The reaction of many world leaders in the immediate aftermath of the unprovoked and barbaric surprise attack by Hamas from the Gaza Strip upon Israel was to express unequivocal support for that country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and even the Jewish people. Within a week, however, some of those same leaders began calling for Israel to exercise “restraint” in its response, solemnly proclaiming that unless the conflict’s “root causes” are addressed, the proverbial “cycle of violence” will continue. Some warned that there is no military solution to the conflict between Israel and those who wish its destruction. “War,” they proclaim, “never solves anything.”
In a sense, these voices are correct: there is a root cause that Israel – and indeed the free world – must confront. But it isn’t what they think it is. The root cause of the long and unending conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (if one leaves aside the ur-cause, namely the irrational, atavistic Jew-hatred that has infected the souls of uncounted millions over the centuries) is not the wobbly commitment to the peace process – it is the peace process itself.
The “war never solves anything” clique are speaking plain nonsense. This is not opinion; history provides objective verification. While it is true that many wars result in stalemate, status quo ante bellum or partial victory by one side that leaves the underlying issues unresolved, history is replete with instances where disputes were settled, for better or worse, through armed conflict. The U.S. Revolutionary War and Civil War are two clear examples. The Second World War, however, provides the most recent and powerful attestation of the “war never solves anything” claim’s ultimate vacuity.
In his first speech to the British Parliament after becoming Prime Minister in 1940, Winston Churchill – arguably the greatest leader of the 20th century – laid out what his government’s objective would be toward National Socialist Germany: “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be.” The cost of not defeating Hitler, Churchill said, would be that “the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age.” And the objective wasn’t just any kind of victory, Churchill explained the following year to a conference of Allied officials. Once the Allies were finished with Nazi Germany, he vowed, “Every trace of Hitler’s footsteps, every stain of his infected and corroding fingers will be sponged and purged and, if need, be blasted from the surface of the earth.”
This war, it was clear to Churchill and his supporters from the outset, would certainly resolve something: either the West would be defeated and democratic civilization itself snuffed out, or Hitler, his allies and Nazism would be crushed. The war would conclude with the unconditional surrender of one side, and the world would be changed.
This is the sort of factual and moral clarity now required in assessing Israel’s position and the nature and goals of Hamas, adjunct terrorist groups like Islamic Jihad and ISIS, and Iran, the theocratic regime giving aid and support to the fanatic killers.
What all-too many well-meaning people do not understand about the ongoing conflict between Israelis and those who govern the Palestinian Arabs is that – as with Nazi Germany – the main issue in dispute is irreconcilable and can never be resolved through negotiation. A good portion of Israelis have understood this for years, decades even, but have been forced to go along with the untenable narrative to appease the United Nations, Israel’s trading partners, the big European countries and Israel’s main sponsor and protector, the United States. In addition, Israel’s left – which dominates the bureaucracy, courts, academia, arts, entertainment, and the media – largely believes the narrative of appeasement. But even amidst Israel’s costly, decades-long efforts in that direction, world opinion – including in the U.S. – has been growing increasingly negative toward the Jewish state. And world opinion has always been vitally important to Israel.
The orgy of violence by Hamas against Israel beginning on October 7 has – in the words of Netanyahu’s newly named wartime defence minister, Yoav Gallant – killed that sentiment, at least for now. “We will wipe this thing,” Gallant vowed, “off the face of the earth.” As Netanyahu noted, “The fate of our state is on the line.” If the oratory wasn’t quite Churchillian, the central ideas were. And the two men were not exaggerating.
The several-day-long rampage killed, according to the most recently available count, 1,405 Jews (including dozens of dual nationals or citizens of the U.S., UK, Canada and other countries). Hundreds of the dead were first tortured, raped or otherwise mistreated. Some were burned alive in “safe rooms” where they had sought refuge. Children and even infants were decapitated and/or burned alive. More than 220 – including dozens of children and elderly – some of them wounded or apparently raped, were taken into Gaza and are being held as hostages. It is the greatest civilian death toll in Israel’s 75-year history and the largest mass-murder of Jews since the Holocaust.
