Gershon Baskin
Political and social entrepreneur activist in Israel and Palestine

What to do now, today!

Hostages and Prisoners
The number one priority of the State of Israel must be to bring home the hostages – all of them. The State of Israel failed to protect its citizens who were massacred and taken hostage. It is the moral responsibility of the State of Israel to bring them home.

Hamas and its leader, Yahya Sinwar, made it very clear in the first days of the war some 10 weeks ago that the deal on the table is all of the hostages in exchange for all of the Palestinian prisoners. Sinwar has made it his life’s goal to empty the Israeli prisons. He said it in his first public speech after his release in 2011 and has repeated it in every important speech over the past 12 years. This mission is more important to him than his own life.

At the beginning of the war, there were about 5,600 prisoners. Now there are more than 7,600 and the number grows every day. Of those prisoners, there are 559 serving life sentences for murdering Israelis. Some of them are on multiple life sentences for killing many Israelis. Most of these people are very dangerous because they have no regrets for what they did and many of them probably intend to continue to do what they did in the past. There are an additional 130 terrorists who were caught in Israel on October 7, 8, and 9. These are brutal murderous terrorists as well. There are more than 2,500 administrative detainees who have been arrested without charge and imprisoned without trial. Only about 500 of the 7,600 prisoners are from Gaza. Before October 7, about 25 percent of the prisoners were identified as being members of Hamas.

Yes, there are clear and present dangers to releasing these people, but there is more clear and present danger to the lives of the Israeli hostages left in Gaza. Every day they are there is a risk to their lives. That is why the “all for all” deal must be made. If it becomes clear that Israel has decided to sacrifice the hostages, as it is now beginning to appear, and they are killed in Gaza, Israeli society will never recover from the blow. It will take many years, if ever, to get over the realization that the government of Israel allowed its innocent citizens to be killed in Gaza because it would not make a deal with Hamas.

Yes, this will be a victory for Hamas and for Sinwar that no one wants to grant him. But it will be a very temporary victory because the war effort will continue immediately after the hostages come home. Hamas must not be allowed to continue to control Gaza for even one day after the war. There is no victory for Israel if the hostages remain in Gaza. There is no victory for Israel if Hamas continues to control Gaza after the war. Sinwar will get his wish to become a shaheed – this we can promise him. This deal must be on the table now. To mitigate the risks, the released prisoners should be sent to the West Bank and not to Gaza. In the West Bank, they can be more easily monitored and watched and, if need be, rearrested. If they try to engage in terrorism, they can be eliminated. Yes, there are risks and 7,600 released prisoners is a lot of people. But let’s face reality, Israel arrests Palestinians every night. In 2014, Israel rearrested 68 Palestinians who were released in the Shalit deal.

Without resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and enabling Palestinians to have the right of self-determination, personal and national dignity and ending the Israeli occupation, there is no shortage of Palestinians willing to fight and die and be arrested for their cause of liberation. So immediately when this horrible war is over, we have to get into the hard work of ending this conflict and doing it much more seriously than ever before. October 7 has to be our wake-up call – for Israelis and for Palestinians.

The Gaza Humanitarian Catastrophe
Facing the immediate humanitarian disaster in Gaza, about 2 million people have once again become homeless without homes to return to because Israel has bombed them into rubble. Winter is here now with rain, flooding, and cold, and people in Gaza are living in makeshift tents with no proper sanitation. There is a shortage of food and very little potable water. People are still being bombed, even within the so-called safe areas. Hospitals are not functioning because most of them have been bombed. Schools that are still standing are serving as shelters for tens of thousands of homeless people. Objectively speaking, there is little doubt that war crimes have been committed by Israel. Whole families have been killed in their homes. Thousands of orphans are facing life without homes and families. This is a disaster. So many innocent people have become victims of this war. They need to place blame on Hamas, no doubt, but Israel is also to be blamed and held responsible for this humanitarian catastrophe.

On days before the war, more than 500 trucks of goods entered Gaza on a daily basis. Now all trucks entering, much smaller in numbers, are filled with food, water, medical supplies and other urgent basic human needs. There is no economy left in Gaza. The aid trucks are providing the most basic needs to deal with the crisis of 2 million homeless people. Israel has agreed to open the Kerem Shalom crossing for the purpose of allowing more trucks to go through security clearance. That is a step in the right direction, but the trucks return to the Rafah crossing bottleneck before entering Gaza. Once in Gaza, the trucks face Hamas gunmen who confiscate a lot of the aid which should be going to the civilian population. Israel must set up its own humanitarian aid corridor at Kerem Shalom crossing, and at least one crossing in the north of the Gaza Strip – perhaps Erez to bring the aid directly to where it is most needed. Israel should make this crossing efficient and the IDF should accompany the aid trucks to the points of destination that Israel told the population they would find safe zones. Israel should distribute the aid to the people in need. This should be done because it is the right thing to do and because we always have to remember that there will be a day after the war where two million Palestinians will still be living in Gaza as Israel’s neighbors.

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.