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Jim Shalom
A semi-retired physician

The Desperate Plight of the Israeli Hostages and the Gaza Humanitarian Crisis

On Oct 7, Hamas initiated an unprovoked war with Israel, bombing cities and attacking Israeli communities near Gaza, resulting in the death of 1,400 people, committing documented atrocities even on the dead, and took 240 hostages, including women and children. Hamas refuses to release the remaining hostages and continues bombing Israel’s cities. From Israel’s perspective, the casus belli, that is justifications for its war response persist.

Israel’s response has predominantly been military, targeting Hamas and attempting to dismantle its infrastructure. Unfortunately, since 2005, Hamas has diverted huge amounts of international aid intended for Gaza’s civilian use. Military installations, including Qatar and Iran-sponsored automatic missile launchers, thousands of missiles, observation posts, and over 800 tunnels, are strategically embedded within or beneath civilian sites including mosques, schools, and hospitals. Prioritizing the maintenance of a robust military infrastructure and training militants over the well being of its people has resulted in a poor and under serviced population.

Regrettably, the ongoing warfare has resulted in an unconfirmed estimate of 18,000 Palestinians killed, with approximately one-third being Hamas militants. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans have been displaced along with many houses that have been destroyed. There is no doubt that there is an enormous Gaza humanitarian crisis. Hamas not only caused this situation but has been repeatedly shown to be plundering humanitarian aid intended for non-combatants.

In terms of bench marking, the Hamas invasion of Israel in October can be compared to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.  In April, the New York Times reported that the total number of Ukrainian and Russian troops killed or wounded since the war in Ukraine began is nearing 500,000. Since no side has been decisive that war goes on. Another example is the ongoing civil war in Syria started in 2011 which has led to over 230,000 deaths and the displacement of 13 million Syrians.

The taking of civilian hostages is an illegitimate humanitarian offense. Even though Israel agreed to release Palestinians convicted of terror and increase humanitarian aid to Gazans in exchange for the release of all the women and children hostages, Hamas eventually violated the deal, leaving an estimated 19 women and children in captivity among the other remaining 137 hostages. Israel possesses evidence indicating that some hostages have been murdered in captivity. Since Hamas refuses to provide a list of hostages or allow Red Cross visits, the exact number of surviving hostages is unknown. Documented proof also exists of Hamas committing sexual brutality acts in the October 7 attack. Some released hostages have provided eyewitness reports of remaining hostages being sexually abused. This situation is intolerable for the hostages and their families, representing a grievous moral impropriety. These egregious actions have nothing to do with the expedience of waging a war, just vile sadism, and cruelty.

The most intuitively obvious path to improve the Gaza and hostage humanitarian crisis would be for Hamas to first and foremost release the Israeli hostages. They should also stop the bombing and lay down their arms. Israel will have no issue with Gaza once the Hamas threat is removed.

The Islamic world publicly blames Israel for the crisis. This follows a historical pattern where the Arab world automatically attribute Arab-Israeli disagreements to Israel without condemning the Arab side. Unfortunately, even in the face of the atrocities committed by Hamas, this stance persists. Regrettably, the international community, including the UN, has aligned itself with this position too. The UN has not called for the unconditional release of Israeli hostages and refrains from condemning Hamas for initiating the war on October 7 and committing brutal atrocities. Instead, their focus is primarily on the devastation in Gaza without explicitly acknowledging that Israel’s actions were a response to the Hamas attack. Regarding the Red Cross, there has been no public call on Hamas to permit visits to the hostages, and the Red Cross has even declined to participate in the transfer of medications from families to the hostages in need. International discrimination against Jews has once again raised its ugly head.

Most of the international community, excluding the US, pressures Israel to unconditionally allow extensive humanitarian aid into Gaza without linking it to the further release of hostages. Compounding this flagrant mistake, there’s documented evidence that free humanitarian aid intended for civilians is being pilfered by Hamas militants, some of which is then sold to Gaza civilians without condemnation of Hamas.

