David Lehrer

The Most Important Thing

From the outset of the current war in Gaza, the Israeli government and its head Binyamin Netanyahu have stumbled over clearly defining the goals of the war. In Netanyahu’s early war declarations, he stated that the goals were to remove Hamas as a security threat to Israel and to remove Hamas as the governing power in Gaza. Neither of these goals was specific enough to make clear to the Israeli people, no less to the world, what they meant.

What does removing Hamas as a security threat look like? Is it killing every single one of the tens of thousands of terrorist fighters in Gaza, or just their leaders? Should we expect complete surrender or just the dismantling of their military capacity? Removing Hamas as the governing power in Gaza was perhaps more concrete to most Israelis, however, the government’s refusal to discuss or to propose an acceptable alternative governing body, made the second goal seem even more amorphous.

But for many of us, what sounded like chalk scratching across a chalkboard were the times Netanyahu would talk about the goals of the war without mentioning the return of the hostages. Sometimes the return of the hostages was mentioned as a kind of afterthought and sometimes it was not mentioned at all. Once Benny Gantz’s National Unity Party joined the government, we began to hear the return of the hostages as one of the three goals of the war but conspicuously, it was the members of the War Cabinet from the National Unity Party, Gantz and especially Eisenkot, who would list the return of the hostages before listing the other goals. Netanyahu’s statements were so confusing that he was forced to assure the families of the kidnapped Israelis that there was no contradiction between defeating Hamas and achieving the release of the hostages.

The concern that there is a contradiction between defeating Hamas and achieving the release of the hostages alive has been on many people’s minds, especially the families of the hostages, for months, and is now boiling over into the streets. The main reason for this concern comes from the statements of the government itself which has continued to assure everyone that the war will go on for many months and that as Netanyahu has repeatedly stated, Israel will not agree to stop. These statements clash with the cries of the families of the hostages and of those hostages who have returned from Gaza, that there is no time! Every day in Gaza is a potential death sentence to our hostages and months of war without a deal for the release of the hostages is a certain death sentence for many if not most.

This week Bezalel Smotrich, Minister of Finance, and head of the far-right National Religious – Religious Zionist Party allowed himself to say the quiet part out loud; “the release of the hostages is not the most important thing.” To be fair, he did not say that the release of the hostages was not important. From previous statements, we understand that his reasoning is not so different from many others in Israel who will say that, while the release of the hostages is important, the prevention of another October 7th and the potential death of thousands of Israelis is more important. Meaning that any deal that endangers thousands of Israeli lives in the future by stopping the war or releasing thousands of terrorists from prison is not worth the over 100 lives of the hostages still believed to be alive.

I do not accept this reasoning. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the way to prevent another October 7th is to harden our borders, pay attention to what our field intelligence is telling us, disentangle ourselves from the costly, delusional, inhumane and self-destructive occupation of the West Bank and move towards a negotiated solution to the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

There is however another reason why I do not accept Smotrich and others’ morbid equation that thousands of lives in the future are worth more than 100 lives today. Not because I think that lives today are worth more than lives in the future. As an environmentalist, I have always valued the lives of those people who will come after us as I do our own lives and thus fight for the next generation’s right to a clean and healthy planet. The reason I think Smotrich and others who make such claims are completely wrong is that the lives of the over 100 hostages in Gaza are in certain danger now, while the lives of thousands of Israelis is a statistical possibility and therefore uncertain. The hostages in Gaza have names and families who we all know. The potential victims of terrorism in the future, though tragic as that thought may be, are still unknown to us and most importantly, we have the time and the opportunity to prevent such attacks and save them.

The most important thing is not getting our hostages back, it is getting our hostages back now, alive. I pray that the current negotiations achieve the most important goal of the war, getting our hostages back. In my opinion, if we do not achieve that goal, we will not have achieved anything.

About the Author
Dr. Lehrer holds a PhD from the Geography and Environmental Development Department of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and a joint Masters Degree in Management Science from Boston University and Ben-Gurion University. Dr. Lehrer was the Executive Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies from 2001 until August 2021 and has now become Director of the Center for Applied Environmental Diplomacy. Dr. Lehrer has been a member of Kibbutz Ketura since 1981.
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