The Second Grave
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in "The Natural Consequences Of Hamas' Attack" that the despicable terrorist attack of Hamas preordained the Israeli bombing and incursion into Gaza. Even with time to think and to hear a contrary view from someone whose motives and heart are pure, I stand by every word I wrote. The blood of every Gazan who has died is on Hamas' hands.
But one thing she brought to my attention demanded serious consideration. What should Israel do next?
Whatever the answer, the overriding imperative should be a just peace with full security guarantees. Without peace, it will be next to impossible for Israel to continue as a democratic Jewish homeland. If the goal, out of an understandable desire for vengeance, is only to destroy Hamas, then Israel should heed the warning from the great Chinese philosopher Confucious - “Those who seek revenge must dig two graves."
Before answering, I need to lay out my ground rules. My paramount interest is what is good for Israel and for Jews. How it affects Hamas, Hezbollah, and their fellow travelers is of no concern to me. Their fate is irrelevant. Nor are the historic grievances of Palestinians my concern. Yes, they have been mistreated by everyone, including Israel, and have been used as political footballs by Arab leaders to distract their citizens from rightful grievances. But Jews have lived in the Land of Israel for millennia, and there has never been a Palestinian State. Additionally, the beliefs or positions of other Arab countries hold no moral authority; they have rejected a two-state solution too often.
Map of UN 1948 Partition Plan Rejected By Arab Countries (Israel in orange,
Palestine in yellow)
But most of all, I give no credence to the opinions of those who are quick to condemn Israel with such vitriol and to ignore the evil of others. They were silent when the Syrian Government of Bashar al-Assad attacked its own citizens with chemical weapons. Estimates of the death toll ranged from 281 people to 1,729. They were silent when a Saudi Arabia-led coalition invaded Yemen. That war has killed an estimated 377,000 people, has contributed to the famine in Yemen, which has threatened over 17 million people, and caused an outbreak of cholera that has infected hundreds of thousands. They were silent when, in 1991, 287,000 Palestinians were forced by the Kuwaiti security forces to leave Kuwait.
Apparently, the deaths of citizens of Syria or Yemen do not matter. Nor do the lives of Palestinians seem to matter if Israel is not involved. Or maybe they are only incensed when it is Jews doing the killing or expelling?
There are only two intertwined interests that need to be considered - the State of Israel and, by necessity, the Palestinians. There is an old saying that “If my Grandmother had wheels, she’d be a bicycle.” You deal with the world as it is, not as you hope it to be. Put another way, Israel cannot act as if the Palestinians do not exist.
Israel is situated in a dangerous neighborhood, and that is not going to change soon. The historic grievances against Israel, whether justified or not, are not going to disappear. There is no chance that without some monumental change, anyone will ever just let ‘bygones be bygones'. Even if Israel kills every member of Hamas, without change, there will be another terrorist organization to take its place.
What is next after the attack on Hamas needs to be at the forefront.
When considering alternatives, I am drawn to thoughts attributed to four individuals. The first is Confucious ' warning to those who seek vengeance.
The second is the assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Rabin was no peacenik. When faced with the Intifada in 1987, he instructed Israeli soldiers to break Palestinian arms and legs. Yet, when asked why he was entering into an agreement with the PLO and Yasser Arafat, he responded,
“You don't make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies.”
The third is Ben Franklin, who observed that “Out of Adversity Comes Opportunity.”
The last, and the most important, is the Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Upon meeting Egyptian President Anwar Sadat when he arrived in Israel, she said,
“I can forgive you for killing my boys, but I can never forgive you for making our boys kill yours.”
Prime Minister Meir recognized that for each death that a soldier causes, no matter how subjectively justified, a little of the soldier's soul also dies with the heart commensurately hardening. Being a warm, caring, and compassionate person is not conducive to being able to engage in even a fully justified war. These characteristics are antithetical to war’s goal – kill the enemy.
The same is true for nations. Although not made of skin and bone, nations also have souls. This idea goes back to Plato, who, in The Republic, opined that a state is infused with a soul that resembles that of its citizens. How just a state acts, how it treats outsiders, who it treats as important, what values it cherishes, and what it considers evil are all considerations defining the soul of a nation. For every country, there is hopefully a constant fight for what the historian Jon Meacham calls the battle for our better angels.
That battle is difficult enough when the nation is at peace and not faced with war or another existential crisis. Nations, like people, have survival instincts. Especially nations that have been at war since their founding are surrounded by countries who have pledged to push them back into the sea and were founded partially as a refuge for survivors of Hitler’s Final Solution. It becomes too easy for a national response to a brutal and unjustified attack to focus on the short-term imperative of rescue or prevention without taking into account long-term implications. When it is believed that your very survival is threatened, your vision becomes myopic and focused on the here and now.
For Israel, the short-term goal must be determined with the long-term in mind. I do not doubt that Israel wants to live peacefully with its neighbors. The terms of that peace may be debatable, but those who think otherwise ignore the treaties Israel has signed and lived up to with past perennial enemies, Egypt and Jordan. Whether the desire comes from altruism or cold calculations is irrelevant.
