Photo: BBC

Israel’s crisis and divisions reflected in the Gaza war

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political and personal fate hangs in the balance in the Gaza war. The US fears a spillover into Lebanon (and Iran). For the expert in Jewish-Christian dialogue in Israel, Israeli reality is «complex”. After an early mobilisation, rifts are now emerging. Getting the hostages home is a priority, but peace remains the goal, “Even in these dark days.”

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Darío Salvi

(ZENIT News Porta D´Oriente (Asia News) / Milan, 01.15.2024).-  If the war in Gaza «ends tomorrow», the political career of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu «will end”, which is why it is in his own interest, if he can, to “broaden the conflict”, this according to senior US administration insiders, speaking to Washington Post.

This explains, at least in part, the escalation in Gaza that risks spreading to Lebanon, with Hezbollah (and Iran) ready on Israel’s northern front.

Netanyahu’s fate and the claims of the ruling religious right are closely linked to the events that have shed so much blood in the Holy Land and which, according to several experts, risk setting the region on fire.

The future remains uncertain because a rift has recently developed in Israel’s war cabinet, especially over the future of the Gaza Strip after the war.

Strong divisions have pitted the prime minister and his radical right-wing ministers, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, against top officers in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and centrist leader Benny Gantz, who joined the cabinet and distanced himself from the other opposition leader, Yair Lapid.

A “complex” reality

Hana Bendcowsky, programme director of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations, Rossing Center for Education and Dialogue, spoke to AsiaNews about Israel’s highly multifaceted political, governmental, and social landscape.

Expressing her “personal opinion”, not that of the Rossing Center, the expert in interfaith dialogue said that, “Israeli reality is very complex. Israel is in a state of war, Israelis are still mourning the murders of 1,200 innocent people in the massacre on October 7, the death toll of soldiers, and the abductees who are still being held in the Gaza Strip by Hamas.”

The attack by the Palestinian group, the violence, the kidnappings have triggered a deep crisis. Yet, “When it comes to grief and pain, there is a strong feeling of unity to togetherness, we are all in it together.”

As a result, “Hundreds of thousands of reservists were recruited within a few days. People from different backgrounds with opposite political views fought side by side.” Indeed, in the early stages of the military response to the Hamas attack, “Civil society mobilized in an extraordinary way to help.”

This included many, spontaneous and unorganised acts of solidarity, from preparing meals for soldiers to volunteering in the fields to help farmers who had lost their workers, from welcoming the displaced to collecting clothes and blankets.

Some “even washed the clothes of the people staying in hotels. Society, the media, as well as the authorities, tried to emphasize unity. For many, this unity is a real thing, tested in moments of crisis like now.”

It did not last. As the weeks went by, the first rifts over the conduct of the war emerged, internal divisions within the leadership became apparent.

In fact, for others, the sense of unity was “insincere” and did “not reflect true unity,” she explained. “There is a great deal of criticism of the government, of the malfunctioning of the authorities, of the political system that is preoccupied with politics and the position of the members of the government (see Netanyahu’s legal woes) instead of taking care of the citizens, the evacuees, and above all the hostages.”

Many are disenchanted, not only at the government’s failure to take «responsibility» but also at its apparent attempt to blame others. “As time goes by the cracks in the ‘unity’ start to become more obvious.”

 The hostage crisis

One of the factors behind the mounting divisions, not only in the government, but in Israeli society as well, is the issue of hostages held by Hamas; for many in the country, starting with relatives, their return ought to be a priority.

Nevertheless, many members of the cabinet – starting with the prime minister, despite pictures and the usual meetings with family members – the primary goal is the elimination of the terrorist organisation in Gaza, seen as an existential threat to the very survival of the country.

“[O]n the subject of the abductees and the hostages, the opinions are varied and complex. It is clear to everyone that Israel wants their release, but the question is whether we all have the same priorities and what price we are willing to pay for their lives.”

For Bendcowsky, “you can find diverse opinions in Israel. Opinions range from release at all costs and immediately to a military attack even at the cost of the lives of the abductees.”

The various claims reflect a “tension between a moral position and a strategic military position. It is an expression of the tension between the concern for the lives of several people in the present versus many people in the future.”

At a personal level, “I do not deal with military strategy, and I do not belong to the families of the abductees. My position is moral and ethical and personally, I think that any price and any effort for liberation should be made, not today, not tomorrow, three months ago. Every day they are in captivity is our downfall.”

 Divided leadership in a divided society

A deep cleavage also exists among those vying for leadership in a country that has seen five elections in as many years, further sign of its structural instability.

Amid such profound uncertainty, Netanyahu has been able to form different alliances over time, including the latest with ultra-Orthodox and the extreme right, in order to stay in power.

“I cannot answer about the cabinet and the diverse opinions in Israeli society. I try to be tolerant of people because we are still amid the trauma, in the middle of a war” with people who “have become much more radical, and extreme.”

«Compassion for humans” is being lost in favour of “aggressive language» in “a dichotomous way of ‘black’ and ’white’ while making sure to see only a partial picture. This is, of course, true for Israeli society, and also for almost everyone who expresses their opinion about the situation in Israel now, including the international community”.

Against the backdrop of a tragedy of such huge magnitude like the one that is unfolding in the Holy Land, “it is difficult for people to hold a complex position, and see the other side”.

“I want to hope (with all the difficulty of finding hope these days) that when the fighting in Gaza stops, and they start talking about the ‘day after’, more Israelis and Palestinians will realize that there is no other solution than a political solution, no solution other than peace. Even if it is a cold, utilitarian peace.

“It is impossible to imagine that an event like the war that is taking place – with tens of thousands of dead in Gaza and almost 2 million displaced, refugees, and barbaric massacres as we saw on October 7 – is something we want to see again in Israel, or wish our children to suffer from”.

Although “It’s hard to think about peace, it’s hard to talk about peace” these days, “there must be hope for peace. Even in these dark days.”


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