P. David Hornik

They Dwell Alone, and Their Light Is Mostly Unseen

“…the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” (Numbers 23:9)

“…I shall submit you for a light unto the nations….” (Isaiah 42:6)

Those are two statements about the Jewish people that have resonated deeply across the millennia. Both are spoken by God—the former through the mouth of Baalam, a pagan prophet who comes to curse the Israelites but ends up blessing them.

Balaam’s prediction indeed resonates deeply as ever these days. Immediately after the October 7 pogrom, some Israelis thought the world, sharing our shock at the atrocities, would now be on Israel’s side. But the sympathy proved short-lived. At present, a chorus extending from Washington through all the major European capitals—as with all previous Israeli military efforts, no matter what the provocations—is demanding a ceasefire, and portraying a vitally necessary Israeli campaign in Rafah as a certain, or at least potential (Washington), catastrophe.

It is Israel, not Hamas, that finds itself in the dock—at the International Court of Justice, in thousands of university departments and street demonstrations—for alleged genocide. Even Hamas’s horrifying and deliberate use of sexual assault on October 7 has evoked little response from women’s organizations, let alone the UN.

The Biden administration, to its credit, keeps supporting Israel militarily and in the Security Council. But it has also taken to verbally abusing its ally, with Secretary of State Blinken accusing Israel of using October 7 as “a license to dehumanize others”; President Biden reportedly calling its prime minister names for refusing to order a ceasefire; and Blinken dubbing “inconsistent with international law” plans to build three thousand homes in Israeli communities west of the security fence, two of them towns that have existed for decades.

In other words, the administration, while still, overall, supporting Israel, is now showing its creds by joining the widespread depiction of Israel as a very badly behaved country needing constant rebukes. And in a new twist, it is now sanctioning Israeli West Bank residents accused of violent misconduct—a totally unprecedented move against a democratic ally with its own investigative and judicial capabilities.

So, long after the initial, naïve expectation of sympathy in the wake of October 7, the dwelling-alone phenomenon has emerged once again.

But what about that other characterization of the Israelites as a “light unto the nations”?

In fact—despite the constant drumbeat of accusations up to and including genocide—statements by experts on warfare indicate that the phrase is a good fit for Israel’s conduct since it launched the war on Hamas.

Thus Col. Richard Kemp, a former British Army commander in Afghanistan and elsewhere, writes: “During ‘Operation Swords of Iron,’ the IDF has faced and continues to face one of the most difficult and complex combat environments any armed forces have ever had to deal with.” As of January 5, when the article was published, the Israeli army had “airdropp[ed] 6 million leaflets warning civilians to leave specified areas and indicating places of greater safety . . . made 14 million pre-recorded phone calls and 72,000 personal calls warning civilians to leave targeted areas . . . then extensively monitor[ed] target areas from the air and ground to confirm the departure of civilians where possible before striking.”

Kemp added: “Based on my own military experience in similar types of conflict and on my direct observations throughout the first three months of this war, in my opinion, the IDF has taken all reasonable measures to achieve its mission while minimizing harm to the civilian population and maximizing humanitarian relief.”

For his part, John Spencer, an American expert and adviser on urban warfare, noted in a lengthy thread on Twitter on January 30: “No military in modern history has faced 30k defenders embedded in more than more than 7 cities, using human shields and hundreds of miles of underground networks purposely built under civilian sites while holding hundreds of hostages and launching over +12k rockets at the attacking military’s civilian areas.”

Yet, Spencer went on to say: “Israel has implemented more measure[s] to prevent civilian casualties in urban warfare than any other military in the history of war. This includes many measure the U.S. has (or has not) taken in wars & battles but also many measures no military in the world has ever taken.”

Nevertheless, despite this seeming shedding of light—on how to wage urban antiterror warfare both effectively and as humanely as possible—the prevailing atmosphere toward Israel in Western media and governments remains one of harsh condemnation. For Israelis, it stirs deep and familiar feelings of dwelling alone—even after the atrocities of October 7, which some thought had finally revealed to the West the nature of Israel’s enemies and the imperative to fight them.

Efforts to clarify the truth, however, encounter something dark and unyielding in the attitude of the nations.

About the Author
P. David Hornik, a freelance writer, translator, and copyeditor in Be'er Sheva, has published novels, a story collection, an essay collection, poetry, and numerous articles. His memoir, Israel Odyssey: Coming of Age and Finding Peace in the Middle East, is forthcoming this year from God of the Desert Books.