Like many other people in Israel and across the world, my first reaction to the attack on 7 October was of shock and horror. But that initial reaction was accompanied by rage, not only at the appalling massacre perpetrated by Hamas on women and children, the elderly and the handicapped, even babies, but also at those who could have prevented this act of violence, many that preceded it and the brutal retaliation that would come in its wake.
Without clearly defined political goals, war tends to devolve into endless destruction and annihilation. The only way out of this conundrum is for Israel to declare that it seeks a peaceful resolution of the conflict with an appropriate and willing Palestinian leadership. Making such a statement would dramatically transform the situation and clear the way for intermediate steps to be taken on the ground, starting with a halt to the mutual killing and a return of all surviving hostages.
Any political path to resolving this crisis must include steps toward ending the occupation. Two months before the attack by Hamas, I helped craft a petition pointing out that the Israeli government’s attempted legal “overhaul” was being pushed by an extreme rightwing settler faction whose goal was to annex the West Bank. Yet the impressive protest movement against the judicial coup had refused to confront this “elephant in the room”, the occupation of millions of Palestinians.
On 7 October, this repressed reality literally exploded in the country’s face. This was an event waiting to happen. If you keep over 2 million people under siege for 16 years, cramped in a narrow strip of land, without enough work, proper sanitation, food, water, energy and education, with no hope or future prospects, you cannot but expect outbreaks of ever more desperate and brutal violence, inexcusable as those atrocities were.
For a long time, Israeli politicians and generals had believed that they could “manage” the conflict with the Palestinians rather than resolve it. Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu’s many administrations chose to keep Hamas just strong enough, and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank weak and unpopular enough, that the Israeli prime minister and his allies could argue that no political pact with the Palestinians was possible. Meanwhile, settlements kept proliferating in the occupied territories, making any territorial compromise increasingly unfeasible.
That political stalemate, enforced by Israel, ultimately led to this violence. [Continue reading…]