Israel has agreed to a further pause in the bombardment of Gaza for 48 hours.

At the same time, the Red Cross successfully facilitated the release and transfer of an additional 11 Israeli captives whilst the Qatar mediators negotiated the freedom of three Palestinian women and 30 children from Israeli prisons.

During what has been the darkest of times both for those held captive in Gaza and the ongoing terror inflicted on the Palestinian people, this pause provides a tiny ray of hope for all those caught up in this nightmare.

So many column inches have been written, so many interviews have been given that are just full of anger and despair that it is perhaps a relief to be able to feel even a tiny shred of optimism.

Instead of howling with rage at our impotence in the face of such savagery, we are not only relieved but also pathetically grateful that the balance of what has become the new normal has slightly shifted.

For a few nights we have been able to watch the news without seeing and sharing in other people’s grief. More importantly parents have been able to put their children to bed In Gaza and be reasonably confident that they won’t be bombed while they sleep. Rather than seeing scenes of death we see families taking advantage of the pause in the bombardment to return to their neighbourhoods. One of the saddest images shown on Channel 4 News two nights ago was of a family sitting on their red settee on top of a pile of rubble that was once their home.

But we all know that a temporary ceasefire is not a solution. It is certainly not a reason for hope if it remains temporary, and it is no answer to the long-term problem of 5.4 million people being oppressed and intimidated by their wealthy and powerful neighbour.

Neither does Netanyahu give the slightest reason for optimism.

Israel has vowed to end Hamas’s 16-year rule in Gaza and crush its military capabilities. That would almost certainly require expanding the ground offensive from northern Gaza, where entire residential areas have been pounded into rubble, to the south, where hundreds of thousands of displaced people have packed into overflowing United Nations shelters.

Worryingly he sounds like the voice of reason compared to those even further to the right in his government.

Consider the remarks of  Amihai Eliyahu, a far-right coalition partner of Netanyahu and Israel’s heritage minister, who said dropping a nuclear bomb on Gaza could be an option.

That rhetoric is not far from the extremist views of the sitting finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, who is reported as saying that Israel “would no longer be able to accept” an independent Palestinian entity in Gaza and called for the “voluntary emigration” of its people to countries elsewhere in the world.

Hamas and other groups are still holding about 160 people out of the 240 seized on 7th October. That’s enough to potentially extend the truce for another two weeks under the existing framework. Not long, but enough to allow hope to take a firmer hold.

There are also signs that Israel’s current war on Gaza has become another example of the stark gap that has emerged between the G7 {composed of four western European countries, the US, Canada and Japan (the EU has been given an honorary eighth seat) and the rest of the world. Israel is unlikely to benefit from its longstanding association with former imperial powers. If the current crisis has driven Israel and the G7 even closer together, it has also increased the sense of alienation that most of the world’s population feels towards the small elite that claims for itself the power to rule the world.

There are also small but hopeful signs that the groundswell of public opinion in the UK and across the world in support of a ceasefire is moving from the level of individuals to government action. Biden has also started to urge restraint. This followed a signed letter from more than 500 political appointees and staff members from about 40 agencies across the administration criticising the extent of his support for Israel.

As Shaista Aziz, one of the first Labour Councillors to resign from Oxford City Council over Starmer’s stance on Palestine, asked, “So where is the hope?” She answered her own question by saying, “The hope can be found in the humanity, resilience, dignity, the love, kindness and compassion Palestinians in Gaza show each other daily, as they try their best to survive the televised and live-streamed onslaught of bombs on their homes, hospitals, places of worship and communities.”

We cannot give up hope. But we also need more than hope if we are to prevent another 15,000 people losing their lives in the coming months. We need action. We must make our voices heard either on the streets, through lobbying our MPs or in our communities.

This is a fight we cannot afford to lose.


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