Awad Darawshe, shot in the abdomen, bled to death under the stage at the trance music festival that Hamas gunmen transformed into a killing field. A Palestinian Israeli paramedic, he died in a desperate attempt to save the lives of Jews at the Tribe of Nova peace-and-love gathering that marked the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.
Mr. Darawshe, 23, was at the festival as part of a small team of paramedics working for Yossi Ambulances, an Israeli company recruited to take care of routine medical emergencies. His colleagues fled when the shooting began, but he “felt compelled to help people as one human being to another,” said Mohammad Darawshe, a cousin who is himself a prominent mediator between Palestinians and Jews.
A young Palestinian Israeli citizen committed to peace and killed by Islamist Hamas terrorists in the Jewish homeland, Awad Darawshe may appear to be an apt symbol of the utter defeat of the bridge-builders still committed to a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet, often marginalized, mocked as naïve and targeted as traitors, some of these stubborn advocates of peacemaking now see an opportunity, however remote, in the aftermath of Hamas’s slaughter of more than 1,400 Israelis.
The calls for a war like no other to root out Hamas “once and for all,” a consensus in Israel’s national unity government and much of Israeli society, will blunt their voices for now. The peacemakers are in the minority as a devastating invasion of Gaza looms.
But the Hamas attack has shattered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conviction that the conflict — insoluble in his view — could be managed by “mowing the grass,” in the dismissive Israeli expression for periodic weeding out of Palestinian militancy.
That state of drift, in which peace had become a forgotten or even risible word, now feels untenable. The Israeli cultivation of Hamas, intended to ensure that Palestinians remained split between the more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the rulers of Gaza, so making Palestinian statehood impossible, is a policy in shreds. The notion that the Palestinians would drift passively off into the ether as Israel normalized relations with Arab states like Bahrain or Morocco looks more misplaced than ever.
So, even as Israel bombards Gaza in response to a Hamas attack that shook the country to its foundations, the question arises: What can supplant “a mad dash to hell,” in the words of Salam Fayyad, a former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority?
“It is clear that war is not the solution and the status quo is no more,” said Rula Daoud, a Palestinian Israeli director of Standing Together, an organization that works for peace. “My liberation as a Palestinian cannot come through the blood of Jewish babies. But I recognize that the Palestinian feeling that ‘finally somebody struck back’ is the normal reaction of a people occupied and ruled over. We need different voices.”
What ‘Peace Process’?
The voices in Iksal, a small Arab-majority town near Nazareth in northern Israel where the family of Awad Darawshe has lived for centuries, were subdued, overcome by grief at his death during three days of mourning.
A crowd of friends and relatives gathered outside the home of the Darawshe family under a white canopy. People — Arabs mainly, but also Jews — talked, prayed and recalled a brave young man who never raised his voice.
Bitter coffee was served, accompanied by sweet dates — “because life is this combination,” said Mr. Darawshe’s cousin Mohammad, who is the director of strategy at the Givat Haviva Center for Shared Society, which promotes Jewish-Arab dialogue.
“Our government has not done enough to make peace,” said Shai Piron, a former Israeli education minister. “I came here because all those who believe that killing is not the answer, and that life is more important than death, must be partners for peace.”
In the quiet and mingling of this town made up largely of descendants of Palestinians who remained in Israel after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War — known to Israelis as the War of Independence and to Palestinians as the Nakba, or the catastrophe of mass displacement — it was not easy to imagine that another nadir of Israeli-Palestinian relations had been reached this month.
But the status quo of Israeli control over millions of Palestinian lives always incubated violence. By the time Hamas struck on Oct. 7, possibilities of peace had long since faded.
They began to unravel in 1995 with the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by a right-wing Israeli fanatic, just two years after Mr. Rabin and the Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat shook hands over peace on the White House lawn. After his death, the rapid, government-backed growth of the settler movement in the occupied West Bank, the division and corruption of the Palestinian leadership, and the spread of absolutist religious fanaticism on both sides all contributed to undoing the handshake.
The United States and other Western governments still mouthed the words “peace process” over the past decade, but increasingly knew that neither existed.
Mr. Netanyahu, having led Israel for a total of more than 16 years, has worked hard to consummate the burial of the idea of Israeli and Palestinian states living side-by-side in peace and security. In his current government, he has appointed Itamar Ben Gvir as minister of national security. A far-right, pro-settler politician, Mr. Ben Gvir stole the hood ornament off Mr. Rabin’s Cadillac in 1995 and proclaimed, “Just as we got his car, we’ll get him, too.”
All means were good to undo the notion of Palestinian statehood. In 2019, Mr. Netanyahu told a meeting of his center-right Likud party: “Those who want to thwart the possibility of a Palestinian state should support the strengthening of Hamas and the transfer of money to Hamas. This is part of our strategy.”
