The innovation of a ‘humanitarian pause’ has now taken root in the collective consciousness of Israel’s international allies.
The instinctive reaction is to reject this suggestion as a gross double standard that has never been applied to any other country in remotely comparable context* and a sign of weakening resolve.
*No, the 1914 Xmas Truce of WWI does not count…
While some level of political cynicism is no doubt involved, underlying this call is a genuine concern for civilian wellbeing. In some cases, international leaders have taken significant political heat by taking a stand against the more problematic calls for ceasefire.
We should of course be concerned about the plight of civilians as a fierce war rages around them. It is positive that sense has prevailed from the Egyptian side, that evacuations are now taking place from Gaza of the Palestinian wounded as well as foreign nationals.
It remains imperative to take all possible measures to safeguard civilians. Crucially, this applies even though it is manifestly clear that Hamas does not even remotely share the same scruples.
First, they attacked, killed, raped, tortured and hold hostage thousands of civilians. Secondly, they continue to fire indiscriminately thousands of rockets at literally millions of Israeli civilians, Jew and Arab alike.
In fact, it is precisely because Hamas does not share the same scruples that a humanitarian pause is morally correct.
Not only is there a duty to protect civilians, but also an obligation to shine an ever more powerful spotlight on the moral distinction between Israel and Hamas.
In this respect, it may be no coincidence this week, Parsha Vayera, is the one in which Jews around the world focus on the scriptural passages where Abraham argues with G-d Himself to save the evil city of Sodom and its neighbors for the sake of just 10 righteous souls.
There will always be haters, but the vast majority of reasonable people will see a ‘pause’ as a positive meaningful humanitarian gesture.
But to be truly moral, the humanitarian pause must fully respect a fundamental principle at the heart of international law: Rule 88, the principle of non-discrimination, which itself is grounded in a core principle of Abrahamic morality, agreed by Jews, Christians and Muslims alike: the absolute moral equality of every human life in the image of G-d (see https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/en/customary-ihl/v2/rule88)
Hence, if enacted, a humanitarian pause must be enacted for the benefit of all affected civilians no matter who they are.
Therefore, the moral case for a humanitarian pause requires not only principled action from Israel through temporary cessation of military activity, but also definitive actions by Hamas and its fellow terror groups to ensure this principle is duly applied:
- Protection of Palestinian civilians by allowing their full safe evacuation without impediment by Hamas or any other terror group, in the same way Israel has evacuated its own citizens from their homes in conflict-affected areas.
- Protection of Palestinian civilians by a full withdrawal of Hamas and the other terror groups from civilian installations like hospitals, schools and mosques, and their surrounding areas above and below ground.
- Absolute ring fencing of humanitarian supplies for Palestinian civilians – food, fuel, infrastructure, etc – from use by Hamas and other terror groups.
- Immediate and unconditional released by Hamas and other terror groups of all civilian hostages once the humanitarian pause starts.
- Immediate and indefinite suspension of rocket fire by Hamas and other terror groups once the humanitarian pause starts.
Accordingly, the following way forward is proposed:
Step 1: After some advance warning, Israel unilaterally initiates the humanitarian pause with the stated objectives to protect all civilians and to demonstrate the moral gap between Hamas and itself.
Step 2: Israel reserves the right to take any action necessary to defend its troops and cities if Hamas and the other terror groups do not follow suit, including through resumption of all military operations.
Step 3: A series of clear deadlines – backed by objective verification mechanisms, to be agreed – through which the pause will be progressively extended: the immediate suspension of rocket fire, the unimpeded movement of Palestinian civilians out of the conflict zone, the safeguarding of humanitarian supplies, the release of all civilian hostages and the withdrawal from civilian infrastructure.
Step 4: If all deadlines are met, Israel should take the lead to convert the humanitarian pause into a full ceasefire on condition that political and military leadership of Hamas and other terror groups, and all perpetrators in any way involved in carrying out the brutal civilian massacres, present themselves for public trial under an international tribunal specifically set up for this purpose.
In so doing, Israel will recognize calls by the international community for humanitarian pause and ceasefire. In that light, Israel should work with its allies to build international consensus that the aforementioned approach presents a just and equitable pathway out of the bloody conflict.
In so doing, Israel – both the government and the people, including those most deeply affected – will agree that its war objectives are better met through this process, but if – and only if – Hamas and other terror groups comply with the actions required of them.
Otherwise it will be very clear, for the second time, if the first was not enough, who bears fault for the resumption of hostilities.
Tragic though it is that media coverage has been grotesquely distorted, these continuing distortions are best addressed by Israel maintaining firm moral leadership, providing a clear and immediate pathway out of conflict which provides justice for the victims, protects civilians, allows for rapid rehabilitation of conflict-affected areas to commence, and lays a foundation for a better future, G-d willing, as hard as it may be to imagine that better future right now.