Chaos, Israeli Style

A month after the terrible massacre on October 7, the horror and anguish are not subsiding. On the contrary – it only gets worse. In addition, the deep chaos in the rescue procedures continue to shock us. The kidnapped, the missing, the bodies still waiting to be identified, the survivors scattered in hotels, the over 125.000 displaced from the north and the south, the names of those who fall in battle, the rocket sirens that  beckon us day and night, the pupils who study on Zoom, the university students who wait, the unemployed, the bankrupt, the hundreds of thousands of conscripts, the billions of shekels burned in the war, the political leadership that does not lead anyone or anything, and the feeling that this massacre beheaded the political and security elite – all these create uncertainty that we have never known.

Yet this chaos is only one side of the coin. On the other side, the side of Palestinians in Gaza, the same side that we stubbornly refuse to look at directly, is the unprecedented humanitarian crisis, the likes of which we have never seen. 10,000 Palestinians killed, over a million displaced, tens of thousands of buildings turned into ruins and the chaos in the hospitals – all these are not an international, Arab, or Palestinian problem – they are an Israeli problem. This is the reality that Israeli governments created during 55 years of occupation.

In 2005 Israel ostensibly disengaged from Gaza, but Gaza never disengaged from Israel. Everything – water, electricity, fuel, food, the issuance of identity cards, entry and exit permits, work, trade, medical care – all of these were and remain under Israeli responsibility, even following the disengagement. It wasn’t really a disconnect but like everything else before October 7, it was part of a virtual reality, a concept that Israelis wanted to believe, until it blew up in our faces.

The concept

The tragedy is that there is no one party responsible for this chaos and disaster. As Yair Lapid said, “If everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.” The concept fostered by all leaders in Israel, from the right, left and center, from the “only Bibi” camp to the “anyone but Bibi” camp was that we left Gaza forever, never to return. Hamas also bought into this concept. Although it never abandoned its belief that the fate of the Jews is to be thrown into the sea, it clearly understood that the Israelis were determined to get rid their responsibility from Gaza, and for many years Hamas was consider the partner (if only ostensibly) that conducted itself as the master of the house.

Israel’s repugnance with Gaza, the avoidance of any talk about conflict resolution, the willingness, as Naftali Bennett described it, to live forever with “shrapnel in the buttocks,” all of these provided Hamas with an almost unlimited scope of action. While Israel cultivated the false idea that “it withdrew from Gaza”, Hamas was busy building the city of tunnels known as “the Metro”. The Israeli collective refused to accept the reality emerging before its eyes. The arrogance of Hamas, its self-confidence and the belief that Israelis are afraid of returning to Gaza, no matter how many rockets and balloons Hamas launches, all these blinded the leadership of Hamas itself. The war became a fight between two blind entities.

The Abraham Accords, President Trump’s gift to Israel, received wall-to-wall support. The accords promoted a concept of regional peace which could skip over the Palestinian problem, and thus dazzled the Israeli leadership and society. The Emirates, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia chose the Israeli regional power as a force that can deter Iran. And just as Israel ignored the murderous nature of Hamas because it served its needs, so it also ignored the murderous nature of “our moderate Arab partners.” The Saudi butcher Mohammed bin Salman, whose men dismembered the body of opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and the princes of the Emirates, who are engaged in genocide in Libya and Yemen, have become members of our household and welcome guests.

It turns out that Israel isn’t fussy about the identity of its partners if they serve the “concept.” However, in the fortified wall of the anti-Iranian “Sunni alliance”, there remained a gap that allowed the Iranians to penetrate and sow chaos in our ranks. This gap is the outbreak of the conflict with the Palestinians. Iran dragged the isolated Hamas into its ranks and built an axis of evil that stretches from Yemen through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, to Gaza. This axis managed to surprise Israel and smash its conception to pieces.

The American vision remains without partners

The Americans also recognized this “loophole.” Biden and his team understood very well how the political and security failure left Israel exposed and unable to respond following the shock that gripped all levels of its political and security command. After placing the Sixth Fleet off the coast of Lebanon and warning Iran not to interfere, the Americans consistently demanded that Israel define its strategy for leaving Gaza, the end game, and the outlines for a political agreement – that is, realization of the “two states” vision.

As it became clear to them, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the same hushed word – “occupation” – of which Israeli society refused to speak of for many years, the same word that became taboo so as not to upset the electorate, became no less than a threat to American national security! While the US is involved up to its neck in the Ukraine war against a nuclear power like Russia, the US is dragged involuntarily into a regional Middle East conflict, and more. Following the October 7 massacre, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict took on an international dimension, related to the struggle between the democratic West and the autocratic/fundamentalist Russia-Iran-China axis.

The big problem is that the Americans have no partners to realize their vision of two states. Both the Israeli and Palestinian political arenas have been eroded to the bone. Today there is not even one significant political actor in Israel or Palestine that believes in the feasibility of the two-state concept. Israel claims, and rightly so, that the Palestinian Authority cannot be a partner in peace, because while it cooperates in the security arena with Israel against Hamas, until now it has refused to condemn the massacre of October 7. The Americans also believe that the Palestinian Authority is a corrupt entity that has lost all public support and doubt its ability to run a country. And as for the Americans, for them the Hamas organization is nothing more than a terrorist organization that has lost any legitimate basis and is destined for demise.

The Arab partners in the Abraham Accords no longer believe that Israel can protect them from Iran while it itself is forced to rely on the Americans for protection. No one, then, will come to Israel to pull the chestnuts out of the fire. Gaza is once again an Israeli problem. Israel nurtured Hamas, it created the monster and fed it, and when it believed it had succeeded in taming it, the monster rose up against its creators. The elimination of Hamas brings us back to square one.

You can’t say goodbye

Finally, I will say something very unpopular. In response to those demanding Bibi take responsibility for October 7, Bibi is correct in replying that he is not the only one responsible. Everyone is responsible – the army, Israel Security Agency, Military Intelligence Directorate, and all the governments after that of deceased Ariel Sharon. We must take his words seriously and understand once and for all that Bibi did indeed become the father of the concept, he is the one who created the horrible, distorted reality that blew up in our faces, and tried to establish it through the judicial coup d’état. Bibi whitewashed messianic fascism, which believes in complete annexation of the Palestinian territory, yet he was not alone. If Israeli society is content with putting only Netanyahu and his delusional partners under the spotlight, it will miss the mark.

Israeli society must understand that its future is inextricably linked to the future of Palestinian society. One million Palestinians can be moved to southern Gaza, but they cannot be taken out of Gaza. You can build separation fences, barriers and sensors, but you can’t separate from Gaza and the West Bank. This is the basic premise that must guide anyone who wants to ensure the safety and prosperity of Israeli society. The slogan of two states for two peoples creates an illusion that it is possible to part in peace. Yet in reality there exists one territorial, demographic and economic continuum between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

We live in a strange reality of one country which every side, both Israeli and Palestinian, refuses to recognize. They both want to break up and can’t. When you live in the same house and can’t get along, frustration and hostility increase. Therefore, out of these ruins must grow new forces, Israelis and Palestinians too, liberals and democrats, who are ready to join forces and create a new egalitarian and democratic reality for the welfare of both peoples. If not, the current chaos experienced by the two nations will only deepen.

About Yacov Ben Efrat