By Gregory Khalil, Graduate of Yale Law School, Khalil served as a legal and communications advisor to Palestinian negotiations on peace talks with Israel. He is currently Adjunct Professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and Co-Founder and President of the Telos Group which equips and connects peacemakers.
26 November 2023
Whether you’ve spoken up or not. Whichever side you sympathize with most—or don’t. However ill-equipped and uncertain your feel about the “complexity” of the Middle East. We have an urgent and significant opportunity NOW.
We have an opportunity to change course.
To prevent an absolute catastrophe from becoming a cataclysm. A cataclysm, which if not averted, will affect us all.
Your voice is needed FIRST THING tomorrow morning (Monday, November 27). Call your reps and demand the #ceasefire be extended indefinitely (there are lots of scripts out there to make it easy for you, along with easy ways to reach your reps offices—just Google or go to Telos IG for one).
If you doubt your voice has impact, it’s people like us making these calls, day in and day out, who’ve unquestionably helped open this glimmer of hope.
First, to acknowledging the moment we’re in:
Almost all of us are drowning in a whirlwind of complicated emotions. Immense and irredeemable grief at the tremendous losses. Joy and relief for the Israeli hostages finally released—may they all be freed immediately. Elation and hope for the released Palestinian detainees—most of whom are children/minors who had been held without even being charged of a crime. Gratitude for a small break in the orgy of atrocities. But terror for what lies ahead. For our friends and loved ones. And for the world.
And so many people I know are navigating these days of horror as they actively mourn. And actively try to prevent the imminent deaths of even more of their beloveds. It’s simply an unimaginable reality. After their entire worlds were turned upside down. Knowing that we may still be at the very beginning.
But, tomorrow, WE HAVE AN OPPORTUNITY: Turn the pause into a permanent ceasefire.
That will allow us to pivot away from an approach which will bring untold death and destruction—and will likely escalate to regional and possibly even some form of global conflict.
It will allow us to pivot towards an approach which can contain these horrors while ultimately working towards a reality in which all Palestinians and Israelis can claim the security, freedom, dignity, equality, and justice they all deserve. Yes, that is possible—and in fact the only sustainable path forward.
To be clear: A REAL CEASEFIRE IS NOT THE END, IT IS JUST THE BEGINNING.
A ceasefire will NOT:
- Eradicate Hamas
- Bring about a just peace for Palestinians and Israelis
- Completely isolate extremist Israelis seeking to take advantage of the current “opportunity” to get rid of more Palestinians and grab more Palestinian land
- Repatriate all hostages/detainees (And no, it’s highly unlikely that the atrocities we’re witnessing against the people of Gaza did anything to incentivize the release of hostages we’ve seen, as some are now trying to claim. Part of Hamas strategy from day one was to draw Israel into this precise scenario. Even if there were a world in which what we are witnessing is somehow moral or legal, which it is not, arguments that it is effective are specious at best.)
- Hold anyone accountable for the vile war crimes we have witnessed on 10/7—or before, or after.
- Put the lid on out-of-control antisemitism, Islamophobia and rampant anti-Palestinianism (which is a rarely named driver of horrific violence against Palestinians everywhere—after all, if we’re not seen as humans, why should we have human rights? The horrific shooting of 3 Palestinian students in Vermont today is an example of this terror here at home, in of course to decades of rampant, unchecked violence against millions of civilians there.)
- Chart a clear and dignified path forward for millions of suffering Gazans, who have been brutalized non-stop for 7 weeks (many if not most of whom have now have no home to return to.)
- Ensure Palestinian or Israeli security for the long term. A credible political process—which today is admittedly beyond difficult to imagine—would be needed for that.
But, more importantly, a ceasefire WILL:
- CONTAIN HISTORIC ATROCITIES. The last weeks in Gaza have seen more than 130 children killed per day. This is a daily death rate 10s-100s of times greater than for conflicts like Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq! More ordinance has been dropped many WEEKS since 10/7 in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas on earth, than in Afghanistan in our heaviest YEAR of bombardment. A true ceasefire allows opportunity to prevent a historic horror from becoming even exponentially more horrific.
- ALLOW A GREATER CHANCE FOR A RETURN OF ALL HOSTAGES, AND MORE PALESTINIAN DETAINEES: These negotiated exchanges are reuniting families. Despite the massive military assault on Gaza, only one Israeli hostage has been freed as a result of a military operation. No Palestinian detainees have been released this way (and, yes, hundreds of Palestinians, including hundreds of children, are often arrested and held indefinitely, without charge, or for minor charges like participating in a “political” gathering of more than 10 people, or posting messages on social media sympathetic to Palestinian suffering in Gaza.) Bringing people home safely, where they should be, will be best accomplished by a prolonged #ceasefirenow. (Remember, a ceasefire is an agreement by two parties to stop firing—and there are terms to that agreement, just like the current truce, which of course would include a return of hostages.)
