Yom Kippur is over in Israel but remembering the Yom Kippur war is not over, at least not here. The Israeli media continues to write and talk about it. One can hear transcripts of the battles from 1973—fifty years ago—on the radio every day, as if this is still happening today. On the one hand, we remember that Israel was attacked on two fronts on October 6th by surprise, for which we paid in many casualties, wounded soldiers, prisoners-of-war, and a traumatized society. On the other hand, we also remember the great comeback of our army and the ultimate success in this terrible war.
In recent weeks, I have seen two important new films (Golda, The Stronghold) about this war and read a great deal about it and its aftermath, including a memorial book about a soldier whom I knew who fell on the second day of the war in a tank battle on the Golan Heights. His name was Eyal Shaham. He was a captain in the Armed Corps, a follower in the footsteps of his father in becoming an officer in the Israel Defense Forces, Colonel Zonik Shaham, who was a good friend of my father, Rabbi Leon Kronish.
My father helped to produce the book in Eyal’s memory in the years immediately after “the earthquake” (as this war was referred to in Israel in those days) because he wanted people abroad to know the story of this young man and his family, especially the sacrifices they made for the establishment and preservation of Israel. Entitled As the Hart Panteth, it was published in English in 1977. I read parts of it again during Yizkor on Yom Kippur this year and had a good cry. The book included powerful personal chapters by Eyal’s mother and father, as well as discussions with friends, led by the famous Israeli author Haim Guri. They all related stories of a young man dedicated to serving his country, trained in the tradition of service of his family and his youth movement, a man of high ideals committed to the Israel that we once knew (the one way before Bibi, Ben Gvir and Smotrich who are set on destroying the democratic structures of Israel).
When I reread these stories of a mother and father losing a young son in a time of war, I was moved very deeply by their pathos. Among other things, they wondered if this would be the last war. In their pain, they realized that maybe we have had enough wars, that perhaps it was time to end the cycle of violence.
The Israel of 1973—led by Golda Meir of the Labor party—was far from perfect, but it was light years ahead the government of today in terms of serious responsibility for its citizens. If it had one major flaw, it was the sin of hubris, the pompous and incorrect idea that we will never be attacked by our enemies since we are so strong and so competent. Unfortunately, we still hear statements full of hubris by some of our political and military leaders, such as our Prime Minister Netanyahu and our Defense Minister Gallant who like to threaten Lebanon (in particular the Hezbollah movement, which is an Iranian proxy) and Iran that if they start up with Israel, “we will bomb them back to the stone age.” In the light of the Yom Kippur War, our “leaders” should know by now that these statements are counterproductive and nothing but nonsense, but they like to repeat them anyway, either because they think that their political “base” likes to hear it or because talking this way is embedded in their DNA.
In the years after the Yom Kippur War—which was Israel’s fifth war with Egypt and last war with an Arab country—a process of peace negotiations began. First, President Sadat came to Israel in 1977. Then President Carter hosted President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin for the famous Camp David Summit in 1978. And in the following year, 1979, a peace treaty was signed between Israel and Egypt, which has lasted until this day. This was the first peace agreement between Israel and a neighboring Arab country.
In the 1980s, we were stuck in the mud in Lebanon, fighting first with the PLO and then with Hezbollah, in a war of attrition, not a conventional war with an Arab country. But in the 1990s we returned to the path of peace via the Oslo Accords, which also led to another historic peace agreement with our neighbor to the east, the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, another peace accord which has lasted to this day.
Unfortunately, however, wars did not cease in our region. Since 2006, Israel has fought five mini-wars against the Hamas regime in Gaza, all of which ended where we began, and have proved to be fruitless. And, of course, the attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, in the name of “defense” and annexation, go on every day, as do the often successful attempts by terrorist organizations to kill Jews.
In brief, we have been witness to the War Process vs the Peace Process in Israel and the region for the past forty years or more. It seems to me that the war process has not been very successful. In fact, the last war that we “won” was the existential one of 1973. Since then, we have been fighting against militias, like Hezbollah or Hamas, and each round appears to be a “teku”, a stalemate, which brings with it lots of destruction of property and lives and only increases the fear and mistrust on both sides of the conflict.
Therefore, what is needed is a return to the peace process, which has brought us some good results over the decades, although not enough
But you say, “we don’t have a partner for peace”. That was the useless mantra invented by PM Barak after the failure of the Camp David II talks in summer 2000. By the way, the “leader” of the Palestinian side says the same thing, just in Arabic.
How do you know you don’t have a partner? Have you tried talking to him lately? Or perhaps our “leaders” need to look in the mirror and realize that they currently are not partners for peace!
All of the peace agreements that we have succeeded in negotiating have been done with former enemies, e.g., people whom we didn’t think were partners for peace until we actually talked to them. They were all, in fact, surprises. Who could have imagined back in 1977 that the president of Egypt would fly to Jerusalem and speak in the Knesset in favor of peace? Who could have imagined in1992 or 1993 that the leader of the PLO, former arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat, would send his representatives to dialogue for peace with Israeli representatives, and then sign a peace accord with Israel’s former Mr. Defense??
The War Process is clearly not working. We need to return to the Peace Process, which will be mutually beneficial for both the citizens of Israel and the citizens of Palestine. It is not impossible. Nothing is impossible. As Herzl said, “If you will it, it is not a dream.”
[Note: unfortunately, this is not currently possible with the current extreme right-wing government in Israel, nor with the current aging Palestinian “leadership”. We will probably have to wait for courageous new leaders to arise (maybe some will emerge from the current protest movement in Israel) on both sides for Israel and the Palestinians to return to the path of peace.]