Is “Humanitarian Pause” A Real Thing?

A few years ago, a phrase suddenly appeared in our lexicon that took on a somber and serious tone, “credibly accused.” People, particularly in the media, began using it to make an unproven but possible accusation sound ominous. He could have done it. So? It’s not burden of proof, not even one as low as probable cause. It’s just a phrase someone made up and got traction because some people needed a way to create the impression of guilt without any of the nasty burdens like evidence. And yet, there it was, repeated regularly and taken seriously.

There’s a new phrase in the offing, “humanitarian pause,” that’s suddenly ubiquitous. It has now found its way into a New York Times editorial. After four paragraphs of strongly worded factually sound characterizations of what Hamas did to Israel, the Times editorial board basically tries to get its readers’ heads out of their collective butts to see reality through the fog of failed ideology.

People around the world, including in the United States, who have justified the attacks by Hamas would do well to understand exactly what this group continues to stand for.

Having done its duty of condemning Hamas, however, it then takes its own dive down the rabbit hole.

After weeks of airstrikes by Israel and the continued firing of rockets by Hamas, civilians in Gaza have paid a grave price. Thousands have lost their lives or suffered serious injuries. As reporters for The Times detailed, Gazans under siege “say there is a surge of severely injured children entering hospitals, doctors operating without anesthesia and morgues overflowing with bodies.” There are shortages of food, water and fuel needed to power everything from desalination plants to generators.

There are shortages for the people of Gaza, but there are no shortages in Gaza. It’s all there, just in the hands of Hamas, which has seized what it wants, leaving other Gazans hungry, thirsty and dying. But I digress.

That is why so many of Israel’s allies, including President Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have called for a humanitarian pause to see to the urgent and immediate needs of civilians. Restoring access to food and safe drinking water should be first priorities, as well as delivering medical supplies and other essential aid. Israel has expressed concern that aid will only be diverted to support Hamas, but it is worth trying to get it to the civilians who desperately require it.

What no one seems to be asking is what, exactly, this humanitarian pause is. How will it work? How long would it go on? How will humanitarian aid like fuel be provided to hospitals and not taken by Hamas?  Should Israel “pause,” will Hamas? There is no government in Gaza with which to rely upon or negotiate. There’s only Hamas, and Hamas isn’t exactly a trustworthy entity when it comes to helping the non-Hamas Palestinian people, given how they willingly (happily?) forfeit the lives of children for its own benefit. Hamas says they’re now martyrs, so they’re dying for a good cause. And if you don’t like it, they’ll kill you too.

A humanitarian pause, in contrast, would give some relief to Gazan civilians and allow Israel to make progress on another key part of its objectives: the release of hostages. Two American hostages were freed during an earlier brief pause in shelling, and another pause, or a series of them, could allow more of the hostages still believed to be held by Hamas a chance at being returned to their families.

“Allow”? “Could”? Hamas could release the hostages whenever they want, but they haven’t. A pause could help, and a pause also could do nothing. That’s not an argument, even as the Times says that hostages “still believed to be held by Hamas” suggests either that Israel is lying about Hamas having hostages or the Times believes Hamas has murdered them too. It’s unclear.

A humanitarian pause would also allow more of the millions of civilians who remain in Gaza an opportunity to move to relative safety until the hostilities end.

Israel told Palestinians to go south weeks ago, and was shredded for doing so. Whether because it was argued they would never be allowed to return, or whether Israel was blamed for attacks in the humanitarian corridor perpetrated by Hamas over its own fleeing people, or whether it was for the lack of anyplace to go, it was a blamefest on Israel. Egypt may have allowed a few hundred foreign nationals and severely injured through the Raffah gate, but they don’t want Palestinians entering Sinai. They don’t want Hamas’ problems to become theirs.

For any such measure to be effective, both sides in this conflict must abide by it. Hamas would have to agree, through its interlocutors, to stop launching rockets at Israel. Arab countries in the region should also put pressure on Hamas to release all of its hostages, which include many women and children.

On what fantasy planet does Hamas’ “agreement,” whatever that would entail, mean anything? On what planet does “putting pressure on Hamas to release all of its hostages” work? And why have’t any of the “Arab countries” done so already? Do they support the seizing of women and children as hostages after the raping and murdering of those women and children who weren’t seized as hostages?

There is no guarantee that a humanitarian pause, particularly in a conflict with a terrorist group, will ensure the safe return of hostages or end the suffering of civilians. It is certain, however, that inaction will lead to more civilian suffering and may increase the risk that this conflict will spark a regional conflagration.

The newly-beloved phrase, “humanitarian pause,” seems so ripe for the moment to “do something” (remember the syllogism?) to help the Gazans suffering under the Israeli seige and whose lives are squandered by Hamas as worthless, but after the public relations value of the phrase wears off, should Israel pause while Hamas holds the hostages (whose release shouldn’t be conditions on anything), seized whatever aid the naive hope will go to the Gazans and continue to fire rockets into Israel.

Maybe they will raid a few more kibbutz during the “pause,” or rearm their fighters, repair their tunnels, and prepare for the next round of their holy war to destroy Israel one baby in an oven at a time. After which, the phrase “humanitarian pause” will be forgotten as it will no longer serve its pretense that the Gazans’ nightmare can be wished away any more than the Israelis’.

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