Life in Jerusalem, as I imagine elsewhere, consists these days of gluing ourselves to the hourly news, updating friends and family and listening to them. One theme I get a lot directs anger at Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli government for responsibility for the mass murders that took place on Saturday.
I would like to ask my friends to hold off on that criticism. It’s not the time for partisan politics. This journal published such a view this week, out of our commitment to a diversity of views. While diversity of views is always welcome, this is a moment for unity in the face of a bloody task that lies ahead. Thus I am writing to reinforce the view of The Jerusalem Strategic Tribune expressed by Ahmed Charai’s editorial of Sunday, “We are all Israelis.” What we stand for and what we would like to see from others is this: unity behind the government of Israel.
One refreshing aspect of life here in Israel is that, while the country is polarized politically, there is still broad common ground.
Right now the country is united, including by the way most of the two million Israeli Arab population. I see videos on Twitter of young Israeli Muslim soldiers in the IDF, putting on gear and heading to the front, singing Arabic songs of battle. Among those massacred on Saturday were Israeli Arabs. They too want to restore deterrence and live in peace in Israel. The head of the largest Arab political party in Israel – Mansour Abbas – has issued sober statements in Arabic and Hebrew from day one, calling for national unity, calling Hamas terrorists, telling them to release the hostages or else.
Little known outside of Israel is the proud combat tradition of the Israeli left. Mild mannered in normal times, leftists have a reputation as fierce fighters when needed. Many are commanders of the elite units. It’s a tradition going back to Yigal Allon and the early kibbutz leaders.
The horror stories continue to come out, to everyone’s distress, but so too the many heroism stories. One of my favorites so far is about Yair Golan, 62 years old, number two in the leftwing Meretz Party and major general in the reserves. When the news came out Saturday morning (believe me, he wasn’t in synagogue) he put on his uniform, grapped his weapon and drove down to the Gaza area. He took command of a few others who likewise showed up on the road; they engaged in fire fights and killed terrorists and saved some people. On Saturday evening, I saw his TV interview – tall handsome guy with sun glasses on top of the head, smiling and saying “We should be proud of the boys today, they saw some action and we’ll have more to come.” That is the Left here at the moment.
So my message to friends in Israel, America and elsewhere is this: there will be a time for a postwar commission of inquiry and a time for atonement. There is plenty of policy failure to go around. All of us – Americans, Europeans, Arabs in the Gulf, and Israelis – thought that Hamas was normalizing as a government of the Gaza Strip and could be managed. Of course, Hamas wanted us to believe this; and we want always to believe the best of people, even our sworn enemies. But we were wrong. Let’s postpone that reckoning and focus on the matter at hand.
My request to the Israeli government: Act now to complete the task of uniting the country. I want to see Messrs. Gantz, Gallant and Netanyahu (the War Cabinet) not just in meeting rooms but with soldiers at the front, visiting the bomb shelters and consoling the bereaved families. Listen to them and absorb their righteous anger.
It appears that our enemies may want to test Israel’s ability to fight a two-front war – in Gaza and in the north. If so, they will hand Israel a golden opportunity to do more than restore the status quo ante. This is an opportunity to create a demilitarized zone in south Lebanon south of the Litani River, which would involve the IDF destroying Hizbollah infrastructure just as it will do the same for Hamas in Gaza. Israel (including some of my college students who are IDF reservists) has been training diligently for just such a “two-fer.”
President Biden gave a speech this week that was not just heartfelt, it was the most pro-Israel speech given by any American president, ever. But he too will be tested, as the IDF goes into Gaza and works to root out Hamas. There are thousands of dual national Palestinian Americans in Gaza and we are concerned for them as well. They should ignore Hamas threats to remain behind as human shields; instead they should seek safety in Gaza’s rural areas away from the Hamas infrastructure.
For all of America’s signals of good intentions, including an aircraft carrier group, this is Israel’s fight and Israel alone must restore its deterrence. Israel will defeat the common enemies on the ground. Material support is important. But so too is the need for all of us to unite behind the government of Israel in this dark hour.