Joel R. Schwartzman

Cease Fire? A Huge, Unwarranted Mistake

I read with great interest what a colleague published regarding the state of matters in Israel and Gaza. I found his description of the war and the rest of world’s response particularly telling and compelling. However, having been an Air Force chaplain, having a background in military matters and because I teach about Israel’s strategic position in the Middle East, I would respectfully disagree that this is a time for a cease fire for a number of reasons.
The first is that a cease fire without a comprehensive resolution of the hostage crisis hands the victory, if one can be claimed at all given the devastation in Gaza, to Hamas. The reasons for Israel going to war in the first place included the purpose of destroying Hamas or, at least, destroying Hamas’ ability to repeat what it accomplished on 7 October. To stand down now with Hamas cornered in Rafah would be tantamount to rejecting the very purposes for which Israel took up arms and committed to the sacrifices its people and its army have already made. Have the deaths of all these Israelis been in vain? The capitulation involved in a cease fire would impact the low morale of the Israeli people even more deeply and significantly, as though the shock of the horrors of 7 October and the hundreds of deaths in the IDF in this war weren’t enough already.
The American media has done much to concentrate and document the suffering of the Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. My colleague has accurately captured the impacts of these reports which too often have been skewed in such a way as to put the onus on the wrong party. Instead of holding Hamas accountable, these editorials and other articles reflect Hamas’ all too effective propaganda, from their bloated claims of the death toll in Gaza to their highlighting such operations as hospital “invasions” for which Hamas’ tunnel systems inclusive of command and control centers beneath facilities like hospitals, mosques, schools are now all too well know, but which have resulted in unwarranted claims and charges of brutality and alleged war crimes against the IDF.
Most importantly, a cease fire would play directly into the hands of Hamas. It would enable a cadre of forces and the leadership of Hamas to survive, rebuild over time and continue its stated mission of annihilating the Jewish state and people.
I do not so much read those my fellow rabbi cited. They mostly are representative of the Israeli Left-wing. Rather I am particularly impressed with Haviv Rettig Gur’s reporting on the show, “Call Me Back.” He also has appeared on the Times of Israel interviews. Reading and listening to him, Ambassador Michael Oren, Yossi Klein Halevi and Donniel Hartman, and reading hours and hours of emails about the War Cabinet and the statements of its members renders an Israeli perspective that outlets like NPR and the Forward simple don’t report. The people that reporters like Fareed Zacharia and op-ed folks of the NYT and the Washington Post are anything but fair handed. Who, for example, has cited the statistics of the myriad Israelis who have been displaced from their homes for months on end? Who speaks with and for them?
I am not one either to ignore, believe or to fall victim to claims that Israeli actions in Gaza have caused undue suffering. It is the nature of all wars that are reported in near-time and real-time to show the most horrific aspects of what is taking place on the ground. But compared with what the U.S. and its allies did in Iraq, Israel comes away with far superior marks in doing a better job of protecting lives than the trumped up statistics of the Gazan death toll that Hamas puts forward and that the media, already biased against Israel, naively regurgitates to the American people. These are now presented as well by the Biden administration which is swayed and acting upon them for political purposes.
Realizing that a signature on a petition is a fait accompli, I nonetheless vigorously believe that it is everyone’s best interest to allow Israel to finish the job of de-fanging Hamas to the greatest extent possible. It is either this or to enable what is still left of this vicious, blood thirsty entity to re-emerge at some later date to repeat what it has done over the decades which culminated in the utter barbarity of 7 October. For sure, this is what a cease fire would insure.
Yahya Sinwar must release all the Israeli hostages and the bodies of the dead and not in exchange for high profile murderers like Marwan Barghouti. Sinwar and his top level leadership must either be brought to justice or expelled. This is not the time to give him more air to breathe and room to operate.
In short, I wholeheartedly stand with the people of Israel who want to see a conclusion to this war which insures a level of security not only for the inhabitants of the Gaza Envelope, but for all Israel. Hamas (and Hezbollah) has proven itself to be an existential threat to Israel. With Iran standing behind their proxies, they make life for Israelis untenable. This is not the time to pull the cord and cease operations when a measure of success is so close at hand. In order to re-establish its deterrence among the Sunni Arab states, in order to re-assure its own population that it is safe to move forward, in order to honor those who perished so horrifically on 7 October, Israel must resist the pressure to cease its fire. It will not stave off anti-Israeli, antisemitic sentiments that have reemerged in force on the heels of either this war or the hatred that Donald Trump has unleashed. Those are threats to us Jews regardless of the war. Israel will emerge far the wiser and better off for what it must now do, to complete this war.
About the Author
After twenty-three years of military service, Rabbi Schwartzman retired at the rank of Colonel in September 1998. From July 1999 to July 2000, Rabbi Schwartzman was Associate Rabbi of Temple Sinai in Denver, Colorado. For a decade thereafter he served as the Rabbi of both Congregation B’nai Chaim in Morrison, Colorado, and the Synagogue of the Summit in Summit County, Colorado.