Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

We can start by setting new goals

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The entire war, all nine months of it, has been fought on three vague, not especially compatible, or even truly obtainable goals: eradicate Hamas; make the borders safe and return the hostages. Slightly more concrete objective: kill Hamas leaders and all those who participated in the Oct. 7 massacre.

How do we achieve these goals? Send the IDF storming into Gaza; move Israelis away from the borders; enter into hostage negotiations and then renege on them; insist the war cannot end; refuse to define a clear strategy for the evolving situation, refuse to contemplate the end of the war, refuse any deal that would even hint at an end to the war, support legislation that would give 20% of the draft-aged men a free pass while lengthening mandatory service for others and calling fighting men and women up with a third “emergency” notice.

Objective? We’ve killed a good many, but taking down Hamas leader Sinwar will apparently wait until after the end of the war. What did we accomplish? Renewed support for Hamas outside of Gaza, new leaders coming up through the ranks, a new generation of young Gazans who understand that Hamas is not only the army fighting on their side, it still has deep pockets at a time when no one else is getting paid.

At this point, when the IDF has rolled to the southern border of Gaza and is finishing up its operations in Rafiah on the Egyptian border, we might have to ask ourselves different questions: Why did we not managed to wrest food distribution away from the Hamas and drive down their war-time economy? What happens if we do not find Sinwar and kill him? How much killing is enough? How do we decide we’ve extracted our revenge and let ourselves take a breather? Who gets to decide what we’ll trade for the priceless lives of hostages? Who gets to decide when the war is over? What defines winning, when each side plays by different rules?

I would like to say that the first goal was presented to us somewhat cynically. It sounded strong and convincing. But completely eradicating Hamas would likely embroil us in years of war, and I’m pretty sure our leadership was aware of this fact. In contrast, seriously loosening their hold over Gaza could have been accomplished by now, if only our Prime Minister had been willing to listen to the proposed alternatives to Hamas rule. Now, Bibi is grasping this tagline as though it were a lifeline, and Sinwar seems to think the numbers of Gazan dead will be the life raft that will float him back to power on the Gaza shore.

And our borders? I’ll just point out that the border kibbutzim, moshavim and development towns were placed around the edges of our country precisely because we were, in the 1950s warring with Palestinians in Egypt, including Gaza, and with Lebanese and Syrians in the North, Jordanians in the East. Everyone else moved to Tel Aviv and Petach Tikvah. Let’s openly admit that the danger on our borders will not completely disappear when the war ends. We can shoot rockets out of the air, but we can’t promise sirens will not wail. And a moment’s complacency can be deadly. Can we find a better alternative for our borders? See above.

Returning the hostages as a goal: Bibi is apparently hoping for a miracle here, even nine months into this fiasco. Otherwise, I have no explanation as to why, when we are already winding down operations in Gaza, he still won’t agree to the theoretical possibility of a long-term cease-fire in exchange for every last hostage. I admit, the end of the war and the hostage bargaining have become tangled; instead of cease-fire negotiations there are simply demands. But the larger problem is that he lives in a world in which appearances trump substance. By agreeing to the terms of a negotiated hostage deal, he might appear to capitulate to Hamas, to end the war without “winning.”

The end goal of war cannot be more war. We have no strategy for the rest of the war; we have no strategy for ending the war. But before we develop new strategies, we need new goals. In light of the war goals we’ve grown so cynical about, I would like to propose some vague possibly-partially-achievable peace-making goals. These can easily be adopted by politicians, adapted to large signs, printed on drinking cups and used as a starting point for real strategy:

  1. Return all the hostages immediately. Enough is enough. I don’t care what it costs, or how you do it. Ending the war is a small price to pay.
  2. End the war, obviously. Declare it over and bring all the troops back into Israel.
  3. Accept the existence of a Palestinian state. The sooner, the better. Jewish extremist settlers are trying to prevent it, and the result may be catastrophic. Support any Palestinian organizations and parties that will agree to cooperate with Israel. Fatah may be corrupt and its leader a Holocaust denier, but the PA collaborates with Israel in ways that are crucial. Take what you can get.
  4. Reach out to every state in the Arab world that is willing to help. We need help ensuring demilitarization is taking place and the cement we allow past the border goes into apartments, not tunnels. That is, we need open lines of communication and eyes on the ground in Gaza. Gazans need help not just rebuilding their lives, but feeling their way toward self-rule. They need an economy that is not based either on Qatari aid or intermittent Israeli hiring. They need to be able to leave Gaza. They messed up with Hamas, and we need ensure they get a “do-over” that we all can live with.
  5. Embrace Palestinian citizens of Israel. You might find some are willing to be a bridge to peace and to join other citizens in creating a more just society within the country.
  6. Prepare to compromise. You cannot achieve anything real or lasting without negotiations and concessions. We live in a real world in which international pressure and guerilla warfare will prevent us from “total victory.” In that case, prepare to redefine victory. Getting all the hostages home, for example, could be a great victory.
  7. Give it time. Don’t expect love for the Jewish state to spring up like desert wildflowers after a winter downpour. Plan to build the conditions in which real peace between the countries can gradually take root and continue to flower year after year.
  8. Stop with the victim sweepstakes. Whipping up hysteria over the torture, killing and rapes, as horrible as they were, will not, in the long run, justify the number of civilians killed in Gaza. And stop telling us what a wonderful people we are. That is shorthand for “suck it up and don’t expect support from your government.” Before you can give us straight talk, you must go out to displaced citizens and hostage family groups, sit and listen. Go to the families of reserve soldiers who are losing their livelihood. Go to the farmers in the North whose chicken houses have been destroyed by Hezbollah drones. Go, even if the photo ops are not great. Don’t make empty promises.
  9. Rebuild the kibbutzim and moshavim on the border in a new way, rather than simply resettling them to show Gaza we are not afraid. Admit you cannot avert all danger; that, at least in the short term, there will be new tunnels and incendiary balloons sent up over any fence you can build. Take the time to rethink, plan and give those who are so over life on the wild southwestern border another option. The same goes for farmers in the North, who have already been struggling with organized crime and theft as well as falling food and rising feed prices, and others in our northern “periphery,” who already suffer from institutional neglect. Think about how we are going to pay for all the reconstruction before you create new, government-funded positions for rabbis and new ways to support the ultra-Orthodox.

Okay, I’ve gone on past the accepted sound-bite three. And gone into a bit more detail than necessary. Maybe even been a bit didactic. And really, I’m not a strategist or political planner. In truth, it seems to me that most of my points are pretty obvious. I’ve gone through the trouble to lay out the basis – the bare minimum – here. All our leaders need to do is look steely-eyed into a camera, tell us they have considered the issue deeply, and they have decided all (or most) of the above points are in our national interest. And then carry through.

And if our leaders cannot do this in some form or other, we need to get rid of them and elect new ones who can. Enough is enough. Holding elections during wartime is a small price to pay. In fact, the price is rising by the day. We can’t afford to wait.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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