Gaza war: Israelis feel angry at their government and abandoned by the international community
“The attacks of October 7 continue until all the hostages return home.” So said an Israeli citizen called Guy Lenman speaking to me in Tel Aviv last week. His father-in-law Dror Kaplan is held hostage in Gaza.
Lenman summed up the Israeli mood. While the rest of the world seems to have moved on and is focusing on the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, the date in Israel is still October 7.
Many outside Israel do not seem to grasp that Israeli society is living not only with the brutalities that occurred on October 7, but with the continuing pain of the hostage situation.
There is near unanimity in Israel with the joint goals of the current Netanyahu government – bringing the hostages home and defeating Hamas. But beyond that, few Israelis trust the government. Not only is it seen as bearing responsibility for the intelligence failures on October 7, but there are also major questions being asked about its ability to function.
People point to the slow military response on October 7 and the failures to provide adequate support for the survivors of the Hamas attack as well as the hostages’ families and the now 200,000 displaced Israelis as examples of the Netanyahu government’s mismanagement of the situation.
But Israelis have not been satisfied with sniping at the government. They have set up their own significant voluntary organisations to deal with needs of a traumatised society.
Brothers in Arms, a group that was set up to organise army reservist protests against Netanyahu’s highly unpopular judicial reforms is a good example. Until October 6 it was coordinating reservists who were protesting by refusing to report for duty.
On October 7, it organised transport to drive 8,000 reservists to their posts in response to the attacks. It has since transformed itself into Brothers and Sister for Israel and has launched a massive operation to provide the displaced Israelis with clothes, toiletries, household goods, toys and other comforts.
Many people fled their homes with little – sometimes even in just their pyjamas. Tens of thousands of people are living in hotels provided at government expense, but I was told that about 75,000 people have been left to fend for themselves.
Brothers and Sisters for Israel has mobilised thousands of volunteers who sort donations, check quality and distribute aid. People come from all walks of life and the age span is five to 92.
The hostage families finally got their wish to meet the war cabinet on December 5. The meeting reportedly didn’t go well.
The families were kept waiting for more than two hours and the atmosphere was described as “turbulent and highly tense”. As one of the family members is reported to have said: “If that’s how you run such a meeting, I don’t know how you can run the country.”
The Families of Hostages and Missing Persons Forum is another of the key voluntary organisations providing support for families who feel they have been let down by the government. Based in Tel Aviv and staffed entirely by volunteers it provides medical and therapeutic help but also campaigns to keep the hostages on the front page.
There are currently at least 138 people still in captivity in Gaza. The forum is organised into specialist areas staffed by medical professionals, academics, students, IT experts, lawyers and journalists.
One its project is preparing evidence for the prosecution of members of Hamas for hostage taking at the International Criminal Court.
There is a widespread feeling that the international community has abandoned Israel since October 7. Many people in Israel are upset by what appears to be the response of the global left to October 7, painting Hamas as a resistance group.
This sense that Israel is alone has been underlined by the muted way in which the United Nations and the international feminist movement have reacted to the rape and sexual abuse of women during the massacre. In many conversations I had with people across the political spectrum, I was asked if I could explain why this was the case.
In my view, this international reaction – largely motivated by the graphic images of the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza – has played into to the hands of the Netanyahu government. In the absence of an international effort to give Israelis the feeling that their security matters, the Israeli government has effectively been given a pass to take matters into its own hands.
The failures of the international community – by which I mean primarily the UN, the US and the Arab League – to show the political will needed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict bears much responsibility for the humanitarian crises currently experienced by both Israelis and Palestinians. The conflict has not been seen as a priority and its has been allowed to fester.
In decades visiting Israel and Palestine I have never seen such polarisation in each society. Wars do not end unless there is a peace plan. While the US president, Joe Biden, does his best to advance a two-state solution, the mood in the streets of Jerusalem and Ramallah is for confrontation – not reconciliation.
Both Israel and Palestine have weak and divided governments, and this does not bode well for the courageous leadership needed to provide a sustainable political horizon for both peoples.
But it is the responsibility of the main players in the international community to have greater resolve to solve the conflict. In 1947 the UN adopted a well thought-out partition plan.): two states, an economic union between then and an international regime under the UN for Jerusalem. But it did nothing to enforce it and, as a result, it was left to the Jews and Arabs of Palestine and the region to fight it out.
Now, 75 years later, a peaceful resolution appears further away than ever.