Post-war: Israel and Gaza

By Bill Simons 

“They make a desert and call it peace”: that line from the writing of Tacitus, a historian of ancient Rome, is subject to mistaken contextualization, often falsely employed as a descriptor of the salting of defeated Carthage’s soil. Nonetheless, it speaks truth. Many wars end with retribution, subjugation, destruction and mass killings. It would compound tragedy should the preceding define the aftermath of the Israel-Gaza War. By its nature, war is horrific: peace need not be. 

Hamas terrorists provoked the war by their slaughter, rape, torture and murder in southern Israel on October 7. Committed to the destruction of Israel and annihilation of Jews, the terrorists – their images and voices transmitted on their own social media – expressed euphoria over the carnage. Utilizing other Palestinian civilians as shields, Hamas built a complex maze of tunnels under residences, infrastructure, hospitals and mosques. 

Adamant concerning the right of self-defense, the Israeli offensive is unrelenting. Many innocents number amongst the dead and wounded. For Israel to stop the offensive short of the eradication of Hamas, however, would only give pause to the cycle of violence. There is another option for ending the war: the return of all Israeli hostages and unconditional Hamas surrender, with its incarcerated leaders prepared to accept the verdict of justice. As that appears unlikely, it is time to plan for the future of post-war Gaza and Israel. 

American history offers examples of both failed and successful epilogues to war. Two episodes, in particular, ought to invite reflection by the diplomats who craft the Israel-Gaza peace. Following the Civil War, which claimed upwards of 620,000 lives, Reconstruction was imposed on the defeated South from 1865-77. Despite the establishment of administrative military districts, three major constitutional amendments, congressional enactments, creation of a Freedmen’s Bureau, expansion of the educational system and participation of Blacks in the political process, white violence compromised and ultimately vitiated most gains. The infrastructure of the South, much of it devastated by war, was not sufficiently rebuilt nor expanded. Without the economic base that “40 acres and a mule” would have provided, most Blacks were ultimately reduced to the status of landless sharecroppers and tenants. By the late 19th century, the North gave up on Reconstruction and, for the next 100 years, racism, resentment and poverty pervaded much of the South. 

The post-World War II German experience was very different. Part of a broad program of denazification, trials of leaders of the Third Reich for war atrocities and crimes against humanity resulted in executions and imprisonments. Germany was initially divided amongst the four major Allied nations with the goal of reunification. In the words of Winston Churchill, post-war Europe was “a rubble-heap, a charnel house, a breeding ground of pestilence and hate.” Through its Marshall Plan, the United States invested economic, technological and human resources that rebuilt not only the Western Allies, but Germany as well. Although the Soviet Union impeded reunification of Germany, the Cold War gave impetus for the American initiatives. 

Within a decade, the policies of the U.S. and the other Western democracies resulted in an economic miracle and democratic government in West Germany, which became a vital member of the Western alliance. Despite the “Day of Infamy” attack on Pearl Harbor, fierce fighting in the Pacific and the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the post-war occupation of Japan also led to a remarkable economic revival and establishment of democracy. 

Ideally, the rehabilitation of Gaza will follow the trajectory of post-war Germany, moving from occupational control to autonomy. To lay the groundwork for lasting peace, an international judicial tribunal, administrative commission and peacekeeping force – comprised of Israel, the U.S., European democracies and Arab nations – committed to regional cooperation, progress and a defense pact must take form. The Abraham Accords as well as evidence of growing rapprochement between Israel and Saudi Arabia suggest that the preceding is possible. After a judicial tribunal – operating under transparent rule of law – determines the fate of Hamas leaders, the administrative commission, abetted by the peacekeeping force, should root terrorist influence out of Gaza culture, education and institutions, finding a template in the denazification of Germany. 

The goal of the multinational occupation should be to enable the eventual emergence of an autonomous and democratic Palestinian state, entailing the merger of Gaza and the West Bank under responsible leadership. Gaza residents willing to relocate to the West Bank would receive economic incentives. Israel would have to make the difficult and divisive decision to turnover significant holdings in the West Bank to the unified Palestinian state. And the prosperous nations overseeing the transformation would need to fund the regional equivalent of a Marshall Plan to provide the resources for the new Palestinian state to thrive. Simultaneously, economic sanctions, augmented by surgical strikes, could destabilize terrorist sponsors in Yemen and Iran. For the world, including Palestinians and Jews, such an ambitious and expensive enterprise would ultimately prove less costly than unending cycles of uprisings and wars. 

Beyond making the painful decision to reduce its footprint in the West Bank, Israel must commit to transformative change for an enduring and just peace to prevail. Prior to the war, the political and social disintegration of the modern state of Israel, then observing the 75th anniversary of its founding, appeared a possibility. Hundreds of thousands of protesters – liberal, centrist and secular Jews – demonstrated against the proposed measures of the hawkish and ultra-Orthodox government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to enervate the judiciary and democratic rule. Himself less an ideologue than a corrupt politician seeking to avoid prison, Netanyahu also ignored festering resentments in Gaza and countenanced vigilante activities by Jewish homesteaders against Palestinians on the West Bank. His focus on the West Bank and misreading of intelligence from Gaza created conditions that rendered southern Israel vulnerable for the October 7 carnage by Hamas terrorists. For post-war Israel to move forward, the political process must remove Netanyahu from office, and jurisprudence must hold him accountable. Israel needs a centrist government able to govern by consensus as it forges peace amongst its own citizens and with Palestinians. 

Post-war Israel must not continue the Netanyahu practice of flouting the counsel of allies amongst Diaspora Jews and other Americans, who provide necessary material resources, diplomatic support and media ballast. As we recite the Kaddish, we will mourn our dead, although some wounds will never heal. We must also remember the dead, maimed and displaced Palestinians, just as the Passover ritual of the wine drops recalls the innocent Egyptians who perished by plague due to the tyrant Pharaoh. The preceding agenda poses painful and onerous challenges. However, according to the Jewish calendar, we have survived for 5,784 years. Let us seek wisdom, perseverance and compassion, taking on anew the obligations of the mitzvahs and of survival.