Israel’s war with Hamas is its only way to protect its citizens from brutal violence
Some fifteen years ago I interviewed novelist A.B. Yehoshua on the topic of Jewish identity. A statement he made, left out of the published text, was an ominous prediction. “Look around us,” he said, pointing at the café we were sitting at in Haifa’s center. “It’s all very nice, this culture, entertainment and the good life. But it will end with blood, rivers of blood.” What Yehoshua wanted to tell the impressionable young man that was me, was that Israel is pretending to be a country that can afford to focus on creating a lifestyle of a prosperous Western society, while turning its back on the existential problems that gnaw at its very foundations. It is difficult for me to recall the precise words he used (and therefore the statements in quotation marks are paraphrase), but I do remember his warning word for word: “It will end with blood, rivers of blood.”
To our horror, the massacre Hamas executed in Israeli communities around the Gaza Strip on October 7 let flow rivers of blood. Not as a metaphor, simile or some high-flown image in a novel. The warning of the author, who passed away recently, became a reality.
The blood, carnage, destruction and now most urgently – the kidnapping of more than two-hundred hostages – is the result of a meticulous plan of a fundamentalist terrorist organization. In the absence of ground forces to counteract the infiltration of a two thousand-strong Hamas commando division to some twenty communities, families were decimated, infants and toddlers were murdered in cold blood, horrors were committed and aired live on social media, houses were burned to the ground. Israeli and non-Israeli civilians from all walks of life – elderly and young civilians, soldiers, and most shockingly dozens of young children – were kidnapped, and are currently held in the Gaza Strip.
In the absence of airstrikes, thousands of projectiles of different sizes and shapes were launched at innocent civilians across the south and center of Israel, including major cities such as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. More than half the country’s population was exposed to relentless attacks aimed to wreak maximal destruction and death. In other words, without military defense to speak of, Israel’s population, including in many Arab communities, was exposed to an indiscriminate life threat, which would have continued had the IDF not countered the infiltrations and bombed Hamas’ arsenal and launchpads.
It is clear to all that the residents of the Gaza Strip face a calamitous humanitarian crisis. Yet, tragically its state-like leadership, firmly dominated by Hamas, is leveraging this crisis to maximum effect. A pseudo-government that readily decapitates and tortures subjects who show the faintest hint of disloyalty, accepts just as readily the sufferings of Gazans in the wake of Israel’s prevention of yet more butchering of citizens and shelling of cities. The plans of an attack as calculated and nefarious, definitely took into account the backlash that Gazans would have to endure. As Israel notified residents of the northern Strip to move south, away from forthcoming attacks, Hamas set up roadblocks and violently tried to prevent the evacuation. Clearly, the plans were made with equanimity because of Hamas’ bottomless cynicism.
Supporters of the Palestinian cause protesting against the current war have formed an odd yet chillingly efficient coalition: mobs of different stripes, from right-wing bigots to progressive left-wing activists, have created a world wide web of support for Gaza, who, citing the human rights of its residents, respond with anything from indifference to glee at the shattering tragedy that forced Israel to go to war. Those protesters choose to ignore Hamas’ atrocities and sinister exploitation of the Palestinian plight, to stage distorted narratives about Israel’s inhumanness. Possibly the most famous example is the false accusation, clearly disproved with footage and other evidence, that Israel is responsible for an explosion in the Al Ahali Hospital, which was in fact hit by a faulty Islamic Jihad rocket.
In an increasing number of cases the protests are directed at Jews at-large, often accompanied by violent threats and actions against Jewish individuals and institutions, from Sydney to Berlin. The expectation is for Israel to hold its fire, effectively leaving its population defenseless against mass murder, in order to stop Gaza’s quickly deteriorating situation, which is part of Hamas’ premeditated attack.
Here again, I am reminded of another warning of A.B. Yehshua that I witnessed, which can be said to have presaged the current crisis. Invited to give a keynote in a small philosophy event in Israel, Yehoshua spoke about the moral dilemma of the protagonist in Albert Camu’s short story, “The Guest.” In the story, a schoolmaster living alone on a rocky plateau in Algeria, is ordered by the local gendarme to accompany a murder suspect to the nearby police station. The gendarme leaves suspect and ad-hoc policeman at the school, and goes back to his outpost to prepare for imminent war. The next morning, resentful of the task imposed on him the schoolmaster takes the suspect to a crossroads, hands him food and money, and gives him the choice between surrendering himself to the authorities or fleeing into the desert.
Yehoshua’s reading of the story was unequivocal: the schoolmaster was at fault for refusing to take the suspect to trial. But the moderator at the event, a philosophy professor specializing in ethics, questioned Yehoshua’s conclusion: Perhaps there was room to doubt the gendarme’s pretrial conviction of the suspect? As host, could it be that the schoolmaster’s primary moral obligation toward his guest was to protect him, even if he was in fact responsible for another man’s death?
Yehoshua’s reaction was lightning quick: “But this man killed your mother! He had just killed your sister!” The novelist bellowed at the stunned professor, who sat still and failed to reply to the shocking reprisal. At the time it seemed a somewhat tasteless dramatization of the argument. Now, it appears to me warranted if not essential.
The war Hamas had forced on Israel after butchering some 1,400 victims and taking hostage more than two hundred persons, is not an experiment in ethics. Mothers, sisters, grandparents, fathers and brothers have either been murdered in cold blood or kidnapped. Some of the hostages are very young children; others suffer from serious chronic illnesses that will become a death sentence without access to medication. Numerous homes were invaded, pillaged and burned. This didn’t happen within the pages of a book, but to us: to our loved ones, to our families. The military strikes on Gaza are an act of survival in the most basic, plain sense.
Once this war is over, Israel will have no choice but to stop ignoring its existential threats, against which Yehoshua had warned in his “rivers of blood” vision. But it will not be able to do so unless it protects its citizens with the ferocity of a family fending for survival.