War on Gaza, the view from Israel

Public support for Israel’s war aims may be faltering, but not necessarily for the reasons many might expect.

smoke rises from a building in the distance
Smoke rises over a destroyed building after Israeli attacks on the Bureij refugee camp in Deir el-Balah in central Gaza on June 3, 2024 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

As the war on Gaza closes in on eight months of violence, support in Israel for the campaign is waning.

Columns in The Jerusalem Post speak of compassion fatigue while on the fringes of Gaza, reservists tell American journalists of the toll the relentless violence has taken.

None of this concern, or compassion fatigue, extends to the more than 36,000 Palestinians killed so far.

“I believe the Israeli public’s support for the war might be flagging,” Shai Parnes said by phone from Jerusalem, “but probably not for the reasons you’re thinking.”

War fatigue for a people divided

Parnes, spokesperson for the Israeli NGO B’Tselem, which documents human rights abuses in Palestine, spoke over a shaky connection about a consistent ache in Israeli society over the absence of the captives taken to Gaza on October 7, the economic cost of the war and the toll on reservists who have interrupted their jobs or studies several times to wage war on a besieged enclave that is mostly rubble now.

The total military and civilian costs of the war to Israel is projected to be 253 billion shekels ($67bn) between the years 2023 and 2025, Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron warned at a conference at the end of May.

Among the reservists, who have been denied any end date to the conflict, support for the war remains, even if the exhaustion of lives subject to endless interruptions is beginning to show.

“I really want to know what the end will be,” Lia Golan, 24, a reserve tank instructor and student at Tel Aviv University told The Washington Post this week. “And no one has told us what that point is.”

Golan described the emotional toll of the unknown fate of the Israeli captives, soldiers being killed and Israeli citizens left homeless. At no point did she mention the Palestinians killed and displaced.

If the military doesn’t rule over Gaza, “everything will come back again and again”, 38-year-old Yechezkal Garmiza, a reserve soldier in the Givati Brigade told the Post.

“We need to finish the job,” he said – a reflection of the broad, if carefully curated, consensus that holds across Israeli media.

running soldiers
Israeli soldiers during operations in Gaza on May 31, 2024 [Handout: Israeli military via AFP]

In Tel Aviv, the urgency of the protests calling for the return of the captives is growing.

This week, tens of thousands of people pressed into Democracy Square and other locations around the country to demand the release of the captives and the dismissal of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, calls for the captives’ return and criticism of the government is not the same as a demand to halt the war. Public support for the conflict is strong, if starkly divided along political lines, polling carried out by the Pew Research Center from March to April has shown.

The roots behind much of that division was recently highlighted in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which spotlighted in two stories the strict controls imposed by the Israeli censor over what information Israeli citizens are, and are not, allowed access to.

Any information deemed “sensitive”, including everything from the reasons behind the continued detention of Palestinians caught up in Israeli police dragnets to the campaign of intimidation against a former prosecutor for the International Criminal Court (ICC), are withheld by law from the Israeli public.

wounded Palestinians
Wounded Palestinians at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir el-Balah after Israeli attacks on a Palestinian vehicle on June 4, 2024 [Ashraf Amra/Anadolu Agency]

In recent weeks, a request by the current prosecutor of the ICC for arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, have been dismissed by most Israeli politicians and media as “new anti-Semitism”, according to Parnes.

Likewise, the decisions by Ireland, Norway and Spain to recognise Palestine can be dismissed as a rejection of Israel rather than its actions.

Aside from official protestations that Israel is being singled out, it has not swayed public opinion notably in favour of the war.

“If you asked me what the mood was two weeks ago before all these things happened, my answer would be the same: Support for the war might be slacking … not on humanitarian grounds but for direct, personal reasons,” Parnes said.

More recent initiatives, such as a peace plan announced by United States President Joe Biden after Parnes was interviewed – framed as an Israeli proposal – have also served to divide and undermine public enthusiasm for a war that appears to many to have no end.

Israel launched its war on Gaza on October 7 after a Hamas-led incursion into its territory killed 1,139 people and took more than 200 captive.

Since then, Israeli attacks on the small strip of land have killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, wounded more than 81,000 and destroyed any sense of normalcy among a battered and traumatised population.

“The government of Israel is leading its country to commit crimes of magnitudes that are difficult to [comprehend] and even continues to abandon its hostages,” Parnes said.

Last week, Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told Kan public radio he was expecting seven more months of war if Israel were to destroy Hamas and the smaller Palestinian Islamic Jihad group in Gaza.

“Most Israelis want to see the hostages back and do not support endless military operations in Gaza,” Eyal Lurie-Pardes of the Middle East Institute told Al Jazeera last week.

Politicians divided

Within Israel, seemingly irreconcilable views over the fate of the captives and the future of Gaza divide politicians as much as they do the public, pushing an end to the fighting beyond reach.

The gulf between those two sides broadened further on Friday when Biden made his announcement of the peace proposal he claimed came from Israel.

Rather than unify, the proposal has divided.

Far-right cabinet members Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich have threatened to rebel over any suggestion of halting the fighting.

Netanyahu rival and supposed centrist Benny Gantz has spoken warmly of the deal and previously threatened to quit the three-man war cabinet, on which he sits with Netanyahu and Gallant, if no plan for Gaza beyond the conflict is agreed.

“In mid-May, Gantz threatened to quit the cabinet by June 8 if no plan is forthcoming,” Lurie-Pardes said. “However, that date is approaching, and we’re still waiting.”

While the current peace proposal may be grounds for postponing that threat, any plan on Gaza’s future is unlikely to satisfy either Gantz and his supporters or the Smotrich-Ben-Gvir camp, who are open in their ambitions to colonise the enclave.

In the short term, opposition leader Yair Lapid has promised to support Netanyahu in parliament on the peace plan, but it is not open-ended support for the prime minister as Lapid has also signalled an intent to form an alternative government.

Last week, Lapid met with politicians Avigdor Lieberman and Gideon Sa’ar to plan a rival government, one they urged Gantz to join.

All this manoeuvring and division will have little to no impact for those dying in Gaza, the International Crisis Group’s Mairav Zonszein said.

“There’s no political will to halt the fighting. Lieberman and Sa’ar are both extreme right-wingers. They’re unlikely to halt the war.

“Gantz is unlikely to offer a real alternative to the current approach aside from operating in a way that is more acceptable to the US,” she said.

“Public confidence in Israel’s war aims may be lessening, but people are still struggling to see an alternative to the fighting,”

War without end?

“At first sight, Israel’s war aims – to destroy Hamas both as a military and governmental force and to return the hostages – were straightforward,” Lurie-Pardes said.

However, he continued, those aims are not likely to happen without a political solution for a Gaza administration, and Netanyahu cannot offer that without risking his coalition, which relies on the far right.

Netanyahu is also suspected by many analysts of extending the war for his own personal ends, namely to stay in office as he is on trial on corruption charges.

“All Netanyahu needs to do,” Lurie-Pardes said, “is to maintain his coalition for the next two months of the Knesset summer session. If he manages to do so, we’re not really looking at elections before March 2025 because of the different requirements of election laws in Israel.”

For those trapped in Gaza, March is a long way away, if they survive.

Source: Al Jazeera