Avi Shamir

Changing the Wartime Narrative

On October 7th, the darkest day in the history of the Jewish state, we had our own Pearl Harbor, Kishinev pogrom and Babi Yar massacre all at once. Amid the aftershocks of that surprise attack, Israeli officialdom told the alarmed public (paraphrased): This is not just another round of hostilities. Israel is at war, and our war aim is to destroy Hamas.

That’s it, one single objective for a full-scale war which may extend to two or more fronts?

Our war with Hamas presents challenges we have never faced before, first and foremost: the negotiated release or rescue of 200 Israeli hostages being held in terror tunnels or God knows where in Gaza. Beyond the tragedy surrounding men, women, children and babies who were so cruelly taken from their homes, and the threat of terror and abduction still facing residents of kibbutzim and towns bordering Gaza, there remains a festering sore: a whole population of Palestinians living in Gaza, many of whom are now being held hostage by Hamas as human shields. Not to mention the ongoing Hamas threat to both Israelis and Palestinians on the West Bank. With these human factors to contend with, Israeli security officials should change the narrative and tone of the conflict, starting with a statement that there are multiple objectives (detailed below).

There is nothing like the outbreak of war to hasten a change of mindset. For years, successive “strong right-wing governments” transferred Qatari money to Hamas with the intent to hold on to them as an “asset,” i.e. a counterweight to the Palestinian Authority. That badly mistaken conceptsia collapsed on the day of the massacre. Now, our sucker-punched government aims to drive Hamas out of Gaza and replace it with, who else, the PA (at this stage, all talk about the “day after” is speculation). Before the war, Ahim L’Neshek protestors were branded as traitors, now they’re being hailed as patriots. The same can be said for Major General Yair Golan of the much-disparaged Meretz party. Before the war, there was talk about anarchists and racists, now all the name calling has stopped. Pre-war Israel was divided and weak, now we’re united, ready to kick ass and “change the Middle East,” in the words of you know who, our “strong right-wing leader.”

Meantime, an explosive Hamas response awaits the entry of IDF ground forces, more Hamas lie in wait in Hebron and Jenin, and a Hezbollah threat looms on our northern border. The more we see through the fog of war and the powers that be who led us into it, the uglier it gets.

The war’s background noise foretells a blame game that will continue for some time. Some Israeli officials are saying that now is not the time to look for the guilty parties, but everyone knows who they are. Those same guilty as hell politicians are now spreading lies that the left is responsible for the nation’s worst catastrophe. Since that horrifying day, the one thing that hasn’t changed is that some Israelis believe any fabrication that suits their half-blind worldview.

Falsifications of reality have an adverse effect on world opinion, especially on issues concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The most common distortion of the facts denies Israel’s right to defend itself. Even as we transition from the information age to the “age of intelligence,” some journalists and many people who consume their nonsense in print, electronic and social media still don’t know the difference between a terrorist and a “militant.”

In past “rounds of hostilities” with Hamas, the terrorists always won the propaganda war, simply by displaying the corpses of the same Palestinians they used as human shields. But in this war Israel has an advantage: Responding to the IDF’s warning in advance of airstrikes, Palestinian have already fled en-masse to the south. These refugees have at some point either supported Hamas or avoided them. Many of them have stories to tell of family members who were forced to provide a protective cover for Hamas, including those who were recently shot dead as they tried to flee. Killing civilians, Israeli and Palestinian, is a war crime. Using civilians as a human shield is a war crime. Seeking out refugees who lost family and friends and paying them, if necessary, to tell the world horror stories of Hamas terrorist brutality can trigger Israel’s propaganda war.

All things considered, those who are in charge of running this war should change the narrative and define the objectives clearly. With the belated inclusion of freeing the hostages, there are now two official objectives (paraphrased), as follows:

– The prime objective is to destroy the Hamas regime in Gaza, its command structure, personnel, terror tunnels, factories, rockets, weaponry, infrastructure and all other assets, with the aim to ensure that at the end of the war Hamas will not have the means to regain power.

– In the process of destroying Hamas, the release of all the Israeli hostages being held in Gaza is given top priority. The families of the hostages will be updated regularly and receive all the social services and support they need.

Other high priorities should include processes that would clearly define the end game of the conflict. It is unknown at this time if the following proposals, my interpretation of ideas being tossed around in the media, are under serious consideration:

– Free the Palestinians living in Gaza, who are de facto hostages of Hamas. This will involve humanitarian aid for the refugees in the south, and taking precautionary measures to avoid inflicting civilian casualties in the north. The Americans are behind these proposals. Detractors say such courses of action, both the humanitarian aid and using restraint in urban warfare, can work against freeing the Israeli hostages.

– Free the Palestinians living in the West Bank, many of whom want nothing to do with Hamas and feel threatened by them. This would entail the difficult task of restoring cooperation between Israeli security forces and the Palestinian Authority while the IDF is fighting in Gaza, with the aim to ensure that Hamas Hebron-Jenin doesn’t whip up an intifada. This proposed measure begs the question: Can the same government that all but terminated IDF-PA cooperation now magically restore it? My best answer: Now we have an emergency government. It’s up to the new war cabinet ministers, Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, to get our security priorities straight.

– Ensure that the PA is ready to fill the power vacuum left by Hamas in Gaza at the end of the war… Speculation aside, we just don’t know who’s going to take over Gaza, and that’s bad news for Israel. There is no exit strategy. Not so surprising, when all the PM cares about is saving himself.

– Free funding that the criminal government requisitioned from the health, education and defense budgets (stole from our taxes) and gave to the haredim, who forgot to pray for the safety of Israelis in the settlements bordering Gaza. Redirect those funds to help rebuild the settlements. Notwithstanding claims that funding is available, the Israeli public has no way of knowing if such plans to rebuild are even on the drawing board.

– Fight the propaganda war like we mean it, and let’s win it this time… The optimism is mine. This can be a first for Israel, and it’s doable. Hordes of refugees have fled from IDF airstrikes and more so from Hamas, many among them with tortured memories of a lifetime under a terrorist regime. They can tell the world that Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people. Hopefully, by the end of the war those same Palestinians will be able to say without fear that Israel liberated them from Hamas. Now, that would be a real game changer. The problem is that these notions are hypothetical and unproven. That doesn’t mean that we should give up on the propaganda war like we always do.

– Last but not least, rebuild our strained relations with the United States. Two US carriers are now deployed in our territorial waters, signaling to Hezbollah and Iran to stay out of the fight. A sure sign of friendship, courtesy of the Biden administration. But let’s not be naïve: Joe Biden’s bearhug in our time of need was not an expression of unconditional love. Biden wants something in return, and this payback is consistent with US interests in the region: Restoring cooperation with the Palestinian Authority in advance of normalization talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia. That’s a tall order, considering that up until October 7th our seriously flawed “leaders” were doing just the opposite: Allowing Hamas to rearm itself and suspending cooperation with the PA, to the extent that IDF forces were disproportionately deployed to the West Bank to protect Israeli settlers there from, who else, Hamas, leaving our border with Gaza-Hamas unprotected. We all know how that turned out. So, for the sake of clarity, our “leadership,” that grotesque hybrid emergency/ lame-duck government, has to make a quick 180 degree turn. For years, Hamas was given free rein in Gaza, and our true enemies were the PA and the Democrats. Enough of that. That whole way of thinking is bankrupt.

Politicians got us into this war, now the IDF has to win it. Winning the peace is an option.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.