Enough with the warlords. There is another way

Israel’s addictive militarism has convinced us that the next dose of the drug will be the one that fixes things forever. But an alternative path exists.

IDF reserve infantry and Merkava Tank soldiers train in a military exercise in the Golan Heights, October 23, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
IDF reserve infantry and Merkava Tank soldiers train in a military exercise in the Golan Heights, October 23, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

In partnership with

Since the massacre carried out by Hamas in the Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, Israel has been gripped by an appalling desire for revenge. Government ministers, army officials, and members of the public — including many identified with the leftist camp — are openly calling for the obliteration of Gaza and exacting an unprecedented price on its more than 2 million inhabitants. Whenever anyone objects, they are quick to respond defiantly: “What other choice do we have?”

This is not only a legitimate question, but the most important question on the agenda. I would like to propose a very concrete plan for action, even if I know that in the public mood today, it is a weak whistle against the wind.

This proposal for action is based on two fundamental assumptions. The first is that all human lives are of equal value. No one person’s blood runs redder than another’s, and all the inhabitants of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea have an equal right to justice, freedom, and security.

Don’t all rush to nod: experience has proven that this basic statement is far from being widely accepted. Those who are ready to agree, without “ifs” and “buts”, they, and only they, are my political partners — Palestinians and Israelis alike.

The second assumption is that the continuation of the war and its expansion through a ground invasion of Gaza could lead to a disaster that would dwarf the one we’re already experiencing. The tensions in the north with Lebanon and Syria; the tens of thousands taking to the streets in Arab countries, including in neighboring Jordan; the calls by Temple movement activists for masses of Jews to ascend the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif; and the deepening of a genocidal mindset among the Israeli public — all of these are a recipe for a disaster on a scale we’ve never seen before, and from which there may be no more resurrection.

Iron Dome system fires interception missiles as rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip to Israel, as seen from Sderot, May 11, 2023. (Flash90)
Iron Dome system fires interception missiles as rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip to Israel, as seen from Sderot, May 11, 2023. (Flash90)

And there is another assumption: repeating the same policy that Israel has been conducting for decades and expecting it to yield a different result is wanton stupidity. It is this policy that is dragging us into the abyss. We have to change it by 180 degrees.

An alternative path

The first imperative deriving from these assumptions is an immediate ceasefire, and the exchange of prisoners and hostages on both sides. It should not be difficult to admit that the massacre Israel is currently unleashing in Gaza has nothing to do with our security. Indeed, for every senior Hamas operative whose name we hear when the army boasts of a successful assassination, another hundred innocent Palestinians are slaughtered.

If this mass killing of innocents seems to anyone to be a legitimate price to pay for the elimination of Hamas members, basic integrity would also require an agreement that Hamas destroy entire neighborhoods around the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, located in the heart of the most highly populated city in Israel. If the lives of all human beings are equal, and we accept the killing of innocents in Gaza as part of the “war on Hamas,” then the same must be true in return — which, of course, it is not.

There is and cannot be anything more urgent from Israel’s point of view than the return of the more than 200 people currently being held as hostages in Gaza. These people, who were criminally neglected by a country that sent most of the forces that were supposed to protect them to guard settlers in the West Bank, are owed at least this much. 

Yes, it will also require the release of Palestinian prisoners, including prisoners with blood on their hands — along with hundreds of prisoners who have never been convicted or even stood trial. We’ve done it before. It was the right thing to do then, and it is doubly so now.

At the same time, Israel should commit to lifting the long-standing siege on Gaza, under which it holds more than 2 million people in a pen whose conditions were defined by the United Nations years ago as unfit for human habitation. The criminal blockade never had a security purpose; it serves only as a form of collective punishment inflicted on every single resident of the strip for the crime of “choosing” Hamas — nearly 18 years ago. The task of protecting the country’s borders must be carried out from within the country’s borders.

Palestinian children play in an UNRWA camp in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, October 23, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)
Palestinian children play in an UNRWA camp in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, October 23, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Israel must also cooperate with the international community, including Arab countries, for the immediate implementation of a thorough rehabilitation plan for Gaza. The right we have taken upon ourselves over the years to imprison masses of people and hold them on the threshold between life and death — down to the level of counting the daily calories each resident is allowed to consume — is a heinous crime that has achieved nothing but the deepening of suffering, despair, and hatred. It’s time we face up to that.

