David K. Rees

Hostages, politics, protesters, Hamas, and Gaza

Two major factors affect how Israel is conducting the Gaza war. The first is politics, as practiced by politicians all over the democratic world. The second is the pressure being put on the those politicians by protesters both here in Israel and in the Diaspora. In both cases, the fate of the hostages still being held by Hamas in Gaza is central.

Immediately after the October 7th  massacre in which over 1,200 people were murdered, hundreds of others raped, captured as hostages, or beheaded, the entire democratic world was horrified.  President Biden even went on television describing Hamas as “pure unadulterated evil.”  There was almost no criticism of Israel among democracies at that time.

Within Israel, the attitude about dealing with Hamas is very different than it was during  previous Israeli/Hamas wars. Previously, a peaceful settlement of the war was welcomed by most Israelis and almost all  Israeli  politicians. This time, both the public and the politicians agreed that Hamas in Gaza had to be eliminated by force once and for all. The  Israel military (IDF)  took the position that the prime objective in responding to the massacre was to take Hamas in Gaza out, even if it meant the death of some hostages.

As time passed, public attitudes changed both in Israel and in the Diaspora.  The IDF gradually changed its position, increasingly emphasizing the importance of bringing the hostages home.

Within Israel, the “free the hostages” contingent became larger and larger, culminating in a protest in Tel Aviv which drew over 100,000 protesters. 100,000 protesters is a  staggering number of people for Israel. The population of the United States is roughly 33 times the population of Israel; a protest of 100,000 Israelis is equivalent to more than 3 million Americans. Politicians pay attention to numbers like that; protesters vote. Since politicians control the military, the IDF must follow suit.

Like the pressure on Israeli politicians to get the hostages home at any price increased, the pressure in the Diaspora on their politicians also increased.  Much of that pressure came from the “free Palestine” folks. “From the River to the  Sea, Palestine must be free” became an increasingly-popular chant. But it was NOT just the “Free Palestine” folk who were putting pressure on the politicians; good-well meaning liberal folk — the ones who had elected Biden as President — also became increasingly critical of Israel.

That is exactly what Hamas wanted. While we Israelis are hopelessly logical, Hamas  aims for the heart. In this instance, it meant sacrificing the lives of numerous Gazans by placing Hamas’ headquarters and caches of weapons under hospitals, schools, and mosques. Hamas benefitted  from the  Western media  broadcasting  newscasts and videos of the massive destruction that the war was taking on Gazan civilians and the buildings in which they lived and worked.

Hamas and the IDF have very different ideas of what constitutes  “victory” in a war. The IDF will consider it a “victory” if it rids Gaza of Hamas, but ultimately its objective is protect the continued existence of Israel. In contrast, Hamas’ ultimate objective is to destroy Israel and replace it with a Muslim theocracy. Any Hamas action which furthers that ultimate goal constitutes a “victory.”

So far, Hamas appears to have accomplished three things as a result of the October 7th massacre. First, according to all reports, it now has massive support on the West Bank. The other West Bank terrorist groups, including Palestinian Islamic Jihad, are all but irrelevant in comparison.

Second, virtually the entire Arab world now supports Hamas and believes whatever it says even, when it has proved unquestionably to be false. Hamas’  claim that an Israeli missile hit al-Ahli hospital illustrates this.

Third, people in the Diaspora are increasingly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza. For Hamas, that is a HUGE accomplishment.

Comparing the reaction of the Israeli “bring them home” protesters with the reaction of people in the Diaspora is interesting. October 7, 2023, is etched in the minds of almost all Israelis, just as 9-11, 2001, is etched in the minds of the  boomer generation (mine) in the United States, just as December 7, 1942, was etched in the minds of my parents’ generation.  People who live in Israel  know that the injury to Israel on October 7th still affects everyone here. The five-star hotel near  my home — where Leonardo De Caprio stayed this summer — is now filled with people who have been evacuated from areas near Gaza and the Lebanon border.  One can walk down a commercial street in Tel Aviv and see store after store which is open, but few customers are inside. Israel is heavily dependent on the tourists industry, but there are no tourists be seen. Various groups are raising money to rebuild the kibbutzim that Hamas destroyed on October 7th.  All of us realize that helping the people who have suffered so repair their lives and mental health will take years. Too many Israelis have sat Shiva over and over again for someone who has been killed by Hamas. To Israelis, this is all a continuum.

Not so in the Diaspora.  October 7th to them is old news: almost two months old. What is important to them now is the suffering of the people in Gaza.  All they have to do is look at the TV or the internet.  CNN seems to be a particular favorite.

Both the “bring them home” contingent in Israel and the “poor Gazans” contingent in the Diaspora seem to have affected their respective politicians.

In Israel, the IDF minimized its “just win it” mentality to emphasize the importance of  bringing the hostages home. In the  United States, President Biden no longer emphasis how evil Hamas is, but sends his Secretary of State Blinken to tell Israel to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza, as though we did not understand that already. When did people start thinking of Jews as stupid?  I tend to forgive Biden.  He is, after all, in full campaign mode and he needs the enthusiastic support of as many American voters as possible, including the J-Streeters.

What is needed is some perspective. According to almost uniform press reports, 240 people were taken hostage on October 7th. Since then, a number of people who were once thought to be hostages have now  been found to be dead. Others  have been released. According to to the American government, as of  the end of last week, Hamas continued to hold 130 people hostage — over 100 hostages fewer than were originally taken.  Of those, only 10 are Americans who do NOT also have Israeli passports.

As of this morning, 75 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the war.  That number goes up daily.  According to  Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 351 people lost their lives in auto accidents in Israel in 2022.

Hamas has now said that there will be no more hostage negotiations until the war is over. Can the politicians and the IDF be thinking that reducing the number of hostages by over 100 people will reduce the pressure which the “bring them home” folk have been able to bring on them and allow the IDF  to go back to its original objective?  Who knows?

About the Author
Before making Aliyah from the United States, I spent over three decades as a lawyer in the United States. My practice involved handling many civil rights cases, including women's- rights cases, in State and Federal courts. I handled numerous constitutional cases for the ACLU and argued one civil rights case in the United States Supreme Court. I chaired the Colorado Supreme Court's Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure and served on the Colorado Supreme Court's Civil Rules and Rules of Evidence Committees. Since much of my practice involved the public interest, I became interested in environmental law and worked closely with environmental organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). I was on the Rocky Mountain Board of EDF. I received an award from the Nebraska Sierra Club as a result of winning a huge environmental case that was referred to me by EDF. I also developed significant knowledge of hazardous and radioactive waste disposal. I was involved in a number of law suits concerning waste disposal, including a highly-political one in the United States Supreme Court which involved the disposal of nuclear waste. As I child I was told by my mother, a German, Jewish refugee who fled Nazi Germany, that Israel was a place for her and her child. When I first visited Israel many years later, I understood what she meant. My feeling of belonging in Israel caused me to make Aliyah and Israel my home. Though I am retired now, I have continued my interest in activism and the world in which I find myself.
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