Paul Mirbach

On Peace with Palestinians, a Ceasefire and a Rude Awakening

Not since my brother’s suicide have I felt so adrift. I feel like a boat floating on the ocean without oars or an anchor, buffeted by the waves. Unmoored. The realization that everything has changed, and that we can never go back to how things were on October 6, has caused me to doubt whether everything I believed about a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict was ever attainable. All the conceptions upon which I based my vision for peace and co-existence were shattered on that day. As for a Palestinian state? I am forced to rethink that vision.

The intensity of hate that can produce such sadistic savagery that we witnessed on that day, a hatred so intense that it drives one to mow down hundreds of helpless people at a party in a prolonged massacre – and then to hunt those that got away; to rape young women so brutally that their legs are dislocated from their hips; to cook helpless babies in ovens, and to exult in burning people alive – even phoning one’s parents to boast about it and to receive approbation from them, is impossible to fathom. That kind of hate is primal and visceral. It is deep-seated, deeper than what a struggle for national liberation and resistance should evince. It is a religious, genocidal, jihadist hate. It must be inculcated in one’s consciousness from birth and nurtured throughout one’s growth. Like watering a plant.

A child’s bedroom shows evidence of the carnage in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. (Courtesy Times of Israel).

Anyone who witnessed such blood-thirsty, malicious brutality committed against us, and does not question one’s previously held beliefs – that peace is achievable with these people, and that they can still be our partners in coexistence – is clinging on to an illusion that has already exploded in our face. To be honest with ourselves, we must reevaluate what we believe to be true, and examine all the assumptions upon which we built our vision. I am the last person to abandon our quest for peace, but we must move forward with our eyes open, and temper our vision with the knowledge of whom and what we are dealing with.

A makeshift morgue in a refrigerated container to store the bodies from the massacre until identification and burial. (Courtesy Times of Israel, Yossi Aloni/Flash90).

But now is not the time. This reevaluation cannot be done until the fog of war has lifted, and we can see more clearly where things stand.

Every day that passes since October 7 seems to emphasize just how important a defining moment it was.

Two things are clear;

First, peace is no longer elusive, just beyond our reach. It has never been further from our grasp than it is now. After what we witnessed on October 7, can we ever trust them? We cannot afford to tolerate people who are capable of committing such atrocities against us, living only a few hundred meters from our homes. We will need to build trust again from zero, and to rebuild that trust will take many years. Sisyphus and the boulder comes to mind. We, who seek peace need to recognize this, moving forward.

At the same time, having said this, what happened on October 7 must not be interpreted as a vindication for the Occupation and the oppression of civilian Palestinians in the West Bank – or be construed as a justification for the illegal settlements. The dispossession of Palestinians of their land to build settlements, the imposition of collective punishment as a tool to intimidate them and keep them “pacified” by making their lives intolerable, the use of excessive force to show them who is “boss”, and the deprivation of their basic rights and freedoms under the pretext of “protecting Jews”, is still unjustifiable. Not in my name! It is a matter of *our* conscience. We can find a way to keep our citizens safe without becoming like our enemies. We *must*. Because, if in order to keep our citizens safe we lose our humanity, our cause is hollow. This is the tightrope we must walk.

Second, the attack on October 7 had more to do with Islamic jihad and genocide than it had to do with resistance to the Occupation. It is worth noting that the Hamas “Nukhba” carried no Palestinian flags during the attack. They all wore green Hamas headscarves, and their vehicles, displayed only Hamas flags. Furthermore, the manner in which the massacre and every atrocity was carried out, disturbingly reads like they executed the dictates outlined in Article 5 of the Hamas Charter and quotes from the Koran to the letter. These Islamic motifs cannot be ignored. October 7 was “Itbach el Yahud”, not “Free Palestine”. This, too, must be taken into account when we consider the viability of a revised approach to strive for a genuine peace settlement.

There is a reason why Left-wing Zionists in Israel overwhelmingly support the army’s operations in Gaza. I think you had to have been in Israel and personally experienced – or vicariously witnessed what the residents of the kibbutzim in the Gaza Envelope went through, to be able to explain this.

In order to understand that for the residents of these communities and kibbutzim to be able to return home and rebuild their lives, Hamas’s military capabilities must be dismantled. It is existential: If we cannot feel safe within our borders, we cannot entertain the option of a ceasefire. Because, while people outside Israel viewing this want the killing to stop and not to see the suffering of Gazan civilians, the meaning of a ceasefire that is enforced before Hamas’s military threat is removed, is that the killing will not stop; it means that it will be us who are being killed. And while we also yearn for the suffering to end, we are all aware that calling for a ceasefire now would mean that Hamas will have won and they will maintain their ability to massacre us.

What residents of Kibbutz Be’eri would return to. (Courtesy Times of Israel (Lazar Berman / Times of Israel).

That is why we cannot support a ceasefire now. You don’t know how hard it is for me, to have to say this.

While we are talking about the suffering of Gaza’s civilians and the humanitarian crisis, we cannot forget the fact that Hamas still holds 129 Israeli hostages in inhumane conditions. They are being starved, raped and tortured right now. Guess what? They too are innocent civilians. To date, we know of at least eight hostages who have been killed, or allowed to die in captivity. At least five hostages that we know about, are seriously wounded, and are not receiving medical attention. To us, they aren’t just “hostages”, which is an impersonal collective description. To us, they are Gadi Hagai and Inbar Heyman (the latest to die in captivity), and Ron, and Eden, and Almog, and Amit, and Ofra – you get the picture: Each and every one of them is a person, with loved ones waiting for them, their families torn apart and suffering. Each of them is someone who we feel we almost know and who could just as easily have been our sons, or daughters. That is why we cannot stop until we secure the release of every hostage. We would not be able to live with ourselves if we abandoned them, or ended the war with them still in custody.

“We cannot stop until we secure the release of every hostage. Each and every one of them is a person, with loved ones waiting for them”. (Courtesy Times of Israel, Miriam Alster/FLASH90).

What occurred on October 7 was an earthquake. It fractured our shell, our belief that we are secure. We didn’t know how fragile and exposed, how close to being annihilated we really are. All it took was one fateful day, when we were suddenly taken by surprise to expose our true vulnerability. I never imagined that Israel’s existence hung on a thread and that it (read: we) is under a real threat on any given day, or how fragile our security really is. Being a Zionist is no longer a declarative expression of identification with Israel; it has suddenly become much more crucial and existential. This was the rude awakening of October 7. And for peace to be viable, we can never forget that, or ignore that ever again.

About the Author
Paul Mirbach (PEM), made Aliya from South Africa to kibbutz Tuval in 1982 with a garin of Habonim members. Together they built a new kibbutz, transforming rocks and mud into a green oasis in the Gallilee. Paul still lives on Tuval. He calls it his little corner of Paradise.
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