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Shayna Abramson

Can We Change Governments Before the War Is Over?

Polls have consistently shown that Israelis want Bibi gone as Prime Minister – after the war is over.

But if you ask Israelis what constitutes the war being over, the answer is less clear. It is usually something along the lines of “When Hamas is defeated.”

That is a laudable and important goal of course, but not a very specific one -and in order to be achievable, goals must be specific. We need actual, real barometers by which we measure whether or not Hamas has been defeated – percentage of terrorists/tunnels/weapons seized/destroyed, for example.

Of course, one of the main ways to know Hamas is defeated is when it no longer rules Gaza. But for that to happen, another power must rule in its place -for example, a reformed PA or an Israeli military occupation. Each option has its flaw: The PA is corrupt and autocratic, but cooperates with Israeli security forces to prevent terror attacks against Israelis. The IDF opposes a military occupation because it will drain too many military resources, both personnel and equipment. The modern military track record of high-power occupying military vs. local terror guerilla tends to be in favor of the local terror guerilla, so the IDF knows the odds are against it.

But the current government refuses to commit to or even seriously discuss a plan to install an alternate ruler in Gaza, so that form of complete victory over Hamas is impossible as long as the current government is in power.

Ironically, because this government will not commit to a day-after plan in Gaza, as long as they are in power, no alternate ruler over Gaza can be put into place -which means that Hamas cannot be defeated. This means that, instead of avoiding a change in government because of the war, we need to hold elections and form a new government in order to achieve victory.

The IDF, by its own measures, has significantly degraded Hamas’s operational military capabilities and has members in the top echelons who say that the war goals -if the goals are to militarily weaken Hamas in debilitating way – are completed now that the major Rafah operations are wrapping up.

Before Rafah, many Israelis said that after we successfully finished operations in Rafah and completed our mission there, the war could be considered over. The IDF is getting ready to wrap up its Rafah operations after having sucessfully completed its mission there. Now nobody is saying that when this happens, it will mean the war is done.

Before the reservists were released in January/February, some said after the mass mobilization of IDF forces was no longer necessary, the war would be over. The reservists were released, and called up again. Nobody is saying this means the war is done.

Other barometers floating around, all of which have been nixed as wildly outlandish by the IDF: Sinwar captured/killed; all the hostages brought back through military might; no Hamas terrorists left at all or no reason for even low grade military operations. Israel has been occupying the West Bank since 1967 and still sometimes sees a need for low grade military operations, so if we wait until the IDF does not see any need for low grade military operations in Gaza, we will be waiting quite a while.

I think what Israelis are really waiting for is a sense of security that was stolen from them on October 7th. And I am not sure how much a war has the ability to give that back to us.

No magical number of terrorists killed or tunnels destroyed will make it easier to sleep at night. What we are craving is certainty, when in fact, as human beings, our lives are constantly uncertain. We don’t usually walk around thinking about our own mortality, or the fragility of our condition as human beings on this planet. We don’t do that because it is hard to function while doing so. All of a sudden, October 7th forced us to face, in a very real way, that we don’t know, on any given day, whether we will be around tomorrow. And having that reality constantly thrown in your face makes it almost impossible to function. Add to that the pain of those who have lost loved ones, those waiting for family members held hostage in Gaza, those worrying about family fighting in the IDF, and it is too much to bear.

But endless war won’t solve the problem of being human. It will not offer us the existential certainty that we crave. 

I remember, a few days after October 7th, when I was stockpiling furniture every night before I went to sleep, mentally preparing myself for the possibility that if there is an overnight terrorist invasion, I will have to shield my children with my body. My husband asked me when I would feel safe. I told him I don’t know. He asked how much time had to elapse with no major attack for me to feel safe -could I feel a little bit safer with each day that passed with no October 7th-like catastrophe? Maybe, I said, maybe.

And to a certain extent, I do feel that way. Each day that goes by brings more hope that this place could be a safe place to live, in some way. But in other ways, I feel more precarious, because my lack of feeling safe has become my new normal. My mental preparedness to barricade myself with the kids or lie on top of them is no longer a nightly routine; it has simply become part of who I am.

And I think most Israelis are waiting for that moment, when they can let go of that part of themselves that was born on October 7th, and that will be the moment the war feels over. But that moment may never come, because as human beings, we can never be assured completely of our own physical and emotional safety.

We may find ourselves stuck, instead, in a new praxis of war: The very act of being at war feels like an act of agency in a world in which we feel powerless, and therefore, we must continue it at all costs because our very sense of ourselves as empowered beings in this world depends on it. The goal does not matter. It is the act of war that provides the relief, serving as proof that we have the power to do something to grant us the complete, 100% safety that we so crave, yet grows ever more elusive.

As a religious person, this is when I turn to God: Nothing is certain, but God is here, with us, in the uncertainty.

But it is on all of us, as human beings, to work through our humanity, with its beauty and fragility, through art, therapy, yoga, prayer, Torah, philosophy, music, and through nourishing and sustaining connections with those around us – and it is through that that we help build the foundations for a peaceful society.

The alternative is to continue down the road of violence, as it becomes a sanctified act that serves as a constitutive element of our subjectivity, making us completely emotionally dependent on it.

And I don’t think that is the society that we want to live in. For the sake of who we are as a country, we owe it to ourselves to do better. And that includes changing leadership in the middle of a war, if necessary. We deserve leaders who pursue achievable goals of victory, instead of those who would see violence become a part of our identity as the war goes on indefinitely, since, with no clear goals, the war can never be over.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.