Understanding is crucial for change
There are two words that sound similar, but mean different things: "comprehension", and "understanding". I cannot comprehend the slaughter of innocent people at a rave party or in a kibbutz in Israel by Hamas fighters. Just as I cannot comprehend the collective punishment for these terrible deeds of 2.3 million people in the Gaza Strip, left with no protection from Israeli bombardments and denied power, food and water. Anyone showing any comprehension for such things needs to reposition their moral compass.
I'm appalled by everything we have seen in recent days. And if I want to ensure that something similar never happens again, if I'm searching for solutions, then I need to analyse the situation. I must try to "understand" something I can't comprehend.
I understand that the whole of Israel is in shock and that many people there are demanding a military solution, some also simply for revenge and retaliation. A ground offensive will solve the problem, we will annihilate Hamas, they say. But can such an offensive really create strategic change?
There is no military solution in Gaza
In 2006, as a journalist I had to report from Lebanon on the war between Israel and Hezbollah. In comparison to now, it was triggered by something far less serious: Hezbollah had abducted two Israeli soldiers. At the time, Israel pledged to destroy Hezbollah. After a week of war, Israel said it aimed to weaken the group's capabilities. Most of the fatalities in that war were civilians. Instead of Hezbollah, infrastructure was destroyed. Hezbollah has served on every government in Beirut since.
Several bombardments and a ground offensive in Gaza in recent years had the same effect. Large areas of the Gaza Strip were destroyed, Hamas remained. The idea of altering the balance of power using a vastly superior military capability fails time and time again. There is no military solution in Gaza that could feasibly change the situation in any fundamental way. On the contrary: each and every child pulled out of the rubble in Gaza today will be calling for more even more radical action against the occupiers in future.
I understand how this sense of vulnerability is shaking Israel to its very core. The nation has been taken down in the most brutal manner by a status quo that is not sustainable. For the Palestinians, the 15-year blockade and occupation and the rapid expansion of settlements is a brazen injustice that receives little international attention these days. If the right consequences are to be drawn now, this must be taken into consideration. The resulting situation is as deadly and intolerable for the occupied and the blockaded as it is for the occupiers.
Both the horrific Hamas murders of civilians and the words of Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant – which could hardly be more cynical – ordering the total siege of the Gaza Strip with its 2.3 million people with the comment "We're fighting against human animals", show one thing: the siege and the occupation haven't just destroyed the minds of the besieged and the occupied, but also those of the besiegers and the occupiers themselves.
There will come a time when many will be horrified by the things they did and said this week. Perhaps it is still not the right time for "understanding" and too soon for the question of what it all means in the long term. Wounds are still raw on all sides. But if change is the goal, understanding is essential.
Movement in a moribund conflict?
In the worst-case scenario, we may now be sliding into a war with many fronts, from the West Bank and the Palestinians who live in Israel as Israeli citizens, right through to a new war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, perhaps even with Iran. There are few limits to the possible scenarios. But perhaps the violence of recent days could encourage some long-term movement within a conflict thus far seen as deadlocked.
The Yom Kippur War broke out precisely 50 years ago, or as it's known on the Arab side, the October War. In a surprise attack in 1973, the Egyptian army overran Israeli defence lines on what was then the occupied Sinai Peninsula. The Israeli army's nimbus of invincibility, acquired in the Six-Day War of 1967, was severely tarnished. The outcome was a parallel effort to seek agreement which eventually led to the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
We are still in the midst of the rhetoric of war, but we will soon realise that no military action will secure the desired outcome. The Palestinian question will not disappear into thin air, but instead become yet more virulent, crying out for a political solution. In all likelihood, nowhere will this be more openly debated than within Israeli society itself.
This is certainly not about comparing Hamas with the Egyptian army and even less about conducting talks with Hamas. It's about understanding contemporary contexts and creating others that don't play into the hands of Hamas and aren't deadly for both sides. If Palestinian children pulled today from the ruins of their homes in Gaza are given genuine perspectives, only then will things be truly safe.
© Qantara.de 2023
Translated from the German by Nina Coon