Just when I thought things could not get worse, a new war broke out. On October 7, Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement), went on a killing rampage in southern Israel. They massacred 1,200 and took 240 hostages.
Hamas does not recognize Israel as a legitimate state and is committed to its annihilation. Hamas wants to make way for an Islamic state in the lands between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. In the aftermath of the attack, Ghazi Hamad, a representative of the organization’s political bureau, vowed that Hamas would repeat such attacks in the future until Israel is eliminated.
In retaliation, Israel has pummeled the Gaza Strip, a 17-square-mile speck of land that has been under Hamas control since the Palestinian elections of 2006. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu has directed the Israeli Defense Forces to “destroy” Hamas. But Hamas is not the territory of Gaza. It is a political idea. Although Netanyahu calls for destruction of Hamas as a military objective, how can Israel destroy an idea as a practical matter?
Netanyahu’s strategy to destroy Hamas is to flatten what were the most populated areas of Gaza and create parking lots for rubble. So far in Gaza, Israel has destroyed 40,000 homes (according to a United Nations report) and 14,000 lives, mostly women and children (as recently reported by the New York Times). Israel is also holding 8,000 Palestinians in 19 prisons, many of them without charge or trial. Images of flattened buildings and bags of Palestinian bodies will be effective recruitment videos for a future Hamas.
There has been a pause in the fighting in Gaza to allow for the release of some of the hostages held by Hamas and the release of some of the Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, as well as for increased humanitarian assistance to be brought into Gaza across its southern border with Egypt. The pause resulted from Qatar’s mediation and help from Egypt and the United States.
Israel and Hamas agreed to additional exchanges of hostages for prisoners and extended the pause for a few days, but Israel has resumed bombing targets in Gaza. Netanyahu has warned that the war will continue until Israel achieves “complete victory”—the elimination of Hamas, liberation of hostages, and prevention of future threats to Israel.
Protests in the U.S. and around the world demand a cease-fire. Protesters have loudly castigated President Biden for his continued whole-hearted support for Israel and refusal pressure Israel to accept a cease-fire.
The young man I imagine I was fifty years ago would be protesting the failure of a cease-fire to happen in Gaza and would blame the President. But a true cease-fire requires a cease on both sides, and the man I am now does not believe that Hamas has any interest in ceasing armed conflict with Israel or renouncing its raison d’être to wipe Israel off the map.
To maintain U.S. influence with Netanyahu, the President must continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself. Achieving a cease-fire is not the same as achieving peace. The long-view—a negotiated peace in the Middle East—will require a two-state solution. Which is precisely what Biden has been calling for in public statements and, I am sure, in private talks with Netanyahu. The President deserves high marks for successful diplomacy in a perilous moment.
The war in the Middle East is the latest disaster but not the only disaster roiling my mind. Other disasters are part of my world at this late time of my life. I must mention a few.
I cannot forget Ukraine, where another war continues, and its brave and beleaguered citizens resist Putin’s Russia. Having “annexed” Crimea in 2014, Russia has tried to obliterate the rest of the country. The integrity of Ukraine as a democracy is at stake, and only continued military assistance from the U.S. and other NATO countries will ensure that Ukraine will survive its present state of disaster.
Some Republicans in Congress do not care about Ukraine except as leverage for punitive anti-immigrant theatrics at the southern border. The lack of sensible immigration reform is its own disaster. The failure to approve funding for Ukraine would be a separate but overlapping disaster.
The disaster that is the Republican Party is implicated in other disasters: the disaster that is the Supreme Court, the disaster for women’s health in states that have banned abortion, the disastrous failure to enact voting rights legislation, and the increasingly obvious world-wide chain of disasters from a changing climate.
Some other stuff for later,
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