On September 11, 2001, the world was shocked by the largest terror attacks in human history, which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people.
On October 7, 2023, the citizens of the State of Israel woke up to horror in the form of the most devastating terrorist attack in Israel’s history, in which 1,400 children, women, and men were killed, and over 240 were kidnapped.
This is the sad reality that we, as Israelis, must confront. While the impact on the United States brought with it widespread international shock and condemnation, many Israelis feel deserted and are suffering an unfathomable blow as they watch many anti-Israel demonstrations around the world, diminishing public support among many liberals, and are being forced to deal with the tragedy almost on their own.
The State of Israel is not the United States, with 33 times fewer residents and 440 times less land. The kibbutzim in the southern part of Israel, where the Hamas terrorists infiltrated, are no more than a two-hour drive from the homes of over 70% of Israeli citizens, whose land has the size of the state of New Jersey.
We are experienced with wars and acts of terror, but the events of the Black Sabbath of October 7 changed something deep within each of us. We lost the almost imperceptible sense of personal security and the feeling of protection granted to us by the strong State of Israel.
There is almost no Israeli citizen who has not been personally and painfully affected by this disaster. I, too, lost family members; others were kidnapped to the Gaza Strip. The incomprehensible disaster is almost indigestible, children were murdered and kidnapped, parents were brutally killed in front of their children, and families waited for hours in safe rooms as parents tried to quiet their children in order not to be heard by the murderers. An incomprehensible cruelty somewhat reminding us of the deepest trauma of every Jew, the Holocaust.
Around 130,000 Israeli citizens, from communities near the Gaza Strip where the massacre occurred, and even further away, have fled their homes and are not expected to return soon. The residents who lived closest to the border will not return to their homes if the State of Israel cannot guarantee their security. Even the residents of northern Israel, including my family in Kibbutz Menara where I grew up, have evacuated their homes after they were threatened by Hezbollah terrorists operating freely from Lebanese soil. The State of Israel must provide its residents with a sense of security because we have no other land.
All my life, I have struggled for peace, for ending of the occupation, and for the promotion of a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many residents of the kibbutzim in the south, like me, have also done so. Many of my friends, walking with me on the path towards peace, were murdered and kidnapped. I believed and still believe with all my heart in the right of the Palestinians to self-determination in their own state. I believed and continue to believe in our need as Israeli citizens to fight against the occupation and expose the injustices it creates. I have criticized and continue to criticize the Israeli governments that acted to weaken the Palestinian Authority and to expand the settlements in the West Bank. I did this as an Israeli fighting for the character of his state and its future. It is this belief that leads me to support the continuation of the Israeli military operation in Gaza, while at the same time to make every effort to minimize harm to innocent Palestinians.
I am not indifferent to the difficult scenes, the casualties, including many children, and the unimaginable suffering of the residents of Gaza. But I am fighting for my home, for my mere existence. It is not a war of choice. If brave citizens, along with the Israel Defense Forces, do not stop them, Hamas terrorists would continue to murder every Israeli they could. They poured out, hate-filled, on their various victims, Jews and Arabs alike, murdering women, children, and the elderly in front of their families. They showed no mercy for anyone, not even children and infants.
We have no choice. If we do not win the war against Hamas, the residents of the towns, villages and kibbutzim, who fled out will not be able to return to their homes. Not only them, but also the residents of northern Israel, living close to Lebanon, will not be able to return to towns and kibbutzim that are attacked every day by Hezbollah terrorists supported by Iran. If they do not return, Hamas and Hezbollah, who are also enemies of the Palestinians and the Lebanese, in their intoxication from their success, will continue to strike until none of us can live in our state, Jews and Arabs.
The calls for an unconditional “immediate ceasefire” may sound good, but in practice, they are calls for surrender to Hamas terrorists and for the abandonment of Israeli citizens to a reality in which those who have harmed them so severely will be able to regain their strength to harm them again in the future. Humanitarian pauses are justified if they assist in releasing the kidnapped and providing aid to innocent Gazans. We have no choice but to defeat Hamas, and sadly, when the enemy operates from residential areas, setting up their command centers under hospitals, civilians get hit too.
The world has become accustomed to painting a simplistic picture of good versus evil, weak versus strong, David versus Goliath, but reality is more complex. Israel is not Goliath, and Hamas is not David. The reality is not black and white; it has many shades, and we would all do well to inspect it more meticulously and by distinguishing manner.
Those who, 80 years after the Holocaust, do not see the justification for the existence of the State of Israel and call for freeing Palestine “from the River to the Sea,” are not people with whom I can have a common ground. But those who seek, like me, to fight for a better future for the Middle East, must understand that without the ability to ensure basic security for its citizens, Israel cannot continue to exist. Right now, to achieve this, there is no choice but to eliminate the Hamas military capacities and rule in Gaza and deter Hezbollah. The danger primarily threatens us, but some are already looking to the next stage. It is no coincidence that Putin and Erdogan rushed to stand by Hamas; they understand that if the State of Israel is defeated, it will be just the first step in their war against international liberal values.
I believe that from this tragedy, a positive outcome can occur in the form of a turning point. Ultimately, the understanding that the existence of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel is an Israeli interest must be spread out around policy circles in Israel. Despite years of weakening the Palestinian Authority, it was and remains an important partner. Strengthening it and promoting a political solution that will also return it to rule Gaza must be a central component of the Israeli security concept. This is in addition to the demand for and support of elections in Palestine, which, if held alongside a credible diplomatic horizon, will create a legitimate and supportive Palestinian address for a diplomatic solution. It won’t be Hamas.
I have no doubt that victory eventually must be political, the military operation will yield a purely tactical win at best. A political, regional, and international diplomatic strategy is needed and it requires the support of all peace loving people around the world.