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Israelis and Palestinians are two traumatized peoples.  Israelis were shaken to their core on October 7, 2023 by the infiltration into southern Israel by Hamas militants who brutally murdered some 1,200 people and abducted approximately 250 others, taking them to Gaza as hostages.  Meanwhile, the ensuing siege of Gaza by the IDF has killed over 30,000 Palestinians at the time of this writing, many of them children.

The Hamas attack shattered the Israeli psyche, which had grown complacent that the IDF and the country’s vaunted intelligence services could keep the country safe and secure and that no serious threat to Israel existed.  The Gazan Palestinians have endured relentless bombing that has reduced a significant portion of Gaza to rubble and inflicted horrific carnage on those living there.  (I have to believe that even many right-wing Israelis could not help but shudder at the images of the dead and injured.)  Certainly, virtually every Palestinian in Gaza has lost loved ones, whether they be children, spouses, parents, or friends.  Starvation and malnutrition resulting from the Israeli siege now stalk the residents of Gaza.  And the bloodshed and suffering are bound to continue for some time to come as Israel prosecutes the war until Netanyahu can claim “total victory.”

Imagine what it must be like for an Israeli kibbutznik whose family member was beheaded in front of them by a Hamas terrorist.  Imagine what it must be like for an Israeli to stand by helpless as their sister is raped by a terrorist.  And imagine what it must be like to be the loved one of a hostage taken to Gaza, their condition and treatment unknown, without having any notion of when, or even if, their loved one will make it out of Gaza alive.

Imagine what it must be like for a Palestinian having to bury a child killed by an Israeli bomb right before their very eyes.  Imagine what is must be like to have to gather your belongings, uproot yourself, and decamp to another part of Gaza, where you will be given a flimsy tent to live in and barely enough food to stave off starvation (if you are lucky).  Imagine what it must be like to watch as your home and the territory in which you live have been reduced to nothing more than debris.

How will these respective traumas play out?  There would seem to be two general possibilities.  One is that, sick of war, the endless cycles of violence, and the suffering they bring, the parties recognize that they are fated to live together and pursue a genuine, but challenging, path to peace.  Yet another possibility is that the suffering only embitters Israelis and Palestinians, radicalizing them and making accommodation with the other even more unthinkable.

At least in the short run, it certainly appears that the second possibility is the more likely one and that their respective suffering is driving Israelis and Palestinians even further apart.  Netanyahu and his coalition are committed to a long siege, without any talk of pursuing peace or a two-state solution and with consideration being given only to temporary halts in the fighting while hostages and prisoners are exchanged.  Netanyahu has been badly damaged, both politically and psychologically.  His interest is in keeping the war going as long as possible and certainly not to end it until he can claim that Hamas has been totally destroyed.  And while there is some support for ending the war among a minority of Israelis, most support fighting until Hamas has been eradicated.  This is where the trauma of October 7 has brought that country.

At the same time, Palestinian support for Hamas seems to have ticked up since the October 7 attacks, though there have been signs of some of anger towards Hamas by some in Gaza. The continuing trauma of the war seems to have elicited greater militancy on the part of Palestinians, many of whom wish to continue the fight, at least for now.  The current Palestinian mindset seems to have lost faith in any sort of peace process or in the Palestinian Authority, with too many judging that their lives are so painful and hopeless that they have nothing to lose by choosing violence and inflicting on Israelis some of the pain and powerlessness they feel.

But it is essential not to perceive either Israelis or Palestinians as monoliths.  There are those who prefer accommodation and peace on both sides, and perhaps their numbers will grow as October 7 and the Gaza war recede into the past.  Of course, given the extent of the trauma on both sides, such a development could take years and perhaps as long as a generation to occur, if it ever does.

While the short-run does not offer much hope for a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is it at least possible to imagine a better situation further down the line?  Perhaps both sides will get to a point of exhaustion, where they will abandon the cycles of perpetual conflict and finally sit down to negotiate an actual peace.  Israelis will need to accept that Palestinian nationalism and militancy are not going away, and Palestinians will need to accept that Israel is here to stay.  As I explained in my post titled In the Wake of Hamas’s Attack on Israel, We Must Keep Our Eyes Fixed on the Horizon (Oct. 24, 2023), I think that this will require some sort of dramatic gesture by leaders on both sides to demonstrate that they acknowledge the suffering of the other side and genuinely believe that the pursuit of peace is the only viable long-term approach.  This will take bravery, as the assassinations of both Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin showed that extremists will not sit idly by and that they are prepared to use violence if necessary to ensure that their wretched vision wins out.