All but the most hardened rightists understand that the Palestinians are not going anywhere. Indeed, other Arab nations will not welcome them. The West Bank was under the control of Jordan for almost 20 years, yet no Palestinian state was formed. Egypt exercised identical control of Gaza. Palestinians have nowhere to go. They are Israel's problem.
Without a viable peace between Israel and Palestinians, Israelis will live on a continual war footing with all that this means for their economy and nation's psyche. Israel is not looking to occupy Gaza with a continuous military occupation. This is why they unilaterally left Gaza in 2005, along with the forced dismantling and evacuation of 21 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip. Eight thousand Jewish settlers from the 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip were forcibly relocated.
Israeli soldiers, in 2005, forcibly removed settlers from Gaza.
Their rationale for leaving was calculated and not based on what was good for Gazans. A primary reason was an understanding of demographic realities and the costs of a continued occupation. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in an address on the day that Israel ceded control of Gaza, stated,
"It is no secret that, like many others, I had believed and hoped we could forever hold onto [the settlements of] Netzarim and Kfar Darom. But the changing reality in the country, in the region, and the world required of me to reassess and change of positions. We cannot hold on to Gaza forever. Over 1 million Palestinians live there, and they double their numbers with every generation.”
At the same time, then Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres confirmed that
“We are disengaging from Gaza because of demography.”
Israel's dilemma was that it could not occupy Gaza without an occupation that would require brutality that the nation was not willing to undertake. Nor was Israel willing to change its character as a Jewish State by making a million predominantly Muslim Arab citizens. The choice was between maintaining Israel as a democracy or a Jewish State. Faced with equally unacceptable alternatives, even a hawk, like Prime Minister Sharon knew there had to be a third way. Israel just had to leave.
Almost twenty years later, Israel is on the verge of forgetting why it left Gaza. Hamas has given no indication that it is going down easily, and Israel has at least publicly committed itself to stay in Gaza for as long as it takes to destroy Hamas. Even if it takes years. In those years, Israel will correctly be viewed by Gazans as an occupying force. Israel will be responsible for the feeding, housing, and medical care of every Gazan. Israel will be held accountable for all that is wrong, regardless of genuine fault. If anyone doubts who will be blamed, remember how quickly most of the world wrongly accused Israel of the explosion at Gaza City’s Ahli Arab Hospital.
The author, Thomas Friedman, published an interesting opinion piece in which he pleaded with the Israeli Government to pair its incursion into Gaza with an honest and public diplomatic pursuit of a two-state solution. Friedman feared that the situation would quickly spin out of everyone’s control, endangering Israel's relations with Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, dooming treaties with other Arab nations, and, at the same time, irreparably injuring American interests.
I do not always agree with Friedman, but this time he is right. Which brings me to Ben Franklin and Confucius as representatives of the possible polar outcomes. Franklin's statement that “out of adversity comes opportunity” is the more optimistic. Any optimism flows from the realization that the Arab / Muslim world is not monolithic, and there was a real possibility before the Hamas attack that Israel would normalize relations with Saudi Arabia and others. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank are reluctant allies if they are allies at all. Hamas is primarily a Sunni Muslim organization. Iran has funded and armed Hamas despite their religious differences to destabilize the region.
The lack of a unified Arab response was highlighted when, on November 11th, a joint summit of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Arab League unsurprisingly condemned Israel but was unable to agree on any sanctions. The objections of four major countries prevented the imposition of any concrete measures to back the condemnation.
Hezbollah, which controls Israel’s northern border, is Shiite Muslim and backed by Shiite Iran. In a recent address, the leader of Hezbollah spewed the usual rhetoric that one would expect but stayed clear of any commitment to any meaningful widening of the conflict. However, Hezbollah has fired dozens of rockets at some Israeli positions in a disputed area near the border. There have also been limited infiltrations of Hezbollah forces reported. Thankfully, there have only been minimal causalities on both sides.
What can bring these disparate interests into a firm alliance and widen/worsen the conflict in other parts of Israel is the inability of Israel to envision an end game other than revenge or punishment for the Hamas terrorist attack.
The situation has not been made any better by reciprocal escalation on the Israeli side. Militant Israelis on the West Bank have used the Hamas attack as justification for attacks of their own. According to the United Nations, since October 7th, attacks on Palestinians have left 115 dead, more than 2,000 injured, and nearly 1,000 others removed from their homes. Israeli hardliners will also use the Hamas attack to bury even the slight chance for a two-state solution.
When Israel pulls its troops out of Gaza, it will not matter that they have killed every member of Hamas if the conditions that helped spawn Hamas are still present or have even worsened. An insightful article by Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic & International Studies discussed the potential difficulties that Gaza faces. Cordesman observed that
“[t]he present levels of poverty and unemployment in Gaza have made popular support of Hamas and violence all too serious. Israel's future wartime and postwar security efforts will almost certainly make this situation far worse.”
If the same poverty and violence that preceded Hamas outlives their destruction, all that Israel will have gained is a name change for their enemy.
