One Month Since October 7

Jeremy Ben-Ami
on November 7, 2023

One month ago, Hamas launched a heinous, murderous onslaught against the State and people of Israel.

The scale and scope of this shocking attack was unprecedented. Thousands of terrorists rampaged through communities across Israel’s south, spreading death and destruction. 1,400 Israelis were murdered, thousands injured.

An estimated 244 Israelis and other foreign nationals, including children and the elderly, were taken hostage. For a month, their fate has remained agonizingly uncertain. Most of Israel continues to live under fire from rockets from Gaza and the threat of Hezbollah attacks on the northern border. A quarter million Israelis have been displaced from their homes.

No one in Israeli society has been left unscathed or unscarred. The people of Israel and Jews around the world are in ongoing grief and mourning.

In the wake of October 7, J Street has been clear that we stand with the Israeli people.

We support the Israeli government’s right to defend its citizens in accordance with international law, to hold Hamas accountable for their brutality and to remove Hamas from operational control of Gaza.

Most centrally, we demand the immediate release of all hostages held in Gaza and insist that Hamas immediately allow the International Red Cross to visit and assess their wellbeing.

One month into this terrible conflict, we are also horrified by the plight of Palestinian civilians in Gaza – roughly half of whom are children – as their streets and homes are turned into an inescapable war zone.

Israel’s and Egypt’s siege of the Strip has prevented adequate food, water, medicine and electricity from reaching the civilian population. An already severe humanitarian crisis is being dramatically exacerbated.

Hamas bears major responsibility for this crisis, brazenly putting its own people in harm’s way by embedding military infrastructure, weapons and fighters in the midst of and underneath crowded civilian areas. The group abominably hoards fuel and other supplies, while hospitals close for lack of power.

The health and safety of Gaza’s noncombatants is also – morally and legally – an Israeli responsibility. J Street has been calling for humanitarian pauses to facilitate the verifiable delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians, to allow families to reach safety and to give time and space for hostage negotiations. Power should be restored in a supervised manner to allow hospitals to function and desalination plants to pump clean water.

A pause would also give the Israeli government time to consider both its strategic goals and tactical choices. Importantly, Israel should be using this time to publicly and clearly state what the plans are for the “day after” if it succeeds in removing Hamas from control. All reports indicate that there is little planning and little consensus in the Israeli cabinet over what happens in Gaza when the fighting stops – while the latest comments from Prime Minister Netanyahu indicate an alarming intention for Israel to maintain “indefinite security control” over Gaza, contradicting the stated intentions of the Biden Administration.

Perhaps most importantly, a pause could allow Israel to seek to minimize the terrible toll that their military operation is taking on the civilian population of Gaza. Reports indicate that over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including nearly 4,000 children, with many thousands more wounded. While some of those killed are undoubtedly Hamas fighters and other militants, it’s clear that the majority are innocent civilians.

We recognize Israel’s right to pursue the terrorists who carried out the October 7 attack. We support a campaign targeted at removing Hamas from control of Gaza – because with these heinous terrorists in control, it is impossible to envision how Israelis could ever safely return to the Gaza envelope, or how a peaceful political end to this conflict could ever be secured.

In pursuit of these legitimate goals, Israel’s actions must comply with international law and every possible step must be taken to minimize the harm to civilians in Gaza. Israeli leaders should recognize that widespread civilian suffering could ultimately push more people to turn toward a path of hate, revenge and terror.

The level of violence and the scope of death and devastation indicate that the operation thus far has not been as narrowly targeted as deemed necessary by many experts on the laws of armed conflict. According to reports, almost as many bombs were dropped on Gaza’s 141 square miles in just the first week of the war than the US dropped on Afghanistan’s quarter million square miles in the most intense year of that war (2019).

And the violence isn’t limited to Gaza. In the West Bank, threats and violence from extremist settlers have soared from already extremely high levels prior to October 7, with more than 1,000 Palestinians forced to flee their homes and soldiers and settlers killing over 130 Palestinians in the past month.

Appalling and hateful rhetoric from some members of the Israeli government – including calls to “bomb without distinction” and “eliminate everything” – are unacceptable on their face, and further fracture support for Israel, calling into serious question the military campaign’s objectives.

That’s why – at the one-month mark – we believe it is necessary to ask tough questions and to consider whether the approach being taken will achieve the goals we all share and whether the cost in civilian lives is acceptable.

We also must ask out loud questions that many in Israel and its friends globally are pondering quietly: Can a government with far-right, anti-democratic extremists in key decision-making roles be trusted to responsibly lead such a complex, difficult and morally fraught operation?

Do they have any intention of heeding the calls and warnings of the United States to uphold international law, protect civilians and defeat Hamas via more surgical and targeted counter-terror operations? Do they have any intention of controlling or curtailing the chaos caused by rampaging settlers in the West Bank? What are their strategic objectives and their plans for “the day after,” not only in Gaza but in the West Bank?

We know the Biden Administration has worked tirelessly – in public and private – to bolster Israel’s security, to aid in defeating Hamas, to attempt to free the hostages, to surge more aid into Gaza and to urge Israel to protect Palestinian civilians.

J Street is deeply grateful for their efforts.

Now, one month into this war, we also must ask hard questions of President Biden and his team.

With their calls for caution, restraint and pragmatism unheeded, are they ready to convey and enforce clearer red lines for the Netanyahu government?

And – as they provide supplemental military aid to Israel – will they insist and ensure that this aid be used in accordance with international law? Do they have plans to ensure that the end of this war leads toward an end to occupation, a route to Palestinian independence and statehood and broader regional peace – instead of back into an endless cycle of conflict, recrimination and revenge?

Will they make clear that Netanyahu’s vision of indefinite Israeli control of Gaza and the West Bank is unacceptable and insist that the Israeli government accept that the only resolution to this conflict is the ultimate creation of a free and independent Palestinian state?

And shouldn’t such commitments be required as part of the provision of such a massive commitment of aid?

As supporters of Israel who understand the very serious threats facing the country today, we understand that it is necessary to fight and defeat those enemies who seek to do Israel harm.

We also remain unbowed in our conviction that there is no long-term military solution to the conflict that has plagued the Israeli and Palestinian peoples for a century.

Hamas needs to be removed from power, and then Israel and the Palestinian people need leadership committed to recognizing the humanity and the rights of both peoples. Leaders who realize that lasting security, safety and freedom for future generations will come only through negotiation, compromise and peace – not through war.