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Anti-Netanyahu protesters in Tel Aviv
EPA-EFE/Abir Sultan

Gaza war: blaming Israel for October 7 Hamas attack makes peace less – not more – likely

The UK Labour party recently withdrew support for one of its parliamentary candidates for making comments that perpetuated antisemitic stereotypes. Azhar Ali said that Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu “allowed” the deadly Hamas attack on October 7 as a way to divert public opinion away from his political woes and give the Israelis “the green light to do whatever they bloody want [in Gaza]”. Ali went on to make antisemitic comments about Jewish influence in British politics and the media.

Such comments are symptomatic of a wider problem among some, on the progressive left in particular, to ignore the violence against Israelis and exclusively focus on the plight of Palestinian citizens. A minority have even celebrated the attack as a kind of “progressive atrocity”.

Hamas’s horrific attack, which included physical and psychological torture, mass rape and the taking of more than 200 hostages, left Israeli society deeply traumatised. Responses that focus only on Palestinian victimhood and dismiss Israel’s experience of violence and terror are likely to contribute to Israel’s sense of isolation and anger.

The more that Israelis feel abandoned by the international community, the harder it arguably is to bring a workable, lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The situation is dire enough without making things worse, and the situation is bad.

Israel’s military response to the October 7 attack has resulted in the killing of more than 29,000 Palestinians and the displacement of nearly 2 million more. It almost certainly violates international humanitarian law, as well as Israel’s own military code of conduct.

There is no excuse for this extreme military response, but we need to understand Israel’s perspective if we are to break the cycle of violence. It’s important to consider that the scale of Israel’s response may be the result of anger, fear and trauma as opposed to reasoned strategic thinking. It’s likely a sense of isolation serves to exacerbate these sentiments.

Some world leaders expressed outrage at the attack, with some providing military and diplomatic support. But other reactions were far less empathetic. Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva even went as far as to compare Israel’s military campaign to the Holocaust.

A similar lack of empathy has been seen in some non-governmental organisations. For example, the United Nations body UN Women took eight weeks to issue a statement condemning the gendered violence against Israeli women.

This inability to acknowledge the horror of October 7 is primarily a problem among some on the left. Left-wing antagonism toward Israel is not new and political parties in many countries have been divided over their response.

One local politician in California, during a heated debate on calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, reportedly stated: “The notion that this was a massacre of Jews was a fabricated narrative.” In the UK, former Labour MP (and independent parliamentary candidate) George Galloway, made disparaging remarks on X (formerly Twitter) that seemed to justify the killing of Israelis on October 7.

Others have even condoned the attack. They argue it was an inevitable outcome of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land for 75 years and tried to label Hamas’ attack as a legitimate anti-colonialist act of defiance. The US Party for Socialism and Liberation proclaimed: “The actions of the resistance over the course of the last day is a morally and legally legitimate response to occupation.”

What many Israelis found even more disconcerting was how some of these messages blaming Israel started to emerge before Israel launched its massive military invasion of Gaza.

Bleak outlook

The one-sided nature of many responses that unequivocally supported the Palestinians have arguably fed into Israel’s sense of isolation and victimhood, amplifying its preexisting siege mentality. This has likely contributed to an ongoing erosion in Israel of any belief in a future peace with a Palestinian state. A poll conducted by Gallup in late December 2023 found that 65% of Israelis now reject the idea of an independent Palestine.

There is no legitimate justification for the scale of death that Israel has unleashed under Operation Swords of Iron. It is likely to inflame and anger future generations of Palestinians and makes it hard to envisage a hopeful future for both peoples.

Indeed, according to a poll conducted in late December 2023 by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR), Palestinian support for armed struggle has increased significantly since October 7, and the majority of Palestinians believe Hamas’ onslaught was justified.

Another survey found that 98% of Palestinians will “never forget and never forgive” Israel for its actions in the Gaza Strip. Some 90% thought that Israeli-Palestinian coexistence is unlikely.

Israeli peace activists demonstrate in Tel Aviv, February 2023
Israel’s peace movement needs global support if it is to influence its government’s policy towards Palestinians. EPA-EFE/Abir Sultan

Yet despite this hardening of views on both sides, this should be an opportunity for the left in Israel. The current government of Benjamin Netanyahu is deeply unpopular. The October 7 attack is widely seen as evidence of the right’s failing security approach led by Netanyahu, who has always been a vocal critic of the Oslo accords and the peace process in the 1990s.

There will almost certainly be an official inquiry about Israel’s failure to protect itself on October 7, and possibly also of Netanyahu’s knowledge of an imminent threat or at least his complicity in funding Hamas for years. He is already under indictment on corruption charges and the longer this war lasts the longer he can defer his reckoning.

But regardless of his and his government’s unpopularity, the brutality of the October 7 attack led to a feeling within Israel that a line had been crossed by the Palestinians. An overwhelming majority supports the military campaign in Gaza, according to a survey conducted by the Institute for National Security Studies.

Consequently, many in the Israeli peace camp who have been advocating for a two-state solution for years appear unable to call on the Israeli leadership for restraint. Those who are still active have noted the increasingly difficult circumstances they face.

Many on the left in Israel feel increasingly isolated from their progressive brethren around the world and weakened domestically. With the Israeli public moving increasingly to the right, this trend is contributing to a sense of despair and loneliness on the part of those who desperately need support in their pursuit of peace.

Unfortunately, the resilience and appeal of the Israeli peace camp may prove to be another casualty of Hamas’s attack. For peace to be possible, it’s vital to recognise that Israelis can be victims too.

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