Attack by Hamas on Sh'mini Atzeret, 10/7/2023
We grieve, once again, for those who were murdered by Hamas in a savage attack on Israel. As of this moment, more than 700 Israeli civilians and soldiers have been killed and thousands wounded, many critically. Many dozens -- from children to the elderly -- were taken hostage. Thousands of missiles were fired, many intercepted by the Iron Dome, others falling harmlessly, but a few hitting civilian targets. Israel is largely shut down; schools are closed, as Israeli forces seek out terrorists who remain within its borders.
The grief is personal and national. Burials have begun and will continue, but the grief, compounded by its scope and savagery, will surely remain intense beyond shivah, beyond sh’loshim; some will never stop grieving. Israelis will be reminded as they see each other -- in each other's faces, in their bodily appearance, in their stories, in their silence, every Sh’mini Atzeret.
Comparisons are apt but also fall short. Many speak of Israel’s 9/11. Each was a devastating shock that killed many in a single day, perpetrated by the same mentality. However, unlike 9/11, Hamas terrorists live on Israel’s borders, not thousands of miles away. America’s population is more than 36 times that of Israel. Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives on 9/11. As of now, the impact of 700 murdered multiplied by 36 yields a psychological impact as if more than 25,000 were killed, and surely that number will grow.
The accounts of what happened and the videos have lent sympathy for Israel from people around the world and from many leaders, but we should be prepared that it may not last. Sympathy for previous murders of Israeli children in schools, of innocents on planes, in shopping areas, on buses, at seders, has often been short-lived and justified; in some way Israel has been blamed. Even yesterday in NYC, a pro-Palestinian gathering featured the same lies of Israel’s apartheid, etc.
Moreover, Israeli responses to protect its people and weaken Hamas have always been met with the same mindless responses: “Stop the cycle of violence,” Israel should be “restrained,” responses should be “proportionate,” among others. Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza and Hamas’ agenda is minimized if factored in at all.
Israel has no choice but to do what it can to end Hamas. But that is not simple, not without complications. Even if it could eradicate many Hamas officials, others would step in. It would mean the death of the hostages, who might be killed anyway. What would happen to the 2,000,000 Gazans? The international community will surely focus attention on the Palestinian Gazans.
These attitudes have made the situation worse -- for Israelis and for Palestinians. Funding may appear as humanitarian support, but it supports the savage aims, Palestinian suffering, and the personal luxury lives of some of its leaders.
Hamas has been clear: to “liberate all of Palestine” from “sea to sea.” That was the original Arab aim from 1948, until Egypt signed the Camp David Accords in 1979. As other Arab leaders have signed agreements and begun normalization with Israel, some -- Hamas and Hizbollah supported by Iran -- have not budged and have intensified their attacks. This is its poison fruit.
In 2000, Israeli PM Ehud Barak offered then Yassir Arafat something so generous that even many moderate Israelis were concerned it was far too much. Arafat rejected it and began the intifada, violent uprising. Even moderate Israelis concluded they had no peace partner.
Many Israelis understood Hamas’ aims. Funded by Iran, and with partners like Hizbollah, they sought to destroy the Jewish State. Whatever illusions remained, they have evaporated now. The existence of Hamas and their partners, their attitudes and stated objectives, have resulted in tragedy for Israelis and Palestinians.
It is understandable, though shortsighted, for people to channel their anger in these ways. Foolishly, they do not advance the cause of Palestinians, who have suffered under this type of leadership. That is what many Arab leaders have realized. But that western people and their leaders parrot nonsense about peace, while funding Iran and Palestinians and falsely blaming Israel, will never bring peace. That thinking is either antisemitic or foolish, or both. It brings this. Our college campuses have been peddling this nonsense for more than a generation, with “academic” and some Jewish support. Israel must now act with dedicated purpose to protect its citizens and perhaps as a consequence, save the Palestinians from its leadership and perverse culture.
The question is what will Hizbollah do. They have even more and more sophisticated arms. They are better fighters. Israel had trouble with them a few years ago. If they stay out, they will lose their raison d’etre and will likely be seen as disloyal to Hamas. If they enter, Israel will have another front but will use all its power to bomb them.
Such a widening of the war, may open two other fronts. Palestinians in the territories may come from the east. Some Arab Israeli citizens may attack from within Israel. The Arab world may be forced to galvanize. What Hizbollah does, matters.
As for us, Jewish history is grievously filled with similar events. We can either fight to protect ourselves -- which we will -- or we can hide. Sadly, too many Jews have hidden their identity, have taken up common cause with our enemies to blame Israel, have bought into the lies, gross distortions, and propaganda that Jews stole Arab land, that Israel is a colonial state, an apartheid state, and that Jews are Nazis.
This is a time to show solidarity with Israel and against the murderers and their aims. The US should disabuse itself of the diplomatic illusions that Iran can be dealt with reasonably and should cease funding the Palestinians -- each who divert that money to murder.
Finally, I am concerned that Jews will retaliate. Jews should never seek vengeance, but justice, saving innocent life, and peace. Some, very few, Jews have already murdered, but the outrage is there. I hope Jews will not murder. It is wrong and only weakens our cause.
Pirkei Avot 1:18 -- Rabban Shimon b Gamliel said: The world exists by three things: Truth, justice, and peace, as it said (Zechariah 8:16) “Speak truth to one another, render true and perfect justice in your gates.”
Finally, on Yom ha-Kippurim I spoke of suffering, meaning, and God. Some will ask, as they have after many personal tragedies and Jewish national tragedies, “Where was God?” The question is legitimate, but the answers fall short; they are secondary.
There is much that we cannot see. Our faith in God brings us comfort and purpose, and His Torah teachings guide us on the right paths and prevent us from doing our instinctual harm. Our Jewish religious heritage unites us; abandoning it disintegrates and weakens us.
There are several communal events this week. Please join us. Israel needs us and we need Israel and each other -- especially in these coming weeks and months.