I am writing this from New York City, where my wife and I are visiting with family for a month. It is very hard to be away from Israel—where we have lived for the past 44 years– at this time of great national trauma. We call our two daughters in Jerusalem every day and we follow the news closely but we are not there at this very difficult moment in Israel’s history, and we are sorry about that.
Many people have written to me in recent days to express their support, solidarity and to send hugs. This is very much appreciated. Some of these people have also called or written to me to ask me what I am thinking, and this is my first attempt to put some thoughts in writing.
I want to express my great shock at the depth of the cruelty of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists who entered Israel on Saturday and committed massacres and unspeakable atrocities in towns, villages and kibbutzim –and at a huge party of young people—in southern Israel. These events, which some people have been calling “pogroms” and even equating it to scenes from the Shoah, have shaken Israel—and much of the Jewish community in the diaspora and the international community—to the core. Eye witness accounts that are coming out every day reveal the depth of the depravity of these murderers. This explains why the sentiment in Israel right now is to put an end to the evil rule of Hamas in the Gaza strip.
I am sorry to say that I am similarly in great shock at the depth of the failure of the “intelligence” of the IDF, the Mossad, the Security services and everyone else, who totally missed the preparations for this surprise attack last Saturday on communities and army bases in southern Israel. We the citizens of Israel are shocked, saddened and extremely disappointed in the lack of readiness of our army last Saturday. This has raised serious questions about our army and our government—like in the Yom Kippur War 50 years ago—which are on everyone’s minds, even as the Air Force is now responding to the Hamas attacks and provocations.
It is not just the leaders of the military who are responsible for these failures, but also the political leaders (who are above the military ones), who are supposed to set policy and overall direction. When the dust settles and this war is over, there will undoubtedly be serious investigations of what happened. Political and military leaders will be held accountable, including the man who is currently the “leader” of the most irresponsible government in Israeli history. He will have to go.
Already there are voices in Israel calling for him to go, the sooner the better. By his focus on annexation of the West Bank, with his extremist colleagues in this terrible government, they appear to have ignored the Hamas threat on the Gaza border. They should be deeply ashamed of themselves. If they had any decency or sense of responsibility, they would all resign. Instead, they are going to guide Israel in the war which Israel feels has been thrust upon it. At least now they will have the help of two former IDF Chiefs of Staff—Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot—from the National Unity Party, who have joined the coalition (after 5 days of negotiations) in an emergency war government. Israel is now at war, a battle that we were drawn into by these horrific attacks of Hamas on innocent civilians and on soldiers.
Let’s be clear: this war was started by Hamas, and they knew in advance that they –and especially the citizens of Gaza—would pay a heavy price for the havoc they have wreaked. Apparently, they don’t care. They don’t seem to have the interests of their own people at hand. Their leaders are responsible and culpable for this current war.
I am heartbroken for all the hostages—children, babies, women and men, grandparents and soldiers– that are now in the hands of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad groups in Gaza, and for their families. The fact that this has happened at all, not to mention in such large numbers, is unbelievable to me. I am hoping that the government of Israel is giving the highest priority to the mitzvah of Pidyon Shvui’m (redemption of captives), with the help of Egypt, Germany, Qatar, the USA, and undoubtedly other international actors, like the Red Cross. I hope that a prisoner exchange can be worked out as soon as possible.
On the one hand, I understand that the anger in Israel and the feeling that the IDF has to respond forcefully to the Hamas slaughter of so many innocent civilians and so many soldiers. Israelis really are seeking security—and the ability to sleep safely and peacefully at night– and they believe that an end to the Hamas regime could bring this to them.
On the other hand, I watch with great sadness the massive bombing by the Israel Air Force in Gaza, which has caused the death of more than 1400 innocent civilians so far and another internal refugee and humanitarian crisis. In Judaism, all human beings are created in the image of God, including Palestinian women and children. Is this really necessary? What will it accomplish? Other than revenge. Will it bring security to all the citizens of Israel? In the meantime, the air attacks do not seem to stop missiles from being shot into Israel from Gaza. And, will it help rescue the hostages? Similarly, I wonder whether the current siege of Gaza—no water, no fuel, no electricity—will have the desired effect of Hamas’s releasing the hostages without some kind of prisoner exchange.
Lastly for now, I am worried about a ground invasion and the whole concept of “defeating Hamas” or in the words of one of the most extremist ministers in the current government, Betzalel Smotrich, who recently has said that Israel should “send Gaza back to the stone age.” Does he want to rule Gaza after this, like he wants to annex the West Bank? Would a ground invasion really defeat Hamas permanently? Is this possible? At what human cost, on both sides?
At the end of the day, when this current war is over– and when the understandable anger and desire for vengeance subsides—perhaps it will be realized that there is no military solution to our conflict, that the path of continued violence only leads to more violence. Instead, another way must be found for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs to coexist in the same land that they share. That way would involve dialogue and negotiations with enemies, as has been done in the past with Egypt, Jordan and with the Palestinian Authority. The international community will need to help with this. It will be very complicated, but not impossible. Only this way will prevent more wars, more hostage-taking and more sorrow on both sides of the conflict.