Tel Aviv Diary: Israelis Wonder Why Hamas Isn’t Pleading for a Ceasefire

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Palestinians gather near the minaret of a mosque that police said was destroyed by an Israeli Air strike in Gaza City July 30, 2014. Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters

Tel Aviv—This was a day of treading water in Tel Aviv. It was the 23rd Day of war. On the one hand, it has been another day without rockets on Tel Aviv, although rockets were fired at its suburbs. But, as I write this, I can hear the sounds of the intercept.   

On the other hand, there is a growing frustration that it isn’t possible to bring this war to an end. To Israelis, it makes no sense that this would go on. Logic says that the missiles have failed to damage Tel Aviv and the short period during which foreign airlines stopped flying to Israel has ended.

What does Hamas hope to accomplish?  Why does this senseless war continue?  Why does Hamas not want a ceasefire? What do they hope to accomplish?

Last night, after a speech by Mohammed Dief [commander of the military wing of Hamas], there was hope that this was a victory speech and, somehow, they would agree to a ceasefire. That has certainly not been the case.

Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have been fighting over who would represent them at talks in Egypt for two days. The Egyptians seem to be in no rush to bring this war to an end. Hamas also seems unwilling to end the fighting. Hamas has said that it will not consider any ceasefire as long as Israel is in the Gaza Strip, and Israel has made it clear that it will not leave without destroying all of the tunnels—tunnels that keep being discovered and seem to originate ever deeper in Gaza. So the killing goes on.

The gulf between Washington and Jerusalem on the ceasefire process seems to continue. On the one hand, both governments have been trying to downplay the differences, but their surrogates in the media have kept the fire going between the two governments.

Secretary John Kerry has continued his efforts to bring about the ceasefire, and with that has continued trying to work with Qatar and Turkey, the same players whose involvement is rejected by both Israel and the Egypt. According to a State Department spokeswoman, Israel is aware of the discussions. But, of course, being aware and being supportive are two different matters. Despite those differences, there were reports tonight that the US has approved the transfer of US ammunition reserves stored in Israel to the Israeli Defense Forces.

In Israel, there are only limited discussions about the civilian deaths in Gaza.  There is a clear understanding that innocent children are dying. But only the right wing who attacks the government—not for the deaths, but for not taking more decisive actions and not trying to topple the Hamas government in Gaza.  

Most Israelis on the left have been supportive of the war, understanding that it is a war with no easy choices. The settlements surrounding Gaza are all kibbutzim—kibbutzim who have traditionally been supporters of the Israeli left.  And despite claims in the past years that the days of the kibbutzim being important contributors to Israeli society are over, in this war when kibbutz residents make up only 2 percent of the population, 13 percent of the casualties have been from kibbutzim.

This moral dilemma was captured by Dr. Noah Ephron, of Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv, who wrote in a blog post today in the Times of Israel:

Hamas is a factory of moral bad luck. Its leaders aim to trap Israel in situations from which only bad can come, either dead Israelis or dead Palestinians or both. They began their barrage of rockets on Israel because they knew Israel would respond, killing innocent Gazans, including kids, along the way. They unleashed their evil because they knew that Israel would, in response, unleash evil of its own.

 

Israelis know they are unleashing evil of their own, but they prefer that to having their sons killed. Today, Israeli troops are enveloped by an umbrella of supportive fire. Every unit has a fighter bomber flying above to prove close air support, with artillery support ready at a moment’s notice. As a result, when ground troops are under attack, the response is overwhelming.  

This overwhelming response often results in innocent people dying. This is especially the case in a war like the current one, in which Hamas fights from within civilian populations. Israelis do not spend a great deal of time reflecting on the deaths. When the war is over, most Israelis believe there will be time to sort out the moral ambiguities.

Until then, everyone wants to know that their sons, grandsons or husbands are going to come back alive and well. They want to know that if their child is in trouble, it will not be a lawyer deciding how to save him, but rather his comrades in arms who will do whatever it takes. Despite the care, three Israeli soldiers died today in Gaza when the house in which they found a new tunnel was blown up while they were inside. A much larger number of Gazan civilians died, too.  

Today, I went to Ben Gurion Airport to pick up one of my daughter’s closest friends who was on vacation in the United States when the war broke out. He is a boy/man that I have known since he was 10 years old, and tomorrow he rejoins his unit in Gaza. Tomorrow, I will have one more person to worry about.

Most Israelis believe that war is immoral. But they ask themselves: what is the alternative?

Political historian Marc Schulman is the editor of historycentral.com. An archive of his recent daily reports from Tel-Aviv can be found here. He is also a columnist for the Times of Israel.

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