Ethan Eisen

Why we must continue to reject calls for a ceasefire

I lack the words to describe the last month here in Israel with the combination of grief, unity, fear, defiance, rage, hope, and any number of other emotions. It has felt like one long national nightmare, as we await the safe return of the hostages, the numerous bereaved are without their loved ones, and cities-worth of our young men and women are actively battling terrorists in the most dangerous places on earth.  We have also witnessed a revival of the Jewish spirit, the unity of Jews around the world, and support from millions of peace-loving non-Jews that seems to grow each day. In this piece, I would like to focus on one aspect of the war most relevant to those living outside of Israel, specifically why everyone I know in Israel is fully behind the continued efforts to eradicate Hamas, despite mounting media and international pressure to declare a ceasefire or extended so-called humanitarian pause.

The Israeli argument is quite simple and has two main points. First, Hamas has no intention to ever coexist with Israel, and there is no incentive structure or negotiation that could deter them from their desire to destroy Israel and all the Jews within. This reality was not necessarily universally acknowledged prior to October 7th, but it has become clear since then. In recent interviews, Hamas leadership has proudly and unequivocally stated these aims, and any serious person understands that given the chance, they would enthusiastically act on these threats. Second, Israel has the right and duty to bring the Hamas terrorists and those responsible for the attacks to justice, as well as the right and duty to do whatever is necessary to ensure that this type of attack does not happen again.

If Israel’s position is this simple and coherent, what are the arguments of other people who support the pro-Hamas position?

The Anti-Israel Arguments

For anti-Israel (and antisemitic) protesters, the October 7th attacks are irrelevant to the larger discussion. Those terrorist attacks might appear bad, sure, but what else can you expect when the Zionist colonial force occupies an indigenous population, a population that simply wants to maintain freedom and dignity in the face of their oppressor? Those who espouse this argument have no interest in the 1967 borders or the various peace offers that Israel made to Palestinian governments that were rejected out of hand. For these people, the Jews never had a legitimate claim to the land, so any Jewish presence—or at the very least, Jewish authority—is colonial trespassing and is, by definition, oppressive. From this perspective, Hamas and Palestinian sympathizers are completely justified to use any means necessary resisting the Jewish presence in Israel, including the tactics used on October 7th. It also means that any action taken by Israel can never be justified in the name of self-defense, as Israel is necessarily the aggressor.

For a long time, the western media and many governments were unwilling to admit that the anti-Israel argument even existed, much less that it is espoused by some many people around the world. They assumed that nearly everyone agrees that Israel has a fundamental right to exist. The chants of “from the river to the sea…” were interpreted benevolently to reflect the legitimate aspirations of a Palestinian people interested a peaceful state living in coexistence next to the Jewish State of Israel. The thousands of Gaza rocket attacks over the years were dismissed as minor irritants emerging from an overflow of legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people; in no way did these attacks on Israeli civilian populations justify any serious response from Israel. The pay-to-slay program sponsored by Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority was viewed as an unfortunate policy, but one that does not disqualify the PA as a possible peace partner working toward a two-state solution.

However, the ferocity of the international pro-Hamas supporters in the aftermath of October 7th attacks, much of which erupted prior to any Israeli response, made clear that the issue at hand is whether Jews have any claim to any territory in the Land of Israel. Absurd as this sentence seems, the frustration that Jews have expressed about being the sole nation who must defend its right to exist has long fallen on deaf ears. Throughout the Jewish people’s exile, we never relinquished our claim to the land, as for thousands of years my ancestors prayed many times daily for a return to our Promised Land. Aside from the religious aspect to this claim, anyone who knows anything about history understands the Jews’ historical claim. They also understand that there never existed an Arab state with dominion over the Land of Israel. If we accept that the Jews do, indeed, have a legitimate claim to the land, we are compelled to conclude that the Jewish State has the right and duty to defend itself from those who wish to destroy it, and to do so in a way that protects it from future terrorist attacks. We must assert unequivocally that Hamas’s genocidal intent has no place in the civilized world, and its eradication is the only reasonable pursuit.

