Fear is unsettling, and war destabilizing. War, regardless of its causes and goals, is fraught with uncertainty and doubt, risks and danger. In the midst of the fog of war, within which we as a people now find ourselves, there are many things that we do not know. At the same time, however, there are many things that we do know. And not merely for our own sanity, but for our own clarity, it is important to distinguish between the two.
What do I know, and what do I not know? I know that our people are strong. I always knew that our Army was strong and that our technology gave us strength. But our spirit is even stronger. Our deepest yearning is for a normalcy which is abnormal in our neighborhood, and the most powerful Iron Dome is the one that defends our psyche and protects us from lowering our expectations of ourselves, despite the horrific onslaught and terror to which we are subjected. The efficacy of the Iron Dome missile defense system is remarkable, but the strength of character of Israelis is our true backbone.
I know that we are strong in the Rabbinic sense, as well, which measures strength through the ability to restrain oneself from using it. I know that this is not a war of our choosing. I know that despite the absurd reality of missiles and tunnels in the hands of terrorists who have shown over and again a willingness and desire to use them, our government was and continues to be willing to find a different way. I know that when it comes to this conflict, war is not politics by another means, but a last resort which we were forced to use, because there was truly no other option on the table.
I know that our society is at its core a decent and moral one and that our Army is committed to the highest standards of ethics on the battlefield. I know, however, that this does not mean that mistakes and wrongs did not occur. They did and do, and when they do, we demand an accounting from ourselves.
I don’t know how our Army can fight in Gaza without exacting civilian casualties. I don’t know how to limit harm to non-combatants, when their combatants embed themselves in their midst, and view the deaths of their own non-combatants as a strategic and political gain.
I do know that Operation Protective Edge is a just war, and as such, needs to be fought. The injustice of non-combatant deaths, when they are the consequence of the illegal and immoral actions of our enemy, cannot serve as a moral shield to protect them, and allow the terrorizing of my country to continue. I know that when our troops are ambushed and fired upon from within homes and hospitals, we are morally obligated to protect our soldiers despite the horrific consequences. That said, I know that a just war must also be fought justly. A just war does not give one carte blanche but requires proportionality, care, sensitivity, and a sense of duty to avoid civilian casualties to the best of our ability.
I know that the above paragraph will seem self-evident to some and morally abhorrent to others. I know that for some, like me, the justice of this war is clear, while for others it is yet one more war crime perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. I know, however, that at the end of the day there is little which I can say to convince some to the contrary. One of the most unsettling features of this war is the moral gap that exists between me and some of my friends, friends who are neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel, and my inability to bridge this gap is profoundly disturbing.
I know that the fact that every country and army facing similar circumstances would either act in the same way or take far more extreme measures doesn’t convince any of our critics of the legitimacy of our actions. As to why, truth be told, I do not know. I know, however, because I know some of them, that we cannot in every case play the anti-Semitism card and discount their moral criticism as a mere façade for hatred of Jews. At the same time, I do know that the parallel actions of other countries and armies is not a justification for me, either. My Israel has never seen itself as normal in this sense, and regardless of what is acceptable or not elsewhere, believes that it must act in accordance with moral standards it can live with, and strives to do precisely that.
I know that justice in asymmetrical war requires that the more powerful use the resources at their disposal proportionately. At the same time, I know that the fact that Israel is more powerful, cannot mean that its use of force is unjust, and conversely, the proportional powerlessness of Palestinians does not provide moral license to terrorize and murder my people. I know that the disproportionate number of military and civilian casualties is unto itself morally irrelevant. I know that the proficiency of Iron Dome does in no way diminish the murderous intent of the rocket fire, nor does the skill of my military in thwarting civilian casualties exonerate the brutality embedded in the Gaza terror tunnels. As a result, I know that I am not required to wait for a “successful” attack by my enemy before I am morally justified and indeed obligated to act in self-defense.
I know that at times, war is unfortunately necessary. But I also know that our skill and disproportionate power can tempt us into believing that solutions can be found and the conflict contained, if not resolved, by force alone. I know that our desire for normalcy and stability can cause one to search for the one military campaign which will solve the problem “once and for all.” I know that this temptation can potentially, in the future, cause us to use our force as a first, and not last, resort. It can potentially bring us to use our force unjustly.
I know that in the end, it is only through compromise and political negotiations that we will resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and both our peoples will achieve the stability and normalcy we desire and the justice we deserve. At the same time, I do not know what such a resolution would look like and how it could be achieved in the current environment. I know that our reality is far from stable and that Israel’s existence is profoundly precarious. As a result, I know that all compromise and political initiatives must never lead to security naivete. I know that one of the more significant lessons of this war is the moral requirement to be ever more careful in protecting Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
I know that we have many enemies in the world, but what has become clear is that we also have many friends. I know that in the fog of war it is natural to be pessimistic and to see the cup as half-empty, and consequently to believe that everyone is against us. I know this is not true, and I know it is critical that we remember it. While we must be prepared to stand alone, we need not stand alone. The international community is often an alienating arena, but not one that we need to relinquish. While we must be strong, our friends – at times supporters and at times critics – are essential allies in enabling us to achieve and fulfill our goals.
I know that this war will come to an end. I do not know when, and at what stage, and at what cost to Israelis and Palestinians. I know that when it does, both Israelis and Palestinians will have to ask ourselves and each other, “And now, what?” I know that this war will make that stage more difficult. I know that this war has dramatically increased anger, hostility, and mistrust. I know that I have a narrative about this war, but I also know that the Palestinians have one, as well. I know that we will never be able to reconcile these narratives. I know, however, that we must learn to reconcile with each other. While I pray, I do not know if we can.
I know that once the war is over, we need to seriously reassess the security needs of Israeli society. We all need to dust off the certainties of our prior political positions and reevaluate them in light of what we have learned. At the same time, I know that when the war is over, when the fog dissipates, we need to direct a serious spotlight on our society. The murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir is rightfully not on our radar screen at this moment. A true accounting of it, however, still needs to be made. The language of revenge which emerged so extensively and dramatically after the murders of our three teenagers, and the racist behavior of mobs in the aftermath, still needs to be addressed.
I know that we are now united in support of our country, in support of our soldiers who are in harm’s way so that we can be safe. I know that the unity and solidarity of war does not last. I know that there are real challenges which we face to protect not merely our borders but to repair our society. The schisms and violence, in deeds and language, between Left and Right, Jew and Arab, need to be healed. I know that they are no less a danger to Israel than missiles and terror tunnels.
I know that the path in front of us is a difficult and precarious one. I know that it is as filled with fear and instability as the path of war. I don’t know if our society will have the fortitude and wisdom to navigate this path with the same skill and acumen as we exhibit when confronting our external enemies. I know that we must find the strength to do so. I pray that we will do so.