Ben Kepes 18 December 2023
A couple of weeks ago I attended a private media briefing at the Israeli Embassy in Wellington where select New Zealand journalists were allowed to watch footage captured from the October 7th terrorist attacks in Israel.
The footage came from the cameras of both victims and terrorists and was, for obvious reasons, strictly controlled in terms of who was allowed to watch it. Not, before the conspiracy theorists suggest it, because it is Israeli propaganda created via the use of deepfake artificial intelligence. Rather, unlike the terrorists who chose to livestream their barbarity on social media, the Israeli Government wants to limit the psychological fallout that viewing this footage causes.
Anyway, we had a US-trained but NZ-based forensic pathologist talking at the event. Said clinician had volunteered to go to Israel to perform autopsies and victim identification on some of the victims. A veteran of September 11th and the victim identification thereafter, she had decades of this sort of work to draw from. In the clinical manner that only an individual who does this work for a living can muster, she explained the process for identification of disfigured, burned and dismembered remains.
I’m sure others will detail the sights that we saw, but suffice it to say between the video of a civilian being decapitated with a garden hoe, a soldier being dismembered with a hunting knife and the remains of children who were burned alive, it was indeed a harrowing event. And gives some context about what the tiny Jewish community in New Zealand is feeling.
But this article isn’t about those videos and images. I’ll leave it to others less personally scarred by the October 7th attacks than myself to tell that story. What I would like to do instead is crystal ball gaze and try and peer through the clouds to see what a future looks like for Gaza. Now I would be the first to admit that it’s hard for everyone connected to this story to opine dispassionately. We’re all just too traumatised right now.
I’m also aware that there are significant numbers of unaffected parties who are opining with reckless abandon with their reckons – those folks will, as always happens, move on to the next issue du jour. Those of us who remain – both on the Palestinian and Jewish/Israeli sides will be left to try and navigate a path into the future.
First a bit of context for those who have gotten their information about this conflict from TikTok videos and protest banners. This is a highly complex situation and fraught from all sides. Some data points:
- For those suggesting that a two-state solution is an answer, bear in mind that this has been offered several times already but has always failed. We can argue about the reasons why, but just bear in mind that saying “two-state solution” is different from actually doing it
- For those who paint Israel as an ethnic cleanser, bear in mind that close to a million Jews were forced from Arab countries over the past 80 or so years. Also bear in mind that roughly 20% of Israel’s population is made up of Arabs who live a life with equal rights.
- For those who suggest the Israeli nation alone forsakes the Palestinian people, consider the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan who live impoverished lives with no rights of citizenship.
So, putting aside the “guilty party” in all of this (but without in any way resiling from a perspective that it was solely Hamas who broke the existing ceasefire on October 7th) what does the future look like, either realistically or aspirationally?
Putting my most optimistic hat on, I would suggest that we see a formulation of a two-state solution that both sides accept and comply with. We look at the broadly successful peace accords with both Egypt and Jordan and create something analogous more broadly with the Palestinian people. We see regime change in Gaza and an end to Hamas’ rule alongside a parallel political change in Israel (yes, believe it or not, many if not most Jews believe Benyamin Netanyahu is a barrier to peace). In my most starry-eyed of phases, I see Israelis and Palestinians both having their needs met in terms of self-determination.
In my more realistic moments, I remember that half a dozen times already the offer of a two-state solution has been made and at every turn interested Arab parties derail that offer. They do so while utterly disregarding what is in the interests of their brethren, the Palestinian people. I depressingly recall that peace with Egypt and Jordan happened with two nation-states that had so much to gain from the accords, whereas this time it means negotiating with Hamas whose very existence is only secured through continuing conflict. And, yes, I remember that Israeli is itself imperfect and an ultra-religious block has more political sway and influence than is ideal.
Overall I am, alas, slightly pessimistic. I don’t want a future where we, as Jews, need to engage in perpetual conflict just to survive. To (mis)quote former Israel PM, Golda Meir, Peace will come when both side loves their children more than they hate the other side. Let us all hope that day comes sooner rather than later.