The appalling depravity and barbarity of the Hamas attackers is unfathomable on many levels, yet on another level was foreseeable and explicable. The uncontrolled rage against Jews is manifest in Hamas’s own Charter of 1988, a hate-filled screed wherein the group’s nature and founding goals are made plain: a fundamentalist Islamist movement dedicated not to negotiate a peace or merely achieve a state, but to destroy Israel as a Jewish state and replace it with a “Palestinian” state governed by Islamic law, after expelling Jews from their ancient homeland.
Article 6 states that Hamas’s “allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.” Israel, the Charter’s Preamble warns, “will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” Article 13 rejects diplomacy and compromise: “There is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility.” And, this warning: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them.” (In 2017, Hamas appeared to issue a revised Charter containing watered-down language.)
The United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, 15 European states, Japan, the UK and of course Israel have designated Hamas (officially, Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya or Islamic Resistance Movement) a terrorist organization. Since 1994, Hamas has been the main organization perpetrating terrorist attacks against civilian targets including shopping malls, villages, cafés, buses and hotels. Over 2,000 Israelis have died in such attacks.
Knowing these facts alone places the “peace process” in a different context. To repeat: the goal of terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad (to name a few) is not Palestinian independence within acceptable borders, but the eradication of Israel as a Jewish state – followed by the pursuit of Jews wherever they might be found worldwide. Nothing that Israel or Jews can do would appease these impulses. The goal of Israel, by contrast, is to survive as a Jewish state. If the Arab world – Palestinians in particular – simply left Israel alone, there would be peace.
There is no viable compromise between these two positions, no middle ground on which a durable peace can be built. Yet the international community continued to indulge the fantasy that there is, pressuring both sides – especially Israel – to accept an ostensibly interim status quo that is, for all intents and purposes, permanent, and within which the core casus belli is left to fester until the next eruption of violence. Until now. “Hamas’s latest aggression may well have driven the final nail in the coffin of the two state solution,” wrote eminent Middle East scholar Efraim Karsh in the Spectator the day after the attack.
It was not supposed to be this way. On September 13, 2005, Israel completed its eviction from the Gaza Strip of more than 9,000 Israeli citizens and ended its direct rule of the 365-square-kilometre, impoverished wedge bounded by Israel, the Mediterranean Sea and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, then home to about 1 million Palestinians. IDF soldiers forcibly removed the Jewish residents after 38 years of Israeli presence. As the Jerusalem Post memorialized 16 years later, “The disengagement plan was put forward by then prime minister Ariel Sharon to ‘lead to a better security, political, economic and demographic situation,’ according to the text of the plan. Sharon hoped that the plan would reduce friction with the growing Palestinian population in the Strip.”
While many Israelis and Jews in the global Diaspora questioned Sharon’s optimism, the prime minister (a former war hero with unassailable credibility on security issues) promised that his approach offered “a resolution that ensured the future of Israel. It is a resolution that is good for Israel’s security, its international standing, its economy and the demography of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.” As quoted in the same article, Sharon noted that the evacuation came after Israelis had endured three-and-a-half years of unrelenting terror attacks. “The Jewish people cannot be broken,” he vowed. “We will never break.” In extending the olive branch of peace, Sharon hoped, better relations might evolve.
There were immediate signs that it might all be in vain. Hundreds of the Jewish settlers’ state-of-the-art greenhouses, which had previously generated some $200 million per year in export earnings and were left behind intact, were promptly destroyed by rampaging Palestinians – who also defiled and destroyed the area’s synagogues. The next year, Hamas won an election over Fatah (the main faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization), then began murdering its defeated rivals, throwing dozens of Fatah officials (as well as homosexuals) off rooftops. Hamas has governed Gaza with an iron fist ever since, illustrating the cynical saying, “One man, one vote, one time.”
Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza was followed by dozens of terror attacks and no fewer than five major confrontations with Hamas. Israel has spent nearly two decades building ever-more-elaborate and costly defensive systems – ground-penetrating radars to detect Hamas tunnelling, a continuous border fence, sensors, watchtowers, a string of permanently garrisoned bases, and arguably the world’s most sophisticated air defence system, the Iron Dome. With each new Hamas attack, Israel refrained – largely in response to international pressure – from taking the necessary measures to destroy its enemy. Each time, the terrorist regime was left to rebuild its capacity to indulge its lust for Jewish blood.
The stark truth is that some conflicts must be fought to their bitter end, producing a clear winner and a clear loser, before a durable peace can be established. Churchill understood that the issue was not, ultimately, political or territorial, but rather the basic character of the Nazi regime, which drove its behaviour and shaped its agenda. He understood that peace with Hitler and his followers was impossible, no matter what concessions free countries made or treaties they signed. Peace could only come through the annihilation of National Socialism.
The war between Israel and its “rejectionist” foes is the same. Hamas and Fatah have had multiple opportunities to achieve a peace that would include one or even two Palestinian states, international recognition, voluminous aid and the growing prosperity that would come from trading with a flourishing Israel that is only too eager for a normal life. They have spurned or sabotaged all such offers, most notably the Oslo Accords of 1993. Until and unless those who seek the elimination of Jews are themselves eliminated, the so-called “cycle of violence” will continue, with greater intensity and suffering for Israelis and innocent Palestinians, plus the potential to escalate into a wider regional conflict.
As of October 28, Israel’s immediate in-country defence and subsequent counterattack upon Gaza using its air force, artillery and raids by ground troops had wrought extensive damage to Hamas’s infrastructure and had killed some 1,500 Hamas fighters within Israel plus hundreds if not thousands more within Gaza, including senior Hamas leaders, and a reportedly large but unverifiable number of civilians. Israel’s long-discussed full ground assault into Gaza was still considered imminent. Israel continued to vow the destruction of Hamas, supported by a number of countries and senior politicians (among them Canada’s defence minister, Bill Blair, though not Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or the full Liberal Cabinet).
But a genuine victory for Israel would require even more. Just as the victorious Allied powers undertook to de-Nazify Germany after the Third Reich’s defeat, so too should the world’s civilized states take the necessary steps to expunge the hateful and corrupt ideology that Hamas represents. That would require the occupation of Gaza and the establishment of a commission of control to oversee the reconstruction of Gaza City and the rehabilitation of its residents. As was the case with post-Hitler Germany – and post-Imperial Japan – that must also include control of education, media and other cultural and political institutions. In short, a political solution must be imposed on the people of Gaza aimed at achieving their freedom and prosperity.
Many will decry the arrogance or warn of the futility of such a plan, among other things citing the popular support Hamas still enjoys. In a poll of Gazans conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research last June, 44 percent of respondents said they would vote for Hamas in an election while only 28 percent picked Fatah. Although that does not seem promising, it must be noted that Hamas is a brutal tyranny. Expressing support for Fatah is not tolerated, and anyone who dares to suggest accommodation with the “Zionist Entity” risks public execution as a collaborator. In the circumstances, it’s surprising that 56 percent of respondents were courageous enough to imply their opposition to Hamas. This may hint at there being a base around which a new outlook might be shaped.
Nor is widespread support for Hamas a reason to shrink from the task. The Western Allies pursued denazification not in spite of but because they worried that so many Germans at all levels had supported Hitler to the very end. Likewise with Hamas: no enduring political arrangement is possible without the organization’s destruction being followed by the extirpation of its eliminationist anti-Semitic ideology.
Hamas’s decision to attack now remains shrouded in mystery. One reason may be Israel’s accelerating success at improving relations throughout the Arab world. In September 2020 Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump delivered the stunning news that the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain would officially recognize the State of Israel and normalize relations. The “Abraham Accords” were the first such diplomatic coup since Jordan had normalized with Israel 26 years earlier. Within months, Morocco and Sudan followed suit. Israel now had full ties to six Arab countries (Egypt becoming the first in 1979).
