the country: we are attacked, and we retaliate. But if we are still embroiled in essentially the same conflict some 66 years later, maybe we ought to try something new. Maybe this one time a show of restraint instead of aggression will allow us to create the environment of absolute security that we have been chasing for more than half a century.
What will not make our children any safer in the West Bank is a long-winded campaign against Hamas. As despicable as many of these people are, they are still fathers, mothers, siblings, and respected community members. Killing them will not ingratiate ourselves with anybody, and perpetrating violence on somebody’s doorstep will just push them further away from the middle and that much closer to extremism. Giving rise to a new generation of people who hate us will not help us in the long run.
As an immigrant, I drafted months earlier than the rest of my squad in order to complete a mandatory Hebrew and acclimation course before I could begin my combat service. This means that I also discharged early. I was at home for the last three weeks, playing board games and watching the World Cup while my friends were risking their lives every single night on operations related to Hamas and the kidnapping. It is so easy to volunteer the lives of other people, especially when you feel that your soapbox is so righteous, but I can in no good conscious send my contemporaries to inflict and suffer violence based on my emotional response to an event. These are our children, our friends and our siblings; beautiful young people who sweat with me, who carried me and who bled with me, and now they are being sent into the meat grinder. Events like this just fuel the flames of hatred on both sides. Throwing our soldiers onto the fire won’t smother it. They will just become more kindling.
Israel will always have the upper hand in a direct conflict. But a lion does not need to chase after every hyena that nips at its tail. Consolidating defense against legitimate threats like a nuclear Iran, the expanding ISIS movement and an unstable Syria would be a better way to spend the controversial defense budget. Additionally, people need to see that Israel can practice restraint, a concept that many commentators unfortunately seem unfamiliar with. The enemies of Israel and the loudest proponents of the BDS movement are praying for a strong Israeli response. Despite what people want to believe, our livelihood depends on international opinion. Israel needs the billions of dollars it receives yearly in foreign capital and the eager western markets that buy our innovative products. This is not to mention the necessity of continued security cooperation with the United States and European Union. The more we fight, the more we alienate ourselves and threaten our own well-being.
So how can we be proactive if we can’t respond with force? What we need to do is bring the mothers of these poor boys back in front of the UN as soon as possible. Yes, it is insensitive and exploitative and politically motivated, but no more so than the first time we paraded them through those halls just a few days ago. We need to humanize the situation; we need to show the world that we too bleed. For too long the foreign media has been bombarded by the two distinct images of the powerful Israeli army and the impoverished Palestinian civilians. When Israel answers Hamas’ shows of strength with more strength, we are perpetuating an underdog narrative that only helps the Palestinians. But if we answer with a show of pain and not a show of force, with grief-stricken mothers instead of explosion-rocked streets, we flip the established narrative on its head. We need to show the world that Israel is also a victim of this conflict. International support is paramount to our continued existence, both economically, politically and militarily.
I am already seeing claims that we “can’t let them get away with this”. Has our thirst for blood finally overtaken our thirst for peace? We are not 10-year-olds on a playground, and nobody has the right to decide what price a life has. In 2008 the most absolutely conservative number of non-combatant Palestinian deaths during Operation Cast Lead was 295, including 138 women and children. These are the numbers that the IDF itself released. So does this mean that Gazans are now owed 138 innocent Israeli lives? Or the lives of the pilots, artillerymen, and ground forces that contributed to this figure? Of course they are not, in exactly the same way that we have no right to a single Palestinian life. An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
The ultimate goal is always peace. No matter what your solution is, what your plan is, or who you want dead, you see the endgame. With peace comes safety. But a strong reaction now is not going to get us there. We are unsafe because we live in an environment of conflict, not because of a group of bearded psychopaths holed up in a tunnel somewhere. Instead of striking out at the symptoms, we need to focus on the roots of the conflict. And these roots feed on spilled blood.