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David Debow
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Victory is possible, if you name it right

Hamas will never really be eradicated, so Israel must keep fighting... until more Gazans prioritize their own well-being over Israel's destruction
IDF reservists of the 646th Brigade treat a Gazan child in the central Gaza Strip, December 2023. (IDF's 646th Brigade)
IDF reservists of the 646th Brigade treat a Gazan child in the central Gaza Strip, December 2023. (IDF's 646th Brigade)

Israel is wavering after more than 100 days of war. Is victory possible? Would a deal be better? Have we destroyed enough? Is it worth it? In asking these questions, Hamas wins. Of course, a free country must be allowed to ask but it can also be answered: Yes, victory is possible. A deal would be much worse as it would set the stage for future, worse conflict against a weaker Israel. We have not destroyed enough until our objective has been achieved and all of this will be worth it when Gaza surrenders unconditionally because Hamas is not able to prevent it.

What is victory? Carefully defining this objective makes it achievable. By contrast, defining it in a way that makes it impossible, plays to our enemies. We can’t make Hamas disappear. Hamas is an ideology and those that hate Israel and want it eradicated even when called by any other name are still Hamas. The Torah prepared us for this terrible truth by explaining that the war with Amalek continues in each and every generation. The Torah teaches this not to knock the wind out of us, but to guard us against false promises and short cuts. The wish to relax our vigilance, to trust others, to drop our guard, must be resisted. We can never stop being responsible for our own safety or our own interests. Be assured that handing power to our enemy will be used against us. The truth that Hamas and its axis of evil will never be eradicated is the reason to keep fighting until victory and not cut a deal. But what is victory against an enemy that returns generation after generation?

Here again the Bible instructs us. Victory does not require the extermination of a certain species of men, women and children — despite the libel taking place in The Hague. Whether a failure to understand, a projection of their own hateful beliefs, or an intentional and malicious attempt to subvert our victory, the accusation of genocide against us and our treasured Book of books follows from ignoring a basic biblical construct. A people, whether friend or foe has an identity and that identity resides outside the bodies of individuals. The Bible teaches that to defeat an enemy is to make them flee in disarray. To scatter them.

קוּמָה ה’ וְיָפֻצוּ אֹיְבֶיךָ וְיָנֻסוּ מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ מִפָּנֶיךָ

Arise, LORD; let Your enemies be scattered, and those that hate You, flee from before You (Bamidbar 10:35)

In Gideon’s dramatic victory over the Midianites, studied, I am told, to this day at West Point, the day was won before a single enemy soldier was killed (Shoftim 7). It was won when panic and confusion characterized the Midianite forces, and each man turned his sword against his fellow.

The definition of a body politic is that which can coordinate the activity of multiple human beings to a given purpose. Political entities, incorporations, teams of all kinds, direct and organize activity to a particular end. The body politic does not exist in the people, or their individual beliefs but in that which holds people together, in that which is between them.

For 15 years now, the Hamas system has been able to direct the activities, the resources and the education of Gazans. The Hamas machine has been able to produce leaders and fighters faster than we can kill them. For 15 years now, they have had the freedom to build an extensive, complex tunnel system, to launch missiles and direct billions of Qatari dollars to the pockets of those that they wish. That level of organization can be defeated. We can and must disrupt the polity called Hamas. That is what our army and our people are organized to do through the application of intelligent force embodied in our armed forces, our army corps.

What do Gazans want? I imagine, as people, they want various things. Some want to be left alone to raise children, sing songs and garden. And some want to die a martyr’s death, to glorify God and Islam, or so they think. We won’t be able to kill all such potential shahids. We will never be safe from the individual act of terror that a hell-bent destructive person has decided to perpetrate. Even America the Great cannot make itself immune from school shooters and nihilists of all kinds. But we can prevent the voice of Gaza, the characteristic expression of Gazan desires to be aligned with such destructive elements.

One of the ironies of this war is that the hawks are the ones who place more belief in the people of Gaza and the doves, less. The hawks believe that a transformation is still possible like Germany after the war. Germans are not by definition Nazis and Gazans are not by definition terrorists. The hawks believe that only by disrupting the power structures keeping Gazans in the grip of Hamas can such a sea-change evolve. The doves have no such hope. Gazans will be Gazans, hostage-taking, rampage-prone Islamicists, and we need to come to some accommodation with them.

What does unconditional surrender look like? Somewhere a Gazan picks up a white flag and says I give up. He is joined by others and still others and Hamas fighters are nowhere able to stop the insurrection. For now, such pockets exist but Hamas is still in a position to punish such white-flag wavers. For now, Hamas still projects enough power and fear so that the Gazans who are ready for something different cannot organize sufficiently to implement that different something and fear that if they do, Israel will soon retreat and leave them exposed to Hamas’s next incarnation. Also, the IDF is still vulnerable to such shows of defeat being used as subterfuge because Hamas lingers in the background and can still fire rockets, organize ambushes and prevent the return of hostages. But it must be noted that Hamas cannot organize any attacks against Israeli forces that are larger than terror squads of about five people. From such control, given time, determination, and freedom to act, the IDF can continue to tighten the noose on Hamas, circumscribing their ability to organize activity and project control until enough other Gazans pick up that flag saying we don’t care to fight anymore — and that becomes the voice of Gaza.

And here is the last key insight allowing us to imagine victory and then to achieve it. We don’t need Gazans to want Israeli rule, to fly our flag, or sing Hatikva. Victory is not synonymous with total conversion of their personhood. We need them to care less about destroying us. Let it remain a distant wish but in the meantime, the more important issues of family and livelihood should occupy their thoughts, their money, and the day’s activities.

The characteristic belief allowing democracy, is to understand that who is in charge, from among the broad range of democratic possibilities doesn’t matter all that much. It is ideologues, radicals, monarchists, communists who storm the Bastille in order to give their life to a new world order. It is democrats that would just as well have someone blue as someone red in charge because as bad as it might be, it will change again soon. Democracy is enabled when people care to fight about their particular identity less. Israeli society is losing sight of this simple truth that our democracy will be enhanced by fretting about it less.

Democracy is a large spectrum and while we shouldn’t trust our safety to the fanciful thought that a free press, democratic process and the rule of law are coming soon to Gaza, we might content ourselves with creating the conditions in which murderous ideology is no longer the organizing feature and chief export of the Gazan polity. That is something worth fighting for and achievable, but it can only be accomplished once Hamas has been truly vanquished, scattered and sent into disarray.

About the Author
David Debow was raised in a sweet Jewish home in suburban Toronto and has always followed a spiritual path. He studied at Yeshiva University, Yeshivat HaMivtar and five years at Yeshivat Har Etzion. He taught in Cleveland, Ohio and has spent the past decade and a half creating and directing Midreshet Emunah v'Omanut - a unique Seminary dedicated to integrating Torah and the Arts. After sending off the final cohort of EVO students at the end of 5782 David spends his time at home, playing with his children and grandchildren while trying to edit Jewish publications for Koren.
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