Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

You know what they say…

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“You know what they say!” is my husband’s catchphrase. Things being less funny than usual these days, when you ask him, “No, dear, what do they say?” the answer will be a shrug. “I don’t know. What do they say?”

Here, my dear, is what “they” say:

“Together we’ll win! Traffic is flowing.” (Rte. 431)

“Together we’ll win! [Insert name of store, real estate firm or infrastructure project].” (every major road in Israel)

“Feels like I’m winning, when I’m losing again,” (Gordon Lightfoot, as we drive past yet another “together we’ll win!” sign)

Winning a war, of course, entails losing. Losing lives, of course. Every son or daughter, father, sister, brother, is one I feel I’ve met, one who could be the son or daughter of my neighbor or friend. Every image of a coffin being lowered into the ground is a sharp yank at the fabric of our lives, a red stain on our sunny-sky-themed flag.

“Losing is not an option.” (Yoav Gallant, Minster of Defense) We lost our innocence several wars ago, but some are suggesting we have now lost our precious naivete. Were we naïve to think that things could continue as they were, indefinitely? Almost certainly. Was it naïve to think we could make a difference by sending medicines to Gaza, driving cancer patients to hospitals in Israel? Probably. But, despite our collective shock at the extent and sophistication of the Hamas military machine, it is simplistic to think that all two million citizens of Gaza are brainwashed members of the cult, ready to go without food and shelter and/or lose their lives in the name of that holy war. Thinking your lives matter while theirs don’t may not be exactly naïve, but it is callous, coldblooded and extreme (and untrue).

“Better Decisions” (Moody’s, the international financial risk assessment firm that downgraded Israel) I guess that means we are now making worse decisions. Reserve soldiers and farmers are losing their incomes, Palestinian citizens of the country are losing jobs only because they speak Arabic. Construction has all but ground to a halt, leaving cranes rusting in the winter rains. All due to some less-than-stellar decision-making.

“Our economy is strong” (our leaders). It is currently, inexplicably true, but we can’t help suspecting this strong economy is held up by a thin wire, that debts will be called in and the cost of this war has been deferred, only to swing back like a looming black wrecking ball toward us taxpayers.

A different cost is already zooming into view in the form of a new law that would increase military service for those who serve while exempting the ultra-Orthodox from any service at all. I, for one, do not think all ultra-Orthodox are greedy, lazy breeders sponging off those who live by a set of civil and legal rules. But I do think their political leaders are enabling this lifestyle. And if you think that particular situation can continue indefinitely, I would say you are naïve.

“Our soldiers are doing their jobs perfectly. Exactly according to plan. They carry out their tasks with great precision. We know exactly who to target, and every one of those dozens we killed today was a terrorist.” (Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, army spokesman, loose translation)

Hagari is our most trusted news source. He looks into our eyes and then down at his notes, reeking sincerity. He announces each fallen soldier with the exact right amount of solemnity, pausing for the right half second before continuing. We forget that he has, literally, an army of censors and writers to help him bring us his nightly broadcast. I imagine almost everything he tells us is factually correct. I assume he is telling us only half the story.

War, if you ask me, is much farther from precision engineering, much closer to one of the jobs I’ve held: milking cows in the dairy. To produce that pristine white liquid for your cereal or coffee, milkers have to get wet, offensively smelly and dirty, wade through knee-high layers of the brown stuff, get kicked with force and even butted against the fence, end the day tired and sore. The work is messy in ways that only those working in the job can imagine, and chaos threatens at every moment, no matter how good the welds on the cow-shed fences.

It’s no secret that war is bloody and messy, so it’s no good pretending it’s mostly a specialized engineering job. It’s no secret we are in this war to prevail, but it’s no good telling ourselves it is okay to amp up the suffering of innocent civilians in the interests of winning. It’s no secret the war is costing tankerloads of money, so it won’t help to tell ourselves there will be no price to pay. It’s no secret our society is deeply, inherently divided, so it is no good thinking we can heal our rifts just by plastering “together we will win!” at every junction. It’s no secret the human cost in war is tremendous, so, even if we have agreed to pay with an open check, it is no good ignoring the bill as it mounts.

You know what they say. Here is what they do not say, however – not in public, and not in cabinet meetings leaked to the press: “We did not choose the onset of this war, but we can choose when and how it ends. We are winning the battles but also thinking about how to conclude the war in a way that winning is not just more losing. We need to spread the cost of this war around, rather than just upping the price for those who already pay. We want to send people back to live in Kiryat Shmona and Sderot, but at the same time, we are rethinking our definitions of ‘center’ and ‘periphery;’ those who live with risk and those who can mostly ignore it; religious and non-religious; what we should expect of service to the country and the community. We are learning the lessons of Oct. 7 – not just those of our enemy, but those of the failures of our own society that led to that terrible day. Winning together does not absolve us of the task, nor can we wait before figuring out where we go from here.”

It is time to demand leaders who can say these things to us and mean at least some of them, who can give us, instead of pep talks, platitudes and evasion, some straight answers and real signs that they are thinking about the end of the war and beyond. I know what they say, and, let’s face it: It’s not funny anymore.

About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
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