Since then, expectations have risen of imminent normalization with Saudi Arabia, custodian of Islam’s two holiest shrines and arguably the most prestigious Arab state. If that happened, even more Arab states would be sure to follow, and it would no longer be Israel that was isolated from the Arab world but, increasingly, the Palestinians themselves. Hamas and its logistical masters in Teheran may have calculated that a full-fledged assault from Gaza would strike a fatal blow to the process by forcing Arab countries to side with Hamas against Israel’s inevitably “heavy-handed” and “disproportionate” response.
Hamas may well be disappointed. The nature of the conflict between Israel and the wider Arab states has long differed significantly from that between Israel and rejectionist terror organizations. Although these states for decades also wanted to eliminate Israel as an independent Jewish state, one after another has been able to give up this goal – some officially, some simply through their behaviour – without mortal political repercussions (although Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamic Jihad terrorists for making peace with Israel). Such pragmatism is impossible for Hamas and groups like it. For them, eliminating Israel is the raison d’être.
For more and more Arab states, normalization amounts largely to the formalization of a slowly emerging status quo. Israel and Saudi Arabia – a country that long barred any Jewish person from its soil – had gradually become de facto strategic partners, joined by their mutual concerns about an increasingly aggressive and, perhaps soon, nuclear-armed Iran. The Saudi monarchy may now feel compelled to criticize or denounce Israel’s campaign against Hamas and slow down normalization. But behind the scenes, it is likely the Saudis are still working with Israel on ways to counter Iran.
A second, possibly more compelling and worrisome, reason why Hamas chose to act now could be the deep rift in Israeli society between left and right. Reflecting enmity as consuming as anti-Trumpism in the U.S. in a country lacking a written constitution and with a much shorter, more fragile political history, much of the Israeli left has been behaving as if it wanted to tear down the precariously balanced country. The left’s overall aims have been twofold: to erase all signs of public religious Jewish behaviour and to preserve the ultra-liberal Supreme Court of Israel’s unusually extensive powers, particularly that of nullifying any piece of legislation its justices disapprove of.
The showdown had been building for years. The court’s increasingly unrestrained use of its powers hobbled any right-of-centre governing coalition. Despite his Likud Party winning election after election, Netanyahu was unable to implement much of his policy agenda or even name the people he wanted to his own Cabinet. In July, a deeply divided Knesset passed a law restricting the Supreme Court’s power to employ the “reasonableness” standard that its judges had invented to enable themselves to overturn Knesset laws. Amidst a walkout by Israel’s Opposition, the law passed 64-0.
While this and other proposed reforms have been ceaselessly attacked by Israel’s left, echoed by the international news media as well as many national governments and liberal Jewish groups, the changes would simply have brought Israel’s internal balance of power in line with that of every other Western democracy, restoring authority over political matters to the political branch. The Israeli judiciary’s power is unique in the Western world.
Israel’s internal crisis came about gradually through a combination of circumstances, including that Israel has no written constitution to define a proper division of powers, that the legal profession and bureaucracy (including the supposedly apolitical Attorney-General’s branch) are dominated by leftists, that Netanyahu is despised by Israel’s intellectuals, and that Israel’s evolving demographics were eroding the historical Labourite/leftist dominance for a scrappier, more populist outlook favourable to right-leaning parties like Likud.
In the early 90s, Supreme Court justices began creating building blocks for a draft constitution, called Basic Laws. Eventually the court began treating these as if they had recognized constitutional force. The high court’s steady arrogation of power has enabled it to, for example, demand that a government spend more money on social welfare, cancel major contracts for natural gas, or order the prime minister to fire any minister who happens to be the subject of a criminal inquiry. Right-leaning politicians have routinely come under such investigations while their left-leaning opponents are curiously spared these ordeals.
The Supreme Court “has used the reasonability doctrine to overturn government policies on a wide range of issues at the core of the government’s responsibilities, including many policies that most Israelis considered eminently reasonable,” explains Israeli journalist Evelyn Gordon. “By substituting its own judgment for the elected government’s, the court has deprived the government of its core prerogative of setting policy and voters of their core prerogative of deciding for themselves whether the government is acting reasonably.”
