The news media as well as social media are abuzz with what Israel needs to do in response to the slaughter of hundreds of innocent civilians as well as the kidnapping and denigrating of countless men, women and children by Hamas militants on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. It was the most heinous and reprehensible act of terrorism against innocent Israelis and must be condemned unequivocally.
Although the calls by Israeli citizens for retribution, retaliation and elimination of the Hamas leadership are very understandable, the Israeli military and civilian leadership do not have the luxury of letting outrage and emotions determine the response needed to guarantee the security of their citizens in their own homes and towns.
The bombardment of Gaza is now in its eighth day. In addition, the Israeli army is readying to launch a ground offensive, presumably to capture or kill Hamas leadership. Will military actions lead to a peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians?
The past military campaigns, including the one that forced PLO leader Arafat into exile Aug. 30, 1982, failed to create lasting peace. Therefore, it is naïve to think that capturing or killing Hamas leaders will end violence against Israelis. What is clear is that the urban warfare, once the Israeli army enters Gaza, will result in the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian civilians as well as numerous Israeli soldiers. At some point, the military action will stop, and the Israeli army will withdraw from Gaza and what to do next to achieve the elusive peace will remain. Another possibility is that the Israeli military will force the evacuation of 1 million Gazans to the south of the Gaza River to increase the Israeli security zone.
In the meantime, Israel has shut off water and electricity as well as the supply of necessities including food and medicine for more than 2 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza. How this collective punishment of starving to death or the trauma of bombs exploding around them will turn 1 million Palestinian children in Gaza into the peace-loving neighbors the Israelis long for is beyond comprehension.
There are many in the U.S. who are eager to give the Israeli military a carte blanche for air and ground assault on Gaza regardless of the consequences for the Israelis or Palestinians. However, calls for a moral clarity/moral compass, in any military action Israel takes, are few and far between. Robert Reich, a former Labor Secretary under Bill Clinton, has written, “Justifiable moral revulsion must never be confused with retribution. There is no moral clarity in wreaking vengeance on innocent people.”
Nicholas Kristof has written an Op-Ed in The New York Times, “… if your moral compass is attuned to the suffering of only one side, your compass is broken, and so is your humanity.”
These calls for moral clarity are laudable. However, Israel needs more than moral clarity in her hour of deep sorrow and shock: a way forward to achieve a lasting peace. Peace cannot be achieved by unhinged Israeli military actions, just as Hamas cannot achieve their goal of an independent state by killing and kidnapping innocent Israelis.
Dec. 28, 2000, almost 23 years ago, I wrote “Mideast peace tops wish list for New Year; George W. must be up to the task.” I suggested that instead of attacking Iraq to depose Saddam Hussain (Yes, I wrote this before the fateful 9/11) he should focus his efforts on convincing Palestinians, Israelis and the Arabs that he and the U.S. are committed to an honest, equitable, just and a lasting resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (The Athens Messenger, Dec. 28, 2000). Since then, there have been numerous cycles of killings and mayhem by Palestinians and Israelis to no avail. So much for a New Year's wish for peace in the Mideast.