I’ve never subscribed to the notion that people in power have special knowledge and special skills that allow them to see, navigate, and control events in some unique way. In fact, history proves over and over that those very people are too often blinded by their prejudices, by their arrogance, and by their overflowing sense of confidence and soothsaying.
All of these things apply in the Middle East, and most assuredly in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There have been more predictions than I have hairs on my head, coming from all directions. If we do this, that will happen. If we don’t do this, that won’t happen. And every other combination imaginable. Some of which have panned out; others of which have led to disaster. We are now in another disaster phase.
Let me say outright that I am a Zionist. I believe with every fiber of my being that the Jewish people have a right to a homeland. And to the one in which we have had a continuous presence for millennia. But I do not believe in the greater Israel claims of the hilltop settlers and their ilk. I do not believe we can or should live in the modern world tethered to some ancient notions of geography. And as a Jew, I know we prioritize life above all. Land matters, but life matters more. If we have a home in our land, we do not need to push for more. We need safety, we need security. We need Israel to be a thriving, just, secure place. That is the only way, in this one Zionist’s opinion, that being “greater” should matter.
But in this fraught moment, Israel is caught in a war with a gruesome, bloodthirsty enemy, Hamas, and is tethered to the leadership of a corrupt, ideologically deranged, religiously grotesque government. Israel has a prime minister so consumed with his own need to be in power (and out of jail), that burning the country down around him is a laudable strategy. Which is what we saw during his government’s relentless attacks on democracy. It’s what we saw in his push for the Nation State Law, the one that marginalized the Bedouin, among others. That would be the Bedouin who, on October 7th, saved Israelis. And died from Hamas attacks as well. And who got kidnapped alongside other Israelis. It’s what we’ve seen in Bibi’s endless handouts to the Haredim, for some of whom shuckling in yeshivot is equal to military service. And putting national security, the country’s finances, and legislative oversight of its legal system in the hands of cruel, selfish, often tragically incompetent ideologues.
Yet Bibi still, with a straight face, claims that he knows best. As when he pushed Trump to abandon the Iran deal, assuring everyone that a better deal would surely be crafted. None was, of course. So Iran is closer than ever to getting a nuclear bomb. And the strategy of funding Hamas via Qatar, in order to marginalize the PA in the West Bank and ensure no peace process, no two-state solution. Worked like a Swiss clock, didn’t it?
October 7th was a soul-crushing, devastating day. The response of Israeli civilians, of non-profits, of the “traitors” who opposed Bibi’s efforts to destroy Israeli democracy and who immediately pivoted to relief efforts, is the best of Israel in the worst of times. My disgust with Netanyahu and Co. turned to pride in being part of this amazing tribe that can devote itself so selflessly to healing and supporting one another. In the absence of a functioning government. And in the face of its never-ending, self-serving excuse-making, and cruelty.
But there are the hostages. The hundreds taken from Israel after the slaughter of many hundreds more. We know how some came home. For more than 100, their release followed a multi-day ceasefire. Others, tragically, came home in body bags, having been killed by Hamas while in captivity. And three hostages were mistakenly killed by the IDF. Only one was rescued. Only one.
Yet the soldiers of the IDF continue to fight, and die, in a Gaza Bibi has claimed he will rid of Hamas and never allow to become the nucleus of a Palestinian state. He is lying on both counts. Israel cannot rid Gaza of Hamas, no matter how many terrorists the IDF kills. And no matter how many of Israel’s children–19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25-year old soldiers and officers–lay down their lives in service of a country that deserves them. And a government that most assuredly does not. What will their sacrifice have meant, when this war either drags on, or ends before all the hostages are released, and before Hamas is fully eradicated?
Bibi has blustered, bragged, and bullshitted his way through life. The lies have caught up to him, but others continue to pay the price. The victims of October 7th–those still alive, and the far too many who died that day–paid for his cynical alliance with the settler movement, the shifting of military resources and attention away from Gaza and to the West Bank because, of course, Bibi had succeeded in pacifying Hamas.
Bibi is not the only guilty party, but as the megalomaniac who seeks the spotlight and glory for every proclaimed victory, let the bloody stains of failure wash over him too. The female watchers on the border, ignored by their superiors in the army. The Hamas plans, known to Israel a year ago, but too fantastical to be believed. All the way back to the Hamas money trail, downplayed by Israel’s intelligence services and its then–and seemingly forever–prime minister: Benjamin Netanyahu.
I have no crystal ball of my own to predict how this appalling quagmire ends. But there is surely more loss of life to come. Yes, I am most deeply concerned about Israeli lives, because those are my family members. But I care as well about the loss of life of Palestinian civilians caught in this awful war started by Hamas.
We will not get the hostages home by force of arms. We may get more back via a ceasefire. I hope we see the safe return of all who are still alive. But their freedom will surely come at the price of the lives of more of Israel’s children in uniform. And there is no freedom for them in putting everything on the line. There is likely no victory, either. There is only the possibility of getting out of this alive. Or not.