We have already lost people, and more are in peril. My heart is aching from all the killing, suffering, and barbarism. This is different from the “normal” 4-5-year cycle of violence between Israel and Gaza. Hamas’s ferocity isn’t casual but planned: Kill old people, kill young people, then take survivors hostage and hold them for ransom, humiliation, and execution.
Targeting and slaughtering over 300 young people at a dance and kidnapping or killing old people is not war. It’s a pogrom, like Kishinev at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, or Metz at the start of the Crusades, or indeed the Holocaust. It’s wonton and barbaric cruelty based on hatred of Jews.
The tragic absurdity is that this won’t bring either Israelis or Palestinians closer to peace. This won’t serve any greater good. It all fits into a path and pattern: Any step towards peace is met by violence. Guns and bombs wielded by radicals veto any peace process.
Israel is distracted by internal conflicts and the largely peaceful protests over Netanyahu’s “reforming” (vitiating) of the judiciary. He’s now blaming the protestors for not supporting the state and, therefore, responsible for diminishing Israel’s preparedness. Maybe. Though, note that Netanyahu’s attention wasn’t on Israel’s security but his own. But the greater scandal isn’t political. It’s the utter failure of Israeli intelligence. They didn’t see this coming. How?
Israel has people on the ground in Gaza—both Palestinians and undercover Israelis. Israel has satellites, fences, drones, and seismic sensors to detect tunneling.
America had depended on Israel’s intelligence assets throughout the Arab World and in Iran, where we have next to nobody on the ground. Beyond the unbearable human pain of loss and hostages in peril, this is a blow to Israel’s intelligence bona fides. This is a massive failure of preparedness, intelligence, and imagination.
This war began on the anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, on October 6, 1973. There should have been increased readiness. Terrorist attacks disproportionately begin on the anniversaries of previous battles, regardless of whether they commemorate defeats or victories. On 9-11 in 2012, anti-American riots in Libya killed our Ambassador, Christopher Stevens, along with other Embassy, Counselor, and CIA staff. On 9-11 in 1683, the Muslim Turks were defeated at the siege of Vienna, and the Muslim tide in Europe was turned back. They remember, even if we don’t. It’s political and strategic malpractice not to be on high alert on such anniversaries.
Netanyahu blames the protestors. Some Republicans blame Biden for releasing money to Iran, which supports Hezbollah directly and Hamas indirectly. Israeli hawks also blame “selfish, unpatriotic” protestors for focusing on LGBTQ+ people, women and secularism.
Nearly everyone blames the entire Arab World. This is wrong. True, some Arabs were dancing in celebration. However, the vast majority of Arabs were not dancing, and in Gaza, they were bracing for Israeli reprisals.
It’s true that too many in the Arab World celebrate the deaths of their enemies with parades and dancing. This is largely absent from Jewish tradition. The Talmud teaches in Megilla 10: “The Egyptians were drowning in the sea. At the same time, the angels wanted to sing before God, and the Lord God said to them: ‘My creations are drowning, and you are singing before me?’”
Most Palestinians don’t want either to dance or this endless war. Most Israelis don’t want this endless war. But radicals do. Radicals, Israeli and Arab, agree on the absolutist slogan, “One state from the Jordan to the Sea.” For the radical Arabs, this would be without Jews. For many Jewish religious nationalists, the Arabs would be deported. Since neither outcome is likely, repeating this failed pattern is madness.
The challenge is what to do that wouldn’t compound this tragedy. Israel can’t ignore attacks from Gaza, Lebanon, or the West Bank. Ignoring violent attacks, as with domestic violence, inevitably leads to escalation and can’t be tolerated. However, overreaction by massive escalation only hardens the forces of radicalism.
What could overreaction mean in the face of this savagery? That’s a fair question. My response is that I’m making a pragmatic point, looking not for justice but for peace. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, “An eye for an eye and soon the whole world is blind.” We can all become blinded with rage and pain in our righteous desire for justice in the form of revenge.
Let’s ask the critical question: Who benefits from this horror? I don’t believe that Netanyahu saw this coming and did nothing for some political advantage. I believe that Hamas, which is responsible, empowers Netanyahu and weakens those protesting for the judiciary, democracy, and peace.
For all the criticisms of Netanyahu (including mine), there is one salient fact: Hamas doesn’t want peace. Hamas doesn’t want a two-state solution. Hamas doesn’t want a better life for Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza.
Hamas knows that it can’t win a war against Israel and that it poses no threat to Israel’s existence. It does pose a threat to Israel’s soul. Hamas benefits very little from dead Israelis—except to the extent that it causes Israeli reprisals that kill Palestinians. Every dead Palestinian is a shame on Israel and a benefit to Hamas. Each dead Gazan re-affirms Hamas’s status as the prime defender of Palestinians. Such is their immoral calculus.
Aside from the date, why did this war begin now? Some charge Israel with provoking the Gazans by limiting access to the Al Aqsa Mosque and expanding “settlements” on the West Bank. Though Israeli policies are often not helpful, it’s bracing to remember that in 1929, 133 Jews were killed while worshipping at The Western Wall, and 67 Jews were slaughtered in Hebron because they planned on visiting Jerusalem. In the same year, 18 Jews were butchered in Safed for, well, just being Jews. There was no Israel. There was no occupation of the West Bank or Western Jerusalem. There was, from some, a complete rejection of Jews living in what became Israel 20 years later.
We still search for peace, but radicals veto it with violence. With the Abraham Accords growing firmer and threatening to include Saudi Arabia, Hamas fears fading into irrelevancy. There is no peace benefit for radicals. They need war to survive as a political force.
Many more Israelis will die trying to rescue hostages. More innocent Gazans will die due to reprisals. Hamas will grow stronger with every Israeli raid, and despite the massive failure of intelligence, Netanyahu and the far-right nationalists will also grow stronger. What grotesque and perverse bedfellows.
I feel ill from this futile folly that does nothing to advance peace. This war is a failure from conception to conclusion—a conclusion that will not actually conclude any of the real issues but only be a timeout to prepare for the next tragic round.