An ugly, fringe phenomenon being falsely puffed-up to ‘balance’ the crimes of Hamas.
There is no escalating or unprecedented wave of settler violence in Judea and Samaria under cover of the war in Gaza. I did my homework. I checked the numbers, at the the source. It is not true.
It is surreal that some feel the need to conjure-up a false moral counterweight to Hamas violence in the form of non-existent “surging settler violence.” Essentially, this is an effort to limit sympathy for Israel and to backhandedly excuse Hamas atrocities. The Harvard and MIT presidents might superciliously say they are “putting the violence of all sides into context.” How noxious.
To the Biden administration I say: Stop throwing “settler violence” in Israel’s face as it fights for its very life against the genocidal Hamas. At best, this is a red herring issue. At worst, it is an ugly attempt to discredit the righteousness of Israel’s war effort.
Published in The Jerusalem Post, December 8, 2023. Print-friendly copy
Everybody from US President Joe Biden to B’Tselem are propagating the myth that West Bank settlers are exploiting the war against Hamas to invade private lands and attack Palestinians in the West Bank at alarming, never-seen-before levels of violence.
When US Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Israeli President Isaac Herzog amidst Israel’s difficult war against Hamas she found it necessary to scold him about “holding extremist settlers accountable for violent acts.”
The State Department spokesman this week denounced “unprecedented levels of violence by Israeli extremist settlers targeting Palestinians and their property, displacing entire communities,” no less.
The situation is supposedly so bad, so spiraling-out-of-control, that the US this week announced visa bans on “extremist settlers.” Belgium has now done so too.
Except that it is not true. There is no escalating or unprecedented wave of settler violence in Judea and Samaria under cover of the war in Gaza. The frenzied focus on “settler terrorism” by the highest officials in Washington is based on fake news.
And why is such fake news being bandied about? Apparently, this is to ‘balance’ the crimes of Hamas, a way for wishy-washy friends of Israel or extreme left-wing Israelis to distance themselves from Israeli bad guys (settlers) while being forced, alas, to also condemn Palestinian bad guys (Hamas).
In other words, this is an attempt to uphold some degree of perverse moral equivalence between Israelis and Palestinians; to express equivalent condemnation of “all sides” for the proverbial “cycle of violence” that professional Mideast peace processors and hackneyed journalists like to babble about; for “fair-minded” international observers to make it clear that they are not, G-d forbid, fully on Israel’s side – even at a time when Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have committed the most atrocious crimes.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres and UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland are among the worst such offenders. As is their usual rotten wont, they regularly condemn, and this week too, the “continuing cycle of violence” in Judea and Samaria – as if Israelis and Palestinians each were cavalierly engaging in murder just for fun or out of comparable burning hatred. As if this sets an exculpating background for Hamas’ genocidal rampage of October 7 and its ongoing war crimes including the holding of civilians as hostages.
TO GET PAST the fog of war, lies, and misinformation I decided to investigate this matter by going straight to the source. I submitted a formal request for information to the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), which is the government arm responsible for tracking and countering violence in Judea and Samaria.
From the detailed and precise statistics I received, it is crystal clear that there has not been a significant increase in right-wing Israeli-Jewish violence against Palestinian Arabs in Judea and Samaria since the beginning of the current Gaza war compared to the period of January-July 2023. There certainly has been no uptick or “surge” in settler violence in October-November as compared to the same period in 2022.
(There was a noticeable decrease in such activity in August and September; the reason for this is not explained.)
Overall, the level of friction/violence in 2023 is about the same as that of 2022, totaling about 1,000 incidences of violence of all types over the course of the full year.
“Violence” in this context means many different things, from verbal altercations and rock throwing (what the ISA calls “frictions” or “harassment”), to spray-painting of anti-Arab slogans and other undercover vandalism including agricultural vandalism (“price tag activities”), to firebombing of homes or mosques (which are classified as outright “terrorist strikes”).
