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Three months later: Still no lessons learned

Jan 09,2024 - Last updated at Jan 09,2024

Two New York Times articles printed one day last week describe Israeli and Palestinian reactions to the ongoing war and, together, paint a disturbing portrait of where we are three months after October 7.

The first, “October. 7 Is Forcing Israelis to Rethink Their Identity”, has the subhead “Attack has Shaken Belief in a Sanctuary, but Also Unified a Divided People”. The other, datelined “Jenin Camp”, “Facing Israeli Troops and Destruction, Yet Vowing to Survive” features a pullout quote: “‘The killing, the invasion, the raids—it will all fuel even more resistance.’”

The first focuses on Ultra-Orthodox Jews now expressing interest in serving in the military and Palestinian citizens of Israel saying they’d prefer to live under Israeli rule than be governed by Hamas. But such emotional responses only temporarily bridge fault lines that remain and will reemerge.

While “Israel as a sanctuary” has been shaken, the sense of unity and identity now shared by most Israeli Jews is in their Jewishness and distrust for Palestinians and any peaceful solution to the conflict. They dislike their prime minister, but remain supportive of the slaughter in Gaza and silent about the ongoing violence in the West Bank.

If Israelis thought that their massive assault on Gaza and intensified repression in the West Bank would subdue Palestinians, the second article and a recent poll of Palestinian attitudes establish the opposite. Seventy per cent of Palestinians support the attack launched by Hamas on October 7. And opinion in the West Bank and Gaza now favours Hamas’ leadership over the Palestinian Authority.

While the numbers of dead (21,000) and wounded (55,000+) in Gaza have been publicised, the impact of Israeli raids across the West Bank are less well known. The Times describes the Gaza-like assault on the Jenin camp by Israelis:

“Electricity lines have been damaged, water tanks punctured and paved roads turned into little more than pebbles and dirt. The stench of sewage hangs thick in the air. Over the past two months around 80 per cent of the roughly 17,000 have temporarily moved…” And 330 Jenin residents have been arrested and 67 killed.

One resident said, “What the Israelis are trying to do with all this destruction is create a state of despair and drive a wedge between the people in the camp and the resistance, so people blame the resistance. What they don’t realise is that our biggest strength is our unity.”

Three months ago, I lamented that neither Israelis nor Palestinians had learned the lessons of the past, violence will not end the occupation nor resistance to the occupation. When this conflict is over, we’ll find ourselves right back where we started, except with more death, anger and extremism on both sides. 

Nor has the US learned any lessons.

We’ve stood by silently after warning Israel about our mistakes in Afghanistan. We cautioned them not to target civilians and then shipped the bombs taking a massive toll in civilian life, passively accept their genocidal intent. We’ve blocked all international calls for a ceasefire.

Israel has not hidden its intentions, repeatedly declaring it would flatten Gaza, reoccupy it, and drive its residents to Egypt. The feeble US response: mere statements against re-occupation and forced relocation.

The US “plan” for moving forward can only politely be described as adding insult to injury. It’s delusional to think that the Palestinian Authority could govern Gaza in the wake of the Israeli genocide or that this or any future Israeli coalition will move toward a negotiated two-state solution. With Gaza devastated, Israeli settlements making a contiguous Palestinian state impossible, settlers and the Israeli military “cleansing” Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem, no possible Israeli coalition government ready to accept an independent Palestinian state, the PA weakened and Hamas crippled, and the US refusing to rein Israel in—what would be negotiated and with whom?

Bad behaviour left unchecked grows and festers. The US enabled this situation. Until we recognize that we have fostered an Apartheid state that is committing genocide, and find the political courage to demand a ceasefire and end future political and military assistance, the cycle of violence and repression will continue. We must learn lessons from our past and present failures and change course.

This would force Israelis to confront the costs involved in their leaders’ chosen path and allow Palestinians to feel hope that their plight is understood. This could mark the beginning of a long process of transformation leading the way to peace.


The writer is president of the Washington-based Arab American Institute

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