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29 November 2023

This generation will never see Gazans and Israelis become fellow citizens

We are caught in three wars: against Hamas, against Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, and against anti-Semitism.

By Fania Oz-Salzberger

“I am a peacenik, not a pacifist”, my late father, the novelist Amos Oz, used to say. “Pacifists turn the other cheek because they think that war is the worst thing in the world. I don’t turn the other cheek, because for me not war but aggression is the worst thing in the world. And aggression must sometimes be defeated by force.”

Like him, I belong to the moderate Israeli left. After the mega-massacre of 7 October, I still believe that it is necessary to reach a border-determining agreement with the ­Palestinian Authority (though never with Hamas), pending a two-state solution.

It is imperative to evacuate most of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. To defend ­Israel powerfully and wisely from within its sovereign territory as recognised by international law. To strive for equal rights for ­Jewish and Arab citizens, invest in social justice and establish a civic-liberal, moderate, and value-oriented social democracy.

Like ten million other Israelis, I am shell shocked. The 7/10 massacre impacted most of us in life-changing ways. Among the murdered are a friend’s sister, a colleague’s daughter and son-in-law, another colleague’s sister and nephew, and acquaintances of my adult children. We have enough details to visualise just how brutally Hamas ended their lives. I have seen some of the horrific videos and read the jurists’ report based on first-person evidence of the gang rapes and mutilations at the festival. A close friend survived the massacre in Kibbutz Be’eri, but 100 of his fellow kibbutzniks were murdered and 40 are held hostage in Gaza. There are people around me whose lives are forever ruined.

Yes: the massacre justifies war against Hamas. An ugly war. It has become the most urban war ever fought. A war in which Gazan children are killed – I don’t know how many, and neither do you, because the only source for their numbers is Hamas – and these ­innocents’ deaths will burden my ­conscience. This is Israel’s tragic dilemma. Damned if you do, and doomed if you don’t. Most of my peers in the Israeli left agree that Hamas delenda est.

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Israelis of my mindset are caught in three wars. First and foremost, we are fighting Hamas. Second, we are struggling against the worst government Israel has ever had. More Israelis than ever believe that Benjamin ­Netanyahu’s travesty of a cabinet must go. His government spent the ten months prior to the Hamas attack trying to undermine Israel’s democracy through a pseudo-legal putsch against the Supreme Court, with a view to impairing the civil and human rights of both Arabs and Jews in the name of ­rampant ­nationalism.

Our third war, shoulder to shoulder with Jews and humanists worldwide, is against anti-Semitism, now clearly bonded with ­burning hatred of Israel. It scarcely matters if a Jew is Zionist or not, orthodox or (in my case) secular, we are all targeted. We might not win this third war, but it must be fought.

Unlike some Israeli liberals, I have not despaired of left-wing humanists around the globe. True, there are hundreds of millions blindly supporting a case they know little or nothing about, and confounding Palestine with Hamas. Many of them want to annihilate Israel the “settler state”, echoing post-colonialist discourse at its lethal extreme. However, radical “wokes” and Tiktok millennials are not the humanist left. Israel has friends among those capable of complex thinking, and I deeply respect their friendship, as well as their criticism.

While the State of Israel is in one of its lowest moments, its civil society is a triumph. The same citizens who protested on behalf of Israeli democracy turned overnight into a volunteer-based emergency force on 7/10. Pro-democracy organisations were the first respondents to the victims, their families, and the evacuees. Netanyahu’s clownish ministers and their dismal political appointees are unequal to the task.

Yet civil society cannot replace a state, and many Israelis feel that even the most basic social contract has been broken: the Hobbesian one, where the state defends its inhabitants’ lives.

Israel has its share of ultra-nationalists, from cabinet members to the “erase Gaza” idiots on the social networks. It is likely that the near-fascist party Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Force”) will gain electoral support. Its strategic aim is to drive Arabs away by threats, violence and eventually by legislation, using the euphemism of “relocation”: from Gaza, from the West Bank and eventually from Israel itself.

The good news is that the rest of us Israelis, including many former Netanyahu voters, would like to see Netanyahu ousted in shame. There are many new converts to the political centre. And I think the centre will hold.

But it is the moderate left that can supply the only useful horizon for Israel’s responsible adults. The one-state solution is dead, gunned down on 7/10. Neither in this generation nor in the next will Gazans and Israelis become fellow citizens. Fortunately, the two-state solution is alive. A secure and democratic Israel next to a reasonably stable Palestine, governed by the Palestinian Authority or its reliable heir, remains our best hope. It will be a loveless peace to begin with, and history will take it from there.

This article is part of the series What It Means to Be Jewish Now.

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