In fact, the more serious type of incidents dropped by 50% as compared to last year (although the handful of incidents that did take place this year were of a more violent nature), and there were zero incidents of “terrorist strikes” over the past 60 days. There is no evidence whatsoever of the wild B’Tselem accusation that “600 Palestinians from 13 communities were forced to abandon their homes” due to fear of settler attacks.
B’Tselem, Yesh Din, the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry, and the fiercely anti-Israel UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), also have fed the international media with blatantly false statistics that allege more than 180 Palestinians have been killed by “Israeli forces and settlers” this year, making it sound, once again, as more innocent Palestinian civilians targeted by “settler violence.”
In fact, 99.9% of these deaths are Palestinian terrorists who were eliminated by the IDF in counter-terror operations against Hamas and Fatah hideouts and weapons factories in Jenin, Nablus, Hebron and elsewhere in the West Bank. These IDF counter-terror operations are the only thing that prevents the genocidal attacks of October 7 from repeating themselves in central Israel.
But that does not stop the PA or OCHA from pumping out more false allegations of “settler violence.”
It is unfortunately true that altercations and aggressions by settlers in 2022 (again, not 2023) rose sharply over that in 2020 and 2021. Perhaps this is because Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria, in fact all citizens of Israel, were subject to a wild wave of murderous Palestinian terrorist attacks in 2022.
In case officials in Washington and elsewhere have forgotten, here is a reminder. In 2022, there were more than 5,000 Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli Jews, including car-ramming, shooting, stabbing, and bombing of innocent men, women, and children. These attacks included over 500 Molotov cocktail attacks (firebombs), leading to the injury of more than 150 Israelis. There was a 210% rise in rock throwing incidents in 2021 over 2020, and a 156% rise in bomb throwing incidents in 2021 over 2020.
And in spring-summer 2023, Palestinian terrorists slaughtered close to 40 Israelis in and beyond the Green Line, with more than 3,640 recorded acts of Palestinian and Arab terror throughout Israel, including 2,118 cases of rock-throwing, 799 fire-bombings, 18 attempted stabbings, and six vehicular assaults.
So, is there Jewish violence in Judea and Samaria? Yes. This is unacceptable, and I hold no wellsprings of sympathy for the hilltop wild men involved. Israel must aggressively combat this lawlessness, while acting even more aggressively against exponentially greater and more deadly Palestinian terrorism.
But has there been an enormous, out-of-control surge in settler violence recently? No.
And is there a culture of Jewish violence in settler communities? Also no. In fact, attacks on Palestinian property and individuals committed by a few extremists at the fringes of a half-million-person strong and overwhelmingly peaceful community of Israelis who live over the Green Line calculates to a level of violence that is lower than the level of violence (by Israelis against Israelis) that afflicts greater Tel Aviv.
And without meaning to diminish the ugliness of extremist Israeli attacks on Palestinians, violence by some settlers also pales in comparison to the “regular” 5,000 Palestinian boulder, bomb, and shooting attacks a year aimed at killing Israeli civilians.
And of course, this super-pales in comparison to the 1,200 Israelis slaughtered by Hamas on Oct. 7 or the reign of terror inflicted on all Israelis by the more than 10,500 rockets and missiles fired by Hamas into Israeli civilian population centers over the past seven weeks.
So, at a time when Israel is reeling from the monstrous October 7 Hamas massacre and rightfully expects global support for its war effort against Hamas, it is surreal that some nauseatingly feel the need to conjure-up a false moral counterweight to Hamas violence in the form of non-existent “surging settler violence.”
Essentially, the straw man of “settler violence” is an effort to limit sympathy for Israel and to backhandedly excuse Hamas atrocities. The Harvard and MIT presidents might superciliously say they are “putting the violence of all sides into context.” How noxious.
To the Biden administration I say: Stop throwing “settler violence” in Israel’s face as it fights for its very life against the genocidal Hamas. At best, this is a red herring issue. At worst, it is an ugly attempt to discredit the righteousness of Israel’s war effort.
The cost of “pause” in combat against Hamas is too high.