The destruction of Hamas needs to be paired with a political solution and meaningful international aid conditioned on Palestinian non-violence; guaranteeing Israel’s security and oversight to ensure honest and effective use of the aid will be necessities. This requires the wealthy Gulf states to seriously step forward, write large checks, and take responsibility for how the funds are used. The United States needs to play a large role, but without significant and continued support from Arab countries, it will not be seen as an honest broker by Palestinians.
Israel will need to stop, and even pull back, from new settlements in disputed land. They must also reaffirm their commitment to a two-state solution. Arab countries and Palestinian organizations must unconditionally affirm Israel’s right to exist. The use of slogans such as "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" must end, along with antisemitic acts and statements. Just as Israelis must accept that the majority of Gazans do not share their views of Hamas, Palestinians must acknowledge that just because their words can be spun not to have antisemitic overtones does not make it so.
All this may be just a pipe dream of an uniformed and naive westerner who the Palestinians would dismiss as just another Zionist and by the Israelis as a Jew that does not understand. I am a Zionist and a firm supporter of Israel. The Israel I love is a homeland for the Jewish people and a democracy. And I loathe the Netanyahu government's attempts to eviscerate democratic checks and balances. I take pride that Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East and that Arabs of various religious beliefs make up 20% of the Israeli population. I am proud that Arab citizens have equal civil rights, and there are currently 10 Arab members of the Knesset.
Sharon, Peres, and Rabin were correct that Israel needs peace and that "You don't make peace with friends. You make it with very unsavory enemies." The logic behind the 2005 decision for Israel to leave Gaza has more resonance today. Sharon, whom Palestinians blame for starting the Intifada when, as the leader of the Likud, he and his supports "stormed" the Temple Mount and who was vilified for allowing the massacre at the Sabra and Shatila massacre to occur, understood that math was not on Israel's side. When he decided to leave Gaza, he publicly recognized the impossibility of a continued occupation of an area with one million Muslims. He also lamented that Israel could not wait to act because '[o]ver 1 million Palestinians live there, and they double their numbers with every generation." By 2020, the Gaza population exceeded 2 million.
Franklin's parable can become a reality with Hamas gone or critically weakened. Opportunity will exist. But so many other times, it has existed and been squandered. One need only remember the euphoria and promises made when Rabin and Arafat signed their agreement at the White House. If the present opportunity is squandered, Israel will have gained nothing but revenge for the horrendous acts of Hamas. Maybe for a few years, things will be peaceful. But, in the long run, it will only be a temporary respite.
The Confucian prophesy will become too real if the revenge cycle spins out of control. What most Israeli proponents ignore is that in Gaza, Hamas is not considered an outlaw terrorist organization. It came to power and displaced the Palestinian Authority not through violence but through the ballot box. Sharon, in 2005, recognized that Gazans
"live in incredibly cramped refugee camps, in poverty and squalor, in hotbeds of ever-increasing hatred, with no hope whatsoever on the horizon."
The Palestinian Authority did almost nothing to improve their living conditions.
It was not Hamas' desire to destroy Israel that led to their electoral victory but the rejection of the corruption and ineptitude of the Palestinian Authority. Conditions in Gaza did not become bright once Hamas came to power. But, the Israeli economic and security restrictions gave Hamas a built-in excuse that Gazans are very willing to accept.
The current Israeli incursion, while justified, only makes things worse for Gazans. Smart bombs are not yet smart enough to only blow up the homes of those who support Hamas. When a power plant is destroyed, it affects all who the plant supplied power without regard to their political positions. In the same manner that the barbarity of the Hamas murder of Israelis galvanized Israel and produced an immediate and overwhelming response, the response of the Gazans to what they see as an unjustified killing of their friends and loved ones will not be any less intense.
A major difference is that Gazans lack the military capabilities of Israel. But what they do have is the terrorism of organizations like El-Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Abu-Nidal, and Black September. What these organizations have in common is that Israel destroyed them. Yet their demise did not end terrorist attacks on Israelis.
Palestinian terrorist organizations resemble the immortal phoenix, and no matter what Israel does, they cyclically regenerate or are otherwise born again. The only thing that will stop the cycle is to remove the birds' food source. In this case, it is the millions of Palestinians who believe, whether justified or not, that an unjust occupier controls their lives and those of their children. Sharon recognized that Gazans live "in hotbeds of ever-increasing hatred, with no hope whatsoever on the horizon." As long as these conditions do not change, nothing else will.
The hope that things will change and eventually get better is critical for any meaningful chance for peace. For Jews and Israel, the lessons of surviving the Final Solution is not only "Never Again." It is also that a key to survival in the death camps was hope. Nobel Laureate Ellie Weisel, a survivor of Auschwitz, found hope to be an essential ingredient.
"Just as man cannot live without dreams, he cannot live without hope. If dreams reflect the past, hope summons the future."
Nations also require hope to move forward and institute significant change. That must be a belief that change will create something better than what is in the present. Otherwise, why take the risks that change will bring? The status quo may be untenable, but at least it is a situation you are aware of.
Both sides have lived through periods of hope that ended with disappointment. Perhaps the greatest danger is that the October 7th terror attack and the Israeli reaction will be the last nail in hope's coffin. If that is so, then the second grave needs to be dug.