Ron Kronish

Have the hostages been sacrificed in favor of the war (and other questions)?

wiki commons images. The Kidnapped and Missing Square in the plaza of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art
wiki commons images. The Kidnapped and Missing Square in the plaza of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art

More than five weeks have gone by since the last hostage exchange. During the week of November 24 – December 1, 2023, 105 Israelis, Jews and Muslims (Bedouin) and foreign nationals working in Israel (mostly from Thailand), were redeemed from Hamas captivity in exchange for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons (at a 3 to 1 ration—3 Palestinian prisoners for every Israeli hostage). Before this and since then, the Israeli government has declared that the return of all of the hostages is one of the major goals of this current war. The other main goal, of course is to “defeat Hamas” (which is probably an overly ambitious goal).

Has the first goal — redeeming the hostages still in Hamas captivity — essentially been abandoned by the government, despite its declarations to the contrary every day? And despite the protests of the families of the hostages and other concerned citizens, like the protest held last night at the Hostages’ Square in central Tel Aviv, whose voices seem to be falling on the deaf ears of the “leaders” of the current extremist right-wing government of Israel?

It seems clear that the answer to this troubling question is in the affirmative! Every day and every week that goes by reveals that the hostages are being abandoned by the government. In recent weeks several hostages have been declared dead, either murdered by Hamas on October 7th or afterwards or killed by accident by the IDF. The chances of any of the remaining hostages coming home alive grows slimmer by the day.

How did it happen that the government of Israel has failed so miserably on this central issue of concern to Israeli society? Why did it let the families of the hostages down, along with millions of other Israeli citizens who no longer trust their government?

One answer was provided by one of Israel’s leading investigative journalists, Raviv Drucker, in a scathing article which was critical of Prime Minister Netanyahu in Haaretz on December 25, 2023, in which he wrote the following devastating words:

It takes a great deal of self-restraint not to use savage words to describe Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to cease the Hamas hostage release. It didn’t take a prophet to understand in real time how difficult it would be to return to the deal and have them released. It didn’t take great wisdom to understand that the deal was a fantastic one for Israel, and that once the fighting had resumed, Yahya Sinwar would understand his mistake and wouldn’t come back to those terms. In a combination of arrogance, cold-heartedness and stupidity, Netanyahu gave up on the chance to get more hostages back – the elderly without a doubt, and, according to some very tenacious rumors that have been officially denied, some remaining women as well – for a further day’s pause and another 30 prisoners. Madness, no less.

I know that many people in Israel agree with this, including myself. Many op-eds have been written about this in Israeli newspapers and important people have said this in interviews on radio and television.  Clearly “defeating Hamas” is more important to Bibi and his extreme right-wing colleagues than bringing the hostages home. The idea that more military destruction of Gaza and killing of Hamas militants might force the Hamas military and political leadership to enter into another deal for a prisoner swap exchange has backfired. Instead, they have only “hardened their hearts”, to use a biblical expression that applied to Pharoah in the Exodus story in the Bible. Instead, the Hamas “leaders” have become more stubborn, as the weeks and months of this war have dragged on.

And now, as we enter a new phase of this war, with less massive amounts of troops inside Gaza, one must ask: does it look like the IDF has defeated Hamas? Or will this goal of this war not be achieved either? Was it ever really achievable? Or was it just Bibi bombast? And is the continuation of this war an excuse to keep this extreme right-wing government in power? And to keep Bibi as Prime Minister for a long time, so that he does not have to return to his trial on major counts of corruption and face the possibility of going to prison, or face the inevitable state commission of inquiry into the failures of his government on and before October 7th.

Now Bibi and the IDF leadership are admitting or declaring that this goal will take a year or more! In the meantime, the IDF has re-occupied much of Gaza, and created almost 2 million internal refugees there, most of whom have no home to return to. Can this be considered a “victory”? And what about the more than 20,000 Palestinians —mostly women and children—who have been killed, and the thousands more under rubble of destroyed buildings? Is this too a win for the IDF? Or will this create thousands more displaced, disgruntled and desperate people who will join Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups who will seek to wreak vengeance upon Israel? And how has this enhanced Israel’s image and status in the world? The answer to this question is well-known.

Furthermore, do Bibi and his colleagues—who are undoubtedly responsible for the historic debacle that took place on October 7th—have any real plans for the “day after”, when this war ends? Apparently not, unless you consider re-occupation of Gaza a real plan. Defense Minister Gallant recently announced some talking points with regard to “the day after” but one could hardly call it a plan. The Americans are suggesting creative and concrete plans but it seems that our irresponsible leaders in Jerusalem are ignoring or rebuffing them, with unbridled chutzpah, especially after how much the government of the United States of America has helped Israel militarily in this war so far.

Yes, I have many troubling questions about Bibi’s declarations and actions prior to and during this war. In sum, I have lost all confidence and trust in his leadership as have 85% of Israelis (in the most recent poll of the Israel Democracy Institute, his approval rating has sunk to 15%!).

But the most disturbing question that I have for him is this: Bibi – why did you abandon the hostages even though you declared over and over again that the goal of the war was to bring them all home?

Unfortunately, I don’t expect an honest answer from him now or ever.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttelfield, in September 2017. He recently (September 2022) published a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine entitled Profiles in Peace: Voices of Peacebuilders in the midst of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, which is available on Amazon Books, Barnes and Noble and the Book Depository websites,
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