The fight over Gaza–in search of clarity of purpose

Collateral damage in war (Flash90; AFP/Getty )

Are we allowed to use deadly force to a degree that will destroy civilian life and harm innocent residents in Gaza – is the topic of this article. Despite the painful topic, I hope that it is fair and reasonable.

After a week of devastation, a Shiva-like mourning experience for all the pain inflicted on our people, I found myself somewhat upbeat yesterday. After feeling the immediate empathy for our collective loss, I expected to find the world once again united against us over the ‘human suffering’ of the Gazan people as Israel pursues its war to the fullest. But surprisingly, the world is still standing behind us. A week into the fighting, President Biden continues to support Israel, and even the State Department, forever on the side of Arab oil, is standing with us. The U.S. and Qatar are freezing the $6 billion set aside for Iran as part of the payoff for the hostages’ release, and the European Union is withholding its financing to the Palestinians.

While the news is positive, my greater concern is with the fate of the tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers preparing to go into Gaza to try and eliminate Hamas. I fear for the casualties that will result from a ground campaign, fighting cowardly Hamas militants who hide among civilians and are willing to sacrifice their own people in the pursuit of killing Israeli citizens. Yet, the overwhelming bombing of parts of Gaza (where Hamas is hiding), plus the order for the residents in Northern Gaza to flee south, gives me hope that our soldiers will avoid house-to-house fighting, and that casualties will be held to a minimum if not totally avoided. True, the reports from Gaza and the inescapable pictures of the region’s destruction are unsettling, yet the clarity of our purpose remains with us.

A couple of days ago, I argued with a friend who claimed that Gaza is Amalek, and we’re therefore allowed, if not commanded, to destroy them (the Torah commands us to wipe Amalek from the face of the earth). I reasoned that we don’t follow edicts from nearly 3,000 years ago, and that most of the people living in Gaza, despite voting for Hamas, are not militant. Yet this topic continues to weigh on me.

The late Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik said, “the evil intentions of the Arabs are not only directed against our national independence but against the continued existence of the Jewish presence in Israel. They aspire to exterminate … the Yishuv [the Jewish community in in the land of Israel].” The Torah tells us, he continued, that “the Lord will have a war against Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:16)…. Amalek is not a certain race, but any nation or group harboring unbridled hatred toward the Jewish people. (Psalms 83:5). Lest someone believe one can negotiate with them, Rabbi Soloveitchik declared, “It is always impossible to satisfy antisemites … they will find fault with whatever we do.”

While most decision makers are with us, there are pockets of the ultra-left, virulent anti-Zionism groups, who protest against Israel. On the pro-Israel side, I must single out the extraordinary Douglas Murray who’s been defending Israel and opposing the British media singlehandedly. He and other brave nonconformists recognize that Israel is the tip of the spear in the west’s struggle against fundamental Jihad.

After listening to several more podcasts; ‘For Heaven’s Sake’, a conversation between Rabbi Donniel Hartman and Yossi Klein Halevi, both friends and intellectual giants, and ‘Making Sense with Sam Harris’, I began to shift my attention to the definition of pure or absolute evil. Pure evil erases that divine part within us, the protective layer that keeps our humanity intact.  Without looking for biblical imperatives, I believe that Absolute Evil is the modern definition of today’s Amalek. Encountering absolute evil is disorienting, as time and reality move at a different pace. Humanity is not trained to deal with such experiences and so we don’t know how to react. It feels as if the rhythm and balance of daily life itself, has been violated.

As a former Israeli soldier, I personally do not believe in collective punishment or in the killing of innocent civilians. My heart aches when I see their casualties and pain, yet when a ‘brainwashed’ people pursues and attacks us, one has little choice but destroy them all (if survival is a priority). Despite my reluctance to group all Gazans into such a category, I believe we’ve reached a point of no return.

In Casablanca in January 1943, while meeting to plan strategy for the war against the Nazis, President Roosevelt told British Prime Minister Winston Churchill that in order to eliminate the power of their adversaries, the Allies must seek their unconditional surrender. “It does not mean the destruction of the population of Germany, Italy or Japan,” Roosevelt said, “but it does mean the destruction of [their] philosophies … based on conquest and subjugation.” In pursuing this, they resorted to carpet bombing in Germany and to the dropping of two Nuclear bombs on Japan.

Israel’s battle today is no different from that earlier battle in World War II. Hamas is not a group of individuals, but rather it’s a philosophy similar to that of Isis, of absolute evil, seeking  to destroy Israel and Christians as Heretics. Much like the Hydra, in Greek legend, the monstrous serpent with nine heads, every time we eliminate one of Hamas’ leaders, there are many others to replace him. We cannot just follow our ‘Mowing the Lawn’ approach, whereby we cut them down a little every time they attack us. Nor can we limit our campaign to a long ineffective siege (Remember the failed siege on Beirut in 1982 or the 2004 U.S. casualties in Fallujah Iraq )  To eradicate Hamas completely, we must cross the line into their abyss and follow with the same carpet bombing used by the Allies in Berlin in 1945. How else are we supposed to clean house in Gaza, where the population is divided between those who voted Hamas into power, albeit watching from the sidelines, and the other half, who are actually Hamas soldiers in the field?

Hopefully, most Northern Gazans will follow Israel’s directive to migrate south (we know this is not an ideal situation, but it’s better than losing their lives), to make it easier to clear Gaza of the remaining Hamas militants and hopefully to provide clues as to the hostages’ locations. We must treat Hamas like the Allied forces in Mosul treated the last bastion of Isis fighters. Despite the casualties, Isis and their threatening expanding caliphate have been mostly eradicated.

As the song goes (taken from Ecclesiastes): “…to everything there is a time, to everything there is a season … a time to plant and a time to kill…” Unfortunately, this is that kind of time…..

But my hopes don’t end here.

It’s an historical fact that opportunities for peace in the Middle East follow conflict. The 1973 Yom Kippur War, a strategic shock much like last Saturday’s Hamas attack, was followed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s journey to Jerusalem and, eventually, lead to the Camp David Peace Accords. While we cannot engage in talks with Hamas, we must have a vision for post-war Gaza, and towards that end we need to enact our own Marshall Plan. This plan should include the involvement of the U.S., Europe, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates to rebuild Gaza for freedom loving Palestinians. In the initial phase, a mandated Pan Arab group will be in charge to rebuild the Strip, leading to a truly constructive Palestinian leadership.

In the absence of Hamas, the hope is for the Palestinian Authority, post-Mahamoud Abbas’ corrupt reign, to be able to sever from the extremists and, instead of trying to appease Hamas followers, will seek to perpetuate the true interest of its population.

I can see light in between the dark clouds. Will this vision come to pass? It is not clear, nevertheless we must find our clarity of purpose in pushing forward.

Where there is clarity – there is no choice.

Am Israel Chai!

About the Author
Soli now lives in the US, but he was born in Romania and later lived in Israeli boarding school Hadasim, as part of the Aliyat Hanoar. He served in the Israeli Air Force, and graduated with a degree in architecture from the Technion. After settling in Jaffa, he moved to the US and had several businesses. He has been married for 40 years, and is the father of 4 and grandfather of 7.
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