Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

A state of confusion

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“We’ve reached the ‘slogging”’ stage of the war,” said a friend, using the descriptive Hebrew word “dishdush.” But I’m feeling we’re entering the confusion stage. Maybe it’s because, like everyone else in the country, I’ve gone back to consuming too much news.

For example, we hear that the IDF has taken all of northern Gaza, as well as the main refugee camps in the middle and south. Basically, all that’s left to bomb and raze is Rafiah, currently home to two million, mostly civilians. We’ve killed tens of thousands. We’ve uncovered and destroyed kilometers of tunnels; we’ve found and destroyed unprecedented tons of weapons.

But we are, apparently, no closer to achieving our stated goals than we were at the outset of the war. And it seems that, outside of digging dozens of meters below Khan Younis, the army, itself, is unsure of how to continue and lacking clear direction from the government.

We are told that military pressure on the Hamas will force them into agreeing to a reasonable deal for releasing more hostages, yet the further we advance into the cities we are told belong to Hamas heads Sinwar and Def, the more intractable their demands become. And despite all of those kilometers of tunnels exposed and houses and streets taken, the only hostages we’ve managed to unearth were three who were shot in the belief they were terrorists. Freeing hostages is, we are told daily, our supreme goal in fighting this war. And yet, we can hear that tiny, long sigh of relief from the government halls in Jerusalem. It’s win-win for Bibi: The Hamas is clearly at fault for making demands we cannot accept, and, at the same time, he will not have to make concessions that would raise opposition in his coalition and which could give the Hamas the ability to prolong the war.

In the meantime, possibly in response to reports that hostage negotiations have stalled, Bibi met with representatives of the hostages’ families to reassure them the negotiations are on-going. “The Hamas leadership remains adamant there will be no more hostages released before a cease-fire and end to the war,” add the commentators.

We are told the war will soon enter a new phase, one that will be lower-key, more “precise” and longer. It might last months, or maybe years. We say we have no intent of returning to rule in Gaza, yet the description of an extended war sounds, to me, like a return to occupation. Be patient, we are told. All will be revealed in the end. In the meantime, they are announcing plans to move border residents back home, even as no one can say how many rockets are left in undiscovered corners of Hamas tunnels.

We are, apparently, no closer to achieving our stated goals than we were at the outset of the war

And the Gazan refugees, who we keep moving around like pawns on a chessboard? We would like you to think we are better than “them,” that we do not target civilians. Yet we are willing to let over a million of them live without enough water or proper sanitation, to let them starve to death if needs be, in the name of pressuring Hamas. Certainly, we intend to keep those two million in the most pitiful refugee conditions while we uncover stones one at a time in our search for Sinwar and Def.

Does Hamas use its own people as human shields, does it value death higher, life lower, than we believe we do ourselves? And still, in my confusion, I ask myself whether it stands to reason that if we truly value human life, then the deaths of civilians, no matter who told them to stay in their homes as their cities were bombed – is the loss of those lives not on us?

In sorting through these contractions, the most striking one I find is that we were dragged into a war in response to the Oct.7 massacre with only half an idea of what we were getting into. We ran in with our aerial bombardment, tractors, tanks and armed divisions. Now, nearly three months on, we have gathered information, supposedly refined our battle skills and pushed on to divide Gaza up into pieces and clear the subterranean shadow city under Gazan hospitals and schools.

Serious talks with Palestinian and regional leaders on an interim government could help increase pressure on the Hamas leadership to accept safe passage to a third country and turn over the reins

But no matter how much we learn; we don’t seem to be able to learn what it takes to envision an end to the war. Or at least our prime minister can’t – or wont. A laconic announcement tells us they will finally start to discuss the “day after” (possibly due to yet another visit of Anthony Blinken). But we are also told right-wing coalition members Ben Gvir and Smotrich are banging at the war cabinet door, insisting on being a part of these discussions. With the two of them in the room, it is unlikely that any real or sane decision can be obtained. Bibi himself has loudly insisted the Palestinian Authority cannot be a part of any resolution, even as leaked discussions contain veiled references to Palestinian involvement in a day-after regime.

Here’s the truly confusing thing: We all understand that letting fuel and even food into Gaza is helping Hamas, at least in the south, enforce their rule and extend the fighting. But it should be, as far as I can tell, equally obvious that talking about the day after the war ends could help shorten it. Serious talks with Palestinian and regional leaders on an interim government could help increase pressure on the Hamas leadership to accept safe passage to a third country and turn over the reins. At the very least, it could ensure that once we achieve some actual goals, we can perform a graceful exit, rather than patrolling the wreckage for months (or years) while we dither about a “solution.”

Sinwar, we are told, lives in a fantasy in which he will emerge from his deep tunnel victorious and resume ruling Gaza. But it seems to me that Bibi is living in a similar fantasy in which he will be crowned with golden laurels at the end of this war. The tunnel he is digging may be figurative, but it is leading him – and all of us – further into the muck, nonetheless. It’s not that the two have not learned the lessons of history, it’s that each thinks he can outwit those lessons and bring a new and different result. That is dangerous thinking.

I may be confused, but I’m not deluded. I would like to have leadership who is less confused than I, more clear-eyed when it comes to the end of the war. I want one who can separate the ideal solutions from the possible ones, and move toward the best possible one. I want a leader who is not served by a prolonged war, but rather one who truly hopes to end the war as soon as possible – who is even willing to consider a ceasefire in return for all of the hostages if it truly guarantees a long-term, complete end to rocket fire and hostilities on all sides.

Even if the news is somewhat confusing, I believe the warning is clear. We need to change our leadership before the war ends, not after.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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