David K. Rees

What the United States does not understand about the war in Gaza

Composite photo: Left - the newly-elected Democratic senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington on December 13, 1972; Right - prime minister Golda Meir is shown speaking at the United Nations, October 22, 1970 (AP photos). TOI October 20, 2020.
Composite photo: Left - the newly-elected Democratic senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, is shown on Capitol Hill in Washington on December 13, 1972; Right - prime minister Golda Meir is shown speaking at the United Nations, October 22, 1970 (AP photos). TOI October 20, 2020.

There is a fundamental difference between the way that people in the United States (together with rest of the diaspora) and most of us here in Israel, including the government, view the war in Gaza. Joe Biden once understood the difference. I suspect he still does, but is in campaign mode and, so, ignores it.

In an oft-told story, in 1973 when Biden was a young Senator, he met with Gold Meir here in Israel. At that meeting, Meir told Biden that Israel had a secret weapon: we have nowhere left to go.

Most of us in Israel feel the same way; it is factually true. At the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century through the early 1950s Jews from Europe (Ashkenazi Jews), North Africa (Sephardic Jews) and the Middle East (Mizrachi Jews) fled from the countries where they had, at best, been treated as second-class citizens and, at worst, seen other Jews horribly murdered. They fled to Palestine/Israel to establish a State on a sliver of land where Jews finally would be safe from their government. In 1948. Israel became a State. While the leaders of the new state were Ashkenazi Jews, roughly half of Israel’s Jewish population was composed of Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews.

Because of the flight to Palestine/Israel, all of north Africa is now what the Nazis used to call “Judenfrei.” The same is true of most Middle Eastern Jews. (In Iran “only 90% of the Jews fled. The remaining Jews are still treated as second-class citizens.)

Now, 75 years later, the situation has NOT changed. As the rates of antisemitic attacks are rising dramatically all over the world reflect, there are fewer and fewer places on earth where it is safe for Jews to be Jews. In France, for example, Rabbis are warning Jewish men NOT to wear kippot (Yarmulkes) in public lest people identify themselves as Jews and get assaulted as a result. In the United States, Jewish students at some of the country’s finest universities are threatened by antisemites.

Ever since its inception, Israel has had to fight external enemies which sought to wipe this Jewish and democratic State off the face of the earth. At first it was the countries near Israel, including Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, which attempted to destroy Israel. That was true in 1948, 1967, and 1973. Each time, Israel was able to defend itself successfully, but at a terrible cost. Since its inception, over 23,000 Israelis have died defending Israel or have been murdered by terrorists.

Today, it is no longer the surrounding countries which are the threat; Israel has peace treaties with both Jordan and Egypt. Now it is the ultrareligious, terrorist Muslim entities including Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which are the primary military threat to Israel. They are all committed as a matter of their view of Islam to destroy Israel and replace it with a Muslim theocracy, as are numerous other ultrareligious, terrorist groups, including al Qaeda and ISIS.

Today, Israel is at the forefront of fighting the terrorists, which are attacking countries around the world. (911 2001 is a good example.) By taking the lead in fighting terrorism, Israel allows the United States to follow the policy it adopted after its terrible experience in Iraq and Afghanistan: the United States will supply the weapons, but you must do the dying (also known as “no boots on the ground.”)

Hamas has been clear that the massacre which it perpetrated on Israel on October 7th was simply one significant step in its commitment to destroying Israel. The other terrorists support them. According to recent polls, so do the great majority of the Palestinians who live on the West Bank or Gaza. From Lebanon, Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, has been firing missiles and rockets into Israel almost daily ever since October. Together, Hezbollah, Iran and Hamas are reported to have between 150,000 and 200,000 missiles ready to be fired into Israel. If, as seems likely, there soon will be a war between Israel and the terrorists, the terrorists will fire many of those missiles into Israel. Since those missiles are fired at Israeli civilians, each one of them will be a war crime. According to the IDF, Israel defense systems, including Iron Dome and David’s Sling, will be able to intercept 90% of them. That means that “only” 15,000-20,000 missiles will land in Israel, Even if Israel wins that war, much of Tel Aviv, where I live, will be in ashes. While I never expected to be a civilian casualty of war, I realize that I soon may well be.

We in Israel take the terrorists at their word when they say that they intend to destroy Israel and that the October 7th massacre is only one step in that process. We also note that Hamas is already claiming that it is winning the war in Gaza, which proves not only that the October 7th massacre was a good idea, but that it should be repeated three or four more times. Should Hamas be able to do so successfully, more Jews will be murdered, more Jewish women will be raped, more Jewish families will be burned alive in their own homes, more Jewish babies will beheaded, and more hostages will be taken.

The sad reality is that unless Israel wipes Hamas in Gaza out completely, Hamas will continue to claim a victory. Consequently, Israel is committed to continuing the war until Hamas in Gaza is wiped out, while people in the diaspora are demanding a lengthy or permanent cease-fire.

The difference of the perspective of people in the diaspora and most of us who live in Israel is that while people in the diaspora are focused on the terrible damage which the war in Gaza is inflicting on Gazans, a sad byproduct of war, people in Israel, including the members of the Israeli government, are focused on merely keeping Israel from being destroyed. After all, we have no place left to go.

About the Author
Before making Aliyah from the United States, I spent over three decades as a lawyer in the United States. My practice involved handling many civil rights cases, including women's- rights cases, in State and Federal courts. I handled numerous constitutional cases for the ACLU and argued one civil rights case in the United States Supreme Court. I chaired the Colorado Supreme Court's Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure and served on the Colorado Supreme Court's Civil Rules and Rules of Evidence Committees. Since much of my practice involved the public interest, I became interested in environmental law and worked closely with environmental organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). I was on the Rocky Mountain Board of EDF. I received an award from the Nebraska Sierra Club as a result of winning a huge environmental case that was referred to me by EDF. I also developed significant knowledge of hazardous and radioactive waste disposal. I was involved in a number of law suits concerning waste disposal, including a highly-political one in the United States Supreme Court which involved the disposal of nuclear waste. As I child I was told by my mother, a German, Jewish refugee who fled Nazi Germany, that Israel was a place for her and her child. When I first visited Israel many years later, I understood what she meant. My feeling of belonging in Israel caused me to make Aliyah and Israel my home. Though I am retired now, I have continued my interest in activism and the world in which I find myself.
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