[Note: Early this morning, after Hamas violated the truce, the IDF resumed its offensive in Gaza.]
It is neither easy nor politically correct to say so, but the serial truces Israel has accepted to obtain hostage releases from Hamas have run their course. At this point, their long-term disadvantage outweighs the immediate advantage achieved. Therefore, it is time to reengage the enemy in full-scale combat until its complete destruction.
Every Israeli man, woman and child saved from the savagery of Hamas captivity is of course a joyous achievement, a moral priority that the State of Israel could not ignore even if it meant giving momentary victory to the barbarian captors. But the escalating cost of freezing the war against Hamas makes it imperative that Israel now revert to all-out assault on the enemy.
The repeat “pauses” in the war that Israel has agreed to are extraordinary dangerous on many levels. First, the IDF has lost momentum in prosecuting its ground campaign against Hamas, a crushing offensive that was grinding Gaza into rubble and throwing Hamas military forces off-kilter.
The senior-most IDF commanders in the field whom I met this week in the Gaza envelope are taking good advantage of the pauses for reequipment and reorganization but also are struggling with the challenge of keeping their troops sharp and focused.
Worse than this is the fact that the enemy is reorganizing and getting resupplied and refueled. Worse yet still, Hamas has risen from its underground bunkers to conduct detailed surveillance of IDF formations deep inside Gaza, marking every IDF nighttime depot, troop headquarters, supply route and so on.
There is significant reason to fear that at the moment the battle is reengaged, Hamas terrorists will pop-out of terror attack tunnels inside the operational bases the IDF has built in Gaza. They will attempt, G-d forbid, to capture more Israeli soldiers or kill as many as possible.
Furthermore, after losing control over northern Gaza and widely seen to be on the run, Hamas is now displaying renewed near-sovereign control over Gaza. It is again demonstrating management of Gazan civil affairs including distribution of the food, water, and medical supplies flowing in from Egypt.
It is openly flaunting its fighters in full uniform and black/green celebratory colors in the ghastly nightly torture show of releasing Israeli hostages, to the whooping adulations of hundreds of “innocent, uninvolved” Gazan civilians.
Instead of erasing Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip – which is a key goal of Israel’s war effort – the hostage negotiation horror show into which Israel has been dragged is reinforcing Hamas’ control. Instead of making clear that Hamas is not a “partner” for anything at all in Israel-Palestinian futures, the hostage release horror show is bolstering Hamas claims on a central role in Israel-Palestinian futures.
One outrageous, inflammatory example of this could be seen in videos of the 200-plus trucks of humanitarian aid that convoyed into Gaza every day this week. Somehow, wondrously, every single truck was draped with brand-new banners of the Hamas movement, proclaiming the splendid achievements of the current “Al Aqsa War” replete with pictures of the golden Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and Hamas leader Yihye Sinwar.
Wouldn’t it have been more appropriate for Israel and the oh-so-concerned-about-Gaza-civilians international community that funded and provided the truckloads of aid – to prevent the glorification and fortification of Hamas in this way?
At the same time, Hamas is gaining military steam and deepening its sway in West Bank politics. The IDF indeed is operating aggressively every night in Judea and Samaria to interdict Hamas terrorist assemblies, seize armories and destroy weapons factories, and arrest or eliminate Hamas operatives – but by all accounts, the pauses in Gaza battle only add luster and motivation to Hamas fortunes beyond Gaza.
Then there is Qatar, the ferocious two-faced financial backer and patron of Hamas that now is adding to its swagger and stature as hostage-release mediator. Israel is making a gargantuan mistake by playing into Qatar’s game. Israel (and the US) never should have agreed to negotiations in Doha, only with representatives of Qatar in Israel or a third country.
Instead of sending the Mossad chief to indirectly negotiate with Hamas chiefs in Qatar, Israel should be sending Mossad operatives to assassinate Hamas leaders in Qatar. Instead of strengthening Qatar’s heft in the region, Israel (and the US) should be acting to crush Qatar’s hoist.
