Gershon Baskin
Political and social entrepreneur activist in Israel and Palestine

The Emotional Storm We are Living Through

We are all completely overwhelmed in a storm of emotions – pain, anger, fear, we watch suffering every day and we are flooded with the stories of the victims. Tears fill our eyes and we are wrenching with heartbreak every time we turn on the television. There is no escape, even one month since it all began on October 7. Unlike most Israelis and Palestinians, I get it from both sides. I am watching the death and destruction on all of the Israeli channels, but I am also watching several Palestinian channels.

We all know people who have been killed or who are hostages now. We are all traumatized by what has happened since October 7. For Israelis, we are thrown back 80 years to the horrors of the Holocaust. October 7 was not a holocaust, but more Jews were killed at one time in one place since the holocaust and perhaps even more than that, on October 7 we lost our sense of security. The State of Israel failed in its primary function to provide us with security, and the State failed us. So many people cried for help, and it did not come and they were butchered and abducted by an enemy so much weaker than the mighty Israeli army.

Palestinians have been taken back 75 years. The Nakba is happening once again and not only in Gaza. Israeli settler and military violence against Palestinians in the West Bank has rocketed since October 7 with 128 killed there and more than 9,000 Palestinians are dead in Gaza and about 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza have become homeless once again. Human tragedy is all around us. Most of us can only see the death and destruction on our own side, but it is happening all around us. When this war is over, Israelis and Palestinians are going to remain on this narrow land and we will once again have to face each other – eye to eye and maybe after all of this trauma our eyes will hopefully also see the humanity on the other side.

Like everyone, I want this war to end. Like almost every Israeli, and a lot of Palestinians that I know (in Gaza and in the West Bank), I want Hamas to be dismantled from its ability to ever govern Gaza and threaten Israel again. I want the people of Gaza to be free from the stranglehold that Hamas had on their lives since 2006. I want all of the hostages to be freed immediately. Hamas must free the babies, children, women, elderly, sick and wounded – even without a deal because that is what their holy book the Holy Quran instructs them to do. They should never have been taken hostage, and killing women, children and elderly is explicated Haram – forbidden in Islam, even in the distorted version of Islam espoused by Hamas.

I want there to be a ceasefire in Gaza to enable the innocent victims of this war to be able to get food, water, medical supplies and treatment, a roof above their heads, but I am very sorry to say that I don’t think that a ceasefire should be granted without the release of hostages. I want humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and I think that Israel should even allow it to enter from the Israeli side at Kerem Shalom, but I want hostages to be released first. It truly pains me to write this. I have friends in Gaza who are really suffering. I have friends who have lost their homes and everything they own and they are on the streets and they are writing me that they are hungry. My heart is breaking for them. But Hamas must first release hostages – at least the infants, children, woman, elderly and sick. The world and the people in Gaza must cry out for Hamas to do this. Ceasefire yes! As soon as possible. Humanitarian aid – Yes! As soon as possible and as much as possible. Releasing hostages – immediately, without delay comes before everything else.

Eventually, soon, Israel will enter the tunnels. That is where everyone believes the hostages are being kept. They are not all together and the web of tunnels is enormous and every meter of the city that Hamas has built underground is a mortal danger for the soldiers who will enter. I assume that the Israeli army has detailed plans on how to minimize the danger to the soldiers. They will use technology, robots, explosives, maybe they will try to smoke out the Hamas commanders and leaders and armed militants. Maybe they will be able to cut off the flow of fresh air into the tunnels. But if the hostages are not released or freed by then, they will be in harm’s way. This must not happen. Israel has a moral responsibility to bring all of the hostages home alive. Israel failed to protect these citizens and Israel must bring them home. Every means in Israel’s toolbox is legitimate to pressure Hamas to release hostages, including sticks and carrots. Israel should state that it is prepared to open another corridor for humanitarian aid to end Gaza, through Kerem Shalom, but only once hostages are freed – especially the infants, children, women, elderly, sick and wounded.

When Hamas negotiated with Israel on the Schalit deal they insisted first that Israel release all of the Palestinian women prisoners in Israeli jails, regardless of what they did that put them in prison. The final number of prisoners released in the deal was 1027. The initial agreement was for 1000, but after the two sides agreed on the list of 1000, days before the return of Schalit, it was discovered that 27 women prisoners remained in prison that were not included on the list, so rather than argue and risk the deal falling through, Israel added the additional 27 women. Now it is Israel’s turn to make demands. There are no women soldiers – there are only women, and all of the women hostages must be included in the humanitarian return of the hostages. No exceptions. If the “all for all” deal of all of the hostages for all of the Palestinian prisoners is not being considered and the sides are focusing on a partial deal, there are 43 Palestinian women prisoners and 190 Palestinian minors in prison (from before October 7). These could be considered as part of the deal. They are all from the West Bank, none of them are important Hamas people, and I believe that there are none who have killed Israelis. It is clear that when a release will be accepted and organized there will be a temporary ceasefire to enable the hostages to be sent home and perhaps some Palestinian prisoners released.