The armchair expert arguments

Other voices critical of Israel express that even if Israel’s military response is justified, there must be some better way to carry it out. This argument is commonly made by members of the media who are well aware of the atrocities committed by Hamas; are well aware that Hamas, if given the opportunity, would carry out similar attacks until every Jew in Israel is slaughtered; and are well aware that Israel is a country with the right and duty to defend its citizens and borders. Despite all of this, these pundits contend that the way Israel is carrying out the mission is excessive: “There must be a better way to achieve these military goals!”

These arguments are disingenuous at best, and antisemitic at worst. The foundation of this perspective is the implication that Israel chooses methods to dismantle Hamas that purposefully increase harm to civilians. To hold this belief, one would have to ignore all of the evidence available in this war: Israel has tried more than literally any army in world history to warn civilians to get out of harm’s way; when Israel established the humanitarian escape corridor to allow Gazans to escape to the south, it was Israel stationed tanks along the corridor to defend these civilians from deliberate attacks perpetrated by Hamas on their own population; and it was Hamas who set up roadblocks to interfere with the population’s effort to travel to safe areas.

It could be that these members of the media are speaking without thinking, or they are offering an opinion that they think will appease their consumers. But it’s hard not to also see a dose of old-school antisemitism embedded in this type of message.  They are arguing, in essence, that Israel is engaging in a less efficient and less effective military strategy that jeopardizes their own cause and brings about worldwide condemnation, specifically for the purpose of harming innocent civilians. Weaved into this argument is the latent belief that the Israeli’s putting themselves at risk to protect Gazan civilians from Hamas attacks, Israeli investment in weaponry capable of targeted strikes, and weeks of contacting civilians to get out of the warzone, are all a façade covering for the true cruel and sadistic desires of the Israeli military. This argument, of course, defies logic and defies reality.

If the Israeli military had a better way of carrying out the mission to destroy Hamas, it would obviously take the better option. But Israel will not be discouraged from pursuing its right and duty of self-defense because of undefinable and indefensible claims that “there must be a better way.”

The useful idiot arguments

Useful idiot is a term that refers to a “naive or credulous person who can be manipulated or exploited to advance a cause or political agenda.” In the context of the current war, it is often consumers of social media who play this role, as they accept the fabricated news of propagandists. In the weeks since October 7th, anti-Israel protesters regularly state as fact absurdities or insane conspiracy theories that were spread around social media. “Civilians weren’t killed on October 7th,” or “Israel is using white phosphorous,” or “Israel rejected Hamas’s offer to release all of hostages,” or “Israel killed 500 people in an airstrike on a hospital.”

In some ways, this group comprises the most difficult bunch to contend with because each day is a new slander disconnected from reality. How does one argue with someone who says October 7th didn’t happen? What evidence can sway someone’s perspective when evidence is defined by any information that reinforces their preconceived worldview? In thinking about this group, I am reminded of Mark Twain’s famous quote: “Never argue with an idiot. They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.”

The trouble with the Useful Idiot is that if these messages are not refuted, absurd as they may be, well-meaning people may assume that these reports are true, or at least some aspects carry elements of truth. Honest people have trouble believing that a person could assert such severe claims in the absence of any supporting evidence or the presence of refuting evidence. Nevertheless, we continue to defend our core principles, which is that Israel has the right and duty to protect itself from terrorist threats, and we will not be deterred by false accusations and propaganda.

The humanitarian arguments

In a society like Israel’s whose highest ideals demand from us the preservation and celebration of life, it is the humanitarian argument that, historically, has resonated most deeply among Israelis. In the context of this war, those who espouse the humanitarian objection will say that they agree that Israel has the right and duty to defend itself, some may even agree that removing Hamas is an essential part of this self-defense, and they will acknowledge that Hamas purposefully embeds itself within civilian populations. Despite all of this, they argue that the human cost to innocent civilians in Gaza is simply too high, and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza cannot be justified in the name of self-defense, even if Israel does not have any other way of achieving its legitimate military objectives. They argue that there must be a ceasefire, even if it will benefit Hamas, because the suffering of the Gazan people demands it.

No doubt there are some people who are genuine in this objection. For many Israelis, however, it is difficult to take seriously those who protest loudly on humanitarian grounds when these same people are strangely quiet when it comes to other conflicts in which hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced, tortured, murdered, or die of starvation and malnutrition; pro-Israel media sources have published the casualties and fatalities in countries like Syriah and Yemen, among others, that are ongoing disasters of far great proportions, but garner very little attention from the humanitarian crowds. As such, it is hard not to see some level of anti-Israel and antisemitic bias influencing the calls for humanitarian pauses or ceasefires.

