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Alan Edelstein

Caught abroad

It’s been a week since the horrendous attack by Hamas on Israel.  I am sad, overwhelmed, angry, and feeling helpless.  It’s been difficult to get a handle on thoughts, to think things out.  I wouldn’t even call these Random thoughts.  It’s more accurate to call them scattered thoughts. Here they are:

If you think some of the things you say prompt looks of puzzlement from folks, I suggest responding to people who say “Aren’t you glad you’re not in Israel right now?” with “Actually, I wish was there.”

We made aliyah in our mid-50s.  I like to more accurately describe it as “aliyah-lite.”  We go back and forth to the US a couple of times a year, spending two or three months each time we are back.  We’ve had the luxury of not having to make a living in Israel. We have not raised children there, although we do have an adult daughter living in Tel Aviv.

Still, we’ve grown attached. We had been visiting for years prior to making aliyah. We had made great friends. We’ve known their kids since they were young.

Aliyah (becoming citizens), spending around seven months a year there, having a daughter there, negotiating the health system, getting aggravated with the cable and gas companies, showing visiting friends around, getting into heated political arguments, demonstrating week-after-week for democracy, living through a few wars and periods of increased terrorism—it’s all enhanced our attachment.

We know our favorite restaurants and cafes.  I know where the best falafel in Jerusalem is. (Doesn’t everybody?)  The guy at my favorite bureka joint gives me a welcome nod when I walk into the shop.

I’ve got my car guy, and my tire guy.  My tire guy’s brother is a car guy in Roseville, outside my life-long home of Sacramento.  Small world. After some serious investigating, my wife has that all-important indicator of belonging: a hair stylist whose appointment you do not miss, come hell or high water, missiles, or earthquake.

In short, we feel like we belong.  We’ve got roots.  We’ve got a stake.

We were supposed to return to Israel from the US on October 10, three days after Hamas started its horrific onslaught.  We had already delayed our return because of some family members’ serious health issues.

So, as odd as it sounds, I feel a bit strange here in California while wishing to be in Israel, despite being in our early 70s and knowing we’re not exactly crucial to the war effort.

* * *

We’ve been pretty much in constant contact with our daughter, and in frequent contact with friends. WhatsApp groups help. Our daughter has been hearing lots of booms both from the Irone Dome intercepting missiles but also from some that got through.

She, like a lot of Israelis who live in older apartments, has no shelter in the building and no safe room. So, you stand in the staircase, and you get to know your neighbors better.

Our friends and children and grandchildren are all o.k. but some have been under near-constant attack. Many of our friends’ children have already been called up and more will be. Over three hundred thousand have been called up already, so everybody has somebody or knows somebody affected.

That’s about 3.7 percent of the population, the equivalent of about 12,300,000 if it were the US. As one can imagine, this is a parent’s worst nightmare.

In the South hostages have been taken. There were gun battles in Israeli towns. Bases attacked. Horrible scenes of beheadings, rape, humiliation. Babies intentionally burned to death. Some of our friends know people taken hostage, wounded, kidnapped.  Some have lost relatives.

Everyone is impacted, and everyone is involved: providing shelter to those from the South; giving clothing, food, blood. Taking strangers who have lost their homes, or those needing to escape the bombardment, into their homes.

This is no war on distant shores, and it is no war you watch on TV safely ensconced on your comfortable couch.

Many of our friends are up at all hours of the night, night after night.  I am afraid it is the first of many nights like that.

* * *

Israel is often condemned when there are inadvertent civilian deaths from its actions. Hamas is deliberately killing, wounding, and taking civilians–including women and children–as hostages. There are videos of captured civilians–women–bloodied, hands tied behind their backs, blindfolded, being dragged out of vehicles and thrown on the ground in Gaza.

I hope, but doubt, that the world will remember this when Gazans are killed, as Hamas knows they will be, something they will exploit on the world stage.  Indeed, it has already started.

The UN regularly condemns Israel for its alleged failings. The UN Human Rights Council already managed to pass a resolution expressing alarm over harm to Palestinians without mentioning the butchering and beheading and burning of Israeli babies.

The U.N. is warning about massive consequences for innocent Gazans if Israel does what is necessary to eliminate Hamas and its infrastructure. But, the U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres implored Israel not to direct people to leave, that such a movement would be inhumane.

Is this guy a joke? (Rhetorical question) What would he like?  Israel should just leave intact the regime and the infrastructure to repeat the slaughter and torture it engaged in?

The U.N. head says it is impossible to move one million people from Northern Gaza to Southern Gaza in 24 hours.  Yet, reports are that 443,000 have already moved, despite the fact that Hamas is preventing some from leaving.

Israel takes no pleasure in injury and death of innocent people.  But only the Jewish state would be expected not to do what is necessary to stop what happened when Hamas’ murderers invaded the south of Israel.

