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Shayna Abramson

The need for wartime elections

In the days after October 7th, it was clear to me that Israel needed to take actions to protect its citizens from Hamas.

But I was hesitant about the war. I knew there would be a large cost in human life, both of Palestinian civilians and of Israeli soldiers. I figured that Hamas wouldn’t have done this if they weren’t prepared for a ground invasion, on some level. It was well-known they have tunnels to hide in.

It’s true that on paper Israel is the stronger army, but given that it had just suffered a stinging blow, that didn’t seem as true as it once did. It’s also true that guerilla forces in their own territory have a history of beating invading forces even if those forces are from a stronger army.

The war started. The days went on. The death notices came in.

These soldiers were fighting and dying to protect me and my family.

Palestinian civilians were dying too. Hamas operates out of civilian areas in order to give Israel a moral dilemma where it can’t attack Hamas without hitting civilians, and Hamas tried preventing Palestinian civilians from getting to humanitarian corridors set up by the IDF to minimize civilian casualties.

It is clear that if there is a strong Hamas in Gaza after its brutal October 7 attack, then Israel will have proved itself incapable of performing the most essential purpose of the state, which is to ensure its citizens’ basic safety. 

But I also feel that unless we accomplished something more than “We went in, blew up a bunch of tunnels, killed some terrorists, and went home,” there was scant justification for the outsize death toll both of soldiers and of civilians.

This is why the goals of the war are essential, but Israel has yet to clearly define them.

What does destroy Hamas mean?

If it means going in and killing, say, 75% of their fighting force and destroying 75% of their tunnels, that could take years. At what point do we decide that enough has been destroy for us to declare victory? If this war involves continued airstrikes, we will be facing a years-long humanitarian crisis in Gaza with no end in sight. If it is a continued ground invasion of the sort we have been seeing, we may be reading of daily deaths of soldiers, every day of the year, for years. Both the growing humanitarian crisis (and diplomatic consequences) and IDF casualties would already be a huge gain for Hamas, because they would be big blows to Israeli society.

As the IDF advances to Central and Southern Gaza, it must also maintain troops in Northern Gaza to hold the territory. This may stretch the army thin if we are talking about a years-long campaign, especially since the army also uses personnel and equipment in the West Bank, and in the northern front with Hezbollah, which may also be a years-long situation.

More generally, the question of who rules Gaza -literally, who takes power after they pull out -is crucial to the goal of dismantling Hamas.

If the IDF pulls out without leaving someone else in place, there is a power vacuum, where Hamas regroups or rebuilds, or a different terror organization (perhaps recruiting from people displaced by the war) rises to fill the vacuum. In such a case, it’s not clear how much the war will have contributed to Israel’s long-term security.

The other option is to put someone in place. Imperfect ideas being floated around (and there are no perfect options) is a reformed PA or an international force.

So far, the Israeli government has rejected both options, without proposing another one.

This means that, unless there is a new government willing to think about imperfect options for the day-after, Israel could find itself in a de facto occupation of Gaza as it waits for the right partner -as has been the case in the West Bank.

Leaving aside the major ethical issues this would pose, maintaining two ongoing military occupations would be a huge drain of military resources, even for a country with a mandatory draft, putting Israel in a situation where its army may not have the equipment or personnel necessary to be ready for any larger threats that might arise on top of its double-occupation (like, say, an attack by Hezbollah). Any enemy of Israel would know that with Israel already busy on two fronts, it will be pretty easy, if they open a third front, to create a catastrophe. Given Hamas’s tunnel system and its military structure, where it retains the ability to act modularly from underground, if even a few tunnels and terrorists were left, it could pose a threat to IDF soldiers through ongoing guerilla actions.

I am not a military expert. I don’t know what or if there are any options beyond the war currently being waged. I do know that Israel has a moral obligation to its citizens to keep them safe. Unless Israel seriously dismantles Hamas’s military personnel and equipment, then every Israeli lives with the constant threat of another October 7, especially since Hamas has openly claimed its desire to carry out such attacks in the future.

I pray for every soldier. I know they are risking their lives to protect me, and I am grateful.

I pray for the civilians of Gaza, who have been put in a tragic situation because of their leaders.

I pray for us -for all of Israel, for my friends and my family and myself.

But unless Israel defines terms more concrete than “destroy Hamas”, it is hard to see an end to the war. There will always be one more tunnel to look for, one more terrorist to fight.

If it does not think seriously about a partner for the day after, then it risks either losing its current military gains when it pulls out of Gazan territory, or engaging in a long-term occupation of Gaza that could wreak military, moral, economic, and diplomatic carnage on Israel.

The current tone in Israeli politics is that we must wait until the day after the war to hold an election or replace a prime minister. But the government decides what constitutes victory and when the day after begins. If we keep waiting, and the current government continues to decline defining concrete war aims and day-after scenarios for Gaza, then we are letting the government (under whose watch this tragedy occurred) drag us into a war whose end may never come, meaning, of course, that elections are permanently on stand-by.

All of us who care about Israel must advocate for a government that sets goals we can achieve and is open with Israeli society about measures of success for dismantling Hamas and what a future in Gaza might look like. If this government continues to avoid those conversations with the Israeli public, we owe it to ourselves and our country to demand a chance for the Israeli people to vote on who should be the government overseeing this war.

If not, we risk granting Hamas the ultimate victory: An Israel in a permanent state of war, an Israel where there is always hope of victory after we destroy the next tunnel, an Israel that becomes accustomed to human tragedy, an Israel where elections are temporarily suspended, until further notice, pending an Israeli victory, with victory defined by the government who risks being ousted if there are elections.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.
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