Israel’s difficult dilemma at this time

Israeli hostages taken by Hamas in October 7th attack, courtesy of wikicommons
Israeli hostages taken by Hamas in October 7th attack, courtesy of wikicommons

Since my last post of October 13, 2023, which was written a few days after “Black Saturday” — the name being used for the massacres by Hamas soldiers (and civilians) of innocent Israel citizens in the south of Israel, near the Gaza strip on Saturday, October 7th—I have been struck with fear, anxiety and confusion, like so many citizens in Israel. For the past few weeks, I have delayed writing another post, since I didn’t know what to say and I was abroad, in New York City, until this past week.  Now that I am back in Jerusalem and have listened to, read and viewed lots of Israeli news and analysis pieces, and talked to many people, I still have many more questions than answers. In this post, I will share with you some of the questions and worries that are on my mind.

I feel that Israel is in a terrible predicament:

  • Israel probably cannot totally “defeat Hamas”! (Did the French or the Americans defeat the Vietcong? Did we defeat Hezbollah in previous wars in Lebanon?) There are too many of them, they are too irrational, there are too many tunnels, and they will hold out for a long time! And they exist not only in Gaza but in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and even in Southern Lebanon.  Even if we could achieve this stated goal of the war, what would be the costs? to Palestinians? to Israeli soldiers? to Israeli society? And to our reputation in the world as a moral country? Also, are Israelis really prepared to lose hundreds of young men in this war? Is Israeli society seriously able to sustain a long and difficult war, which could turn into a war of attrition?  What will happen within our society in the fields of health, education, Arab-Jewish Coexistence or what is now called “Shared Society”  and simply living “normal lives”?
  • It is very difficult to live normal lives already after the psychological effects of the massacres of all those communities in the south of Israel, which has led to almost 200,000 evacuees who are living in temporary conditions in hotels and apartments in many cities in Israel. Jewish citizens are living in fear of Palestinian terrorists entering their homes and massacring their families. And, Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are living in fear of being attacked by Jewish nationalists who are running wild in our streets, with more guns in their hands, and inciting to hatred on social media. As long as this war continues—even if it began as a just war since we were attacked—Israeli citizens, Jewish and Arab alike, will be living in a perpetual traumatic situation, with no near end in sight.
  • Even if the Israel Defense Forces could defeat Hamas, who will rule Gaza after that?  There are no real answers to this question so far and there will not likely be good answers to this very important issue. Recently our Prime Minister and Defense Minister have both said that we will have a security presence there for a long time! In other words, we will re-occupy Gaza, but only security-wise! But who will administer civil life—health, education, rebuilding, sanitation, etc.???  Lots of unrealistic ideas are being floated, such as the idea that the very weak Palestinian Authority, headquartered in Ramallah, will somehow rise to the occasion and voluntarily agree to rule 2.2 million citizens in Gaza without any changes in the Israel government’s creeping annexation plans in the West Bank. Or that an International Peacekeeping Force or some other kind of international coalition, will agree to rule Gaza. In short, who can say that the very unstable situation which will be the reality in Gaza after so much death and and destruction will be any better than the previous reality?
  • Will this use of force (the war) bring back the hostages? Will the IDF really be able to miraculously rescue the hostages, like at the Entebbe airport? (Unlikely). Is this part of the government’s strategy? Or, is there any chance that the current extreme right-wing government of Israel will agree to a necessary “prisoner exchange” to bring the hostages home, or at least those that are still alive?  Will Israeli society want this? or tolerate this? Is this still possible? Or is it too late for this? Supposedly, many international actors are trying to arrange a prisoner exchange quietly, beyond the headlines, which is why we don’t hear much about it. But is there any chance that this will happen? Or, has our terrible government given up on the hostages, as some of the ministers hinted at the beginning of the war? And therefore, perhaps the only real goal of this war is to destroy the military and administrative structures of Hamas, even if this is hardly possible in the fullest sense.
  • We are creating an intolerable humanitarian disaster in Gaza in order to “defeat Hamas”! So far there are reports of more than 10,000 killed, including 4,000 children, and nearly a million internal refugees in Gaza, according to Hamas sources, which I would add cannot be trusted, since they inflate numbers for their propaganda purposes. And the numbers go up every day as the war continues and it does not look like those crazy irrational Muslim fundamentalist Islamic terrorists have any plans to give in soon. They don’t seem to be impressed by the humanitarian disaster which they brought upon their own people. Nevertheless, with more and more deaths and women and children maimed, I don’t think that the international community will allow this war to go on forever, including the USA.
  • But if the IDF does not defeat Hamas, there is no deterrence for Israel! And all Israelis will live in perpetual fear and danger; and Israeli citizens will not be able to return to their communities in the North and the South of Israel from which they have been evacuated for fear of more incursions by Hamas or Hezbollah. This is the very difficult dilemma facing Israel at this time. After those horrific unspeakable massacres, the government of Israel could not simply sit back and do nothing to try to protect its citizens, Jewish and non-Jewish (apparently, some Bedouin from the Negev have also been killed and taken captive).

Nevertheless, one wonders: is brute force the only way to deal with this conflict? Will it really solve anything or will it simply sow the seeds for more terrorism and more wars? Is there another way?

I heard Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer –whom I knew well while he was ambassador from the USA to Israel from 2001-2005– interviewed yesterday on CNN about the war. Near the end of the interview, he said what I have always believed, that ultimately only a peace process can resolve the conflict. Otherwise, we will have war after war. The peace process seems very far away right now, but it has never been more imperative if we want to end the cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Yes, it is complex and convoluted, but there have been some successes in the past with seemingly intractable foes. We need to build on these successes. Without a peace process, we will only be left with the war process, which is not a good way to live forever.

Ambassador Kurtzer admitted that many American governments have made many mistakes in helping the Israelis and the Palestinians pursue peace in the past. Yet, we need to try again (probably with new leaders in Israel and Palestine) and our diplomats need to get it right this time for the sake of both Israelis and Palestinians, and the international community. Otherwise, we will be looking towards perpetual conflict and wars in the midst of the ongoing unresolved conflict.

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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