Why is this night different?

A few days ago, on April 13 at 1:50 a.m., air raid sirens screamed in Jerusalem. We ran to our fortified safe room to take cover from the Iranian attack.  As I waited for the boom of falling missiles, I opened my phone to find scores of messages from friends in the US sending prayers and wishes as they watched, on live TV and social media, the flight of over 300 missiles and drones fired by Iran on their way to Israel.

My mind raced back to the last time I was woken by a call from an American friend in the middle of the night.

It was January 1991. I was nine months pregnant. The missiles were coming from Iraq. We had no fortified bomb shelter in our building, only our bedroom sealed with plastic sheeting to keep out an expected chemical attack. A new life was growing within me; and now it was all coming to an end. I was terrified.

Following the phone call, we heard the SCUD missile crash down in Jaffa just a few miles from us.  It was the beginning of the First Gulf War. Over the next five weeks, 42 missiles landed in the cities of central Israel – in Ramat Gan, Tel Aviv Yaffo, and Haifa.  We had no Iron Dome, no David’s Sling, no Arrow interception system.  We waited, night after night, as sirens sounded, and we sat in our flimsy “sealed rooms” and waited for the missiles to strike.

In the media, there was no talk of Israeli retaliation for this deadly violation of our international borders, for the killing of Israeli citizens by an enemy state.  Our Prime Minister was Yitzhak Shamir, leader of the Likud Party; and Benjamin Netanyahu was Deputy Foreign Minister.

Then, US President, George Bush (the father), told Israeli leaders in no uncertain terms that Israel should not react militarily.  The U.S. had carefully crafted an international coalition of 42 countries spearheaded by the US, UK and Saudi Arabia, to respond to Saddam Hussein’s aggression.  Night after night, coalition war planes and missiles attacked Iraqi missile bases. The Israeli air force did not attack. We showed our strength by not responding.

Last week, Israeli cities were not struck by missiles. Thanks to the technology, coordination and determination of Israeli, US, British, and Jordanian (!) warplanes and defense systems, over 99% of the incoming attack was shot down. Those that landed hit military targets in the Negev. One Israeli girl was severely wounded by shrapnel.

But this time, we have been fed by a nauseating diet of messages declaring that Israel must respond militarily to the Iranian attack. I find myself asking – why? We did not respond militarily in 1991, when missiles landed nightly in Israel’s central cities. Why now do we need to retaliate?

Of course, there are vast differences between the 1991 attack and today. Then, the Western powers were punishing Iraq for having taken over Kuwait and its oil fields. The attack on Israel was not Iraq’s primary purpose, but rather the “collateral damage.”

Now, we are in the aftermath of the horrific atrocities of October 7, the murder of over 1200 Israelis, including my sister-in-law, and the abduction of hundreds. 133 Israelis remain in Hamas captivity.  Over one hundred thousand Israelis have been evacuated from their homes. Now, Iran continues orchestrating a major multi-front set of attacks directly against Israel, using its proxies: Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.

Then, in the aftermath of the First Gulf War, a peace process began in the Middle East, that eventually led to the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, and a peace agreement with Jordan.  Significantly, Jordan participated in Israel’s defense last week.

In 1994, Uri Savir, Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, and one of the lead negotiators of the Oslo process, told me that Prime Minister Rabin embarked on the peace process out of a recognition that Israel could not face its primary security challenges – vis a vis Iran and Iraq – alone.  Only a broad international coalition, including moderate, US aligned Arab states, could create a viable defense.  To allow such a coalition to function, Israel had to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Today, Uri Savir’s words ring loudly in my ears. The past days have proven the power of the international coalition that stands with Israel. Despite the horrific humanitarian situation in Gaza, for which Israel remains responsible as the occupying power, Jordan, once Israel’s enemy, participated in repelling Iran’s missile attack on Israel. Saudi Arabia passed on critical intelligence to the US.

Although our government leaders want to portray Israel as a beleaguered nation, we are not alone. The international coalition was vital in repelling the Iranian attack.

Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin’s strategic evaluation remains valid today. Israel can successfully defend itself against our strategic military threats only by working as part of an international coalition.  Such a coalition can be maintained only by working toward a just resolution of the Palestinian / Israeli conflict.

Military action alone will not create a situation where the hostages are released, and over a hundred thousand Israelis can return to their homes.  For this, we need to work with our allies to create a currently inconceivable future.

To start building that future, we need to begin to imagine it.

Imagine that Israel declared that Hamas is our enemy, not the Palestinian people.

Imagine that, despite the inhuman attack against our own people, we refuse to descend into inhumanity.  We will work with the international coalition – that has proven itself in defending Israel militarily – to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza to adequately feed and provide medical assistance to 1.3 million people, displaced from their homes. We will facilitate aid entering through the Ashdod port, just kilometers from Gaza, and will enable thousands of trucks to enter Gaza carrying food and civilian supplies.

Imagine that we work with this international coalition to create a Rehabilitation Authority to rebuild Gaza as a neighbor.  Imagine that we include in this coalition a rehabilitated Palestinian Authority which has, despite all, continued security cooperation with Israel in the West Bank.

In these days of Passover, we are commanded not only to remember our own liberation from the slavery of Egypt, but to imagine a world of freedom and liberation today. And to work to make it happen.

About the Author
Sarah Kreimer is a writer, strategic consultant and social entrepreneur, with deep experience in the field of Jewish-Arab relations. Her latest book, "Vision and Division in Israel: My Journey Along the Seam," was published by Blue Thread Books.
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