This again is an example of how the long-term disadvantages of truce and tortuous drip-drip hostage release outweigh the immediate advantages offered.
At this point, the only additional hostage release deal that Israel should consider is a deal for the release of all Israeli hostages in one fell swoop, a deal that can and will come about only when Hamas is under the fiercest and most crushing weight of IDF attack. Only when Sinwar and his henchmen are truly on the brink of elimination and Gaza is about to be pulverized into oblivion for eternity – only when Israel truly threatens real “humanitarian disaster” in Gaza – might Hamas be willing to make a grand deal.
(What the price of that deal might be, in terms of letting Sinwar and his gang flee Gaza alive or in terms of letting the worst Palestinian terrorists out of Israeli jails and expelling them en masse to, say, Turkey – well, that is another, difficult discussion.)
THIS IS THE PLACE to reassert Israel’s legitimate war goals, which have been badly undermined, alas, by this past week of horrifying Hamas hangdogging and hesitant, humiliating (although humane) Israeli responses.
Israel legitimately seeks to eliminate Hamas rule in Gaza, to kill or expel all Hamas fighters and their supporting administrators from Gaza, to destroy all components of military threat in and from Gaza, to reduce Gaza neighborhoods from which Hamas operated to rubble (as a matter of principle and not just for military advantage – and no, this is not a war crime), to create a new security buffer zone inside Gaza and along its entire perimeter (including the Philadelphi corridor on the border with Egypt) which Israel will control indefinitely, and of course to facilitate the return to normal, peaceful life of the 40+ Israeli farming villages and cities in the Gaza envelope/northern Negev.
And yes, Israel also seeks to secure by force the release of all Israeli hostages held by Hamas and its terrorist allies. As many as possible, without any more poisonous pauses or tortuous truces.
Arming Israel’s citizenry is part of a broader struggle to reshape Israel’s strategic realities.
Over the past month, more than 200,000 (!) Israelis have filed applications for gun licenses, permits to always own and carry a firearm. Given the spike in Palestinian terrorism over the past 18 months, and the Hamas massacres of October 7, this is not surprising, and is even welcome. I think that every Israeli grandmother should now pack a pistol.
In saying so I am shocking myself, because I grew-up in Western liberal society where gun toting was rare and frowned-upon. If anything, it was the passion of far-right rednecks who were viewed from afar as irresponsible. The Americas are plagued by too much gun violence, with regular shotgun and machine gun shootings by deranged people in malls, schools, campuses, playgrounds, and even occasionally churches and synagogues.
Furthermore, in this country to which I immigrated many decades ago, guns were considered the province of the military, to which we send our sons and daughters to serve. Soldiers coming home for the weekend with their sophisticated and scary-looking rifles are a regular sight, and troops in the streets to secure major holiday pedestrian traffic and tourist sites are commonplace (and necessary), especially in Jerusalem.
In other words, this country is seemingly well protected by its large citizen-based army, police force, para-military forces, and penetrating intelligence forces. It not necessary for the average citizen in Israel, men and women, to be personally armed. Or so it seemed.
The time when every Israeli working in agricultural fields or walking to work in Tel Aviv needed to have a loaded gun is over, or so we thought. The time when every Israeli needed to display instant readiness to repel attack had passed, or so we thought.
Israel’s War of Independence was over, so we thought. Back then, the battle was for every living room and nursery room. But today, the IDF with its Hellfire missiles, Iron Dome anti-missile defenses, and crack commando units suffices to secure our security. Or so we thought.
But now the second War of Independence is upon Israel. The battle for basic security is underway not just in the towns of the Gaza Envelope but in every border area, and frankly this country is so small that everywhere is a border zone.
Israeli Arabs and Arabs from Judea and Samaria are so integrated in Israeli commerce and industry that the potential for terrorist attack is viscerally felt everywhere, rightfully or wrongly. After all, quite a few Palestinians from Gaza who seemingly worked peacefully in Beeri, Reem, and Kfar Azza apparently provided precise intelligence on Beeri, Reem, and Kfar Azza to the Hamas butchers who invaded on Simchat Torah.
