The Israel-Hamas War Is at a Four-Day Ceasefire as a Result of the Successful Transfer of Hostages
After painstaking, tentative steps, Israel and Hamas reached agreement on a four-day pause in fighting based on a successful transfer of kidnapped hostages — women and children held in Gaza for jailed Palestinians in Israel.
Difficulties in execution aside, it is a huge development in the month-old war, though all sides are avoiding the word “ceasefire,” since the battle is expected to begin again.
We know the partial release and the exchange is the best outcome right now, and that it should light a path towards more cooperation even in the absence of trust. Other than the release of those held for six weeks alone, the next best sign was the dare to release more hostages to extend the pause.
The insistence on six pages of caveats about what can still go wrong with this deal illustrates just how hard it is to wring a moment of rationality and peaceful cooperation in this collision of collective anger and decades of hostility. It may look easy to the rest of the world that is sitting in judgment, but clearly not so to the participants.
The wariness means close military surveillance that this break is not used just as a time to rearm and reposition forces, to restock weapons and to raise anew the level of warfare in Gaza — without seeming to impose any such restrictions against militia groups in southern Lebanon, Syria or the West Bank.
For those of us on the interested sidelines, a successful insistence campaign toward hostage transfer should raise a ton of questions to the combatants about why to stop here. There are more Israeli — and other nationality — hostages whose lives are at stake, just as there is lots more destruction possible in Gaza.
Why Some Hostages?
In short form, why can’t brief ceasefire be turned into something longer, some process toward seeking solution rather than fighting the same hatreds? Doesn’t achievement of a small break and the rational, moral, even internationally legal arguments about opening humanitarian corridors make the question more obvious?
Where are we going with this combat and how can it end? Setting aside the now too-often repeated grievances, what will provide Israelis their security and return to their homes and some measure of dignity to Palestinians? How can civilians and children renew hope?
From the river of violence and propaganda spilled, it had been a Hamas goal to disrupt the ordinary in Israel-Gaza relations. From their own pronouncements, Hamas leaders at least wanted to start a war with a widespread, brutal assault in such a way as to provoke an Israeli military response so crushing as to raise the Palestinian statehood issues to the forefront.
What is stopping the release of more hostages is whatever strategy Hamas is pursuing, but getting Israel to agree calls on serious pressures on the coalition Israeli government with its most right-wing parties.
At this moment of temporary pause, can’t we all agree that goal has been met at an extraordinary human cost for both Israelis and Gazan civilians. Can’t we agree that the resulting antisemitic and islamophobic response worldwide is having terrible and uncontrollable effects on individual Jews and Muslims who find themselves victims far from the battlefield?
From the Israeli viewpoint, the Oct. 7 attacks disrupted what was a ceasefire period that had preceded it. Attacks from terrorist paragliders, missiles, kidnappers with a mind for indiscriminate brutality shattered that moment, and the wariness on display is that there is no guarantee this one will be different.
From the Gaza side, combat thrusts for underground headquarters run through hospitals, schools and homes no longer inhabitable — and thousands of dead. Hamas leaders insist they still want to drive Israel out of existence and kill as many Jews as they can along the way, hardly a statement toward future cooperation.
By now, Hamas itself must be wounded, but is still launching missiles and fighting guerilla-style in the urban mess of Gaza City.
Why Not More?
The logic of the release of some hostages — in small batches over several days — rather than all the hostages makes little sense for Hamas unless there is a bigger plan here beyond destruction and death. A separate Palestinian state makes sense — unless that state is intent on obliterating its neighbor.
We all can understand the desire to release the hostages, to stop the bombing on all sides and the initiation of some diplomatic way to point to a future that significantly ratchets down repeat attacks. Doing so will require rejection of Hamas even by Palestinians, serious rethinking of Israeli goals and internal politics, a halt to settlement expansion and violence in the West Bank and commitment by Arab states and neighbors toward enforcing peace rather than funneling weapons to militant groups.
Holding onto Israeli hostages will not achieve those goals, it only will guarantee more retribution. Insisting that Palestinians deserve a separate state without guaranteeing governing authorities that recognize Israel as a continuing nation state simply will never fly.
Replacing talk with guns has brought us only to this point where people on all sides mourn loss of babies and exchange threats of war crimes.
And none of this will make attacks on Jewish or Muslim students on a U.S. college campus, or at a house of worship or just walking down the street disappear. We have our own ceasefire to create in this country, one that acknowledges a culture of violence made worse by our politics and our ever-present semi-automatic weapons.
The sudden emergence of white supremacists essentially aligning with pro-Palestinian protests to yell death to Jews over the policies of a right-wing Israeli coalition government remains as mind-blowing as the insistence by the Anti-Defamation League president that all American Jews need to support an Israeli government that half of Israeli voters do not.
Let’s celebrate the release of 50 hostages, and demand that the rest come home — along with the start toward a future.