Supporting Israel in war – and in peace

Supporting Israel in war – and in peace

It’s not accidental that the statements of Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and others in Benjamin Netanyahu’s far right government who agree with them have become Exhibit A for the case now being made in the International Court of Justice that charges Israel’s responses to Hamas’s murderous October 7 attacks on Israelis constitute acts of “genocide.”

In South Africa’s otherwise dubious claim that Israeli military tactics against Hamas meet the high bar intentionally set by the relevant Convention for a finding of this singular, monstrous crime, the frequency of such reprehensible statements by Israeli leaders — in favor of “thinning” the number of Gazans, “flattening Gaza,” creating a new “Nakba” (disaster) for Palestinians, and even potentially dropping an atomic bomb, already have been particularly damaging to Israel in the court of world public opinion, if not yet finally at The Hague tribunal.

Of course, Israel could readily and convincingly rebut such charges by a change in its actions on the ground in Gaza in the direction that President Biden has urged, especially regarding the delivery of aid. Two U.S. senators who sit on the Foreign Relations Committee recently visited Jordan, Egypt, and the Rafah crossing into Gaza, and reported the most disturbing situation regarding the aid. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) remarked that he saw with own eyes the most basic items, like water filtration systems, collecting dust in a border warehouse after rejections by the Israeli screeners for no apparent reason. “And once a truck is rejected, the entire truck is rejected,” he noted.

The senator also reported that all the responsible NGOs working to get the aid into Palestinian civilians’ hands told him they’ve “never seen a worse process for assuring the safety” of the deliveries. He also referred to the high risk of outbreaks of cholera and other disease. Van Hollen says that based on what he saw, he believes that the roadblocks to the necessary aid are the result of political decisions by the Netanyahu coalition.

More than 100 days since the Hamas attack on Israel and the outbreak of the war, and with the possibility of mass starvation by Gazans close at hand, only between 100 and 150 aid trucks a day have been seen to make it into the enclave, compared to a normal 500 trucks before the war and the intense crisis. For the world’s Jews, who have been on the forefront of humanitarian efforts during battles against famine and disease during other world conflicts, lending any support to this type of obstruction by any government is well beyond a shanda.

After Hamas itself and its backers in Iran, the heaviest responsibility for the current war lies with Israel’s two-decades-in-office prime minister, who admitted to members of his Likud Party in 2019 that the billions in money transfers from Qatar to Hamas he approved were “part of the strategy to divide the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank” and forestall the possibility of an international agreement that might lead to a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Unfortunately, Netanyahu hasn’t given up on the ideas underlying this disastrously failed policy. On January 18, the prime minister flatly and publicly rejected Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s message on the urgent need for a strategy for the day after the fighting if Palestinian sovereignty would be a key part of the regional program for security of all states.

What are Netanyahu and the far right of his coalition that is exercising its power offering Israelis other than endless war accompanied by toxic fantasies?  New settlements to defend and annexation of territory? The crazy delusion, openly advocated by some in the coalition, that Palestinians in Gaza, the majority of whom are now deprived of their homes by the bombing campaign, will somehow submit to mass expulsions?

There is nonetheless some good news. Saudi Arabian officials are saying that they are “absolutely” still interested in normalization with Israel, the Times of Israel reported. The context, of course, is the day-after perspective from the Israelis, which allows for a revitalized Palestinian Authority that grows to take responsibility for Gaza and obtains a pathway to statehood.

Yes, this will require some very new thinking within Israel and among us Jewish Americans who count ourselves as its supporters. Without any doubt, it will take a difficult slog to get past these dismal days to such a hopeful future. And with the distinct possibility of further escalations to the Israel-Hamas war, the time available to turn a corner is highly limited.

“Turn! Turn! Turn! … There is a time for every purpose under Heaven,” wrote folk singer Pete Seeger, taking his language from the book of Ecclesiastes. “A time of war,” the song continued. And then, urgently, “A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late.”

Mark Lurinsky of Montclair is recently retired from a career in public accounting. He is an activist in local politics.

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