Peace. Just not now

Screenshot from the Facebook page of Peace Now (in Hebrew).

Peace.  It should be the easiest sell to the Jewish-Israeli public. Our Prophets preached it, our sages extolled it, and we have verses and verses put to song that we sing. Constantly.  Charity, compassion, towards the orphan and widow, and sympathy for the downtrodden are also Jewish values. What religion would have their sages in a discussion as follows (Megillah 10b):

  1. Jonathan said: The Holy One, blessed be He, does not rejoice in the downfall of the wicked. For R. Samuel b. Nahman said in R. Jonathan’s name: What is meant by, “and one came not near the other all the night”? In that hour the ministering angels wished to utter the song [of praise] before the Holy One, blessed be He, but He rebuked them, saying: My handiwork [the Egyptians] is drowning in the sea; and you want to sing! Said R. Jose b. Hanina: He Himself does not rejoice, yet He allows others to rejoice.

    For yes, also our enemies, and certainly the “innocent” (scare quotes intended) civilians of Gaza are part of the L-rd’s creation, and we should be saddened by their suffering. Women, children, and the elderly are in leaking tents exposed to the cold and the elements. How can we be “okay” with that?The answer is complex. In the world in which we exist, we can both be concerned about the suffering of our enemies and yet accept it as a necessity to achieve what we believe is the “best” outcome of the war. We can want Peace, but not now.

Peace Now existed before I came to Israel, (and I have been here more than 40 years).  I have never been a fan of theirs nor of their advocacy.  Therefore, I was not overly surprised when I came across a post on their Facebook page praising and commemorating the withdrawal from Gush Katif eighteen years ago in 2005. Surprised not, but still dismayed. More so by the text added onto the post, along with the poster itself. (I am copying their post but blocking out the focus of their poster to not infringe on any publication rights).

The poster itself, on the top, proclaims: “The withdrawal from Gaza saves lives: before the withdrawal, 376 dead, after the withdrawal, 164 dead. In the bottom right corner: “I.D.F. soldiers search for body parts of their fellow soldiers who were killed in the APC ambush on the “Philadelphia” corridor, Gaza 2004”. The venom-laden text at the top of the post reads “In honor <sic> of the 18 years since the withdrawal, it is important to remember: colleagues from work, neighbors, mothers, and fathers of children. Hundreds of Israelis live today amongst us because they were not killed in Gaza.  In the picture: soldiers search for body parts of the comrades who were killed guarding messianic settlements in Gaza.”

There is much to parse here, but bear with me, for it is important to get the “facts” correct in this discussion (and obviously, my facts may be faulty and biased).

First, an article from HAARETZ from August 23, 2005 (written by Arnon Gotlieb), states that 230 Israelis and 2,600 Palestinians were killed in Gaza from after the war of 1967 till the withdrawal from Gaza in early August 2005.  The breakdown, in and of itself, is illuminating.  From 1967, till 1987, 38 Israelis were killed in terrorist actions in Gaza. From 1987, from the start of the “First Intifada” over the next six years there were another 29 casualties from terrorist activity in Gaza, and from 2003, when the Oslo Accords were signed till October 2000 (the “Second Intifada”) another 39 Israelis were killed. Simple arithmetic would give us the sum of 106 Israeli fatalities from July 1967 till October 2000, and 114, from October 2000 till the end of July 2005, when the withdrawal occurred (the source of the discrepancy between 114 and 124 listed in the article is unknown).

While it is important to note that the numbers used in this debate are secondary to whether or not one believes that the premise that the withdrawal from Gaza saved lives is true, it is still informative to the motives of those making the claim that the withdrawal indeed “saved” lives, when they use incorrect numbers. I have no idea how Peace Now arrived with the numbers used in their poster or who and why someone was included in their accounting. I do know that being caught in a “lie” always reflects poorly on the side making a claim.

Secondly, not all Israeli casualties of soldiers that occurred in Gaza were “because of the settlements”.  The Philadelphia Corridor, so named for how it was labeled in I.D.F daily operational code maps, was a buffer area created after Israel returned the Sinai to the Egyptians as part of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1982. After 1967, the town of Rafiah expanded westward, and many Palestinians built new housing on and over the border line between Gaza and Egypt. The Egyptians demanded that the Palestinians who moved into Egypt return to Rafiah in Gaza and that their houses be destroyed to create a new border area that would delimitate the territories. Regardless of the settlements and the Israelis who lived in them, there was a real operational need to patrol the buffer zone and prevent smuggling between Egypt and Gaza. It is noteworthy to remember that even after the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, sometime in 2006, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called for re-occupying the Philadelphia Corridor to prevent continuing smuggling (of rocket parts and heavy weaponry) from Egypt into Gaza. The need to have I.D.F. control the area after this current war is also seriously being discussed and is a separate issue regardless of what Israel plans for the rest of Gaza.

This brings us to the real question:  Why did Peace Now see it necessary to exalt in the withdrawal from Gaza and why did they believe that it was justified to blame the “messianic settlers” for all the casualties that occurred in Gaza before the withdrawal?