To argue that Israel should declare a ceasefire—or even a so-called humanitarian pause—is to say that the Israeli government should perform actions that aid Hamas and that do not uphold its responsibility to its own population to defend its borders and ensure its security. And the ceasefire will do nothing but harm the people of Gaza, as they will continue to be oppressed by Hamas, and Hamas will have the opportunity to restock and refresh in preparation for a future attack on Israel. A ceasefire would also invite other bad actors, such as Hezbollah, Syriah, the Houthis, and, of course, Iran, to take advantage of this perceived weakness and increase the chances of a full-scale war on multiple fronts.

But even if we take these humanitarian protests seriously, the events of October 7th changed the minds of Israelis, but not in the way that we are being accused of. We have not become a cruel population who want to punish innocent civilians in Gaza. We are simply now willing to say what has always been true: it is Hamas who is creating the humanitarian crisis, and it is Hamas that can solve the crisis. Hamas started this war after spending many years diverting resources meant for the people of Gaza into their war machine and personal bank accounts. If we really accept that Israel has a right and duty to defend itself, and we are willing to acknowledge Hamas’s true intentions, Israel has no other option than to relentlessly pursue the defeat of Hamas. The Hamas leadership could solve this humanitarian crisis in one day—if they release the hostages and surrender, the people of Gaza will not suffer another moment.

The naïve arguments

The naïve protesters are similar to the armchair experts. They tend to be media pundits or in the political class, and they make assertions about how to approach Hamas that reflect a profoundly foolish worldview. A prime example of such a person is New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, whose recent column presented a comparison to a conflict between Pakistan and India in which India did not respond to a Pakistani attack. He praises this restraint from India as a sign of strength that fosters peace between competing nations, even when one was attacked viciously by the other; any retaliation might have risked a larger conflict.

Friedman’s suggestion was that a strong response from Israel would increase tension and the likelihood for anti-Israel actions in the future, while a softer response from Israel would increase goodwill. This argument is bizarre on its face.  Iran and its proxies have openly repeated for years that wish to destroy any Jewish state in this region. The idea that absorbing the losses that Israel incurred would make them seem stronger and safer, rather than more vulnerable, is asinine. A failure to eradicate Hamas would surely be viewed as a reflection of weakness that would encourage even more attacks from Hezbollah, Syriah, the Houthis, and anyone else who is committed to Israel’s destruction.

People in this camp seem to believe that if only Israel were to try harder to make peace, its enemies would have a change of heart. If only Israel would stop occupying Palestinian land (like Israel did with Gaza in 2005?), and if only Israel stop building homes in Gush Etzion, and if only Israel would turn Jerusalem into an international city under UN control, and if only Israel would release all the terrorists it has arrested plotting or committing crimes against Jews, and if only Israel would return the Golan Heights, and if only Israel would let return all the descendants of any Arab who lived in Israel in 1948…then Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah would no longer want Jews dead, they would accept the Jewish State, and the United Nations would no longer regularly condemn Israel—except this worldview is so naïve and detached from reality that it is hard to believe anyone can possibly be persuaded by it.

Israel has tried many times to find a partner in peace among the Palestinian leadership, and each time Israel has gotten burned. This conflict is not about some dispute about which territory will be included in a land swap to establish a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders. At this point, it should be clear that there is nothing that Israel can do short of dismantling itself into extinction that would be sufficient for the genocidal extremists of Hamas. There may be partners for peace among the Palestinians, and it serves Israel’s interests to find these partners and establish a lasting peace with its neighbors. But that is an issue for a future date, not the basis for a current ceasefire.

All peace-loving people should pray to God for Israel to be victorious in eliminating Hamas as swiftly and thoroughly as possible. They should defend vigorously Israel’s right and duty to self-defense. May God bless us with the safe return of all our hostages and soldiers who are in harm’s way, and may God bless all those who continue to support Israel.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Ethan Eisen is a licensed clinical psychologist who practices in Jerusalem and Bet Shemesh. He writes and lectures on topics of psychology, mental health, and halacha, and is the author of the upcoming book "Talmud on the Mind: Exploring Chazal and Practical Psychology to Lead a Better Life."
Related Topics
Related Posts