Israel has killed far too many people in Gaza. Too many innocent non-combatants have been wiped out by Israeli bombs. Too much destruction has taken place by carpet bombing whole neighborhoods, villages, refugee camps, streets, and other infrastructure. Not every person in Gaza supported Hamas or supported the horrific atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7. Most Gazans don’t even know about the crimes committed by Hamas inside of Israel. No child of the thousands of children killed in Gaza is guilty of any crime. No child of the tens of thousands of new orphans in Gaza is responsible for the crimes of Mohammed Deif and Yehya Sinwar.
None of the 1,400 murdered Israelis by Hamas are guilty of crimes committed by their government against the Palestinian people. None of the Israeli children murdered by Hamas terrorists are responsible for the occupation or the siege on Gaza. None of the 250 innocent Israelis who were taken hostage, and the 129 remaining hostages should be pawns in the warped calculations of so-called leaders in Israel or in Gaza.
This war must end. The dilemma is that if the war ends and Hamas is still able to control Gaza, it will be a crime against all of the people of Israel and all of the people of Palestine. Hamas, the government, the organization, the military force must not be allowed to emerge from the tunnels and the bunkers and to declare victory. If that happens, then it is only a matter of time before Hamas, or worse forces, even more fanatic ideas take over the West Bank and maybe even Jordan. Hamas as an idea cannot be beat with military force. Hamas as an organization, government, military can be defeated with military force. That must happen. The question is how to continue the just war without killing innocent civilians as has been done until now.
I don’t have answers, that is for the military experts to figure out. I do know that what Israel has done in Gaza is inexcusable. The amount of human suffering of two million people is beyond any possible explanation. There is no doubt that this nakba, this catastrophe happening once again to the Palestinian people is the responsibility of Israel, but not the sole responsibility of Israel. It is also the responsibility of Hamas and I hope that the Palestinian people will hold them responsible for what they have done to them.
The Palestinian people must know what Hamas did in Israel on October 7 and must determine that the Hamas leaders and their fighters crossed the line that separates humanity from what is on the other side. They must pay for their atrocities and their terrorism against innocent Israelis, many of them who believed and worked for peace. Many of them looked forward to one day living in peace with their Palestinian neighbors. The Palestinian people must recognize that these crimes against humanity, against the Israeli people were also crimes against Palestine and the Palestinian people.
The Israeli leader and his cohort of cronies will also pay the price. They will be thrown out of government and they will go down in history as the worst leaders of Israel and the Jewish people for all time. They will not be forgiven for their crimes against their own people. The international court of public opinion and perhaps even the International Criminal Court in the Hague will hold them responsible for their crimes against the people of Gaza. Netanyahu and his cronies should be forced out of power yesterday. Every day that he continues to rule Israel is a danger to the State of Israel and its people. He should have not have the right to continue making any decisions regarding Israel’s security. He needs to be removed from power and brought to justice for his crimes.
There is no victory for Israel against Hamas if even one hostage remains in Gaza. There is no way to bring back all of the hostages alive without a deal with Hamas. Any deal with Hamas on releasing Palestinian prisoners is a victory for Hamas. My hope is that it will be a very short-lived victory.
For years I have told people in Hamas and people in the Palestinian Authority that the best way to free Palestinian prisoners is by making genuine peace with Israel. In peace treaties which are genuine and lasting, amnesty is usually granted to those who fought for their side and were imprisoned by their past enemy. Releasing prisoners for hostages rewards the taking of hostages and in the absence of a genuine peace or genuine peace process, simply encourages the taking of more hostages. The prolongation of the conflict, keeping Palestinians under occupation without freedom and dignity ensures that there will be an unending stream of people willing to take up arms against those who prevent them from achieving their liberty, national recognition and honor.