The peace camp increasingly hung by a thread. “The propaganda against peace activists has been horrible,” said Mickey Gitzin, the director of the New Israel Fund in Israel, an organization dedicated to the protection of liberal democracy in Israel. “We were the traitors, the anti-Zionists, the anti-Israelis! We were supposedly the naïve ones who did not know the game. But we have been screaming that strengthening Hamas in order to weaken the Palestinian Authority was wrong.”
The strategy was intended to cement the notion that there was no viable Palestinian partner for peace. Certainly, a partner was hard to find, with Hamas committed in its Charter, if not always in its shifting statements, to the destruction of Israel. Many Palestinians drifted toward a one-state idea that most Israelis read as code for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.
“Without a peace track — and there has been none for way too long — bouts of escalation are easy to predict,” said Mr. Fayyad, the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, a moderate whose reforms fleetingly made Palestinian statehood look plausible a dozen years ago.
Mr. Gitzin, like many Israelis, has experienced “a feeling of devastation, of being killed from within,” since the Hamas-led slaughter of more than 1,400 people.
Among the more than 200 hostages believed to be held in Gaza is Vivian Silver, 74, a Canadian-Israeli peace activist who was a founding member of the Israeli-Palestinian Women Wage Peace movement, founded in 2014.
For activists like Ms. Silver and Mr. Gitzin, allowing settlers to establish unprotected homes in the West Bank, drawing in Israeli troops to their defense, reflected a growing settler stranglehold on policy. There are now more than 450,000 Israeli settlers in the territory that has been occupied by Israel since 1967, excluding East Jerusalem, where 220,000 others live.
“The most extreme elements of the settler movement are in this government,” Mr. Gitzin said. “That makes any progress toward peace impossible.”
Promise in the Pain
For the bridge builders, the worst setbacks have always held, tucked deep in their pain, the promise for change. If peace looks impossible today, it also looked remote in 1973, when a similarly blithe and distracted Israel was taken by surprise in the Yom Kippur War, only to recover and prevail.
Within four years, in 1977, Anwar Sadat, the Egyptian president, was in Jerusalem addressing the Knesset. Within six years Israel had made peace with Egypt, giving up Sinai to that end.
Those, of course, were different times. There was bold Arab leadership, and bold Israeli leadership, accompanied by determined American diplomacy in a world not driven to lurching paroxysms of outrage by the cacophony of social media.
Still, the current disaster also appears to be a watershed moment, with near unanimity that something must give.
“The trauma and pain have to stop,” said Gershon Baskin, a longtime peace activist. “One day a new generation will stand up and say enough.”
That is always conceivable, but this conflict, rooted in irreconcilable narratives of competitive suffering, has always favored vengeance over compromise, even if the outlines of such compromise have long been clear.
“I am a realist, and realistically two states are still possible,” said Mohammad Darawshe, the promoter of Jewish-Arab dialogue. “It may be nice to dream of one shared homeland, but Israelis will not give up their state. And Palestinians also need their own state, with the two strongly interconnected.”
But what of the hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in the land that would be Palestine? “The vast majority of them, perhaps 95 percent, are on 3 percent of the land that can be swapped for an equal amount of Palestinian land,” he said. “Then the relocation of the remaining settlers would become conceivable. But you need the will.”
That, in turn, he conceded, would require new leadership on both sides. Another requirement for progress would almost certainly be the unification of the Palestinian national movement, with Hamas ousted from governing Gaza.
Faced with a chaotic government response to the Hamas attack, volunteer organizations have helped console the many Israelis who feel abandoned. Citizens have stepped in to replace a dysfunctional government.
They are trying to keep the peace in the ways they can. “We are just trying to hold together and survive,” said Ms. Daoud of Standing Together.
She has been working hard to prevent a recurrence of the 2021 riots between Israel’s Jewish and Palestinian citizens, who account for over 20 percent of the population. Seething resentments were exposed then, but for now calm has generally prevailed.
Among the grieving, several Israeli families have appealed for restraint, too, even as the Israeli bombardment of Gaza continues.
Yonatan Ziegen, the son of Ms. Silver, the peace activist, declared publicly that “more dead babies” were not the answer; peace was needed.
But fury in Israel still runs high. For many Israelis, to accept the biggest single day of slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust without an overwhelming military riposte against Hamas would be to invite the very fate that a Jewish homeland and the ironclad principle of “Never Again” were intended to prevent.
“We cannot live next to Hamas,” said former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose detailed 2008 peace plan was rejected at the last minute by the Palestinians.
Back in Iksal in northern Israel, Hoda Darawshe, the mother of the dead Awad, said, “He was the most beloved one, there was nobody else like him.”
As she spoke, rain started falling.
“Even the sky is crying,” she observed.
Its tears were soft on the lacerated Holy Land of bitter coffee, sweet dates and the eternal chimera of peace.
Gal Koplewitz contributed reporting from Tel Aviv.