We in Israel have been waiting with baited breath for a ceasefire, so that our children can come home from the front, so that the ongoing attempts at mutual destruction and demonization between Israelis and Hamas militants will cease, and so that innocent civilians on both sides can breathe easily once again and stop living in fear. Finally, as of yesterday, August 5, the immediate round of mutual violence has come to an end and this cease-fire is actually holding.
The Hamas military wing -- and their Islamic allies -- have shot thousands of missiles all over southern and central Israel, causing almost no personal harm but instilling fear in the hearts and minds of millions of Israeli parents and children. They have succeeded in their psychological terror campaign. Moreover, since the beginning of the ground invasion, they have killed 65 Israeli soldiers and injured more than 100.
In reaction to the massive number of missiles that were shot at Israel and with the stated goal of destroying the tunnels built by Hamas that reach underneath Israeli communities near the border with Gaza, Israel's army, navy, and air force launched an invasion into Gaza during the last two weeks, bombing suspected Hamas military sites all over Gaza, and destroying (justifiably in the minds of 87 percent of Israeli citizens!) the terrible tunnels.
This has led to as many as 1,000 Hamas militants killed and and perhaps over 1,000 innocent civilians killed and over 9,000 injured, many of them women and children; moreover much property has been destroyed and 300,000-400,000 people in Gaza have been forced to flee their homes. Yet the Hamas and other Islamic militants in Gaza crazily kept firing more and more missiles, until the last minute before the cease-fire went into effect, with seemingly no or little concern for the losses on their side.
Did the military pressure bring Hamas to the negotiating table? It seems that the answer is finally yes. They now have come to their senses and are agreeing to negotiate via Egypt. They could have done this a few weeks ago, but instead their irrational leaders pressed on with their irrational missile attacks on Israeli villages, cities and towns.
In the meantime, there have been some outrageous "leaders" in Israel who called for the Israel Defense Forces to go on the offensive and reconquer Gaza! How outlandish! They apparently forget about our 18 years in Southern Lebanon! They live in the past, still thinking that military force is the best mode of conflict resolution. Fortunately, our current political and military leadership ignored their irrelevant and irreverent bluster, and limited the military operation to specific objectives.
Many Questions are being asked
Now the war is over, many questions are being asked: Were the goals of the operation limited and realistic? Have all the tunnels leading to Israeli communities near the border been destroyed? And, what does it mean "to restore quiet"? Was so much brutality and disproportional use of force really necessary? Could this war have been avoided?
These questions are on the minds of everyone in Israel.
Now that the warplanes and guns and the missile launchers have fallen silent, the key question will quickly become: can we move from destruction to dialogue, from negating the other to entering into serious negotiations? When will we come to the realization that military power is limited and that it cannot achieve lasting peaceful coexistence? Will the 72-hour ceasefire last? Can "quiet" now best be achieved through dialogue and negotiations?
Israel doesn't talk to Hamas, but it talks to the leaders of Egypt, who talk to the leaders of Qatar who talk to the leaders of Hamas for us! For many years, we didn't talk to the PLO either, until we realized that talking is the only effective way to make progress, and eventually also peace.
Some of Hamas leaders even floated some ideas for a 10 year "hudna," Arabic for "truce." This is amazing and should not be totally ignored. Could it be that some of the ideas are even mutually beneficial to both sides?
We talk only indirectly to the Hamas as we have been doing for years. This is, of course, what led to the release of Gilad Shalit! Eventually, we must learn that talking is better than shooting -it is less harmful to human beings on all sides.
But some will argue that negotiating is very complicated, and often very confusing. And, anyway, it only works at the end of a military campaign, they say. And, the other side makes too many unrealistic demands, they will add.
Maybe so. But at the end of the day, there is no real alternative to dialogue and negotiations, if we really want to live in peace with our neighbors in this region. The military path -- even when it is justified to blow up dangerous tunnels that come underneath our communities -- is too full of damage and destruction, of life and property, and, it just generates more animosity and hatred.
Now is the time, therefore, to move from damage and destruction, to dialogue and deliberations.