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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Even in their anguish, these Israeli survivors say invading Gaza won’t help

A candle lighting for those those killed or taken hostage by Hamas militants, at Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 22, 2023.

By Nicholas Kristof

No one understands terrorism more viscerally than Maoz Inon: His 78-year-old father and 75-year-old mother were among those massacred by Hamas this month in southern Israel.

He mourns his parents, and he despairs for old friends who have been kidnapped by Hamas. Yet he also fears that the unbearable losses his family endured are now being used to justify an impending ground invasion in the Gaza Strip.

“I don’t stop crying,” he told me in the hostel he runs here in Tel Aviv. “I’m crying for my parents. I’m crying for my friends. I’m crying for those who are kidnapped. I’m crying for the victims on the Palestinian side. And I’m crying for all the victims that are going to suffer.”

“We don’t sleep at night, we don’t eat, we are under emotional trauma,” he said. “We are just broken. But from these traumatized days, we must learn the lessons from history.” And foremost among them, he said, is the need to break the pattern of escalating violence that feeds hatred, creates orphans and self-replicates indefinitely.

Inon is an outlier, but he’s not alone, and I’ve been speaking with several of those here in Israel who lost loved ones to the terror attacks yet argue that the next step should not be further destruction heaped on Gaza, even in the name of destroying Hamas.

These are Israelis in anguish at their own losses and also fearful that their suffering is being used to justify bombardments and a ground invasion of Gaza, killing innocents there and perpetuating bloodshed. I can’t emphasize enough that this attitude is the exception, but perhaps that’s why I find it so majestic.

I’ve been following the Middle East conflict for most of my life, and I can’t remember a time of such despair, trauma and mutual mistrust. It’s heartbreaking to see the collapse of all hope, and this month may be the nadir: the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and a devastating air assault and siege of Gaza that has claimed even more lives there.

In this grim context, people like Inon remind me of the human capacity for empathy and wisdom — two qualities desperately needed across the region. I told him he was out of step with the public mood, for most people have drawn a different lesson from history: that it is important to wipe out enemies who want to kill you.

“We have been doing exactly that,” he said, referring to reliance on military solutions, yet noted that that approach failed to keep his parents alive. “What I’m saying is we have to stop doing what we were doing before. We need a new policy.”

“Someone needs to be brave enough to stop the cycle of blood, dislike and violence that has been going on for a century,” he said.

This may require Gandhian levels of inner fortitude.

“I’m full of rage,” said David Zonsheine, whose uncle was murdered in the Hamas attacks. “But rage is one thing, and policy and plan are another.”

Zonsheine’s fear is that blind fury will propel Israel into a ground invasion of Gaza without any plan for what comes next. Even if it were possible to remove Hamas, he said, something worse may follow — just as Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 helped spawn its great enemy to the north, Hezbollah.

A cousin of Zonsheine, a nurse, went missing in the attacks and presumably was kidnapped and taken into Gaza. Zonsheine worries that an invasion would lead to the deaths of hostages like her, and also of countless innocent Palestinians.

“Civilians there are being killed in massive numbers,” he said. “And they are not being killed by Hamas. They are being killed by us.”

That’s a triumph of compassion, at a time of personal and national trauma, that Zonsheine knows will leave him accused of naiveté or worse. But those favoring a more surgical response insist that they are the ones who are being tough-minded, for decades of occupation and military strikes have culminated not in peace but in the worst massacre of Jews in Israeli history.

Yonatan Zeigen, whose mother, Vivian Silver, is believed to be a hostage in Gaza, makes the same point. “Mother always said we have to shift the paradigm,” he said. “We won’t have safety in a state of war. It can’t be done.”

Silver, 74, is a peace activist who spent decades volunteering to help people from Gaza. Zeigen and his brother, Chen Zeigen, told me they talk constantly about what their mother must be thinking now. Chen is not entirely sure, for their mother’s beloved kibbutz was destroyed, her family home burned to the ground and her friends murdered. But Yonatan believes she would be appalled by the relentless bombing of Gaza and preparations for a prolonged ground invasion: “She would have been, I think, mortified by the destruction in Gaza, and collective punishment and vengeance.”

That’s where Yonatan comes down as well. He is shaken by the savagery of the Hamas attacks, and understands why so many are determined to invade and bomb Gaza to try to destroy the terrorists forever, even at the price of many civilian casualties.

“I just don’t think it will bring us any closer to a better position,” he said. “Vengeance is not something to build foundations on. It is not a strategy. How many dead Palestinians will be enough for us to feel safe? I don’t think there’s any number. And it’s just the wrong thing to do.”

If even people like him, personally shattered by a barbaric terror attack, can muster the clarity to understand that relentless bombardment and a ground invasion may not help, perhaps there’s hope for the rest of us. May we learn from their wisdom and humanity.

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