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Day 244: Iron Swords War

By Leah Garber

To Agree or Not To Agree, That Is the Question.

Last weekend President Biden addressed the American people and revealed the outline of the newest deal offered by Israel for the release of the hostages held captive by Hamas.

An agreement with the devil is one without handshakes. It’s based on zero trust, so the question “deal or no deal?” includes taking a huge risk.

In a series of back and forth offers to secure the release of the hostages, the last of Israel’s proposals is a comprehensive one, aimed at gaining the release all the 124 people still being held. It is Israel’s most generous offer, and it includes three stages:

  1. A complete ceasefire, the withdrawal of IDF forces from populated areas in Gaza, and the release of women and sick Israeli hostages. This first phase will take six weeks, during which the second phase will be discussed. The ceasefire will last as long as the negotiations continue.
  2. The release of all living hostages, including soldiers. In addition, the temporary ceasefire will become permanent.
  3. The release of the bodies of the remaining hostages.

In addition, as part of the deal, Israel will release hundreds of Hamas prisoners for each Israeli hostage, including terrorists who were involved in the murder of Israelis. The sight of of Hamas terrorists with Jewish blood on their hands being released and getting on buses to Gaza is unbearable for Israelis, especially for those whose family members were murdered by the terrorists. To see those who took the lives of their loved ones walk out of prisons motivated to continue their acts of terrorism is not only agonizing but also considered by many in Israel to be a surrender to terrorism and a potential risk, since these terrorists are now returning to the ranks of their fellow terrorists.It is important to understand that the Israeli public is united and agrees that the war against Hamas in Gaza is a justified, necessary, and critical one. There are no protests calling to end the war. It is clear to everyone that as long as Hamas and its infrastructure are not exterminated as soon as possible, the events of October 7 might be repeated. The terrorists do not suffer from a lack of motivation, and all they need is the ability to carry out their plans as was proven tonight when Hamas terrorists tried to cross the border into Israel to kill again, but after fighting with IDF soldiers, they were eliminated. An Israeli soldier, a Muslim Bedouin tracker, was killed during the fighting. They aspire to kill us all, and once their means are restored, carrying out their vicious attack is merely a matter of time.

Prime Minister Netanyahu committed to bring about an “absolute victory” that includes returning the hostages, defeating Hamas, and guaranteeing the security of Israel’s border communities. Today, eight months later, it is clear there is no such thing as “absolute victory.” Achieving Netanyahu’s three goals, all of which are necessary, unfortunately is not realistic.

And so, the country’s leadership—and its entire citizenry—are faced with an almost impossible dilemma that will not lead to the “complete victory” we were promised. Ending the fighting before completely destroying Hamas’ infrastructure will gradually erode the war’s accomplishment thus far. This is where the families of the 646 soldiers who have been killed in combat enter the picture. Their loved ones went into battle determined to defend their country. They took the risk, were willing to sacrifice their lives, if necessary, to bring back the hostages and to ensure the October 7 massacre will never be repeated. If we withdraw our forces before eliminating Hamas and they can restore their infrastructure, were our soldiers’ sacrifice in vain? Did they die for nothing?

On the other hand, from the depths of their indescribable pain, families of the hostages beg the government to agree to any deal, as long as it carries the possibility of bringing their loved ones home. They know that the sand in the hourglass of the hostages’ lives is running out, and with each passing moment, the chance that those still alive will face their death in Gaza only increases.

The Israeli street is stormy, divided, and confused. Some protesters and demonstrators call for elections now, even amidst the war, while others urge that now is not the time for elections, which surely will distract from managing the war. Still others call for agreeing to any deal with Hamas to ensure the release of all the hostages, while others insist that completely dismantling Hamas must be the priority.

Forty percent of Israelis are in favor of a deal to release hostages and 27% oppose the deal. The fact that so many are undecided only emphasizes the dilemma. Within the government coalition, the extreme right parties have announced that if a hostage deal is signed, they will leave the coalition, which will lead to the end of the current government. The ultra-Orthodox parties have announced they are in favor of a hostage deal, and of course, all opposition parties are in favor.

Earlier this week, the social policy think tank, the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, released its annual analysis, “Picture of the Nation,” which, this year, focuses on the effects of the October 7 attacks and the ensuing war, as well as the domestic turmoil that preceded it.

These are difficult dilemmas concerning Gaza and the lives of the hostages, but they are not the only ones with which the Israeli government and people are contending. Israel faces a second dilemma as well: the escalating front in the north, which continues to burn literally and figuratively. Entire forests are being consumed by fire caused by rockets fired daily by Hezbollah toward civilian targets.

Like Hamas, these aggressive attacks are one sided, initiated solely by Hezbollah. Should Israel initiate a large-scale military operation to end these border attacks? Or, to avoid a larger war, should the country continue 244 days’ attrition at the expense of the destruction of northern towns, human life, the economy, tourism, agriculture, and the tens of thousands of families who are evacuated from their homes?

Meanwhile, with the country in turmoil, Hamas announced this morning that it rejects the Israeli outline for an agreement and thus, we are back to the bloody drawing board, for the umpteenth time.

Time is running out. Eight months into the war with no end in sight, the lives of the hostages likely are getting shorter with each passing day. The light at the end of the tunnel is receding, and with it, our resilience and our patience.

Together, united, we will overcome.
Leah Garber is a senior vice president of JCC Association of North America and director of its Center for Israel Engagement in Jerusalem.
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