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Innocent Gazans pay a heavy price for Hamas and Israel’s disregard for human life

James M. Dorsey



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Failed efforts to achieve a Gaza ceasefire on the eve of Ramadan leave innocent Gazans in the lurch, highlight the gap between Israel and Hamas’ demands in negotiations, and raise the stakes for the United States.


At the core of the stalled negotiations is Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s insistence on continuing Israel’s assault after a ceasefire and an exchange of some Hamas-held hostages kidnapped during the group’s October 7 attack on Israel for Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: AP Photo/ Maya Alleruzzo

 

Mr. Netanyahu hopes that if he gets his way, he will reduce public pressure to prioritise the release of the hostages and the return of the bodies of captives killed in the Israeli assault, address US concerns amid the Biden administration’s mounting pressure, and be able to claim success in a devastating war that in its sixth month has failed to achieve Israel’s goals and severely damaged its international standing.


In Mr. Netanyahu’s mind, securing the release of all the hostages would deprive Hamas of its foremost trump card in negotiations over Gaza’s post-war fate, which is why Hamas will not agree to release all the captives without an end to the war, an Israeli withdrawal from the Strip and its return to Palestinian control, and a reconstruction process in the devastated territory.


Mr. Netanyahu’s problem is that getting his way may not provide the temporary relief he seeks.


Public pressure is likely to continue until all the hostages are released. Moreover, freeing the hostages will do little to weaken widespread calls for Mr. Netanyahu to resign.


In addition, relations between Messrs. Biden and Netanyahu have crossed a Rubicon, even if the US president still refuses to pressure Israel in ways that it would feel the pain.


The United States and Mr. Biden have not done themselves a favour by opting for a cumbersome and slow maritime channel for humanitarian aid instead of linking US arms supplies to Israel to an opening of border crossings that would allow the immediate flow of massive humanitarian aid sitting on Egypt’s border with the Strip.


US President Joe Biden. Credit: Reuters

 

Finally, accepting even some of Hamas’ demands would likely spark the demise of Mr. Netanyahu’s government with his ultra-nationalist and ultra-conservative partners walking away from the coalition.


The ultra-nationalists and ultra-conservatives strengthened their stranglehold with significant gains in the first round of last month’s municipal elections. Israelis went for a second round in 35 cities and towns on Sunday.


All of this does not take Hamas off the hook.


Hamas does not have much to lose if it were to agree to a proposed six-week ceasefire during which it would release only 40 hostages – mostly women, children, elderly people, and those in need of immediate medical assistance.


Family and supporters of hostages held by Hamas in Gaza complete the final leg of a five-day solidarity rally calling for their return, from Tel Aviv to the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. Credit: AP/Mahmoud Illean

 

 

Hamas would retain its leverage, particularly given that its remaining hostages are primarily Israeli military personnel.


Moreover, by agreeing to a six-week-ceasefire, Hamas would help create the space for negotiations on a permanent silencing of the guns and an end to the war.


Finally, even a temporary ceasefire on terms involving a substantial flow of humanitarian aid would help avert famine and a mushrooming public health disaster in Gaza.


The problem is that neither Israel nor Hamas cares about the desperate plight of Gazans.

“#Hamas and #Netanyahu are haggling over human lives as if they were on a cattle market,” said scholar Andreas Krieg in a tweet.


At least some Hamas figures, reportedly including Yahya Sinwar, the group’s Gaza-based leader and one of Israel’s most wanted men, believe that Hamas’ negotiating position would be further enhanced if the humanitarian crisis in Gaza worsens and if the onset of Ramadan heightens tension around Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.


Palestinians attend afternoon prayers on the Temple Mount, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, in Jerusalem's Old City, during Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Credit: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP


Hamas and Israel compete on who issues the most blood-curdling statements. Both display a despicable disregard for the humanity of the other.


Cloaking itself in the mantle of legitimate resistance and the assertion that all Israelis, including those within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, are settlers, Hamas has no compunction about threatening more October 7-style attacks. 


Civilians accounted for most of the more than 1,100 people killed, some brutally, in the Hamas assault.


Israel digs itself deeper and deeper into a whole not only by its conduct of the war and refusal to ensure the unfettered flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza but also by abusive social media postings by soldiers in Gaza and repeated problematic statements by political and religious figures.


In the latest incident, Rabbi Eliyahu Mali, whose religious seminary in Jaffa, aims to dispossess Palestinians still resident in what is today a southern suburb of Tel Aviv that once was Palestine’s most populous city, issued what can only be called an incitement to genocide.


Rabbi Eliyahu Mali speaking in a conference at his Shirat Moshe yeshiva.

 

“The basic rule we have when fighting a holy war, in this case, Gaza, is the doctrine of ‘not sparing a soul.’ The logic of this is very clear. If you don’t kill them, they will try to kill you. Today’s saboteurs are the children of the previous war whom we kept alive,” Mr. Mali said in a conference at his Shirat Moshe yeshiva.


“It is the women who create the terrorists… It’s either you or them… ‘Do not spare a soul’ is based on the doctrine, ‘He who comes to kill you in the afternoon, kill him in the morning.’ The one who comes to kill you is not (just) the 18, 16, 20, 30-year-old who points his weapon at you, but also the next generation and those that give birth to the next generation,” Mr. Mali said.


The rabbi asserted that “there is no such thing called an innocent creature… An elderly man can carry a rifle and shoot.”


Asked if the same is true for children, Mr. Mali replied, shrugging his shoulders, “It’s the same thing… When the Torah says, ‘Do not spare a soul, you must not spare a soul. Today he is a child, today he is a youth, tomorrow a fighter.”


Mr. Mali’s comments echoed statements by Israeli President Isaac Herzog early in the war.

 

Israel's President Isaac Herzog. Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

 

“It is an entire nation out there responsible (for the October 7 attack). It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat,” the president told an October 17, 2023 news conference.


When asked to clarify whether he meant to say that since Gazans did not remove Hamas from power “that makes them, by implication, legitimate targets,” Mr. Herzog claimed, “No, I didn’t say that.”


However, Mr. Herzog then went on to say that “When you have a missile in your goddamn kitchen and you want to shoot it at me, am I allowed to defend myself?”


Tellingly, neither Mr. Herzog nor Mr. Netanyahu or any other government official has denounced Mr. Mali’s comments that echo not only the president’s earlier remarks but also those of various Cabinet-level officials.



Dr. James M. Dorsey is an award-winning journalist and scholar, a Senior Fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute and Adjunct Senior Fellow at Nanyang Technological University’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and the author of the syndicated column and blog, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer.


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