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Hostage-ceasefire deal a small step towards an unknown future

Colin Shindler
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Hostage-ceasefire deal a small step towards an unknown future

Published: 24 November 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Israel remains fixed on a Gaza without Hamas. After almost 50 days of fighting, COLIN SHINDLER considers what will happen after the ceasefire.

It will shortly be 50 days since Hamas initiated the conflict with Israel by butchering hundreds of civilians. The release of some hostages amidst a pause in hostilities is greatly welcomed, but whether this will usher in a total cessation in the fighting is an open question. Despite the huge losses that Hamas has experienced, some part of the group will remain. Indeed, it took the best part of a year for the US to oust ISIS from the alleys of Mosul.

The formal Israeli position is that there will be no ceasefire until the last hostage is freed. In parallel, Hamas will loosen its own leverage but not abandon it — and release hostages piecemeal for concessions.

The past seven weeks have absorbed the undivided attention of Diaspora Jews. How do we understand what has happened?

Benjamin Netanyahu has projected himself in the tradition of the hard men of the Zionist Right and will not yield to any outsider. Yet he was pragmatic enough to accept an agreement for the release of some of the hostages despite the virulent opposition of far-right MKs Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

This division was also reflected within the military leadership between those who wished to secure the release of some of the hostages immediately and those who wished to continue the conflict for long-term political benefits.

It is worth noting that there have been no protests by those who define themselves as the peace camp in Israel, such as during the mass demonstrations against Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon during the ill-fated Lebanon war in 1982. Only Hadash, the scion of the Israeli Communist party, has campaigned against this war.

Those who have long called upon Netanyahu to resign have acted no differently to those with opposing views in this time of crisis. Ironically, many of those murdered on October 7 in all likelihood envisaged a peaceful coexistence with their neighbours in Gaza. Numerous victims, such as Vivian Silver and Hayim Katzman, were engaged in working with Gazans and helping Palestinians.

On October 7, the only criterion that mattered to Hamas was that Jews should be slaughtered. Hamas's guiding principle during the conflict has been to telescope innocent civilians with armed fighters — the blurring of any distinction was an integral part of its understanding of asymmetric warfare.

It has therefore embedded its gunmen in a civilian infrastructure — in places of worship, hospitals, schools and apartments blocks. It has constructed an underground labyrinth of tunnels which has served as a sanctuary for its fighters, construction of its armaments and prisons for its abductees.

Despite the Israeli success in killing many Hamas senior commanders, this is the essence of the difficulty with which a conventional military force such as the IDF has had to deal with.

Many Jews worldwide viewed the massacre as another episode in the history of Jewish tragedy. According to David Horowitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel, if it had not been for the limited number of Israeli soldiers on the ground who had held off 3000 Hamas gunmen, the number of Israeli dead would have been far higher. Hamas's Khalid Mashal saw it differently and commented that “history is not made by limited, timid, hesitant steps but by thoughtful adventures” (al Arabiya, October 19).

Since the invasion of Gaza, the pendulum of sympathy has swung dramatically towards the cause of the Palestinians. In the eyes of many, the Hamas slaughter became secondary to the destruction of Gaza. It has been downplayed or omitted. Paul Frosh, a professor in the Department of Communications and Journalism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, rebuked many of his colleagues in the UK who had all signed a one-sided letter. Frosh wrote:

“[The events of October 7 have been depicted] as an ongoing celebratory media event, a social media snuff-movie (ignoring) how Hamas's more recent broadcasts of Jewish civilian hostages are exploitative pieces of audio-visual theatre designed to terrorise the loved ones of the kidnapped — yet this is excluded from your letter.”

During the second Lebanon war, in 2006, Hezbollah honed a technique in which death and destruction were continually projected. It was in its interest to do so — and thereby to convince the court of international public opinion that it had right on its side. In 2023, several journalists have pointed out, there are a million reporters in Gaza with their smartphones.

Hamas's guiding principle has been to telescope innocent civilians with armed fighters.

Although some foreign journalists, embedded with the IDF, were taken into Gaza for short periods last week, none were stationed there during the fighting — many facts and figures therefore originated with Hamas. This is not to argue that Palestinian civilians have not suffered immensely, and that thousands have not been killed or maimed, but it is also part of the megaphone war to convince people who are horrified at viewing the daily horrific events in Gaza.

There have also been occasional criticisms of Hamas by Palestinian civilians during live broadcasts and on social media, yet little of this has been broadcast by the Western media. 

In London, there have been weekly demonstrations by hundreds of thousands calling for a ceasefire. These have been attended by a mixture of liberal humanitarians, the far Left and Muslim communities.

Most Jews in the UK align themselves with Israel while most Muslims adhere to the Palestinian cause. All people of goodwill are appalled at the sight of civilian suffering in Gaza and there were instances of individual imams and rabbis jointly calling for peace. The demonstrations in the UK have, however, been more an expression of Muslim identity than anything else.

In the House of Commons, many Muslim Labour MPs and those with a substantial number of Muslim constituents refused to obey the party line not to call for a ceasefire. Even so, several commentators have pointed out that there have been no demonstrations in support of the Uighurs by members of the Muslim community outside the Chinese Embassy in London.

According to a UK YouGov poll at the end of October, the 18-24s tend to support the Palestinians while the over-65s support Israel. Clearly, those who are closer in age to the Shoah and the birth of Israel align themselves with Israel. Younger people who have no personal memory of this live in a multicultural Britain, where decolonisation and the end of empire is a much stronger theme. The Palestinians fit more easily into this mindset than do the Israelis.

For most people in Britain who have been polled during the past few weeks, when asked which side they support, the “Don't Knows” were in the vast majority — “a plague on both your houses!” Yet the same YouGov poll demonstrated that the conflict had squeezed this indifferent middle. The conflict has forced people to take sides and Jewish-Muslim relations will undoubtedly suffer as a result.  

If any good comes out of this conflict, it will concentrate minds to find a just solution.

Prominent Jewish intellectuals on the far Left have rowed back from their initial condemnation of the butchery of Hamas. Judith Butler expanded her initial horror to a vague and general condemnation of all violence (London Review of Books, October 19). The problem is that Hamas has always glorified violence in its conduct, never distinguished between Jews and Zionists and never wished to negotiate directly with Israel.

Pro-Palestinian advocates now point to those British Jews who have participated in the protests. Despite much disquiet over Palestinian suffering and a rising level of dislike of Jews per se, they still represent the periphery of the periphery.

In the US, general support for Israel among Democrats has been dropping since president Trump moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, coupled with the turmoil inflicted by successive Netanyahu administrations.

Despite the support of the vast majority of US Jews, Biden's standing in the polls has dropped since the start of the conflict and unease has been spreading among mainstream Democrats in Congress. Even so, Biden has for the first time threatened sanctions against the settlers “including visa bans against extremists attacking civilians in the West Bank”. This is the first time that a US administration appears prepared to take concrete steps against the settlers.

If any good comes out of this terrible conflict, it will concentrate minds outside of Israel and Palestine to find a just solution — including in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. The green shoots of a two-state resolution of the Israel-Palestine imbroglio may have just started to appear, characterised by a future for Gaza without Hamas. Whether they will wither on the vine remains to be seen.

Photo: An Israeli soldier in an underground tunnel built by Hamas underneath Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City (AP Photo/Victor R. Caivano)

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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