Shayna Abramson

Is a Pause in the Fighting Bad?

There are once more reports circulating of negotiations for a deal: some sort of pause in fighting Hamas in exchange for a return of Israelis taken hostage by Hamas in exchange for Palestinians serving time in Israeli prisons for terrorism and related charges.

I don’t know where these negotiations will lead. I do know that many Israelis will be hesitant to support any deal that includes a pause in the fighting, but I want to argue that there are many reasons, as an Israeli, to support a pause in fighting.

As the war continues with no clearly articulated end-goals (defeat Hamas is too vague to be operationable) and no day-after plan, it is beginning to look like it risks becoming a quagmire for Israel.

As hostilities continue, the risks of escalation with Hezbollah and/or in the West Bank increases. This could lead the IDF into an unwinnable situation where its personnel and equipment are stretched thin, across three fully active war-fronts right on Israel’s border. Such a conflict would endanger tens of thousands of Israeli civilians, either in the form of Hezbollah’s rockets, which can reach further and are more precise than Hamas’s Qassam rockets, or in the form of an intifada and terrorism campaign stemming from the West Bank.

Additionally, the ongoing presence of massive military reserves could have far-reaching implications for Israel’s society and economy.

In the absence of a day-after plan, the current war risks becoming a long-term occupation of Gaza. By the IDF’s own estimates, this would be an impossible task for them that they could not successfully carry out. (In such a scenario, victory can easily become defeat: Think America in Iraq or Afghanistan.) As momentum builds for resettling Gaza, this risk increases. The extremists of the movement may use a modus operandi familiar from the West Bank: Establish a small outpost against Israeli law/military orders, knowing once the outposts exists, the IDF will feel morally obligated to maintain a presence in the area to protect the Israeli civilians who live there. The danger in this movement is that it may pressure the IDF into an occupation that it is unable to carry out.

Additionally, as the war goes on with no humanitarian pause, international political and economic pressure on Israel are likely to increase, which could have domino effects not only on Israel’s economy, but also on its ability to secure the military equipment it needs in order to defeat Hamas.

Because Hamas’s goal was not only to destroy us physically, but also, to completely change who we are as a society, forcing us to live in a constant state of war and fear, it is imperative to take into account  the war’s moral risks as well.

The number of Palestinian civilians killed and displaced by this war is constantly increasing.  Yes, this is a justified and necessary defensive war against Hamas, who attacked us on October 7 in the most brutal way. Yes, Hamas chooses to use human shields while building tunnels to protect its people. But we still bear some responsibility for the situation. It is still our bombs and our armies that destroyed people’s houses and killed people.

The longer tens of thousands of people remain displaced and their neighborhoods remain piles of rubble, the less likely they are to be able to ever move back to their homes. A temporary humanitarian crisis becomes a permanent one.  When so many Palestinians lack basic food, sanitation, medical supplies, or shelter over a time period that slowly turns from weeks into months and possibly into years, our temporary collateral damage can easily morph into a permanent humanitarian crisis.

In order to ignore responsibility for this crisis, we will be forced to become a cruel society, one that does not value human life. This transformation of Israeli society would be a huge Hamas victory.

A long-term humanitarian crisis also risks producing more hate, which means more potential recruits for Hamas or similar organizations.

As the war goes on, it becomes the new normal. We forget to yearn for peace. Elections are continually delayed, as we wait for the “day after” before we officially engage in divisive politics and electoral contests, lest we risk dividing the nation during a moment of crisis, or as elections are logistically difficult due to the number of Israeli citizens serving on the front line.

This need for unity during wartime can easily lead to political repression that threatens the freedom of speech and protests for all Israelis: We are already seeing anti-government and anti-war protests in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv disbanded with excessive force by the police. This means that the longer the war goes on with no organized break in the fighting, the more the very fate of Israel as Jewish democratic state may be at stake.

I am not here to tell you what to think or which political positions to take. I just ask that when you do take those positions, you take these concerns into account and do not automatically assume that a pause in the fighting is bad for Israel.

This moment is too important for us not to understand that we are facing two kinds of danger: A military danger and a moral danger. Each is as real as the other. And losing on either front means a Hamas victory and the end of Israel as we know it.

I do not know where the current negotiations are going. But I do know, that like all Israelis, I hope and pray that soon our hostages are returned safely to their families.

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.
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