The Terrible Gaza War and its Consequences

Prof. Daniel Bar-Tal (Tel Aviv University)

23 April 2024

On the 7th of October, 2023, a constitutive event took place that shook the world, the Middle East, and especially Israel. On that morning a surprising attack occurred on twenty Israeli kibbutzim and towns near the Gaza Strip by thousands of Hamas terrorists and Gaza citizens. They murdered, wounded, and kidnapped children, women and old people, performing inhumane atrocities. About 1,200 Israelis perished, 253 were kidnapped and over 2,500 injured. Today (April 1 2024) there are 134 Israelis in Hamas captivity that Netanyahu is slow to free them via negotiations. Over 150,000 Israelis, about half from the southern kibbutzim, lost their homes or were forced to leave them because of the fighting and have become refugees. The other half are from the north where there are violent encounters with Hizballah.

The army, the security service, and the police were all caught unprepared in a frozen conception, disregarding intelligence cues and military forewarning made months before. Thirty battalions were allocated to defend Jewish settlers in the West Bank, including the ones that carried out pogroms against Palestinians and only four remained to defend the civilian communities in the Gaza vicinity. It took several hours for the army units to arrive to repel the Hamas attack. It took four days to fight the terrorists who had entered to clean the area from the hostile forces.

Is this the whole story? Of course, not –although the Israeli government and most of the public do not want to hear the other part of the description, though it completes the full picture and must be heard.

The other part of the story is also very sad.

Israel immediately began to bomb the Gaza Strip indiscriminately with its over two million residents to eradicate Hamas that can be seen as a collective punishment. The story the Israeli army tells is that they warn the civilian population and are surgically precise in bombing. But those are stories to clean the Israeli conscience. Bombs do not distinguish between Hamas fighters and civilians. According to the Hamas-ran Health Ministry Until now (April 1, 2024) have been killed from the air and on the ground at least 40,000 people, the majority civilians, with over 74,000 injured. These include children, women, and old people. According to OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), electricity is shut, there is not enough water and there is severe starvation of Gazans. About 80% of the buildings were damaged or destroyed. Hospitals are too destroyed and hardly function. 0ver 1.700,000 refugees moved south as the Israeli army demands. However, the entrance to Sinai in Rafah is closed by the Egyptians so the civilian population is trapped as it has been for the past 15 years because of the siege carried by both the Israelis and the Egyptians. In addition, there are violent encounters in the West Bank where settlers and the Israeli army use the war to arrest Hamas activists and resistants to occupation. At least 360 Palestinians were killed since October 7 including 95 children.

What will happen in the future?

In my book “Sinking in the honey trap: The case of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”[1] I proposed four ways that may change the apocalyptic future. Two of them appeared in the present context. 1. The constitutive internal event that shook the world view of the Israeli Jews and 2. The Palestinian step which exacted a heavy price of Israel. These two factors may lead to two very different ways. One way may lead to closure and dogmatic continuation of the world view about Palestinians and the conflict. This may come with the wish to annexed Palestinian territories, continuation of apartheid, expansion of the Jewish settlements and vicious cycles of violence. The Israeli public is hawkish, and this direction may appeal to many Israeli Jews, with the support of hawkish leaders. In fact, some ministers already talk about settling Jews in the Gaza Strip. Thus, there are facilitating conditions for moving in this way. The Palestinians are not going anywhere, and they are staying in their land dreaming about their own state. Thus, fixation on vengeance and expansion will lead to more aggression on both sides. The present situation moved Israel to the height of the conflict. The culture of conflict with its ethos are in their hegemonic state with the extreme government that pushes it hard. At present there is apartheid in the West Bank with about 490.000 Jewish settlers in 127 settlements and 121 illegal outposts and 230,000 residing in East Jerusalem. In this way the bloody conflict may go on and last decades.

The other way is to take into consideration the Palestinian wishes of self-determination and establish a Palestinian state. First, Gaza must be free of Hamas rule and given back to the Palestinian Authority. There also must be a change in the leadership on both sides. The extreme government that rules Israel must go and also the authoritative leadership of Mahmoud Abbas has to be changed. He is viewed as corrupt and a collaborator with Israel, and therefore has lost trust by his people. One possibility is to free from prison Marwan Barghouti, who was involved in murderous terror, in the same way that South Africa decided to free Nelson Mandela. Barghouti is a well-recognized charismatic leader. He is perceived by the Palestinians as the most preferred and trusted leader. Sixty percent of Palestinians support him as a leader. The initial step is to build trust that does not exist --with small steps towards confidence building, as for example cessation of Jewish settling in the West Bank, allowing free access to Holy Sites, and stopping Jewish violence against Palestinians.

