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David Breakstone
Reflections on Israel and the Jewish world

Lest they have died for naught

Envisaging the possibilities of tomorrow

No matter how this war ends, October 7 will prove to have been a victory for Hamas. The challenge now is preventing that victory from heralding Israel’s defeat.

The return of the remaining hostages, the elimination of Hamas’ demonic leadership, and the eradication of the diabolical terror organization they crafted will not ameliorate the pain, grief, and trauma felt by Israeli society as a whole, and a thousand times more cruelly by the victims of that ghastly black Sabbath and its aftermath.

We owe it to the victims of October 7 and the ensuing war to imagine “the day after” as being brighter than today and committing ourselves to bringing it about

Given the enormity of the agony, aching and anguish, how can we ensure that those who have been sacrificed in this battle with an enemy sworn to our destruction will not have fallen for naught? The answer lies in imagining “the day after” as being brighter than today and committing ourselves now to bringing it about. Here’s my list of six objectives we need dedicate ourselves to as we struggle to rise above the tragedy even as we remember and honor its casualties.

  1. Restoring faith in our leadership

Given the polls revealing a society overwhelmingly without faith in a government it holds accountable for the debacle of unprecedented proportion that clearly might have been avoided, new elections are called for. Immediately. If the current Knesset does not dissolve itself, the public will assuredly take to the streets demanding its resignation. In the meantime, anything less than the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry empowered to bring about the removal from their positions of those it determines to have been responsible for the devastation we are experiencing will leave Israeli society seething with rage.

  1. Strengthening Israeli democracy

For months before October 7, those at the highest levels of leadership in Israel’s security, economic, and legal establishments warned that the government’s efforts to radically overhaul Israel’s judicial system not only posed a clear and present danger to our vibrant democracy but also threatened our resilience, undermining both the durability of our social fabric and our preparedness to withstand enemy aggression. Clearly their unheeded warnings were correct. Only an unequivocal pronouncement that such reform is no longer on the legislative agenda can begin to mend the divisiveness and undo the damage that this injudicious initiative introduced.

  1. Creating a truly shared society

It shouldn’t have taken the deaths of Druze army officers and the murder and abduction of Israeli Arabs on October 7 to bring Israeli society to the realization that the 2018 law defining Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People had unjustly left the more than 25 percent of our population who are not Jewish feeling that they were second class citizens. The repeal of that law is now but one of many steps that need be taken to promote social cohesion, ensuring that all of us – Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Mizrahim, Moslems, Christians, Druze, religious, secular, ultra-Orthodox, and immigrants of every origin – feel both a sense of belonging to Israeli society and a responsibility for its future.

  1. Regaining the support of our brethren abroad

We have failed miserably to make the case for Israel among our own people, never mind the world at large. Long before the present war, we were rapidly losing the support of the younger generation. In a 2017 study, The Jewish Community Federation of the Greater Bay Area found that only 43% of those aged 18-34 felt comfortable with the very idea of a Jewish state with just 32% of that cohort sympathizing more with Israel than with the Palestinians. Four years earlier, a major study of American Jewry conducted by the Pew Research Center found that only 24% of those aged 18-29 and 45% of those 65 and older – far less than half of those surveyed –believed Israel was making a sincere effort to bring about peace. As the death toll in Gaza continues to rise at an alarming rate, we are hemorrhaging any goodwill that may have remained. It is now incumbent upon us to find the way to convey the fundamental legitimacy of the Zionist idea as well as a nuanced narrative that positions Hamas and not Israel as the major obstacle to peace.

  1. Advancing regional cooperation

A major objective of the Hamas invasion of Israel was the disruption of the American-led initiative to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, an achievement that would have added immeasurably to the stabilization of relations and growing cooperation between Israel and the Arab countries of the region that began in earnest with the Abraham Accords. Reviving this process must be a high priority strategic aim in the aftermath of the current war.

  1. Embracing a political solution

That there can be a military solution to the war with our neighbors is an illusion. Anything approximating peace can only come about if we are able to foster a political resolution to the conflict, which can only mean the establishment of a Palestinian entity in one form or another. PM Netanyahu’s resolute refusal to consider such a possibility, underscored by his brazen proclamation ten weeks into the war that “I’m proud that I prevented the establishment of a Palestinian state” not only puts us on a collision course with the United States and our other allies precisely when we need their support the most, but, if left unchallenged, would also damn us to an eternity of warfare. We cannot allow the tragically mistaken conception that Hamas could be mollified by financial incentives to be replaced by the equally disastrous and erroneous hypothesis that the reoccupation of Gaza is the best way forward.

The unhealable heartbreak of lives cut short, the children left bereft of parents, the spouses left bereaved, the fiancés left with no chuppah to stand under, the elderly left with no children to care for them, the wounded who will never fully recover, the hostages who will never be released from the trauma of captivity even when brought home, the pregnant women whose infants will never know their fathers, the cousins who will forever be missed at holiday gatherings, the victims of rape who will never be rid of the unspeakable violation they endured, the innumerable whose livelihoods have been destroyed, the ransacked communities that will never ever be quite the same… All of these will remain with us for generations to come. Still, so that their pain and sacrifice not have been in vain, we owe it to the victims and heroes of this darkest of chapters in the chronicles of Israel to imagine – and strive for – a brighter future. Only then will our victory dwarf that of our enemy. The day after begins today.

About the Author
Dr. David Breakstone is presently engaged in establishing the Yitzhak Navon Center for a Shared Society. He previously served as deputy chair of the Jewish Agency executive and the World Zionist Organization and was the conceptual architect and founding director of the Herzl Museum and Educational center in Jerusalem.
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