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EDITORIAL: Gaza a moral minefield that has exploded in Israel’s face

The Jewish Independent
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EDITORIAL: Gaza a calamity and moral minefield that has exploded in Israel’s face

Published: 17 November 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

A legitimate war against Hamas has spiralled into a humanitarian catastrophe of irreconcilable choices.

It is hard to imagine a catastrophe more irreconcilable than the one in Gaza. The images of the mass deaths of innocent Palestinians from Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion are sickening. The deaths from besieged hospitals – where the sick and wounded, mothers, children and newborns are unable to receive proper care – are even more distressing. These reports affect every decent person, regardless of nationality or religion, equally.

The most immediate human reflex is to demand a stop to the killing of Palestinian civilians. Not a pause. A ceasefire. Whatever that means. Increasingly over the past week, this has been the response from political and humanitarian leaders around the world. The call has intensified for this to happen now, following the IDF's raid on the Al-Shifa hospital.

Yet the Israeli invasion of Gaza, and the deaths of thousands of civilian Palestinians, is part of a much more complex political calculus, of which the malignant architect is Hamas. Nothing demonstrates the point more clearly than this week’s Israeli army videos and US intelligence, published following raids on two Gaza hospitals, which appear to confirm that the hospitals stand upon tunnels built by Hamas as command centres, for weapon storage and hostage holding areas.

Though not yet independently verified, this evidence would turn the hospitals into legitimate military targets and remove their protected status under the international rules of war. Despite the IDF taking extraordinary measures to help safeguard patients, doctors and supplies, the Al-Shifa assault has been condemned universally and in the extreme.

Unless and until Israel can provide more compelling evidence that Hamas was using Al-Shifa as a control centre, not just to store weapons, it faces the prospect of diplomatic retaliation. 

The propaganda battle being fought over Israel’s targeting of Gaza’s hospitals highlights the asymmetrical nature of this war. Hamas’s massacre of October 7 unleashed a war against Israel but its war is against Hamas, not the Palestinian people of Gaza. While there is an undercurrent of retaliation within Israel’s ground invasion, it is much more than that: a determination to eradicate Hamas, driven by an obligation to ensure that Israeli citizens can live in security within their own land.

Amid the political criticism of Israel’s attack and clamour for an end to the offensive, no Western leader has publicly questioned the legitimacy of this aim.

Indeed, there are no grounds for challenging it. The Jewish Independent stands behind Israel’s war against Hamas. It must be eradicated as a political and cultural entity, for the sake of Israel, the Palestinians, the region and beyond. Hamas is an existential threat to Israel and a curse on the people of Gaza, as one commentator put it. During 16 years in power, it has demonstrated that it does not value the lives of the people it governs, let alone Israelis.

Then there are the 240 hostages, Israelis and others, taken by Hamas as a bargaining tool. In Israel, they are at the forefront of everyone’s mind. Families have been driven mad with anxiety as they speculate about the treatment of their loved ones. They have vented their fury on the government for not having yet secured their release.

The killing of Palestinians, the eradication of Hamas, the return of the hostages – the unholy trinity of the catastrophe.

If Israel agrees to a ceasefire now, there is a real chance that Hamas will have time to regroup, escape, redeploy: the campaign to neuter the terror group would be compromised, perhaps fatally. Hamas would be given a second chance. How can any country demand Israel take that risk about its future, and the security of is people?

And if there is a ceasefire, what leverage would Israel have to secure the return of the hostages? If it stops and then resumes its offensive, what would make Hamas give them up?

There has been virtually no discussion given to what a ceasefire would entail – what conditions, for how long, and whether Israel would be given “political permission” to resume its offensive?

Not that it needs permission from anyone. Israel has always been, and continues to be, the master of its own fate.

Yet it cannot ignore the rest of the world. Not this time. When the fighting is over, whenever that is, Israel will be faced with “the day after” - Gaza will have to be governed by a new authority. Palestinians will have to be fed, schools reopened, infrastructure renewed, buildings rebuilt. 

Who will take responsibility for this task? How will the international community be disposed to the challenge of ensuring Israel’s future security in this next phase of the conflict?

While the major powers have dodged discussion of an exit plan for a ceasefire, Israel has so far, it must be said, failed in its complementary responsibility: to articulate its exit strategy from Gaza. Who will run the enclave, manage its security and borders? Israel? A transitional Arab grouping? The UN? A strengthened Palestinian Authority, as suggested by President Biden, but viewed with contempt by the Palestinians?

Without a new political, security and administrative framework, Gaza could easily fall into a complete abyss, creating an even bigger problem for Israel and the region than the existing one. This prospect has been compounded by reports that Benjamin Netanyahu is at odds with President Biden’s strategy, suggesting that Israel may alienate the one ally whose support it really needs.

The Israeli prime minister will need wiser counsel for the difficult decisions that await the country he claims to lead.

Photo: Wounded Palestinians arrive at the al-Shifa hospital, following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza City, central Gaza Strip, in October (Abed Khaled/AP)

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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