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Israel Doesn't Have a Plan
Except for more war.
Image: Wounded Palestinians wait for treatment at the overcrowded emergency ward of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City following an Israeli airstrike on October 11, 2023. Palestinian News & Information Agency (Wafa) in contract with APAimages. CC BY-SA 3.0
When you call for a ceasefire in Gaza, someone is almost sure to respond, “Well, if you were a serious person, you wouldn’t just call for a ceasefire. You’d offer a plan for what happens next!”
This is not a good faith response, for a couple of reasons.
First reason: war crimes are wrong. They do not become right if the perpetrators of the war crimes claim that they can’t think of a military strategy other than one that involves war crimes. When Israel illegally targets ambulances, hospitals, refugee camps, and safe zones, and when civilian death tolls reach 11,000, with a child killed every 10 minutes, the moral, immediate, absolutely vital policy response is to call for an end to war crimes and indiscriminate killing.
To demand a map for Middle East peace as a prerequisite for ending the slaughter isn’t serious policy thinking. It’s a distraction and a taunt dressed up in rational-sounding language. “We’ll stop killing people if you are smart enough to save them…oh, you’re not? Guess all that death is on you then.” War crimes are wrong, mass civilian killing is wrong. “Stop killing children” is a reasonable, sufficient, and indeed necessary policy demand right now. Even if Israel had clear, reasonable policy goals, achieving them through massive war crimes is unacceptable and morally horrific.
But (and this is the second reason) Israel does not have clear policy goals—at least none that its defenders are willing to openly embrace. It has belatedly provided some short term war aims—to remove Hamas from government and destroy its military. But beyond that, what is to be the fate of the rest of the Palestinians in Gaza, or in the West Bank?
The answers to those questions are vague, but not encouraging. Netanyahu has said Israel will control Gaza’s security indefinitely—which sure sounds like occupation, though he’s rejected that term. Beyond that, Holocaust scholar Omer Bartov, writing in a NYT op-ed, succinctly summarizes the thinking expressed so far by Israeli leadership.
My greatest concern watching the Israel-Gaza war unfold is that there is genocidal intent, which can easily tip into genocidal action. On Oct. 7, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Gazans would pay a “huge price” for the actions of Hamas and that the Israel Defense Forces, or I.D.F., would turn parts of Gaza’s densely populated urban centers “into rubble.” On Oct. 28, he added, citing Deuteronomy, “You must remember what Amalek did to you.” As many Israelis know, in revenge for the attack by Amalek, the Bible calls to “kill alike men and women, infants and sucklings.”
The deeply alarming language does not end there. On Oct. 9, Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said, “We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly,” a statement indicating dehumanization, which has genocidal echoes. The next day, the head of the Israeli Army’s coordinator of government activities in the territories, Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian, addressed the population of Gaza in Arabic: “Human animals must be treated as such,” he said, adding: “There will be no electricity and no water. There will only be destruction. You wanted hell, you will get hell.”
This is not a path to peace, coexistence, or security for all. Instead, it sounds like war crimes now are preparations for worse war crimes in the future—or, at best, preparation for an Israeli military government policing Gaza’s people with no accountability to or even responsibility for them. Meanwhile, Israel will be secure through some mystical process whereby Arab countries in the region, and the international community in general, are rendered permanently indifferent to a brutalization of Palestinian people that is to have no end. And this ugly blueprint for extermination, ethnic cleansing, or permanent authoritarian rule is the vision offered as justification for the deaths of thousands and thousands of people—a nightmare future built on a nightmare present.
It's not really surprising that a policy of war crimes is the run up to a hoped-for future of further violence, oppression, and misery. When you reject peace as irrational or insufficiently nuanced and hard-headed, the only path that remains open is war.
That’s why calls for a ceasefire aren’t just a demand for an end to war crimes now. They are a demand that Israel and Hamas look for solutions other than genocide, mutual terror, and the murder of children. Israel’s insistence that a ceasefire would damage its security is disingenuous and misguided; there is no security without peace, and there is no peace on this path—only, as Maj. Gen. Ghassan Alian said, “destruction” and “hell.” Netanyahu himself has acknowledged that the goal of bombing is bombing, and that the reason for reducing Gaza to rubble is to reduce Gaza to rubble. A call for ceasefire is a rejection of both those methods and those goals. Any “plan” that is built on the ongoing slaughter of children is not a plan, but an apology for war crimes.
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