There are very complex issues to resolve, and therefore comes the third condition that requires third parties or a party to get involved and put pressure in various ways and methods to advance the process of peace making. Israel is incapable of carrying out such a mission which requires dramatic steps. We must realize that the government that will be established after Netanyahu will not be in a peaceful mood. It will be moderately rightist since a great majority of Israeli Jews hold a rightist world view. Many of them believe in Greater Israel, the Jewish settlements in the West Bank are important for them, they do not trust Palestinians, feel threatened by the Arab world, and see themselves as sole victim in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But in spite of these obstacles, the Arab Peace Initiative is a good beginning. In 2002 the Arab Peace Initiative was proposed by then-Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The initiative calls for an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and the normalization of relations between Israel and the entire Arab world, in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the areas gained by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War and a “just settlement” to the issue of Palestinian refugees with Israeli agreement . The Arab League endorsed the plan in March 2002 at its summit meeting in Beirut, and since then it has been reaffirmed at the annual meetings of the League. Israeli governments have never dealt with the proposal and never considered it formally. Also there exists an almost finished agreement drafted by the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas in 2008, when it ended with Olmert being put on trial for accepting bribes and obstruction of justice.

The findings of Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki show unequivocally that if force and violence is the guiding principle in Israeli-Palestinian relations, people will turn to Hamas. But if diplomacy is viable, they will turn to Fatah that rules in Palestinian Authority. The best means of turning people away from violence (and Hamas) is to revive diplomacy and convince people that diplomacy can deliver the end of the occupation.

Optimistic personal view of the future

The ongoing occupation of the West Bank with the continuous expansion of Jewish settlements, and the siege of the Gaza Strip, violate the basic human and collective rights of the Palestinians, and weaken the democratic and moral fabric of Israeli society. The continuing occupation leads to more bloodshed and cycles of violence and thus undermines physical security and economic prosperity. If not halted soon, this will render a desirable two-state solution impossible.

We can’t lose faith in our values. The voice of Jews, who believe in peace must be heard loud and clear, so that it will be known that a humanistic Judaism exists and has the courage not only to oppose strongly the Hamas immorality, but also to denounce it in Israel and struggle against its inhumanity. This is an expression of my concern and love for Israel, as well as a denunciation and rejection of the occupation.

It is our shared responsibility towards future generations, who will pay a heavy price for the silence and passivity with regard to democracy and peace. The cost of silence far exceeds the cost of involvement. If we remain paralysed, we will eventually lose the foundation of our common Jewish identity, fail to keep the Jewish-democratic state and a moral nature. We must speak out and act as members of the Jewish people, precisely because of our love for Israel. It is our responsibility to deal with situations that significantly depart from moral codes and norms of both the Jewish and the international community. Israel was established following the Holocaust and it is our duty following this murderous event to establish a state with borders, as are other states, to bring security to its citizens. As Jews who care about their Jewishness, and are attached to Israel, we all need to be part of the struggle to save Israel from the nationalist, anti-democratic, racist, and xenophobic currents growing within, as well helping to free Palestinians from the murderous and totalitarian regime of Hamas.

We no longer believe that by taking small steps we can reach the goal. Our goal is to ensure the security, freedom, equality and peace for the next Jewish generations and all other citizens to live in the state of Israel as promised in the "Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel" by the founding fathers in 1948.

It is our responsibility to speak out and take action, as an expression of our identity and conscience even in this most difficult time; we must not remain mere bystanders or supporters of vengeance and hatred. Ultimately, history will judge all of us by our action or inaction. This may require moving mountains, but we cannot betray our values. If each of us lends a hand to move a stone, together we will move the mountain. Yes, we must, and we can!

About the author

Daniel Bar-Tal is Professor Emeritus at the School of Education, Tel Aviv University. His research interest is in political and social psychology studying socio-psychological foundations of intractable conflicts and peace building. His most influential theoretical contribution is the development of a systematic and holistic theory of the dynamics of interethnic bloody and lasting conflicts: how they erupt, escalate and possibly de-escalate, are resolved peacefully and even reconciled. In addition, he is an authority on the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict, suggesting a comprehensive interdisciplinary analysis of its foundation, continuation and maintenance. He has published over twenty-five books and over two hundred and fifty articles and chapters in major social and political psychological journals, books and encyclopedias. He served as a President of the International Society of Political Psychology and received numerous awards for his academic achievements.


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