In this vein, the high court in January ruled that a primary member of Netanyahu’s new government – Aryeh Deri, the prominent leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party who had already served a number of times in past Netanyahu governments, but who had been convicted of tax offences – could not serve in the new Cabinet. This edict intensified the power struggle and Netanyahu – who himself has been hounded for years over alleged corruption – was again thrown into crisis. By March the prime minister had introduced legislation barring the court from conducting judicial reviews of cabinet appointments. After its passage in July, farcically, the new law was subjected to court hearings as to its reasonableness.
The goings-on in the Knesset are tame compared to what happened on the streets of Tel Aviv, however. The July legislation within hours triggered renewed protests, with tens of thousands of demonstrators blocking traffic, pitching tents, lighting bonfires and even blockading Israel’s international airport. “Police,” the Washington Post reported, “dragged protesters out of roadways and used water cannons to clear the path for morning rush hour.” The protests went on for weeks, upsetting the economy and alarming investors.
More ominously, reserve air force pilots began refusing to attend training sessions, the Post said, “prompting warnings from the defense minister that the country’s military readiness could erode.” An article in the New York Times claimed that, “At least 180 senior fighter pilots, elite commandos and cyber-intelligence specialists in the Israeli military reserve have informed their commanders that they will no longer report for volunteer duty if the government proceeds with a plan to limit judicial influence.” The Middle East Monitor website asserted that the Israeli army was hiding major unrest in its active-duty ranks.
“On the face of things, the left’s insurrectionists are as strong as ever,” Caroline Glick, senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate, wrote only four days before the bloodbath. “They have unlimited funds to spend on their activities. They are guided by Israel’s most talented PR executives. They receive wall-to-wall support from 95% of Israeli media outlets. And, acting on orders from Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, the police are prohibited from enforcing the law against them.”
But in the wake of the deaths, torture and kidnappings of October 7, something extraordinary happened. Israel’s inattention and unpreparedness do appear to have eased Hamas’s well-planned, imaginative infiltration tactics and enabled the rampage to rage longer and wider than it otherwise might have. Hamas overran army bases and seized large kibbutzim; Israel was not fully back in control of its own territory for days. The attack failed utterly, however, to further cleave Israeli society; it did the opposite.
Israel’s division between left and right differs from similar ideological and social divides in other countries. Both sides in this growing country of 9.8 million remain deeply patriotic – something not only unfashionable but virtually unacceptable among Western “progressives.” Left and right are imbued with a sense of mission to save Israeli democracy and Israel’s soul. They differ fundamentally about how to achieve that.
But when a threat to the safety or existence of Israel rears itself, internal disagreements are immediately and emphatically deferred. One obvious sign of this were the Israeli flags displayed by both pro- and anti-government demonstrators since the Hamas attack. More substantively, within hours of the attack, some of Netanyahu’s bitterest foes were signalling unity and calling upon all who were needed to serve. Jews across the political and religious spectrums and from around the world left their regular jobs and civilian lives, streaming to military bases or airports to answer the Israeli government’s call-up of some 360,000 reservists.
One leader in Brothers and Sisters in Arms, a group of reservists who had been bitterly protesting Netanyahu’s judicial reforms, who is also a wealthy entrepreneur, assigned his private jet to fly reservists and volunteers from Italy and Greece into Israel. “At one point before they landed, everyone on the plane stood up and sang the national anthem in memory of those who had died,” recalled Yehuda Brownstein, a 24-year-old dual national living in Los Angeles who headed to Israel on one such recent flight.
Within a few days, Netanyahu had succeeded in forming a unity wartime government that included Blue-and-White Party leader Benni Gantz, the Opposition leader. On a more personal level, soon after the attack secular Jews commenced kashering (making kosher) their kitchens to help feed observant soldiers, emergency workers and first responders, a telling gesture given how stridently anti-religious many non-observant Israelis are.