As of July 2023, the individuals connected and behind Peace Now (and other “Left-wing” organizations like B’Tselem, Gisha, or Breaking the Silence) were amid a largely successful campaign against the government in their efforts to stifle the government’s ability to bring legislation to change the balance of power between the Knesset and the Judiciary. The latest of elections, in November 2022, resulted in left-wing Meretz and one of the Arab parties slipping under the electoral threshold, which came as a rude shock, for it allowed the formation of a right-wing government with a slim, but solid majority. Beaten, but not humbled, the Left galvanized the public through a well-funded campaign to discredit the government, Netanyahu, and first and foremost, the National Religious parties within the government.

So, Peace Now needed to publish a poster, a type of hagiography, to portray themselves as the “winners” in their past struggle against the “messianic settlers”. Preaching to the already converted, they felt the need to “rally the troops” on their way to deposing the current government. The success of causing the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 would certainly be followed by further success in the future, they felt.


The hatred that Peace Now has consistently shown towards “Gush Emonim” and those perceived as supporters of the “settlers” is a historically deeply embedded hate in the Left, essential to its identity. It is not, as they would like everyone to believe, a struggle between those who prefer Peace to those who prefer territory, but rather a struggle between two rival views of who and what are Israel’s enemies. The Right wants peace but believes that our enemies, (the Palestinians as part of the larger Arab world), are essentially unable to accept, in any form, Jewish sovereignty over any of the Jewish historical homes and that any acceptance will come, unwillingly, from recognizing that Israel is too strong to defeat. The Left, on the other hand, believes that the Arabs would be willing partners in achieving Peace if only the “obstacles” of Jewish sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, and the Jewish nature of the State of Israel could be removed.

So, the hatred of the “messianic settler” is a necessary crutch supporting the entire edifice of the Left. Without the “settlers” and to a great extent also the Orthodox and National Religious parties supporting the government the Left would have to return their glance to the Arabs and their constant unacceptance of Israel. Peace with Egypt is now over 45 years old, and we have had a peace treaty with Jordan for 30 years now, but we are still a hated enemy of the overwhelming majority of both countries’ citizens. The latest surveys do not lie. The rank and file in the Arab world not only applaud the barbarity and cruelty that we saw on October 7, 2023, but they would gladly join in themselves if only given an opportunity. The Palestinian Authority, under the tutelage of corrupt, venal, and terroristic Mahmoud Abbas, is no different, and certainly no better than the murderous, inhumane Hamas. If the Left did not have the “messianic settler” to blame, they would have to admit that the Arabs are the reason that we have yet to achieve peace and that the Left’s vision of reality is flawed.

Last week’s Torah reading, Beshelach, saw a type of final chapter of one type of enemy, the Egyptians and Pharoah, and a starting chapter of a different type of enemy, Amalek. The Egyptians were drowned and left behind us. We have bitter memories of their cruelty, but we are commanded, by the Torah, not to hate them. Do not despise an Edomite, because he is your brother. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you were a resident alien in his land (Deuteronomy 23:7).  Amalek, on the other hand, can never be accepted: we are commanded to always remember their treachery and to physically rid the world of them. Two different foes, one we can learn to accommodate and the other that, by its nature, we can never live with. Perhaps the Palestinians are not Amalek, certainly, that is not the purpose here to call them that. Yet it is important to know who a friend is and who is a foe. Perhaps Peace Now is confused?

The poster from Peace Now I found by accident: I was searching the internet to find some background information about a photo from photographer Anat Saragusti of Sarit Yishai with Yassir Arafat taken in Beirut in the summer of 1982.  The photo is unpublishable because it belongs to Ms. Sargusti, but copies circulate and in it, one can see Sarit Yishai casually chatting with Arafat. The photo captures an intimate, almost sensual atmosphere: Arafat and Yishai could be described as flirting. In the copy I saw, a poster had erroneously labeled Vivien Silver IY” D as the young woman in the photo.

Silver was a past board member of B’Tselem, active in various organizations dedicated to bringing Arabs and Israelis together and she was murdered on October 7 near her kibbutz. She was presumed kidnapped until mid-November when her body was found hidden and discarded near her home. Perhaps Silver also hated the “messianic settler”, or at least saw that hatred as a useful tool in advancing her causes, but she did not, because of her affiliations or associations, deserve her fate. She was never the enemy and the enemy, Hamas, did not differentiate between those who hated “messianic settlers” and the settlers themselves.

All this discussion may seem misplaced now, but I am afraid it is not. Whether it is Peace Now, Hostage Deal Now, Elections Now, or just Hate the Settlers Now, the same forces of pre-October 7 have not disappeared. They have only repurposed their resources and directed them elsewhere. They believe they are the forces of light. It is, for them, a Messianic Belief and we all know that there is no reasoning with the messianic.

As for the desire for Peace. We can only pray that one day our enemies will desire it as much as we do. We can work for it and perhaps we can even help bring it. Peace.  Just not now.

About the Author
Shlomo Toren has been a resident of Israel since 1980, and a transportation planner for the last 25 years. He has done demand modeling for the Jerusalem Light Rail and Road 6. He is married to Neera and lives in Shiloh.
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