Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

For redemption to come, we must first get out of our own way

A few days ago, Israeli TV showed scenes of Gazans bathing at the beach. It was a hot day and the beach and waters were full.

There was shock. What? The kibbutznikim of the kibbutzim attacked and incinerated on October 7th are scattered, displaced. There was rocket fire from Gaza — yes, from Gaza — several days last week, aimed at these same border communities, as far as Ashkelon. And such fire has continued– from northern Gaza, under IDF control for months.

Tens of thousands from Israel’s north are also displaced, unable to return to their communities, which are being bombed continuously by Hezbollah from Lebanon. A vast ghost zone. No civilians, the farms and businesses hobbled, destroyed. Tourism? — please.

Then, we saw videos from Gaza showing extensive cleanup operations, including with heavy equipment, bulldozers, operated by Hamas, who are in resurgent control.

We saw ample fresh food and staples (rice, flour) in markets, and prices that were the same as those before the war (so much for “genocide”). Aid trucks flow in, commandeered by Hamas, all for “free,” without them releasing a single hostage.

In short, this Passover — the hostages are there, and the declared war aims of this government — “vanquishing” Hamas, taking out its military ability and ending its rule in Gaza and, in some order of priority, clearly, not the top, returning the hostages — alive — none of this has been accomplished. Nor by any scenario now imaginable, is there any plan to achieve any of that.

The army has performed brilliantly with tremendous dedication and sacrifice and horrific losses that render the coming Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers) unbearable to contemplate.

But without an overarching strategy, all this is for nothing. I dread saying it, given the price that has been paid and continues to be paid, by those like the 27-year-old miluimnik who was to be married in June but died yesterday of wounds he sustained in the north from a Hizbollah bomb-drone that hit a civilian community on the border.

Without a strategy to replace Hamas in Gaza with a Palestinian alternative– and there is none but Fatah– a strategy to coordinate the internationalizing, demilitarizing, and rebuilding of a normal place called Gaza with the US and Sunni states, who share the interest in seeing all this– it was and is and will be for nothing. Who hates Hamas more than we do? Fatah. Who cooperates with Israel on vital security matters on a daily basis? Fatah. Think again.

If Israel goes into Rafiah, as we now expect, and does what the army did in the rest of Gaza, but without a context, a strategy, for the day after — how many months have we been hearing the call, the urgent need for that, from the US?– it will just be another of these operations, with Hamas ultimately reaping the benefit. All they have to do is survive. And they are, thanks to our government. Not because we haven’t tried to kill their fighters and leaders and done much of that. Because we have no larger strategy. About “the day after,” Netanyahu, ever the witticist, a leader– not so much– said, “About the day after, we’ll talk on the day after.”

The only thing that truly threatens Hamas — and Iran — is a version of the Biden Plan, and Netanyahu won’t engage that.

He will continue to inflict his failed non-vision and self-serving politics on us.

The one thing I was clear about when all this started was that what we lived with before, could be no more. As Hayyim Jelin of ravaged Kibbutz Be’eri put it, in infinite sadness and equal determination in the immediate aftermath of the disaster, “It’s us or them [Hamas]. We can’t be neighbors anymore.”

The other thing I saw was hope that finally, Gaza would be internationalized as a problem with a solution. I forgot, of course, that Israel has to be on board with that. Not the first time I took rational behavior as self-evident; my weakness.

Six-plus months later, the unthinkable has happened, because of Netanyahu and his coalition of failure. All this, wasted, with more blood and futility to come?– because Hamas, unlike us, absolutely, does think and act strategically and not just tactically.

Retired General Yisrael Ziv, former head of military intelligence, said it: without an overarching strategy from Israel’s political leadership, the army is just a machine, whose actions, however heroic and innovative, are to no purpose. The army pulled out of Gaza City and Khan Yunis months ago, leaving but a shadow force in Gaza, because there was no strategy behind its being there, and to leave the army in such a situation, as target practice for the terrorists, the army was not going to do. As the parent of a soldier, I say, thank you, IDF.

We cope with the horrific losses, the ongoing displacement of tens of thousands, the wrecked communities, and the unspeakable that the hostages and their families are undergoing, with no hope that all this is part of accomplishing something better, smarter, long term. Instead, we see Hamas rebuilding, because of of this government.

But neither have I heard a single Israeli politician who poses as an alternative to Netanyahu  call for such strategy. Gantz has not. Neither has Yair Lapid, nor Yair Golan. Someone needs to start telling us the truth and articulate and promote a strategic plan.

Because, same as I say in my new book about failed policy about agunot, women in marital captivity: More of the same brings more of the same.

You know, the insight attributed to Einstein: the definition of insanity is…

Or, this: How is this working for you? As US TV psychologist Dr. Phil says to serial bunglers of their lives, and those of others.

Whereas, we know, we just experienced it live and literally, in the flesh, that we have strategic allies in this region. Right across the street, in Jordan, whose air force took out some of the Iranian missiles aimed at us; in Egypt; in Saudi Arabia, in the UAE, even Qatar, which cooperated with the defense against the Iranian attack on Israel. Never mind, the most potent strategic ally, who puts meaning to that term, rubber to the road, again and again, the US.

They don’t have to love us (they don’t and won’t), nor we them.

We “just” need to act in concert about our common interests.

Undermine Hamas, and Iran. The only thing that keeps them up at night is the prospect of  a strategic alliance between Israel and our Sunni neighbors and the US that includes a comprehensive approach to the Palestinians of the west bank and Gaza, consistent with Israel’s security and commitment to the vision of the country’s Declaration of Independence, to be a Jewish and democratic State, with equal civil rights and, one dearly hopes, equal obligations, for all. Doing this because it serves our interest.

Me’ayin yavo, whence shall come, someone who leads about this?

Why did Pharaoh not get it after 1, 2, 3, so many plagues?

The rabbinic commentators ask this a lot.

Is that where we are, this Passover? Talking about Pharaoh, while being blind and disabled from insight and effective action, like him?

About the Author
Shulamit S. Magnus Professor Emerita of Jewish Studies and History at Oberlin College. She is the author of four published books and numerous articles on Jewish modernity and the history of Jewish women, and winner of a National Jewish Book award and other prizes. Her new book is the first history of agunot and iggun from medieval times to the present, across the Jewish map. It also presents analysis and critique of current policy on Jewish marital capitivity and proposals to end this abuse. Entitled, "Thinking Outside the Chains About Jewish Marital Captivity," it is forthcoming from NYU Press. She is a founder of women's group prayer at the Kotel and first-named plaintiff on a case before the Supreme Court of Israel asking enforcement of Jewish women's already-recognized right to read Torah at the Kotel. Her opinions have been published in the Forward, Tablet, EJewish Philanthropy, Moment, the Times of Israel, and the Jerusalem Post.