Cooperative Security, Arms Control and Disarmament By Kevin P. Clements  |  13 October, 2023

Director's Statement: The Hamas-Israel Conflict

Image: Below the Sky/

“You shall love truth and peace.”  Zechariah 8:19

The world and the Middle East do not need another violent conflict. This is a region that has experienced far too much violence over the years.  Hamas’ desperate attacks on innocent civilians was intended to provoke an Israeli overreaction that would, among other things, jeopardise Israeli diplomatic negotiations with the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia and create generalised anxiety within Israel. It was also aimed at demonstrating Hamas’ military capacity and vengeance for years of a humiliating blockade of Gaza. Kidnapping Israeli civilians was callous and brutal but part of a plan to use hostages as bargaining chips around the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

The ferocity of the Hamas violence against innocent Israelis was appalling and many war crimes were committed in the first 24 hours of the invasion. After the initial shock, Israeli military vengeance has been swift in coming.

Since the events of the weekend, a gigantic humanitarian catastrophe and many other war crimes are unfolding in Gaza itself. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised “Vengeance”. He stated that there would be no “restraint on the military” and that the newly formed coalition government would crush Hamas, whose fighters he called “wild animals” and “barbarians.”

“We are fighting a cruel enemy, an enemy that is worse than ISIS,” he said, adding “and we will crush and eliminate it, like the world crushed and eliminated ISIS.” While the swift military response is understandable, an unencumbered Israeli military operation to extract vengeance for the 1,200 Israeli’s killed is likely to generate many more casualties and new martyrs especially since Israel has “laid siege” to Gaza, cutting off water, power, electricity and food supplies. Medical and health facilities are overstretched and supplies running out.

There are two wars currently in play. The first has to do with the battle on the ground. Initially Hamas’s unrestrained militia had the upper hand but now the formidable Israeli military machine is moving into action with terrifying consequences for the 2.3 million inhabitants of Gaza, not all of whom are Hamas supporters. One million are under the age of 19. The Israeli air force has been dropping hundreds of bombs on Gaza including strikes throughout the day and night. Over 263,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the Gaza Strip, as heavy bombardments from the air, land and sea continue to hit the Palestinian enclave. There is nowhere for these displaced persons to go.  Over 2,000 Palestinians have been killed since the blockade and bombing of Gaza began.

There are no exits to Egypt and certainly none to Israel. The presence of thousands of Israeli self-defence forces in tanks and on foot all around Gaza suggest that an invasion of the strip is highly likely with 2.3 million Palestinians unable to escape Israeli “vengeance” .

The second battle is for control of the narrative.  Israel immediately moved into a victim narrative, comparing the Hamas assault to 9/11, Pearl Harbour and the Holocaust. President Biden called the Hamas attacks “pure evil”. All of these comparisons are intended to evoke memories of swift and “legitimate” military action and “vengeance”.  Hamas, on the other hand claims that its actions are justified by years of blockade, oppression and humiliation. Gaza, for example, is often referred to as the largest open-air prison in the world. The world’s media (led by the United States) promotes the first narrative while pro-Palestinian states and free Arab media the second. Neither narrative, however, can be used to demonise, and justify unrestrained bloodshed against, the other.

Despite years of occupation and humiliation by Israel, Hamas gains nothing by killing and kidnapping Israeli civilians and randomly terrorizing the Israeli population.

On the other side, nothing is gained by Israel declaring "vengeance" against Hamas, bombing civilians and now blockading Gaza.

All victims will and must be grieved and mourned by friends and families. There are no winners in this war. It’s a disaster for everyone.

As the SG of the United Nations put it. This most recent violence “does not come in a vacuum” but “grows out of a long-standing conflict, with a 56-year long occupation and no political end in sight.”

Antonio Gutteres appealed for an end to "the vicious cycle of bloodshed, hatred and polarization":

Israel must see its legitimate needs for security materialized – and Palestinians must see a clear perspective for the establishment of their own state realized. Only a negotiated peace that fulfils the legitimate national aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis, together with their security alike – the long-held vision of a two-State solution, in line with United Nations resolutions, international law and previous agreements – can bring long-term stability to the people of this land and the wider Middle East region.

In the meantime, we are witnessing a humanitarian catastrophe unfold before our eyes. We cannot remain mute in the face of violence on both sides. There can be no military solution to the Palestinian conflict.  It’s critical that there be swift negotiations to generate some humanitarian corridors to let those that wish to leave Gaza do so and to enable the UN and other humanitarian organisations bring in water, power, food and medical supplies to serve the needs of a besieged population. It’s also important (even as the Israeli army prepares for an invasion) that both sides are reminded of and are willing to fight according to long established rules of war. Proposing that Israel will fight “without restraint” is a recipe for multiple human rights violations in response to those already perpetrated by Hamas. 

Let’s hope and work for a return of hostages, and reinforce all Turkish and UN moves for a ceasefire and negotiations to end the war.  Without imagination and courage there will be no end to Palestinian hopelessness, humiliation, death and destruction. Without imagination and creativity on the Israeli side there will be no real security, and cycles of vengeance and violence will be deepened and  normalised. The challenge is to draw on all the rich Jewish traditions of forgiveness and reconciliation to ensure that the responses to Hamas’s appalling slaughter are proportionate and restrained. There is no room for Gaza to become another Warsaw Ghetto with Israel responsible for vengeful death and destruction.


Kevin P. Clements is the Director of the Toda Peace Institute.