If a partial deal is done and Israeli soldiers are left behind in the tunnels, negotiations could continue until Israelis forces enter the tunnels. Negotiations are taking place in what appears to be three tracks. Egypt and Qatar and a possible third track that may be working (I cannot give details). Hamas is likely to demand the release of all of the Palestinians in Israeli jails. The number is around 7000 including at least 130 terrorists who committed the brutal crimes inside of Israel on October 7. There are another 559 who were sentenced to life imprisonment, and many of those with multiple life sentences. Around 25% of the prisoners are members of Hamas. More than 2000 of them are administrative detainees, meaning that they were arrested without charge and incarcerated without conviction. The overwhelming majority of the prisoners are from the West Bank, not from Gaza. There are two major questions probably being discussed, if this option is on the table – will they be released in one release? This is crucial because if Hamas is planning to release them in stages, it is probably a deal-breaker for Israel. The second question is to where would they be released? To their homes? Unlikely. To Gaza, perhaps. To Iran – maybe the 559 serving life sentences? Will Israeli pursue them after they are released? I would say most definitely. Every person who was connected to the abduction and captivity of Gilad Schalit is no longer living. I think it would be safe to assume that every person who is connected to the abduction and captivity of all of the Israeli hostages will find the same fate as will those who committed the horrific acts of terrorism on October 7.

The last issue I would like to discuss is can Hamas be eliminated and defeated? From a military point of view, Hamas can be destroyed – more precisely the ability of Hamas to govern Gaza and to threaten Israel in anyway is possible. Israel can kill all of the Hamas leaders in Gaza, the military commanders and most of the Hamas fighters. Israel can destroy the Hamas infrastructure, their offices and command centers, most or all of the tunnels, their stockpile of weapons and rockets and the shops and factories where weapons were manufactured. Israel cannot destroy the idea of Hamas or its ideology. The only way to destroy an idea or an ideology is with better ideas and better ideologies. The post-war scenario of rehabilitation and reconstruction of Gaza after Israel turns the territory over to what I hope will be a multi-national Arab force led by Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and perhaps others (with a limited but detailed mandate), must include deep political reform in the Palestinian Authority with elections in which only political parties that support the two-states solution and a non-militarized Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem would be allowed to participate. In order for that to happen, the international community must get serious about peacemaking and commit itself to the two-states solution that they have put back on the agenda this past month. That commitment must include the recognition of the State of Palestine (if two states then both have to be recognized) and Palestine must be allowed to be a full member of the United Nations. Of course, we are going to need completely new leaders in Israel and Palestine to achieve this.

Replacing a bad ideology with a good one means that the distorted interpretation of Islam as espoused by Hamas which sanctifies death must be replaced with a powerful Islamic theology that sanctifies life. It is about time that the Palestinian people invest themselves in living for Palestine rather than dying for Palestine. There are voices within the Islamic world, in Palestine as well which preach the message of Peace as a central philosophy of what Islam is about. Those voices need to be heard loud and clear. But that will only happen once there are voices in Israel which speak loudly and clearly about the right of the Palestinian people for freedom, liberation, and self-determination. Both sides will have to make many painful compromises and it will take many years to build any kind of trust between the two sides. The regional states that surround Israel and Palestine – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, and even far away Morocco have a key role to play in helping to build that trust. We need regional agreements for security, economic development, water, energy, border management, peace keeping, and more. We need the international community led by the United States to be fully onboard to assure us all that we have the resources to have a restart which will enable us to begin to look forward, and not only backwards as we have done for 100 years. Neither side should have the notion that they have more rights than the other side. In order for us to have that restart, it must begin by accepting the principle that everyone living between the River and the Sea has the same right to the same right. This is where our new beginning can take its first steps – and it must begin there.

About the Author
The writer is the Middle East Director of ICO - International Communities Organization - a UK based NGO working in Conflict zones with failed peace processes. Baskin is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to peace between Israel and her neighbors. He is also a founding member of “Kol Ezraheiha - Kol Muwanteneiha” (All of the Citizens) political party in Israel.