Hostages first, ground troops later

World Wide Web sculpture by Marc Kornblatt

As I write this, Day 16 of the Israel-Hamas War, my wife and I have become accustomed to taking cover in the bedroom/bomb shelter of our Tel Aviv apartment. We consider ourselves lucky. We don’t have to run outside of our building in search of safety when the air-raid sirens scream, and we have no children serving in the military.

We do have other relatives and friends who have been called up to serve in the war effort, and, sadly, we know people who have lost loved ones. The degrees of separation in Israel (~population: 10 million) probably reach no more than 3 or 4.

Since the war began, Judith and I have argued about the wisdom of sending in the troops. She has been opposed; I’ve been in favor.

By troops, I mean Israeli ground forces that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to unleash in order to root out the threat of Hamas “once and for all.”   A reported 360,000 reservists have been called up for active duty. Tens of thousands stand ready at the Gaza border, preparing for an invasion.

Israel’s generals sound more determined to eradicate Hamas than the prime minister. They want revenge and the chance to reclaim their exalted status as the protectors of the nation.

The carnage the invaders wrought on October 7 did not equal the sheer magnitude of the Hutu militias’ killings (500,000-800,000) and rapes (250,000-500,000), during the Rawandan Civil War in 1994, but the Hamas assault was just as barbaric. Grisly accounts of the massacres in the town of Sderot, Kibbutz Be’eri, and the Nova Music Festival, among other places, have shocked Israelis across the political spectrum, conjuring images of the Holocaust.  

When I hear about Arab countries that have not condemned the carnage, but, instead, have chosen to lay the blame on Israel, I hold them responsible for planting landmines along any possible future road to peace. Without a reckoning that holds Hamas accountable for its war crimes, a two-state solution, which I support, seems further away than ever.

Centrists I know sound more like West Bank extremists. They favor total eradication of Hamas and are not worried about Palestinian non-combatants. As one of them put it, “I am more concerned about saving the lives of our children than I am about protecting the children of Gaza.” 

Meanwhile, I’ve begun to think more like my wife and US President Joe Biden. Israel has already proven that its jets and tanks can destroy Gaza easily enough. What it has yet to demonstrate is that it is wise and restrained enough to see the big picture. Sending tens of thousands of troops into the belly of the beast for a protracted ground war will show the opposite.

Epic failures such as the wars in Afghanistan and Vietnam spring to mind. America lost both wars, ignominiously. Israel can win its war against Hamas. But if it loses some crucial, smaller battles along the way, its big victory may be pyrrhic.

The first battle we must win is on behalf of the hostages, at last count, 210, not including the two American-Israeli women released last Friday. Sending thousands of troops into Gaza will not guarantee the hostages’ rescue. On the contrary, the hostages could all be killed as collateral damage, or executed as outdated bargaining chips.

Judith wants to see more surgical air strikes. She wants Israel’s special forces to work their magic. She doesn’t want to see battalions of our young soldiers entangled in Gaza City’s toxic web. There is no such thing as “once and for all” when it comes to eradicating evil. Sacrificing our young soldiers to help their generals regain some of the self-respect they’ve lost would be heaping more tragedy on our nation’s shoulders.

The second battle we must win is for our nation’s soul. We have enough conventional firepower to turn Gaza City into another Dresden. We have the nuclear capability to reduce it to Hiroshima. We are not barbarians, and we are not a superpower. Our tradition sets us apart as a lamp unto the other nations of the world, even if they don’t tend to acknowledge that. We are the children of Israel, not the Amalekites or the Nazis.

The children of Gaza are hostages of Hamas. We should not reduce them to collateral damage. I have come to support my wife’s position, because it seems the most rational and moral option we have. Grant the air and special ops forces more time. Hold back the battalions.

Meanwhile, let’s seal off the border again and not allow one more truckload of humanitarian aid into Gaza until Hamas releases ALL of the hostages.  I’m not sure Judith will accept that compromise position in lieu of an invasion. 

Undoubtedly, we’ll keep arguing, as we both hope for a speedy end to the war.

About the Author
Filmmaker, playwright, actor, and children's book author Marc Kornblatt is the producer/director of the award-winning documentaries DOSTOEVSKY BEHIND BARS, STILL 60, WHAT I DID IN FIFTH GRADE, and LIFE ON THE LEDGE, among others, and more than 20 web series, including MINUTE MAN, ROCK REGGA, THE NARROW BRIDGE PROJECT, and BLUE & RED, RESPECTFUL ENCOUNTERS OF THE POLITICAL KIND. His latest picture book, MR. KATZ AND ME, is forthcoming from Behrman House. He and his wife made Aliyah in 2019 and now live in Tel Aviv.
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