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Shayna Abramson

My Hesitations About the War in Gaza

I have had hestiations about Israel’s war in Gaza from the beginning. I would lie awake at night, listening to the warplanes flying overhead, and try to ignore the worries flying around in my brain. I felt, despite my concerns, ethically compelled to stay silent: My people and my country had just been attacked. Nobody I knew felt safe. I didn’t feel safe. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis, including friends and family, were risking their lives so that one day I could sleep soundly again in my bed. Who was I to protest? Yet, as the war drags on, I have begun to feel the opposite: How can I stay silent? The death toll mounts, and what achievements do we have to show for it? I have come to beleive that Israel’s refusal or inability to take intelligent strategic action to turn this war into one that makes the country existentially safer is a desecration of all the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for that aim.

My primary concerns were practical: I saw no way to completely obliterate Hamas’s fighting forces and military equipment (including rockets/rocket launchers aimed at Israeli civilians) without a years-long military occupation of Gaza. Such an occupation would endanger Israel by draining massive military resources that we need in order to fight threats on other fronts, including the north with Hezbollah, and the West Bank, which Iran has been funneling weapons into. It would also increasingly isolate Israel diplomatically, which could have massive repurcutions for Israel’s hi-tech economy, which is dependent on foreign investments. Additionally, if the history of other conflicts is anything to go by, if you match up a better-equipped occupying army against a local terrorist guerilla organization with tunnels, the local terrorist organization will win. Indeed, the IDF itself has said that it does not want to engage in a long-term military occupation of Gaza.

Another practical concern, was that in the absence of a plan for who will rule Gaza instead of Hamas, as soon as the IDF abandons an area, Hamas will reclaim it. Indeed, this has been the case, and Israel has seen itself re-fighting battles in places it previously purged of terrorists, such as Shifa Hospital. This means that our immediate military gains could not be translated into a long-term military victory and could not result in the ousting of Hamas as the governing power in Gaza. We could easily find ourselves in an endless game of cat-and-mouse, where we conquer an area, kick out Hamas, destroy infrastructure, kill terrorists, leave -and then they move back in, until we come back and start the process over again. We could go throughout the Gaza Strip that way, constantly moving from spot to spot, without ever achieving victory.

A war without a clearly defined victory goal cannot be won. As long as the government refuses to define what the day-after in Gaza should look like, it doesn’t know towards what end it is fighting for, and therefore, cannot take strategic steps to obtain that end. It can take military tactical steps to weaken Hamas, but cannot take the strategic steps to replace it long-term, as it does not know what that replacing would entail, and therefore, cannot plan towards it. Simply put, you cannot replace an evil government (Hamas) without putting a less evil government in their place. If you create a vaccum, then it creates room for the power you are trying to destroy to come back, or, for a worse power to take their place. As long as the Israeli government had no day-after plan, I could not see this war being anything other than an expanded version of the military operations Israel has had in Gaza in the past, which weaken Hamas, without destroying it.

My feeling was that unless the war against Hamas would lead (or at least: was being planned and fought in such a way that it could reasonably lead) to actually destroying Hamas and making Israel existentially safer, there was no ethical justification for all the bloodshed it would cause, with too many IDF casualties and too many innocent Palestinian civilian lives lost. Yes, it was Hamas’s fault that the only way to fight them was by targeting population centers; Hamas uses human shields; it built protective tunnels for itself but not for civilians; it uses civilian buildings in crowded urban areas as terrorists bases; it attacked Palestinians trying to flee the fighting via the evacuation corridors Israel set up for civilians in order to minimize civilian casualties. But all this does not change that, at the end of the day, there was no way this war could be fought without massive civilians casualties -due to all the reasons listed above. And there is no way it could not entail IDF casualties, because it would involve ground troops, close combat, booby traps, tunnels, RPGs, and many other things that meant that this situation could be potentially dangerous for many of the soldiers. To my mind, if there was any argument that this bloodshed was justified, it had to start with a possibility that this war could long-term, meaningfully, change things such that another October 7th couldn’t happen. In the absence of such a possibility, then the justification for the war could not exist; the argument could not even get started; I could not weigh it in my mind.

I do believe that Israel has an obligation to its citizens to protect them from Hamas and from another possible October 7th; the freedom to not have an act of genocide perpetrated against you in your own home, by a foreign terrorist force overruning your border, is such a basic part of the social contract between citizen and state that it should not have to be explicitly stated. But it is becoming increasingly clear that this current war, in its current form, under this current government, is very far from that goal. Israelis deserve better.

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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