The world breathed a sigh of relief at the ‘pause’ in the Gaza bombings. Most shared something of the relief expressed by families of the released hostages and of the aid getting into Gaza. Many connected with the anxiety of those still waiting for more. And many more just wonder what will follow.
Inside Gaza, the injured could move to safer hospitals. Aid and medical supplies could be shipped in. The newly homeless could seek shelter elsewhere. Babies in incubators were transferred to other intensive care units (though not in Israel). And the bodies of the dead began to be salvaged from the rubble.
For a moment, the world was invited to forget the overstretched (and under-staffed) hospital units, struggling to keep people alive without the basics of water, electricity and medical supplies.
Beyond this, however, lies the gap between a pause and an equitable peace. This is the nightmare waiting in the wings. For within it sits the message no one appears willing to hear: for either side, this is not a winnable war.
Israel’s existential threat
Netanyahu’s determination to destroy Hamas is more likely to threaten the existence of Israel itself. This isn’t something his warmongers will contemplate. And the irony is that there aren’t enough hostages for any pause to last long enough for peacemakers to get in and change the script.
Hamas cannot be bombed out of existence and the conflict is, in any case, no longer about them. Relentless bombardment is designed to drive Palestinians from the land the Israeli Right wish to claim for themselves. Gaza City has been reduced to rubble. Khan Younis will soon follow. Palestinians not buried within the ruins will be driven towards an elsewhere that doesn’t exist.
But with every ‘victory’ Israel will become a loser. Internationally, it will lose friends and be increasingly isolated. Hamas will regroup, discovering fresh allies across the region. Other nations will press for Israel to face war crimes tribunals. And elsewhere the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians will be used by far-Right groups wanting to rekindle an anti-semitism that would do the same to Jews.
From the river to the sea we will all be drowning.
The only hope is that real leaders emerge who can embrace the wisdom of the Israeli/Palestinian bereaved parents movement who say “We must either learn to share the land we live on or the graves beneath it.”
Blinded by the Right
This is not what is currently driving Israeli politics. Netanyahu funded Hamas to divide the Palestinians. It served as a distraction from his own criminality avoided engaging in any Two State (or One State) peace process. Today, he presides over an Israeli Cabinet even more Right wing than he is. Many openly call for an Israel ethnically cleansed of Palestinians.
At some point, Britain will have to recognise that the current conflict is more about eliminating Palestinians than eradicating Hamas.
If the collective leadership of Hamas were to surrender today the bombing of Gaza would continue.
Gaza’s 2 million residents would still be driven towards the Sinai desert. Illegal land seizures in the West Bank would go on uninterrupted.
Residents in Hebron would still be fenced into their own homes and denied access to their own streets. And both Israeli settlers and IDF soldiers would continue to routinely kill Palestinians, driving them from their homes with an impunity even apartheid South Africa never enjoyed.
The images of streets in Hebron are scary. Families living on caged-in balconies more closely resemble a human zoo than an urban community. The streets below have been commandeered by Jewish settlers and policed by IDF soldiers – all of which is illegal.
Jews in Israel who protest that this is not the peace they are looking for are themselves brutally treated by both police and ultra-Right settlers.
Jews outside Israel who try to do so are trashed as ‘self-hating Jews’. And all other critics are branded anti-semites. This amounts to a global guilt-trip, designed only avoid conversations about any meaningful and durable peace for both Jews and Arabs.
The lose-lose conundrum
We are all dehumanised by an international reluctance to call out Netanyahu’s war plans. But unless the global response changes everything is set to become dramatically worse.
Leaflets dropped on Khan Yunis by the Israeli army make the next phase clear. A new wave of bombing will drive Palestinians towards Al-Mawasi, a tiny area of sand dunes close to the Mediterranean. Al-Mawasi has no sanitation or hospital facilities whatsoever.
International Aid agencies refuse to pretend that creating a tent city for 1.7 million refugees there is even remotely tolerable. But Netanyahu will try to ride out criticism of ethnic cleansing in Gaza, hoping it will distract attention from the more diffuse processes far-Right settlers are using to kill or displace Palestinians from the West Bank.
For the international community, hand wringing and food parcels are no longer enough. It is time for more decisive responses, particularly from Israel’s most traditional supporters. This could include –
- Britain suspending all arms supplies to Israel until serious peace negotiations are re-established (diverting such resources to the more urgent defence needs of Ukraine),
- US naval support in the Mediterranean must become conditional on a programme that removes illegal settlements from the West Bank and returns ‘safe streets’ to Palestinians in Hebron,
- a structured international framework should be set up to re-start 2 State/1State negotiations that deliver security for both Jews and Arabs, and
- 2/3 of all aid going to Israel must be diverted into the rebuilding of Gaza, with the Palestinian Authority having oversight of the plans for a safe return for Palestinians refugees.
Netanyahu would welcome none of this. His Cabinet would be incandescent. But challenging Israel’s lurch to the ultra-Right may be the most important way of saving Israel itself.
Ditching the Crazies
Over 2 decades ago, during a parliamentary visit to the Middle East, I got into a heated argument with people who were clearly Hezbollah supporters. They dismissed any prospect of a negotiated peace. Some argued that the only solution was to poison the aquifers that supplied Israel, making the land uninhabitable. These were people I doubted could live comfortably with themselves let alone anyone else. But their logic was simple.
Poison the land and everyone would have to flee. For 100 years the land would be uninhabitable. The Middle East would accommodate the Palestinian diaspora that followed, but Jews would have to move elsewhere. Argentina? Uganda? They didn’t care. It just meant that in 100 years time only Palestinians would be in a position to return.
Such ‘logic’ is the triumph of nihilism over civilisation. But Hezbollah’s crazies and Israel’s ultra-Right are different sides of the same coin. Neither take us close to valuing human life and human differences. Neither lead to any promised land.
By now, we should know that tit-for-tat slaughter resolves nothing. It would destroy a homeland for Jews as readily as one for Palestinians. Only the messy business of peace-mongering can deliver security for both.
This begins when the rest of the world says we will fund the peace but not the war.
It may be a long, long walk. But if Mandela and Gandhi were willing to risk it, so must the rest of us.
November 27 2023