The problem is not Yehya Sinwar who was released in the Schalit deal. The problem is that as long as the conflict and the occupation continue there will be many young Palestinians who look up to Yehya Sinwar as a hero and want to emulate him. I believe that Sinwar will be killed by Israel. He will not surrender and he will not run away or agree to take refuge in Algeria or anywhere else. He has known for most of his adult life that he will die as a shaheed – and he has said that many times in public. He will go down fighting and he will try to kill as many Israelis as possible along the way. The dilemma is that Israel must bring all of the hostages home. Israel failed to protect them in their homes and at the Nova Music Festival and Israel has a moral responsibility to bring them home. Every day that the hostages remain in Gaza endangers their lives. Too many of them have already been killed.
Despite what we are being told by the Israeli leaders and generals, the military pressure does not soften Hamas’s position on the negotiations – it has hardened those positions. The first round of releases was delayed by almost three weeks because of the so-called military pressure. The Israeli surrounding of Gaza City and then the incursion deep into the city froze a negotiating process led by the Egyptians. Now, because of the military pressure Hamas is demanding a full end of the war before it is ready to negotiate on the hostages.
It is possible that Israel will find and kill Sinwar and the other Hamas leaders. It could happen at any moment. There is no guarantee that killing them will bring the hostages home – it may in fact lead to the hostages being killed – either in the battle with Israeli soldiers or in revenge for killing the Hamas leaders. It is a gamble too big to take.
Today there are about 8,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons, including hundreds that have been captured in Gaza during the past two months of war. There are 559 prisoners serving life sentences for killing Israelis. There are about 130 terrorists captured inside of Israel on October 7, 8, and 9 who participated in the brutal terrorist attacks inside of Israel, killing children in front of their parents, killing parents in front of their children, burning whole families alive, and more. There are more than 2,500 Palestinians in administrative detention – meaning that they have been arrested without charge and incarcerated without trial.
It may be possible to break Hamas’s resolve not to negotiate before a complete end to the war. From 17 years of negotiations with Hamas, I have learned to take them seriously – they say what they mean and mean what they say. But if Israel were to put a serious offer on the table, one that was too good to reject, it may be possible to get more hostages home.
The first priority has to be to bring the young women home, the seniors, the wounded and the sick. That would require an offer of something like a two-week pause in fighting, and the release of about 3,000 prisoners. Israel should initiate the deal and publish the names of those who could be freed. The list must contain some of those serving life sentences, and that is without a doubt a huge dilemma for Israel. Who could be released that would present the least risk to Israel?
If this is done Hamas would still be holding tens of young men and women who are defined by Hamas as being soldiers. If Israel wanted to bring all of the hostages home alive at once, the only deal that Hamas will consider is all for all. We do not know how many hostages are still alive and we don’t know their condition. We know that they are at risk every day that they are in Gaza.
Hamas is likely to demand that the war also come to an end. The war can wait. There will without any doubt be lots of reasons and excuses to continue the war after the hostages have come home. The first order of business for Israel is to bring the hostages home. If they are sacrificed, I believe that the damage to Israeli society will be irreparable for generations. For the sake of the future of Israel, the Israeli people need to know that their government, that their state, stands behind the ethos that no one is left behind.
These are without doubt huge dilemmas and I do not envy anyone who has to make these decisions. This is a time when we need strong moral leadership and unfortunately there are very few sitting around the decision-makers table with the moral compass able to make the right decisions. That moral compass is also required to make decisions now on how to defeat the idea of Hamas, not only the destruction of their ability to govern and to threaten Israel. That moral compass points only in one direction – recognizing the right of the Palestinian people to enjoy the same rights that every Israeli enjoys. That requires Israel to proclaim now that it has no intention of occupying Gaza or remaining in Gaza even one day more than is required to ensure that a responsible Palestinian-led body is taking control of Gaza and ensuring that it will be decommissioned from weapons and from fighting forces. I have already written a lot on what I have called “the day after tomorrow” and I will continue to bring additional ideas and proposals in the future.