- PROVIDE A POSSIBILITY TO AVERT INTENSIFIED REGIONAL AND GLOBAL CRISES: The danger of this moment is that the pyromaniacs are in power. Netanyahu and those to the right of them saw Hamas rule in Gaza as a strategic ASSET. They supported Hamas—so they could divide and conquer Palestinians for Israeli extremists who want to take as much Palestinian land as possible with as few Palestinians as possible. They see this as opportunity—especially in and around Jerusalem. If this gets to Jerusalem in a big way, religion will be drawn in as an explicit driver and this will be nearly impossible to contain. This was obviously part of Hamas’ intent. Today, there is an unholy intersection of interests that want expanded conflict, including some in the Israeli cabinet who (a) want to deflect attention from their massive failure on 10/7 and (b) have ulterior motives which have for decades included getting more Palestinian land in the West Bank and Jerusalem. #Ceasefirenow allows the opportunity to put the brakes on their apocalyptic visions. This could not be more urgent.
- MAKE SPACE TO CREATE AN INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE THAT WILL ACTUALLY MAKE EVERYONE SAFER: After 9/11, it took weeks before the first attack took place on Afghanistan. The U.S. didn’t invade Iraq until 2003. We made disastrous decisions. But even those were done with deliberation. Israel didn’t just respond to the ongoing threat from Hamas. But immediately undertook a scorched earth policy, within just hours of the initial attack. It fails the straight face test to imagine that immediately after a surprise attack, for which Israel had almost no intelligence, Israel was able to develop a plan to target Hamas infrastructure and leaders within HOURS. If the #ceasefire is extended, an approach that will actually protect Israeli and Palestinian security, hold all perpetrators accountable for war crimes, and finally point us to a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict can be developed. That includes actually confronting Hamas—and other extremists. There may not yet exist a clear strategy on how to do that, but the current approach is a textbook case on how NOT to do that. In fact, it’s a text book example of how to strengthen Hamas and similar ideologies. The current approach isn’t just producing unimaginable horrors; it is undermining global security for years to come. A true #ceasefire will take the matches out of the hands of pyromaniacs and allow for the development of policy that can actually rise to this moment.
Failing to extend the ceasefire WILL:
- Result in even more massive human suffering, the level of which the world has rarely witnessed. (You will see these events commemorated for GENERATIONS to come.)
- Endanger captive hostages.
- Risk even more significant escalation in Jerusalem, the West Bank and thus regionally and perhaps even globally.
- Play into the hands of regional powers and indeed China and Russia, who have not hid their glee at the U.S.’ ownership over Israel’s extreme response. (This means we’re now already in a multi-polar world, which marks a much less stable world generally and a much more dangerous world for Americans. A #ceasefirenow might allow for some corrective work.)
- Fan the flames of extremism regionally and globally. Hamas’ leadership might be defeated. But its ideology will grow. Israeli extremists will gain more power and may in fact succeed with some of their stated goals of getting rid of Palestinians from Gaza and parts of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Meanwhile, anti-Palestinianism, antisemitism and Islamophobia will only escalate in ways that will be ever harder to meaningfully combat.
- Make it more difficult to attend to the needs of millions of civilians in Gaza, who already have nowhere to go.
- Further divide our communities here at home, making an already polarized nation a much more unstable—and dangerous—place.
Wherever your sympathies lie or don’t, a true #ceasefirenow ultimately benefits all of us. No, it’s not the end and won’t solve any of the major issues, as I outline above. But it will give us an opportunity. There will be so much work for all of us together in the coming months and years.
Finally, if you’ve doubted: Your voice DOES have power.
We’ve likely seen this turn of events PARTLY because people have been FLOODING their reps with calls. Do it again every day this week. Tell them to do everything in their power to keep extending the truce.
And, also, please be kind to each other. For many of us, this is tough, as we’re seeing so many horrors AND we’re witnessing often bizarre reactions (or lack of reactions) from friends and colleagues.
Your presence—showing up for the people you know in your life who might be personally affected—is so appreciated. Most of your Palestinian, Muslim, Jewish, Israeli, and Arab friends are living through some of the most difficult days of their life.
You don’t have to agree—or even talk politics. Or even know anything. Show up and be present. As a friend. As Paul Tillich said: Love’s FIRST act is to listen. So listen to those in your life—if they want an ear.
But, for all of us, please, don’t forget to keep calling for #ceasefire. We finally have a real opportunity to transform this moment. At a critical moment for the world. Let’s take advantage to finally inject some wisdom and humanity into this otherwise horrific moment.