The lifting of the blockade on Gaza should coincide with abandoning the policy of isolating Gaza from the Palestinian case as a whole. Gaza is not a parallel universe. There will be no peace with Gaza or in Gaza so long as Israel continues to oppress Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and within Israel’s 1948 territories. Therefore, parallel to lifting the blockade on Gaza, Israel must present an immediate plan to withdraw from all of the West Bank.

But even before doing so, Israel must dismantle the strongholds of Jewish terror in the West Bank, stop the diffusion between the military forces and the settlers, which are already very difficult to tell apart, and provide full protection to the Palestinian residents until the withdrawal of the army from the territories is settled.

And finally, at the same time, Israel’s persecution of the Palestinian political sphere must be stopped in order to allow real democratic elections, from which will grow an independent leadership that no longer serves as a subcontractor for Israel’s occupation. Real democratic elections and a real process to end the occupation are the most effective way to disarm Hamas both militarily and politically — certainly more than all the bloody “operations” in which the army promised to “eliminate Hamas,” until the next one.

No more of the same

In these very days, and under the auspices of the war, the creeping ethnic cleansing that has been taking place in the West Bank for years is gaining alarming speed, and is being implemented with the full cooperation of the army and the settlers. Entire communities have fled, many more communities need the round-the-clock presence of Israeli activists to mediate — not always successfully — between their residents and the deadly arms of the settlers and the army. Those who refuse to understand the current reality in its full context and insist on looking at one fragment of it will not be prepared to deal with its consequences.

The belongings and remains of homes of Palestinian families in Ein Samia, West Bank. (Oren Ziv)
The belongings and remains of homes of Palestinian families in Ein Samia, West Bank. (Oren Ziv)

The full context of this reality also includes the unrestrained persecution that is now being waged against Palestinian citizens of Israel. This bullying, too, cannot be separated from the familiar Israeli concept of control through oppression. The disgraceful threat of the police commissioner to send to Gaza any Arab citizen who demonstrates against Israel’s assault on the besieged strip should have brought every democracy-seeking citizen to the streets.

The public’s resignation to the order, “Quiet, war!” and the institutionalized repression of Palestinian citizens does not just spit in the face of the idea of democracy — for which only recently millions took to the streets — but represents a civil rupture from which it will be very difficult to recover, if at all. This is a targeted elimination of our partnership with those without whom any discourse on democracy is fundamentally barren. This persecution must be stopped. The police chief must be removed from his position. Immediately.

I am not naïve enough to believe that even a word of these demands will find a listening ear now, amid the tumult of war and revenge. It is very possible that in the eyes of the communications minister, they fall into the category of “harming national morale,” which, according to the regulations he is reportedly formulating, is punishable by imprisonment. But my national morale and that of many others was buried with the victims of the massacre in Israel’s south. It is held prisoner together with the hostages in Gaza. Self-deception will not bring it back, and it is not a privilege we can afford anymore.

I insist on saying that Israel’s current logic of action is exactly the same logic that has been leading all of us, Palestinians and Israelis, to wallow in blood for years. Therefore my first answer to the question, “So what should be done now?” is: no more of the same. We must give up this addictive behavior, which has convinced us that the next dose of the drug will be the one that will fix things forever.

Extinguish the flames

To those who see these words as an invitation to an Israeli declaration of defeat, I say: so be it. The notion that we can continue to maintain this bloody conflict, with all its inherent oppression, and not pay a price for it — that has certainly been defeated. Your victories have brought us nothing but bereavement and death, for Israelis and Palestinians alike. I have no interest in the victory you’re offering me, because I know that the only way for it to materialize will be in the form of the next graves that we will have to dig.

If defeat means finally realizing that the promise to live forever by the sword is a criminal and sick promise, I’m ready to admit defeat right away. Because we have already been defeated: in Be’eri and Gaza, in Sderot and Khan Younis, in Ashkelon and the Jenin refugee camp. This senseless revenge campaign will not bring anyone back. The flames of hatred that are raging now will burn us all if we do not extinguish them. 

Look around you and see how the voices of life are being silenced one by one and how their place is taken by the calls of death. These calls are now reaching many leftists in the form of physical attacks — such as those targeting the journalist Israel Frey — alongside a level of hate speech and threats that I and many of my comrades have never before encountered.

If defeat means deep contempt for Israel’s policy of militarism, which continues to sell us the lies of “security,” “eliminating Hamas,” or the devil knows what, at the cost of the lives of the hostages and the lives of many more who will be sacrificed on the altar of power, arrogance, and revenge, I now raise the white flag. At any moment I would prefer it to the black flag of those warlords, who have brought us nothing but suffering, hatred, and death.

A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.