Samuel Koltov

We lost – Both the war and ourselves

Credit: Shmuel Aryeh Koltov

I already had the feeling that we’d lost the war very early on after seeing the responses from our leaders, ministers from the government, and prominent thought leaders, both religious and secular. It wasn’t so much the anger and rage as it was the blind ignorance to the responsibility that comes with being in charge of a hurt and wounded society. Not only from the brutal terror attack itself, but also following the ten months of internal conflict we had gone through previously.

This, and the fact that we entered Gaza with no plans for how to deal with the humanitarian crisis the military campaign would cause, not to talk about the refusal to talk about a plan for the day after, further strengthened the feeling of despair.

Hillel used to say: be like the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace, loving mankind and drawing them close to Torah.

That we also seemed to ignore the explosion of settler violence in the West Bank, at least for some time, didn’t help the feeling.

I wrote about this here on Times of Israel already in the beginning of the war. It was like we became blinded by our rage, something which is understandable for the ordinary Israeli, among whom I found myself at certain moments, but not for our leaders who need to rise above these feelings. Not for their own sake, but for our sake.

Our conduct has been beyond criticism. It is not the individual soldier or necessarily the army I’m directing this criticism against, even if that always seems to be the most obvious and easy to do. But the obvious is not always the right. It comes from above, and it starts with our leaders on top.

He also used to say: If I am not for myself, who is? But if I am for myself only, what am I? And if not now, when?

The neglect and lack of concern for life, Israeli and Palestinian, that has been expressed by our leaders has been frustrating and heart wrenching. Of course, as an Israeli there are things that I have refused to accept, things I didn’t want to acknowledge, most of it with good reason, but also things which was obviously wrong.

In all this our leaders have shown almost contempt towards our allies, insisting on acting without any concern for the warnings we’ve received through all this. This was particularly clear from the court hearings in the ICJ, whether one feels that the whole thing was justified or not. No matter how we interpret and understand the statements of the court, one thing was clear; improve the situation for the Palestinian civilians. But I fear that it was already too late at this point.

Our allies have changed their positions of support to positions of opposition. We have tried to convince them that we are justified in our actions, but they have become more and more critical to our perception of things.

The killing of the seven aid workers might be the final nail.

Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel used to say: on three things the world stands: on justice, on truth and on peace, as it is said: “execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates”.

There’s a lot to blame Hamas for. There are also something to be said about anti-Israeli bias around the world. But none of the before-mentioned can be blamed on either.

We lost because of hubris, arrogance, and an insistence of revenge. The latter is understandable, we are humans and what Hamas did on October 7th is beyond words. But our insistence on revenge blinded us.

It’s worse with the hubris and arrogance, two traits which seems to be a consistent part of the Israeli society in general, and which played a role for why and how the attack could happen the first place. The idea that we are right by definition, that it should be obvious to all, and that we again, by definition are the good guys, is us fooling ourselves.

We need to deal with this issue, we didn’t get to where we are, or were, today by thinking the way we do today. We have to be able to acknowledge wrongdoings, to approach the general situation with some humility, to accept that we can be wrong, even if we are also victims.

We’ve messed up. With the killing of the seven aid workers a few days ago. With the three hostages. With the warnings before the 7th October. And in many other cases. We have made mistakes but not prevented them from happening again. And we have refused to heed the advice and warnings provided us by those, who risked their own careers to support us. We need to take a deep look in the mirror and ask ourselves where we went wrong. The problem doesn’t lay outside, it exists here, within Israel, in all of us being part of this otherwise amazing country. And no one is above criticism.

Rabbi Joshua said: an evil eye, the evil inclination, and hatred for humankind put a person out of the world.

I know that it’s easy to point fingers at our political leadership, particularly Netanyahu, but it would be too easy. The truth is that the hubris we see so pronounced in his behavior is common in Israeli society. Several articles have been published lately, which expose exactly this, and while it hurts, we need to acknowledge and try to change this attitude. It does us absolutely no good.

We need to find the straight path again. We need to find the deep ethical well, which formed the backbone of Judaism, which kept us going for all these years. We don’t have to become religious, but we do need to ask those before us how they stayed human and managed to survive and thrive as such, in spite of all they went through.

It is not the totalitarian insistence on control over land, which has defined us as a people through the centuries, it is our insistence on focusing on the soul of the people and contributing positively to our role as a light unto the nations.

This insistence is the only way we can build a path forward to a better future.

About the Author
Amateur historian wanting to present alternative narratives of the Holy Land.
Related Topics
Related Posts