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Jon Stewart’s plan for Mideast peace is delusional (among other errors)

I served with the IDF in Gaza, and I'm here to set the record straight. Again
Jon Stewart hosting 'The Daily Show,' on February 26, 2024. (screenshot, YouTube)
Jon Stewart hosting 'The Daily Show,' on February 26, 2024. (screenshot, YouTube)

Say what you will about Jon Stewart, but he is an intelligent and caring person, with integrity and a deep desire to do some good in the world. This was admirably demonstrated by his passionate backing of benefits for 9/11 first responders.

I like Jon. I don’t follow him closely, but I find many of his segments amusing, and see myself agreeing with him on more than one occasion. And it is because I like Jon that I felt compelled to respond to his latest monologue on the current war in Gaza. Stewart critiques Israel’s “incessant bombing of civilians,” a sentiment I came across repeatedly in a recent trip to the United States. People, from family I met to the US president, feel that Israel’s response is “over the top.” This is a point therefore, that is critical to address.

In the wake of the October 7th massacre, many Israelis, myself included, were enraged. I found myself thinking what I would do if I found myself alone in a room with Yahya Sinwar, who masterminded the attacks. These feelings have persisted amongst many in Israeli society, expressed in comments from friends of mine wishing to “destroy Gaza even further” to government ministers talking about nuking Gaza. These emotions, born of anger and a drive for revenge, are harmful to Israel’s position, but more importantly, they fail to address the principal cause of the widespread destruction in Gaza — Hamas’s cynical use of civilian infrastructure.

In the four months since October 7th, I served in the 5th reserve infantry brigade, spending nearly a month and a half inside the Gaza Strip. During the fighting, I spent time in nearly 20 different buildings — both houses we were based in and homes we searched. In nearly every location, we found signs of Palestinian terror infrastructure, from assault rifles and ammunition to grenades, explosives, and mines, detailed intelligence maps (including of Israeli targets), uniforms, and propaganda that should be of interest to the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) ongoing investigation of genocidal intent. Then there is the underground infrastructure, tunnels used to fire rockets indiscriminately at Israel (often landing inside Gaza, killing Palestinian civilians) and house Israeli hostages. The extent to which Hamas is embedded in civilian infrastructure is truly unprecedented.

Facing this reality, and given Hamas’s brutal attack, Israel has been forced to systematically dismantle Gaza’s terror network — tunnels that go under hospitals and schools, launch sites from mosques, weapons caches in children’s bedrooms. This cruel exploitation of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure for military purposes makes Hamas squarely responsible for the war and its consequences. Each civilian death is an unspeakable tragedy, yet that blood is on Hamas’s hands for forcing Israel into a war of no choice and then cowering behind its human shields. In this context, the IDF’s actions are not indiscriminate but unavoidable, a war of no choice forced upon it under impossible fighting conditions. 

This is not to say that the IDF is perfect. Mistakes happen in war, and this war is no exception. Israel should learn from these incidents and must continue holding itself to a high moral standard for any action it takes. However, the reality remains that the current fighting is, in the words of a former US Army general, the “most fiendishly difficult and challenging urban operation since 1945.” This context cannot be ignored, and for those like Jon Stewart, Joe Biden, and many other Americans who seem intent on forgetting, it is the duty of caring Israelis and those with a genuine interest in achieving a last peace to constantly remind them.

Towards the end of his segment, Stewart offers his solution to the current conflict. He says: “Starting now, no preconditions, no earned trust, no partners for peace, Israel stops bombing, Hamas releases the hostages the Arab countries who claim Palestine as their top priority come in and form a demilitarized zone between Israel and a free Palestinian state, the Saudis, Egypt, UAE, Qatar, Jordan, they all form like a NATO Arrangement, guaranteeing security for both sides.” If Jon Stewart really believes this plan could work (as he claims he does) — I have a bridge to sell him. 

To claim that actors that hate each other — as Qatar and the UAE do — would get together and form an Article 5-like security commitment is delusional. To fail to mention Iran even once in his segment, with its support for Hamas and other terror proxies throughout the Middle East, is a fatal omission. To suggest that Palestine is these Arab countries’ “top priority” when their actions consistently indicate the opposite is to deny reality… Give me what he’s drinking. 

Stewart advocates for a political outcome to the conflict. Here again, we agree, partly. Israel must focus on the day after. Failure to do so is a dereliction of duty and invites chaos and further violence. This will involve making tough, imperfect decisions that may make Israelis cringe. That is the nature of leadership, of putting country first. 

However, to expect that such an outcome can happen with the snap of a finger, in a vacuum, immediately, is a pipe dream. Furthermore, it is dangerous. In the wake of the greatest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, Israel cannot afford to make any moves that could jeopardize its security without a reliable partner. This is a lesson that was learned in blood through the Second Intifada, and after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. 

Instead of selling quick solutions, Mr. Stewart should be advocating that the parties roll up their sleeves and get ready for the long haul — ironically, something Israel is already doing in its war effort. Hamas on the other hand, spent the last 20 years embedding itself in civilian infrastructure and is profoundly uninterested in protecting its population. It could end this war tomorrow — but a lasting peace remains elusive, no matter how hard Jon Stewart wishes it were otherwise. 

In the previous conflict against Hamas in 2021, I wrote a similar response to a different Daily Show host — Trevor Noah (I didn’t bother with John Oliver; he is beyond redemption). Ironically, then, as now, I am writing as my children sleep, hoping that I can finish this draft before they wake up (it sort of worked). However, then I had a 2-month-old daughter; now, she is a toddler and I also have a son — a beautiful baby boy with special needs. As jarring as it was hearing booms over my apartment in 2021, knowing Hamas wanted to kill my infant, it is even more harrowing to think now that those same murderers would have had no qualms beheading my baby, kidnapping my toddler, raping my wife. This is a fear that no one should have to live with, and a threat that no nation can countenance. That is why, despite the unspeakable suffering wrought by Hamas on Israelis and Palestinians alike, Israel must carry on. 

It is a sad testament to the state of affairs that not even three years later, the cycle of violence, talk-show hosting, and correcting the record needs to be repeated. But unfortunately, just like the current conflict, correcting the record is unavoidable, and the lives of my family and those I love are too important to not speak out. Although my reserve duty is over for now and I am much happier sitting at a keyboard with my son sleeping next to me than resting in Gaza, the war goes on, and with it, the need to speak out. Hopefully Jon will keep making me laugh, but with a little more honesty than before. Given the narratives regarding Israel in the media, I am unfortunately skeptical. 

About the Author
Originally from the United States, Natan came to Israel in 2010. He served in the IDF, and has worked in a variety of analytical positions, which is his attempt to contribute to the country that he loves. He has an insatiable curiosity, and he enjoys passionate but civil discourse. He is a devoted husband and father, and everything he does is for them. Follow him at @KohnNatan.
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