Australia/Israel Review

Ceasefire calls are both naïve and dangerous

Nov 1, 2023 | Cary Nelson

IDF preparations near the Gaza border (File image: Isranet)
IDF preparations near the Gaza border (File image: Isranet)

Two to three thousand members of highly organised murder squads cross an international border and set about murdering civilians in as gruesome and indiscriminate a manner imaginable. In fact, the wanton indulgence in blood lust exceeds anything that had been foreseen or imagined. With that barbaric mission completed in a day, some in the international community immediately begin calling for a ceasefire. The critical point to make is that a ceasefire keeps Hamas in power. The consequences of that must be faced.

Those urging a ceasefire stand behind what appears to be the most basic humanitarian motive: prevent further loss of life; end the massacre of innocent civilians. And then the coup de grace is delivered in hypocritical feel-good rhetoric: everyone should respect international humanitarian law. Except that Hamas never has and never will honour international humanitarian law.

Meanwhile, no reprisals for murdering men, women, and children are to follow. No sanctions. No punishments. No accountability. The barbaric intimacy of so many of the killings is to be met with stability, frozen in time. We are all to accept what happened and move on.

Fools, hypocrites, dreamers, and antisemites alike stand in solidarity. Except that if the crimes are allowed to stand unanswered they will be repeated or more likely horrifically reinvented within a few years at most. A new standard for monstrous assault on Israelis will be in place.

Keep in mind that many in the international community have advocated the normalising of repeated rocket barrages from Gaza into Israel. Since Iron Dome protects most Israelis, destroying the rockets in midair, that should suffice. Intercepting Hamas rockets constitutes the moral limit of Israel’s right to defend itself.

Israel has but this one chance to demonstrate that organised, wanton, antisemitic murder sprees will not be tolerated. If it fails to do so, these new forms of Hamas butchery will become Israel’s new normal. 

Eliminating the invading killers will be the limit of Israel’s internationally acceptable response. If Israel wants to draw a line and establish that what Hamas did is absolutely unacceptable, it must respond in a way that is different in kind, not just degree. Simply increasing the number of air strikes will not suffice. The Hamas pogrom presents Israel with what really is this time an existential threat. It has to be treated that way.

The literal and psychological safety of Israel’s border communities requires nothing less. While some would return to a demolished kibbutz out of bravery and bravado, most families would not subject their children to the resulting risk. Moreover, the credibility of previous IDF and government assurances that the danger has passed, that Israelis are now safe, is now null and void. Israelis were obviously not safe, despite being told otherwise. There will need to be a definitive material difference in the status of Hamas if Israelis are to feel safe again. Deterrence regarding Hamas has lost its credibility both within Israel and to Israel’s supporters internationally.

As others have noted, decades of wishful thinking about the meaning of the Hamas Charter must come to an end. Hamas is not and never will be a partner for peace. The Charter’s call to kill Jews by any means possible has only one meaning: the literal one.

All this suggests that the IDF had and has no choice but to invade Gaza, despite the certainty of planned Hamas ambushes and a substantial number of Israeli deaths. Will an invasion have unforeseen and dreadful consequences? Certainly. Unplanned and disastrous events will happen. Social media will be awash with lies and conspiracy theories. Hamas will continue to lie, and many in the international media will embrace those lies.

The strategy of urging Gazan civilians to move south may somewhat limit noncombatant casualties. Establishing a safe zone for noncombatants near Rafah will certainly help, but several thousand more civilians are sure to die in Gaza. Israel will need to invent new ways to protect civilians. It owes that both to noncombatants themselves and to a principled effort to sustain its moral integrity and the public perception that a just war is under way. Civilian deaths will nonetheless complete the predictable shift in international opinion from sympathetic horror to outrage at Israel that was already underway within a week of October 7. But both Israel itself and its allies must have a sound factual basis for understanding that Israel has done its best to limit casualties. That conviction must be sustainable now and in the future.

It is impossible for now to estimate what success the IDF will have on the ground. And, while speculation about post-Hamas political arrangements is important, there can be no guaranteed plans and no secure predictions. Until and unless Hamas is eliminated, we cannot estimate what the people of Gaza can contribute toward a new political option for themselves. Hamas, however, has been delegitimated for a future leadership role anywhere. It cannot run in either West Bank or Gaza elections. The international community needs to be pressed to accept that new reality.

At the same time, the less time the IDF remains in Gaza the better. One month’s occupation feels like a long one. The IDF will have to reserve the option of declaring victory and withdrawing, especially if a substantial portion of Hamas leadership has been eliminated and massive military infrastructure destroyed. It may well not be possible to know in advance exactly what level of success will be required to restore Israel’s sense of security.

That problem extends beyond the failure of intelligence and the bankrupt character of past reassurances to extend to the absence of adequate rapid military responses and the absence of adequate social services since the assault. It is impossible to estimate how long the present Israeli Government can survive. 

At the same time, the kind of continuing work done after the massacre at the Munich Olympics will likely be required. A ground invasion will not be the end of the campaign. Israel will also need to provide a different level of border security, including less exclusive reliance on technology. And interdiction of weapons smuggling will have to be enhanced.

In the meantime, every effort must be made to counter the inevitable inclination to suppress or avoid detailed knowledge of what Hamas did. Conventional standards for what photographic evidence is acceptable for mass audiences will have to be partly, though not entirely, set aside. Visual documentation must be accompanied by clear moral and political analysis of the ways this assault was unlike anything we have seen in Israel before. There are risks of normalisation here as well, along with the risk of fueling a pornographic lust for antisemitic gratification. And I believe there are videos too graphic to share. 

In a documentary about the Supernova concert assault, CNN appropriately withheld Jewish cell phone footage of Hamas grenades going off inside a small roadside shelter crammed with fleeing concertgoers. The Israeli who turned on his cell phone camera did not survive but the cellphone did. At the same time, the Hamas’s own joyous documentation of murder needs to be shared. There is both a short-term and a long-term need for documentation. The lessons of Holocaust education are applicable once again.

Dr. Cary Nelson is Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts & Sciences emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His most recent book is Israel Denial: Anti-Zionism, Anti-Semitism, & The Faculty Campaign Against the Jewish State. © Fathom Magazine (, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved. 

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