My Israel now has clarity. Will it seek peace?

Facing a barrage of missiles from Iran, my country found it still had friends. If it continues to wage war it will have betrayed them

April 16, 2024
Image: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Live News
An Iranian military exercise in October 2023. Image: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Live News

The rollercoaster of the Middle East continues its deranged journey. Until 7th October, the train traveled on a winding track. The rails were snaking between tyrannical regimes, civil wars, oppressive occupations and age-old religious conflicts. Last autumn, the car lost its brakes, left the familiar terrain and began a frenzied plunge into the abyss. After years of Israeli repression and occupation, after generations of evading resolution and humiliating the Palestinian people, the volcano of Gaza erupted, burying thousands from both the Israeli and Palestinian national communities beneath it.

It must be emphasised: nothing Israel has perpetrated against the Palestinian people since its establishment can justify the crimes against humanity committed by Hamas criminals in October last year. And absolutely nothing about Hamas’s atrocities justifies the mass killings, destruction and starvation Israel has been inflicting on Gaza ever since.

For years, Israel has been ostracising itself from the liberal international community that cherishes freedom and equality. In October, the situation was transformed, and Israel once again enjoyed a warmth and sympathy not expressed towards it for decades. It didn’t last long. With Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition enacting its racist doctrines and policies of vengeance, Israel lost all international credibility and moved closer to the camp of the pariahs. 

Iran’s drone and missile attack this past weekend has once again brought Israel a large measure of solidarity and support. But what’s next? Netanyahu’s current political position is extremely difficult. His political and legal neck is in the grip of extremist ministers, religious fundamentalists, apocalyptic zealots and representatives of the most violent fringes of Israeli politics. As such, he prefers to pick fights with the entire world rather than lose political support.

In many ways, the future of the entire region rests in the hands of two extremist ministers—Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir—to whom liberal ideas are utterly alien and who betray a total misunderstanding of the region they hope to purify. They are simplistic arsonists, who believe a great catastrophe—Armageddon—is a necessary step towards the advent of Jewish redemption.

On the other hand, in the face of extremism and warmongering we have been given nothing less than a historic invitation. The repelling of the Iranian attack was not achieved solely by “our heroic pilots” and “our brilliant engineers”, but by an international coalition led by President Joe Biden—the tribal elder who, if he didn’t exist, would have had to be invented. He is leading a coalition of moderation against an opposition of zealotry. And this is the result: without Jordan’s airspace, without the daring of British and American pilots, without reported Saudi and Emirati intelligence, far more Iranian munitions would have exploded over Israeli heads. Yes, the very international community Netanyahu so loves to quarrel with and have his ministers vilify is the one that saved Israel from Iranian vengeance, and us Israelis from our own government.

This is a rare moment when Israel is once again being given an opportunity to shape its future. It is a clear occasion of national reckoning: will we continue the tantrum policy of rage and vengeance; preferring the interests of violent settlers over peace; bathing in boundless arrogance while ignoring our international partners; and nurturing the narcissism of the prime minister and the strain of national opinion that elevated him? Or will we respond affirmatively to this historic invitation? Will we choose the path of restraint and understand the humility that is the corollary of power? Will we choose cooperation with the Palestinians across the road, with regional states seeking progress beyond archaic conflicts, and forge an alliance with the nations of the world that still sanctify liberal democracy?

It is not easy for nations to shift paradigms. A great trauma is required to effect a dramatic change of course—as with the American Civil War, the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan, Britain’s loss of empire and countless other examples. Israel and Palestine now find themselves in the depths of this dreadful trauma. Yet, there is remedy, there is healing. There is hope. And there is a question: do we have that power of renewal which the Jewish people possessed through all our past calamities, and which is now required in order to save the two nations between the Jordan and the sea? Or will Netanyahu, the worst leader in Jewish history, set yet another precedent and render the devastation final? That is impossible—we are too wise. We will eventually awaken. So help us, God.