‘We need to fix the country’: Israelis ponder a post-war future 

US President Joe Biden says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is making a “mistake” with his approach to Gaza. More than 70% of Israeli respondents of a recent survey said Netanyahu should either resign now, or as soon as the war in Gaza ends. The World’s Matthew Bell is in Jerusalem and he’s been speaking with Israelis about how they’re thinking of the post-war future.

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On the morning of Oct. 7, 2023, Yoaz Hendel was at home outside of Jerusalem when he said he heard the news about the Hamas attack in southern Israel.

“No one called me. I took my uniforms. I told my wife that someone called me and I just ran away, went to take a weapon from one of the units very close to here,” said Hendel, a reservist with the Israeli military. 

“And I took responsibility for finding Nukhba terrorists in the areas between Be’eri and K’far Aza.” Nukhba is the name of a Hamas commando unit that Israel says led the attacks.

Hendel, a 48-year-old former special forces soldier, said he’ll never forget that day.

“They slaughtered plenty of Israelis. The views that I saw were unacceptable in any human being, society. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t even matter if you belong here to the right or to the left — if you all are liberal or conservative — here in Israel, I think that this day changed us — all of us.”  

Yoav Hendel, 48, is a reservist in the Israeli army and former special forces soldier. Noam Sharon/The World

Now, questions loom about a post-war future for Israel. 

US President Joe Biden says that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is making a “mistake” with Israel’s military response in Gaza. And last month, US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer delivered even more blunt criticism in a speech on the Senate floor. 

“As a lifelong supporter of Israel, it has become clear to me the Netanyahu coalition no longer fits the needs of Israel after Oct. 7,” Schumer said, indicating that Israel’s prime minister needs to go so that Israel can hold new elections and start thinking about life after war with Hamas.

For Hendel, who is a former member of Israel’s parliament and former cabinet minister, he said he will never forget who stepped up — and who didn’t — when the attacks occurred.

“Plenty of Israelis feel responsible and took leadership in those days when the politicians were shut down. They vanished in the first three weeks.” 

Hendel believes those reservists on the frontlines of this war will take on new leadership roles in Israel. 

“We are talking a lot and doing a lot to make sure that after the war, we’ll be able to send those guys home — from the prime minister to the last minister that was responsible to what happened,” Hendel added. 

“We need to fix the country,” Hendel said, and there will be big changes in Israeli politics.

‘An internal enemy’

A few nights ago, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Tel Aviv. 

Protesters have two main demands and they want to see change now — not after the war is over. One, to see the hostages return home. And two, elections and a change in leadership. 

“We are, at present, facing the greatest danger to the existence and the future of Israel,” said writer and activist Mika Almog. “And the danger comes from an internal enemy, because no external enemy is as dangerous as a government attacking its own people,” said Almog, who is also the granddaughter of one of Israel’s founding fathers, Shimon Peres. 

Like her grandfather, Almog sees the two-state solution as the best way to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict. 

But Almog also sees another threat on the immediate horizon. She said that over the last 15 years, Netanyahu has been gutting Israeli democracy.

From early 2023, weekly protests gathered steam across Israel, opposing Netanyahu’s plan to reform the judicial system. Now, that movement is calling for early elections.

A man carries an Israeli flag as he attends a protest in Tel Aviv, Israel. Alon Farago/The World

Almog said she doubts that this prime minister wants to bring the war to an end.

“Everything that Netanyahu and his government has done has been about survival and not about actually creating sustainable, long-term political, international solutions to our core problems,” Almog said.

However, Israelis remain starkly divided over which core problems to tackle — or how to solve them.

Post-war politics

On a recent afternoon in a different Tel Aviv neighborhood, a group of elders was sitting, playing backgammon and smoking. 

In between pulls on his cigarette, Haim Levy said Netanyhau or “Bibi,” as he’s called in Israel, needs to go because he is screwing up Israel’s relationship with the US. 

His friend Avi, who didn’t want to share his last name because he was afraid of retribution from his employer, said Bibi is the right man for the job — right now — because he can stand up to Hamas, and even stand up to President Biden. 

An Israeli opinion poll released this week showed that more than 70% of respondents said Netanyahu should either resign now — or as soon as the war in Gaza comes to an end.

People take part in a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and call for the release of hostages held in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group outside of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, Sunday, March 31, 2024.Leo Correa/AP

But Netanyahu still has supporters — and he’s always been a political survivor. 

Boaz Bismuth, a member of parliament with Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said tensions between Israeli leaders and US presidents is nothing new — citing historical examples going back to the 1967 Six Day War. 

“Our relationship, our friendship is stronger than our misunderstanding,” Bismuth said.  

After an Israeli strike reportedly killed senior Iranian military officials in Syria 10 days ago, there’s been speculation about a possible attack by Iran against Israel. And once again, President Biden on Wednesday promised “ironclad” US support for Israel.

Bismuth said it makes sense for Biden to be concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, but Washington should remember that defeating ISIS in Iraq took many months.

Netanyahu has been the subject of all kinds of criticism over the last three years, Bismuth said, but ultimately, “many Israelis respect him, and we want him to win the war.” 

When the war is over, Bismuth added, there will be a commission to investigate responsibility for all actions taken since the attacks of Oct. 7.  

“Either they’re in government or they’re in the army. If they’re responsible, they will leave,” Bismuth said. 

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