By Daniel Sokatch, NIF International CEO
It’s been one month since October 7, 2023, a day that will go down as perhaps the darkest in Israel’s history. Like so many of you, I cannot stop thinking about the people—parents, children, grandmothers, grandfathers, peace-makers, party-goers and friends—who have been taken from us. And thinking about the children, families, and elders held captive in Gaza, and their loved ones living in anguish and praying for their safe return, makes it hard to breathe. And that’s not all: our hearts, already broken, break again at the thought of the thousands of innocent people in Gaza who have already been killed and displaced in Israel’s response to Hamas’s mass terror attack, and the tens of thousands more huddled in fear as the bombs fall. This has been a month of unimaginable horror for so many people.
I am not a military strategist. I don’t purport to be. But I can share the dilemma that haunts me—as I am sure it does so many of you—these last few terrible weeks: What can be done to protect the innocent civilians of Gaza while, at the same time, removing the clear and present threat Hamas poses to the innocent civilians of Israel? There is, of course, no easy answer. And without one, I am heartened to see President Biden and Secretary of State Blinken, who have stood so firmly with the people of Israel in the weeks since October 7, now urging the Israeli government to agree to humanitarian pauses or temporary cessation of violence that would, we hope, allow for the delivery of essential humanitarian aid to Gazans, relief from the never-ending nightmare families in Gaza are experiencing, and create the space needed to negotiate the safe return of all hostages held in Gaza.
But here’s the thing: It may not be popular to say in some quarters at the moment, but we know that the deep issues at the root of this conflict cannot be successfully addressed only by the search for military solutions. The way that the Israeli right thought about Israel’s Gaza policy these last years—the conceptzia, as it’s called in Hebrew—was based on the notion that Hamas was more interested in governing the Gaza Strip than it was in embarking on an apocalyptic battle with Israel, and that Israel could manage that relationship, and simultaneously make peace with the Gulf States, including Saudi Arabia, even as it embarked on a wholesale effort to radically increase settlement in the West Bank and obstructing any remaining hope of a two state solution. But this conceptzia, this way of thinking, after October 7th has been revealed for what it is: an illusion and a dead end.
We know that the only way to resolve those issues is by “beating our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning-hooks” as the verse in Isaiah says. Or, to put it less poetically, through a serious process of diplomacy, negotiation, and compromise. At the end of the day, the only hope for our bruised, broken, and much too Promised Land is a return to an earnest search for a two state solution.
The idea of partition has lost allure and support in the decades since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the murder of the peace process. It appears now to many as an outdated, unachievable fantasy. But as we have seen these past terrible weeks, it may well remain the last, best hope for any kind of peaceful future for both Israelis and Palestinians. And at the end of the day, the biggest obstacle to a two state solution has never been a lack of political imagination; it has been a lack of political will. The time is coming for the US and the international community to insist that the root causes of this conflict be addressed, and to prepare Israelis and Palestinians for the painful, difficult compromises they will need to make in order to stop this ever-expanding cycle of violence.
NIF’s work until then is manifold: We must be safe harbor for the most vulnerable victims of October 7th who feel they have been abandoned by a government that eight out of ten Israelis blame for Israel’s catastrophic state of unpreparedness, and which has not yet addressed the needs of those citizens who, having borne the brunt of the terrorist attack, have now been forced from their homes. We are working to identify and deplatform an upsurge of online invective, incitement, and disinformation—the kind of fake news that makes people afraid and is designed to turn Israeli against Israeli. We are lifting up the voices of activists who are—every day—doing truly holy work on the ground. And, I must say, the response of the NIF family of organizations has been nothing less than inspirational; our grantees have been a light in the darkness for me during this terribly dark time.
Let me just highlight the work of one of those partners: Standing Together, an organization of Jewish and Arab Israelis who jointly promote a just future for all Israelis. Alon-Lee Green and Sally Abed are two leaders—one Jewish, one Arab—who always go back to the basic idea that what will keep all Israelis safe is an understanding that the only secure future for Jews and Arabs in Israel is a shared future. On CNN a few days ago, Alon-Lee was asked what message he would send to Netanyahu. This is what he said:
It is amazing to see these families who just lost their dear ones, who are grieving, or who are sitting at home waiting for the family member who is held hostage. They are sending a message of life and not death. Our message is: Stop talking to us about more death and more destruction. Please talk to us about the living….It will do us no good to flatten Gaza or send it back to the stone age. We need real security, and real security can only be achieved with a solution—a solution with freedom and independence to all the people who live on this land. We condemn Hamas and the barbaric slaughter of women and children. But we also know that revenge is not a war plan. Anger can’t lead us out of this situation. There are millions of people living on this land—some of them Palestinian, some of them Jewish, no one is going anywhere. We need to be able to live on this land together.
But even at this moment of pain, heartbreak, and horror, right-wing extremists, including those in Israel’s government, are trying to pit Jews and Arabs against each other in Israel.
Those Jewish supremacists—including high ranking officials like Itamar Ben Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich, Simcha Rothman, and their henchmen—are trying to tell us that Arabs are and will always be an enemy from within and from without; that any Arab is a suspect and a Hamas sympathizer; that they all hate Jews. But the idea that it’s “us or them”—is a lie. And it is our job to expose it. As our board member and my dear friend Dr. Yasmeen Abu Fraiha—herself a Palestinian citizen of Israel who treated scores of victims of the terror attacks at her hospital in the south of Israel—told the NIF community just days after October 7:
It is wrong to separate between Israelis and Palestinians and my separation, my personal separation that day was from people who believe that violence is the answer and people who don’t, and I am on the side and I believe that NIF is on the side that believes that violence is not the answer.
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