Shulamit S. Magnus
Jewish historian

Israel’s Agony

About some things, there is overwhelming consensus in Israel, left to right, religious of some kind to atheist.

There is no returning to the situation that obtained on the morning of October 7. There is no living with Hamas across the street. No thought of any kind of lopsided modus vivendi anymore, of this or that “deal” with them—they shoot missiles, we bomb them some; they send over incendiary devices attached to balloons, incinerate fields, forests, nature preserves, aim for children with the bombs attached to colorful balloons or toys, we take it. The communities in the south, in easy shooting distance from Gaza and the targets of normal, routine, attacks from there, well, that’s how it is there, those kibbutzim, Sderot. Tel Aviv, of course, is different. We send in daily truck loads of goods, including building materials, for civilian uses. Hamas takes what it wishes, uses building materials to construct “second Gaza,” “Gaza’s metro,” the subterranean warren of tens of miles of fortified tunnels connecting homes, schools, hospitals, which serve the as safe housing for the terrorists and their leaders, in which they are now, indeed, embedded, with huge stores of food, water, and fuel while civilians go without (Fuel shortage? Really? They are not sending over 8,000 rockets with wood burning stoves).

Israel works with Qatar for the latter’s delivery of huge sums to Hamas. Israel gives passes to thousands of Gazans daily to enter Israel to work, earning wages unimaginable in Gaza. Hamas taxes those wages; we know all this but do it anyway, under the now-proven fatal assumption that this would give Gazans, and even Hamas, skin in the game of some kind of status quo.

That is over.

Hayim Yellin, grieving member of incinerated Kibbutz Be’eri, population before the catastrophe, 1,100, which suffered 96 murdered and 32 abducted to Gaza– babies, children, elderly, women, men– said it clearly in a remarkable interview, a few days after the attack. It’s us or them. Peering into the interviewer, Yonit Levi’s eyes, asking, do you understand?

Another survivor, same look in the eye, put it this way: we can’t be neighbors anymore.

That is the national consensus here. And not only about and from the south. The tens of thousands evacuated from communities in spitting/ shooting distance of Lebanon, which are under now constant fire from Hamas-Lebanon and Hizbullah, say the same.

That message appears not to have penetrated media consciousness abroad, including some Diaspora Jews, but the sooner that happens, the better.

Israel’s current campaign in Gaza is to extirpate Hamas. There will be no such functioning group when this is over.

I listened a bit ago to two radio interviews, with two conflicting imperatives about what must now be done.

The first was with three or four miluimnikin, reservists, in combat engineering units, all in their forties. For some, it was their fourth “tsav sh’moneh,” call up for war. All served in the 2014 war, Tsuk Eitan. Some served in the war in Gaza prior to that, and one, in the Second Lebanon war. Asked if this one in Gaza is different, in particular, from Tsuk Eitan, the answer was a resounding, yes. That one, albeit a very long 51 days, was partial, hit and leave operations to clear out tunnels, take out ammunition, rocket stores, inflict damage—an incentive to cease attacks on Israel, buy some time, hopefully, years, of quiet.

“Incentive,” of course, means, the other side operates with standard, rational criteria. That assumption exploded with the missiles, RPGs, gunfire, and savage atrocities of Hamas on October 7.

This one is deep into Gaza, it’s total, by the root, the miluimnikim say. Nothing will be left of Hamas when this is over.

What do you want, the interviewer asked at the end, what final thoughts do you want to share?

Just don’t stop us, they said. Let us finish the job. Or else all we have sacrificed, our family life, our jobs, our careers, the dead, the wounded, was for nothing. Just don’t stop us till it’s done.

The second interview was with a woman whose child was taken hostage into Gaza. She cannot believe that we are already over a month since that horrific day. She does not want to think that this will continue. Every day is too much. This can’t become accepted, it can’t be a matter of weeks, much less, months. Every day is a lifetime for a child. She’s not a politician, a tactician, but she knows that. Ending Hamas, we can do that later. Every day for the hostages is too long. There has to be a comprehensive deal, pay whatever price, now. All of them.

Another mother of children taken hostage says, if you can’t get them out to me, take me there, to them.

Families of the hostages are insisting that there be no deal for any help to Gazans that does not include the minimum for the hostages: visits by the Red Cross. Full information about who is there and their condition. Needed medications and treatment for those with chronic conditions. For those with horrific injuries, including amputations inflicted when the terrorists hurled grenades at civilians in roadside, concrete shelters, miguniyot, “protective spaces,” meant for normal times, when Hamas is just rocketing and people need to leap out of their cars and take cover. Shelters that were anything but when the fundamental disparity between Israeli, normal human understanding, and that of Hamas collided, when these structures became traps for those seeking safety inside, easing things for Hamas murderers in their wanton, systematic, murder of civilians. Migunit after migunit.

Humanitarian gesture for humanitarian gesture. No more double standards, with Israelis getting the short end of the stick. The government must stand firm about this. The world understands, or not. Sympathizes or not.

These, and the monumental, ceaseless, grieving, are the agonies of the current moment.

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.
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