By Larry Gordon
Our hearts are broken at the losses. Thirteen men killed by terrorist fire in the heart of Gaza within an hour or two. There is no growing accustomed to or reconciling their deaths. Without knowing them, we know that they were amongst the best ever produced by the Jewish people. The sacrifices of the families are staggering, and there is no way to fathom the losses they have suffered. As the days go by and we learn more about who these young people were, we become more enamored of them and feel even closer to these boys, who were strangers just a few days ago.
Even our forefather Abraham, when commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac, was only asked to take the young man to the brink of slaughter before one of G‑d’s angels told him to pull back and not dare to harm the young man. Our sages and commentators tell us that at the moment Abraham drew his knife to follow the directive from Above to sacrifice his only son, the angels cried.
That was not the case in Gaza this week. We will mourn, but there is no time for mourning. We cry uncontrollably, but there is really no time now for that, either. Crying and mourning will have to wait until later. The soldiers know it and feel it, but there seems to be something missing at the political level. Israel’s leaders have to steel themselves and be prepared to ignore the pleas of wrong-thinking world leaders who will want to allow the terrorists of Hamas to live on and breathe for another day.
The men and women of the IDF demonstrate courage beyond our ability to comprehend. Now we need Israel’s leaders to either summon up their own or borrow some courage from these young men at war fighting for their lives, our lives, and that of all Israel.
These are not the magical days of 1967 and the Six Day War when the state of Israel was too young and immature to even be aware that there is such a thing as image and reputation to be cognizant of. No question that those things are important, but certainly not more important than the precious lives of these boys.
And it just may be that that some of those boys were lost over the last few days because Israel is being overly concerned about Arab civilians in Gaza. Not that it is misplaced to be concerned, but it seems to this observer that the effort is seriously overdone. Firstly, even though the U.S. is, so far, being supportive of the Israeli military effort in Gaza, the pronouncements of both the president and the secretary of state seem to contradict that.
So far the talking points contain the supportive words and expressions that Israel has a “right to defend itself.” Why Israel needs anyone’s permission or authorization to defend her citizens is beyond this writer’s ability to understand. And not only do Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry say the words over and over again, but Prime Minister Netanyahu also keeps saying he believes that the leaders of the world acknowledge almost unanimously that Israel has that right of self-defense.
So, I was wondering, after hearing these words so many times, under what circumstances would Israel not have the right to self-defense? I know that Mr. Netanyahu and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett have repeated it in news outlets around the world, asking what country in the world would be expected to sit idle and not react when 2,000 deadly missiles are fired at its population centers.
Why is this issue mentioned and discussed so often? The only circumstances under which Israel could conceivably not have a right to self-defense is if Israel is an occupier and really does not belong on a land that belongs to others. That is the impression I get by hearing this refrain repeated so often, this business about having a right to self-defense. Please, enough already.
On this other matter of innocent civilians—it is not that there aren’t any, but the term is being used wrongly and therefore projecting a distorted image of the situation on the ground in Gaza. I wish the prime minister or Mr. Bennett would have the courage to tell it like it really is. How innocent can they be if they have a missile launcher in the yard of their home or have rockets stored in their basement or bedrooms? Of late, anyway, I have not heard a Palestinian mother express regret or repudiate her husband’s or son’s terrorist actions that killed Jews in Israel. The reality is quite the contrary. Even the mother of one of the yet-to-be-found murderers of the three young boys found dead almost a month ago said that she was not sure if her son committed the murders, but that if he did she would be proud of him. She does not qualify as an innocent civilian.
An additional point that was not at all publicized was what happened in Gaza after 13 IDF men were killed and why, in the immediate aftermath, the fire from Israel intensified in a densely populated area. No, Israel did not decide that it would be a good day to murder more Arab civilians in Gaza, despite the media’s suggestions to that effect. The tone of the questions directed at Israeli spokespeople indicates that Israel does not really care about non-Jewish civilians who die in the line of fire. They intimate that Israel has little regard for those lives, whether they are adults or children and—in case you are curious—that is why Israel makes such a big deal about protecting citizens that are noncombatants.
Israel’s military chief of staff, Benny Gantz, in discussing this matter with reporters the other day, also gave us a clue, perhaps inadvertently, as to why 25 boys died in action on Sunday and Monday of this week. Gantz said that before Israel attacks an area, they drop fliers and call cell phones to warn civilians to evacuate. That is a wonderful, potentially lifesaving gesture, but which army in the world tells the enemy where they are going to send troops or where they are going to attack next? This notice is frequently issued hours before troops move in, giving the enemy ample opportunity to prepare and to ambush incoming forces. What don’t we do for those innocent civilians?
So why did the fighting intensify just around the time that the 13 boys were killed on Sunday? My source for this information is in the chevra kadisha unit of the IDF. After an antitank missile fired by Hamas fighters destroyed an armored personnel carrier, there was a mad dash to get to the bodies of the young men. Yes, the Hamas terrorists who hold life itself in very low esteem know how important it is for a Jewish family to recover the body of a loved one and accord him a proper burial. The terrorists also know that if they can retrieve the bodies, then somewhere down the line they would be able to trade them for hundreds of imprisoned terrorists. That’s when the tanks, helicopters, and infantry let all hell break loose, with the help of military bulldozers that cordoned off and secured the area so that that the bodies could be properly recovered. (It is unclear, but one may still be missing and possibly recovered by Hamas.)
As of yesterday, 29 men have been killed and buried, and many more have been injured. It is difficult and we all wish that it did not have to happen this way. The sacrifice is immense, but in a sense this is what Israel is made of—young men and women giving of themselves so that others can live. It seems like the cost in lives over the last few days was much greater and even more difficult than what our forefather Abraham endured with his only son bound on the altar. Maybe our sacrifices are more significant because, unbeknownst to us, we are living in greater, or certainly more complex, times. Perhaps we just do not understand any of it and feel nothing but the pain. And finally, maybe despite the great sacrifices of the last few days, angels just don’t cry anymore. ϖ
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