A great way to protect Gaza’s civilians:  Get Hamas to lay down its arms and leave.  Qatar, that bastion of enlightment that the world awarded the FIFA World Cup to, is a major supporter of Hamas.  Perhaps Qatar should reason with them.

Egypt has received 80 billion dollars in US aid since 1978, 50 billion of which was military aid. Perhaps the US could persuade Egypt to open its border with Gaza and let the residents have temporary refuge in Sinai.  Instead, the Egyptians reportedly will not even let American citizens in Gaza into Egypt without extorting concessions from the US.  What are friends for?

* * *

Question from a friend:  What was Hamas’ end game in doing this?

At the risk of being politically incorrect, the people who did this attack and those who support and sympathize with them have a differerent cultural orientation and psychological make-up than we do.

That’s a convoluted way of saying “Who knows?” This is not about achieving freedom for Gazans or a two-state solution. I am not even sure it is about achieving one state.

For many, it is fulfilling some perceived religious mandate to slaughter the infidels–Jews, Christians, non-believing or moderate Muslims. (They’ve killed and wounded plenty of Israeli Arabs–civilians, doctors, military).  It is about spreading their brand of Islam over the world.  A caliphate.

For some, it is simply psychotic hate.

I suppose that the higher-ups, along with Iran, have some strategic vision of how this will weaken Israel, humiliate us and the West. They probably know that if Israel does what now needs to be done, the world will quickly turn on us. If so, they win.

The Gazans who die are just necessary tools, expendable for the greater cause. If we back off because of pressure about the incidental killing of innocent Palestinians or our own concern about the costs to our young people, they win.

They surely saw Israel’s internal divisions and misread that for a lack of resolve and unity when attacked. They have always read that wrong. Regarding the Western world, particularly Europe, they know (as we’ve long seen) that Europe is pliable. Terrorism has worked for decades in Europe. European nations often cave, cut side deals, and the like.

They see weakening American resolve regarding Ukraine, with some of the extremists on the right refusing to fund Ukraine and some actually touting Putin’s lines. They saw us leave Afghanistan, humiliated. They saw Obama’s cave-in after the red-line in Syria.

So, I guess they figure they win if Israel goes in and destroys them and tens of thousands of “martyrs” die. They win if we are pressured to back off or back off on are own. If we go full in and, as is likely, the world turns on us, they win.

What, exactly, they win is a mystery to me. But I am sure they will think it is a win.

* * *

Time to go?:

As a small country in a tough neighborhood, Israelis have a necessary but almost quaint-feeling tradition during times of crisis and external threat: We unite in common purpose.  We stop the internal fighting.  We put aside differences.  We support and trust our leaders (or we did).

After the crisis has passed, the government appoints commissions to investigate.  After the commissions issue their findings, the country and officials are supposed to “draw conclusions.”  Israelis protest, express anger, call for resignations.  People resign. Elections follow.

This time might be different.  The nation is united, but the anger is already seeping out.  Prime Minister Netanyahu and the governing coalition needlessly tore the country apart by attempting to jam through legislation that would have neutered Israel’s judiciary and undermined its democracy.  He and his allies attacked the military, reservists, and leaders of the security services when they expressed opposition.  He tried to sack the defense minister when the minister warned that advancing the legislation was putting the country’s security in jeopardy.  The government shifted resources to the territories to protect and police sometimes lawless settlers.

Many, some publicly, some privately, now question Netanyahu’s judgment.  They question whether his actions are motivated by self-interest or by their need for security for their children and themselves.  They wonder:  should this be the man at the head of a nation at war?

Former US Undersecretary of Defense Dov Zakheim recounts how a Conservative backbencher sounded the call that brought Neville Chamberlain to resign and brought Churchill to power in 1940:

‘It was late in the day on Tuesday May 7, 1940, when Leo Amery, a middle-aged former minister and Conservative Party backbencher, rose in his seat to address the House of Common in the aftermath of Britain’s disastrous Norway campaign. His party leader, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, had offered a weak defense of the Norway debacle, and several others had already criticized the Prime Minister. Amery then tore into the Chamberlain government, and concluded with Oliver Cromwell’s memorable words “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.” Three days later, Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill succeeded him.’

Zakheim declares: “It is time that someone in Bibi Netanyahu’s Likud Party rose in his Knesset seat and echoed Amery’s famous words.”   https://jstribune.com/zakheim-in-the-name-of-god-go/

* * *

Just wondering:

I have heard many US and world leaders declare that Hamas does not speak for Gazans or represent the legitimate rights of Palestinians.  I have yet to hear a Palestinian leader say it.

And a parting shot:

Does Ben Wedeman get his check directly from Hamas, or does it go through CNN?

About the Author
Alan Edelstein made Aliyah in 2011 and lives in Jerusalem. He was the founding partner of a well-respected California government affairs firm and was involved in California government and politics as a lobbyist and consultant for 30 years. He blogs at www.edelsteinrandomthoughts.com. He can be reached at ae@edelsteinstrategies.com
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