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Israel Must Remember Its Moral Values in Its Quest to Crush Hamas

The UN Secretary-General has appealed to Hamas to immediately release all hostages and to Israel to grant “unimpeded access for humanitarian aid” into the Gaza Strip. Credit: UN News/Ziad Taleb

NEW YORK, Oct 17 2023 (IPS) - Israel will recover over time from its colossal intelligence failure and its tardiness in responding militarily to Hamas’ massacre. But it cannot do so unless it upholds its moral values and makes every effort to spare the lives of innocent Palestinians as it pursues Hamas’ destruction

The unfathomable massacre of Israeli Jews by Hamas and its insatiable thirst for Jewish blood has rightfully evoked the most virulent condemnation from many corners of the world, including many Arab states. The call for revenge and retribution by many Israelis was an instinctive human reaction that can be justified in a moment of incomparable rage and devastation.

The Israeli decision to crush Hamas and decapitate its leaders must indeed be pursued with determination and vigor by the Israeli army. That said, the pursuit of destroying Hamas and preventing it from being reconstituted so that it can never threaten Israel again should under no circumstances justify any acts of revenge against innocent Palestinian men, women, and children who have nothing to do with Hamas’ evil act.

In fact, most of the Palestinians in Gaza have been victimized by Hamas itself, which has subjected them to a life of destitute and despair while they are frequently imperiled due to a lack of basic necessities like fuel, electricity, medicine, and drinking water.

Meanwhile, Hamas has been concentrating on battling Israel and using the people of Gaza as human shields as it invested much of its financial resources in buying and manufacturing weapons, training its warriors, building tunnels, and preparing to waging yet another destructive battle against Israel.

Hamas blames the plight of its people on Israel, using the 17-year-old blockade as a justification, which allows it to sow hatred and unrelenting enmity among the people against the Jewish state.

That said, Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza that has already leveled entire neighborhoods, killed, as of this writing, in excess of 2,300 Gazans, one-quarter of whom are children, and injured nearly 10,000 with little or no access to medical care, only affirms rather than refutes Hamas’ claims against Israel.

None of the dead or injured were asked by Hamas’s leaders whether they should go and massacre innocent Israelis at an unprecedented scale, but Hamas knew full well the unimaginable price these ordinary Palestinians, who just want to live, would end up paying.

Hamas’ unprecedent onslaught against Israeli civilians and soldiers put a significant dent in Israel’s military invincibility that could have hardly been imagined only two weeks ago. And whereby the colossal failure of Israeli intelligence to detect what Hamas was planning may well be rectified over time, the carnage that Israel is inflicting on Gazans severely damages the high moral ground the Israeli army has proudly claimed.

As the death toll and destruction rise in Gaza by the minute, the initial overwhelming sympathy toward Israel’s tragic losses is waning even among many of its friends. Indeed, once Israel loses its moral compass in dealing with the crisis, it will no longer be seen as the victim who rose from the ashes of the Holocaust and has every right to defend itself, but the victimizer whose survival rests on the ashes of its real or perceived enemies.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has been busy trying to dismantle Israel’s democracy, will stop short of nothing to try to redeem himself by exploiting these tragic events, hoping to emerge as a “war hero” and save his political skin.

How adversely his public call for revenge might impact Israel’s standing and its future relationship with the Palestinians is of no concern to him. Imposing a total siege on Gaza and depriving more than two million Palestinians of receiving basic necessities and demanding that over a million Gazans evacuate their homes and go south while bombing them to smithereens is a collective punishment that defies morality (and legality) by any measure.

Netanyahu is justifying this collective punishment by dehumanizing the Palestinians, deeming them unworthy of humane treatment. Whereas he rightfully condemned the unimaginable evil act of Hamas that killed over 1,400 innocent Israelis, he is waging a merciless campaign against innocent Palestinians who had nothing to do with Hamas’ acts of terror.

For Netanyahu, there is simply no moral equivalence. For him and many of his followers, the Palestinians are sub-humans and their lives are unequal to those of Israeli Jews.

The dehumanization of Palestinians will come back to haunt the Israelis simply because the Palestinians have no other place to go. And whether they are ordinary human beings with hopes and aspirations, or subhuman, Israel is stuck with them. And regardless of how the war will end, Israel will have to address the conflict with the Palestinians. The depth of the scars of the war will define the relationship for years to come.

Former Defense Minister and Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Benny Gantz, who has just joined the government along with the current Defense Minister Yoav Galant, must resist Netanyahu’s call for vengeance. Yes, they will fight with their military might to crush Hamas, but they must also fight to safeguard Israel’s democracy and Jewish values, which forbid the indiscriminate killing of innocent people.

Israel will win this war; the question is, will it win it while adhering to these moral values, or win it by leaving behind deep moral wounds that will be etched in memory and in history books as one of Israel’s darkest chapters?

They must remember that just about every Arab country will quietly (and some even overtly) cheer the demise of Hamas, but they will be loud and clear about their objection to the killing of innocent Palestinians, especially women and children, and scuttle further any prospect of normalization of relations with other Arab countries.

The imminent invasion of Gaza will result in the destruction of this enclave, the likes of which we have never seen before. However, as long as the invasion is not driven by revenge and retribution and instead seeks, as the war comes to an end, to create a new paradigm to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then all the sacrifices made by all sides will not have been in vain.

This unprecedented breakdown in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could lead to a historic breakthrough, if only the moderate Israeli, Arab, and Palestinian leaders grasp the unparalleled moment this crisis presents.

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University (NYU). He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

IPS UN Bureau


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