The quagmire caused by Hamas makes Israel have to face difficult and painful dilemmas:
1. The Assault Dilemma: As Israel endeavors to liberate its hostages through military means, it faces the peril of Hamas retaliating against the hostages, using them as human shields, or Israel unintentionally causing harm to the hostages while pursuing Hamas militants.
2. The Capitulation Dilemma: If Israel acquiesces to Hamas’ terms, releasing all Palestinian terrorists held in its prisons, it sets the stage for a potential future massacre. This is evident from past exchanges, such as the release of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar in a previous hostage-for-prisoners exchange who is playing a central war in the present war.

Both options present unsettling prospects.

Unfortunately, war often boils down to one side successfully employing more force and leverage than the other. In the case of Israel, potential leverage tactics include direct force against Hamas or allowing a humanitarian crisis to escalate until either Hamas yields or the population rises against them. Even in the face of severe repression, signs of dissent are emerging. One frustrated Gaza civilian was captured on record, aptly urging Hamas to release the hostages without further delay.

On October 6, the day before the murderous attack by Hamas, the Arab Barometer survey examined the attitude of the Gaza population toward the Hamas leadership. According to the findings, an absolute majority of the Gazan public (67%) expressed little trust or a complete lack of trust in Hamas, compared to 29% who expressed a high degree of trust. 31% blamed Hamas as the core cause of their economic problems, compared to 16% who blamed Israel and Egypt. 73% of Gazans supported a non-violent settlement of the conflict, compared to 20% who support violent action against Israel. These statistics support the case that Hamas be removed.

While Israel is gradually winning the war, no one predicts a quick victory.  The longer the war goes on, and the less decisive a victory will be for Israel, the more both the Palestinians and Israelis will suffer.

Outsiders perceive the conflict as an issue exclusive to Israel, assuming it won’t impact them. History tells a different story. Before World War II, many regarded the Nazi oppression of Jews as a problem confined to the Jewish community. However, had this persecution and early Nazi aggression stopped in its tracks, perhaps World War II could have been averted and the deaths of 75 million people prevented.

Throughout history, persecution of Jews has acted as a warning, like a “canary in the coal mine,” signaling imminent danger. Hamas and their allies are not the “good guys”. Hamas opposes a negotiated peace agreement and calls for Israel’s destruction glorifying their use of barbarity. Organizations akin to Hamas, with expansionist ambitions are closely observing unfolding events. If the Western world remains passive and Israel can’t overcome Hamas, these extremist groups will gain confidence and act. Repeated Houthi attacks on Israel and ships in the Red Sea already indicate this concerning trend. Cases of terror actions instigated by Islamists with Hamas like extreme ideologies are occurring in European cities and not just against Jews.

Arab nations should be vigilant too. Hamas is a radical offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood which is officially designated a terrorist organization by Bahrain, Egypt, Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. While condemning Israel in the Arab world is a populist position, strengthening Hamas directly threatens the stability of these mentioned regimes.

To quote a line from one of the protest songs of the 60’s: “When they knock over their friend, they’re knocking for you.”

Parties interested in mitigating the humanitarian disaster can do so by helping reign in Hamas.

  1. Designate Hamas actions on October 7 as acts of war against a sovereign country.
  2. Characterize the murder of 1,400 people, the atrocities committed on October 7 and the taking of hostages as acts of barbarism, separating them from legitimate areas of disagreement between Palestinians and Israelis.
  3. Permit the Red Cross to address the Palestinian humanitarian crisis only if granted access to all hostages.
  4. Issue an unequivocal call for the unconditional release of the hostages. If Hamas refuses, the world should recognize Israel’s legitimate right to expand humanitarian aid only if coupled to restarting the hostage release process.
About the Author
Jim Shalom is a specialist in family medicine, with interests in end-of-life care and the Israeli political scene. He resides in Galilee. He has spent most of his adult life living and working in Israel.