The death toll for the October 7th Simchat Torah Massacre has now risen past 1,400 Israelis and foreign nationals, with over 4,200 wounded and at least 200 still held captive in Gaza.
US President Biden was in Israel for a brief, 6-hour visit on Wednesday. He made it clear that America is behind Israel, full stop. In addition to meetings with government officials, he also met with families of the 200+ hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza and those whose losses of family members were among the 1,400 killed on October 7th with 31 of those being Americans.
He was received warmly and was able to convince the Israeli government to permit limited humanitarian aid into Gaza via Egypt through the Rafah crossing. The initial agreement was for 20 truckloads of goods that will be strictly monitored so that they are used for the purposes intended and that the trucks do not contain military material. It is not exactly clear how that will be done but that was the announced plan and the first set of trucks are due to move into Gaza on Friday.
While enroute to Israel the rocket attack on the hospital in Gaza was reported. After serious intel work by both the US and Israeli authorities it was determined that the attack came from an errant rocket sent up by Islamic Jihad forces in Gaza, not Hamas. Israel also has a record of a conversation that took place between Islamic Jihad members on the launch team admitting that the rocket did not have sufficient arc to get to Israel and would land within Gaza. Even with that the Arab world has rioted against Israel, and in Beirut and Amnan against the US as well, as the leadership in Gaza continues to insist it was an Israeli rocket that killed hundreds of people in the complex.
It was also reported that the United States is pushing Israel to develop a strategy for what happens the day after Hamas’s rule is toppled, urging Israel to do so to avoid becoming bogged down in Gaza. There are reports as well that the White House has discussed a U.S. military response if Hezbollah and Iran attack Israel from a second front. Two U.S. aircraft carriers are currently stationed in the Eastern Mediterranean, including the Gerald Ford, America’s largest carrier.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will arrive in Israel this week as well for a short solidarity visit. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was also in israel for that purpose on Tuesday.
The northern border of Israel remains active with skirmishes occurring regularly. In an unprecedented move Israel has evacuated all communities within 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) of the Lebanese border. This in addition to the communities in the south near the Gaza border who have already been evacuated. Estimates of the number of currently displaced Israelis are as high as 500,000.
Hamas has fired over 6,500 rockets at Israel since the fighting began. They are thought to have had 15,000 stockpiled and, if so, they have plenty left in reserve. While the level of rocket fire has been reduced, there are still regular periods of launch with alarms sounding as far away as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and even a bit north of those cities.
The UN Security Council debated a resolution on Wednesday that called for a humanitarian pause in the fighting. Twelve countries voted in favor (two abstained) but the US vetoed the resolution because it made no mention of the actions against Israel that began on October 7th. The veto successfully killed the initiative which, by omitting the reference to the actions against Israel by Hamas, prejudiced the resolution against Israel.
On the southern border with Gaza, Israeli troops remain on alert and ready to move in, although many people here seem to feel that the longer Israel delays the move the more the likelihood that there will not be a ground invasion. Time will tell how this shakes out. But even the IDF has indicated that the next stage of the conflict may not be a ground offensive into Gaza after all. Visiting Israel, former CIA Director David Petraeus compared an assault on Gaza to the final stages of the War with ISIS, the liberation of Mosul.
In times of stress people of faith look to the Torah, our source of faith, for guidance and solace. Our rabbis tell us that the Torah spoke in the language of the time, but it has meaning for every generation. Perhaps the story of Noah which will be read this shabbat in synagogues worldwide is a case in point. God says of Noah’s generation that “the land was filled with Hamas”. The commentaries translate the Hebrew word Hamas in a number of ways. Onkeles (35-120 CE), one of the prime commentators on the Hebrew bible, provded a translation for our time.
He says that Hamas means “kidnappers.” People of the time were on such a low level, had so much hatred in them that they had no qualms kidnapping children for money or for other nefarious purposes. What was God’s solution to all this Hamas? Wipe them out. The disease had spread too far, the hatred was endemic, the land had to be washed and cleaned and made ready for a “better generation.”
An interesting biblical take with application to our current world. Let’s hope our enemies can find a way to raise a “better generation.”