Rather than having identified a mortal weakness and chiselling these societal cracks into a catastrophic disintegration of Israel, then, the shock of Hamas’s Medieval barbarity unified Israelis to a degree no national leader could. With the full state apparatus and Israeli institutions backing the government’s war effort, Netanyahu has unprecedented support and can expect that to hold as long as the war goes on.
Once the fighting stops, however, but before Israelis resume their political and cultural battles, Netanyahu will surely face tough questions over the security lapses that helped Hamas achieved its catastrophic surprise on October 7. The incursion has shaken Israelis’ sense of security to the core, particularly because of the terrorists’ unhinged depravity. This happened on Netanyahu’s watch, and Israelis are unforgiving of such lapses.
In the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the country was solidly behind Labour Prime Minister Golda Meir and her defence minister, Moshe Dayan, as Israel fought off a surprise attack by Egypt and Syria (supported by forces from eight other Arab countries). Once the shooting stopped, Israelis demanded to know how it was that their vaunted security and intelligence apparatus had failed to detect preparations for the attack, why the government failed to act on whatever intelligence there was, and why Israel’s armed forces had previously failed to counter the Arab armies’ increasingly sophisticated anti-aircraft defences, which wrought havoc on Israel’s air force and nearly cost it the war.
The Yom Kippur War ruined the careers of several senior IDF officers as well as that of Meir, until then an icon of Israeli politics. The Meir-led coalition lost its parliamentary majority in the election later that same year, and she was forced to resign following the Agranat Commission of Inquiry’s interim report. She never held office again. New political leaders would emerge out of the Yom Kippur War, among them the aforementioned Sharon, a mid-level general whose force of personality enabled the epic armoured counterattack that saved Israel’s position in the Sinai and drove the Egyptians back across the Suez Canal.
Today, Netanyahu’s position seems eerily analogous to that of Meir, and it appears unlikely he can escape a similar fate. Then again, if he engineers a knockout blow to Hamas this time, rather than allowing the terror group to be saved by the bell of international pressure for the sixth time, he might become Meir and Sharon all in one. And if it emerges that the left’s undermining of Netanyahu and his reforms contributed to the country’s inattention and unpreparedness, Netanyahu might become stronger than ever. Anything can happen at this point.
No discussion of the fighting between Israel and Hamas is complete without addressing the dire humanitarian situation of Gazans. While the true civilian casualty count is unknowable given Hamas’s record of propaganda and lies (most notoriously over the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital bombing), the number is undoubtedly large and it is deeply painful to witness the ordeal Gaza civilians are suffering. It is, indeed, a repetition on a larger scale of what they have had to endure on several previous occasions. The responsibility for this tragedy rests squarely on the shoulders of Hamas – the terrorists who started this war – aided and abetted by allies such as Hezbollah, Syria and Iran, and facilitated indirectly by an international community determined to impose a peace process that promotes and perpetuates the very “cycle of violence” it deplores.
Lost in the clamour of combat between Hamas and the Israel Defense Forces is the reality that Hamas is a brutal and repressive regime that tolerates no form of dissent. The same peace process that guarantees the cycle of violence condemns the people of Gaza to live under a murderous and corrupt leadership. Gazans would be miserable under any circumstances – just as are the victims of totalitarian tyrannies the world over, in any era. It is the Hamas regime, after all, that chooses to divert cement donated to build public infrastructure for the construction of attack tunnels against Israel, or that refashions irrigation piping into rockets shot into Israel.
It is right for free men and women around the world to mourn the loss of innocent life, and it is right for those who are engaged in the acts that will result in this loss of life to feel shame and guilt. These feelings are not signs of weakness, but of humanity. But it would be wrong to allow these feelings to exercise a veto over the duty to rid the world of the barbarity represented by the adherents of groups like Hamas and those who support them. Failure to undertake this grim task will only mean that it is being left to future generations, a gross abdication of our responsibility.
Winston Churchill understood this. It’s time today’s world leaders learned it too.
Lynne Cohen is a journalist and non-practising lawyer from Ottawa. She has published four books, including the biography Let Right Be Done: The Life and Times of Bill Simpson.
Source of main image: AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, mirror-reversed for the purposes of this article.