The notion that one can comfortably invite Arab construction workers into one’s home or neighborhood has been seriously undermined. The notion that Modiin, Raanana, or Emek Hefer cities and industrial zones can go without armed civilian guards at checkpoints at every entrance has been genuinely destabilized. Israelis are rightfully afraid, and correctly arming up.
AT LEAST 20 YEARS AGO, Major General (res.) Gershon Hacohen told me that every grandmother in this country should pack a gun. Every citizen should be armed and ready to defend the country. This is a matter of both mental and operational readiness, he told me. Israeli society, he long has argued, has grown too comfortable, too middle class, too bourgeoisie, too blind to the dangers that surround Israel.
If most (sane, responsible) citizens in this country were armed, the signal to our enemies would be clear: Israel is never asleep, and it is ready to defend itself vigorously at any moment – Hacohen has argued. And to prove his point, he will show you the pistol he has permanently strapped to his lower leg underneath his pants.
General Hacohen long has been a mentor to me in strategic and defense affairs. He is an out-of-the-box deep thinker. Throughout his 41-year military career, he was widely considered to be the “thinking intellectual” of IDF generals, although not all his colleagues understood what he was driving at. He is messianic and impulsive in some of his prescriptions, ideologically precise and visionary in others.
I always have liked the revolutionary fervor inherent in Hacohen’s approach. He wants to bring back a Zionist discourse on pioneering, redemption, and settlement – taking themes from the dynamic worldviews of Berl Katznelson, Ben-Gurion, and Rabbi AY Kook.
His book, What’s National in National Security (Hebrew: Ministry of Defense Publishing House, 2014), is essentially a discourse on the importance of faith, vision, and religious-ideological aspirations in the crafting of national security doctrine. It should now be mandatory reading.
Hacohen’s central insight is this: Those who view Israel as a stepping-stone for redemption and as the Jewish national spiritual homeland will act differently in responding to Palestinian attack than those who view Israel merely as a safe-haven state. If the former, the government should do more than just approve security operations against Palestinian terrorists. It should act to crush Israel’s enemies and approve renewed building in Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria.
Hacohen’s message is that Israel must reacquire sufficient ideological determination to repulse and overwhelm its adversaries. When enemies such as Hamas-ISIS and Iran are resolutely motivated by revolutionary ideologies, Israel can’t get by with leaders bereft of ideological zeal; stuck in a holding pattern or management mindset.
IN THE CURRENT CONTEXT, Hacohen is relevant for another reason. Over the past decade, he has overseen the IDF’s major war games exercises. The central-most takeaway from the simulations he designed and ran was that Israel must be prepared with massive ground forces to fight a two-front or even three-front war – exactly the scenario that may be developing right now.
Furthermore, Israel must be proactive, rather than, reactive. “Restoring calm” to Israel’s southern and northern border areas, or “maintaining calm” in Jerusalem and the West Bank (through occasional anti-terrorist operations, plus fences and roadblocks, etc.) is akin to putting a derailed train back on track – no more, Hacohen argues. It is a technical solution, not a goal-oriented chess move that drives a new reality.
The Zionist movement always sought to, and today too should seek to, reshape Israel’s strategic reality according to its preferences. This means maneuvering, expanding, building, and forcing the enemy on the defensive, says Hacohen, in Gaza and the Galilee, in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria.
Underlying Hacohen’s weltanschauung is the notion of ongoing struggle, and deep faith in the righteousness of the Jewish return to Zion.
This first part of this thought-process is somewhat Bolshevik in approach: Israel is engaged in a permanent revolution. Consequently, Hacohen says, Zionism must constantly seek to re-shape and shake-up the strategic environment, never giving up on its ideals despite strategic and tactical difficulties.
Even if Israeli leaders can’t see where the struggle will ultimately lead, they are nevertheless mandated to push forward. So, you shuffle the cards and create game-changing facts on the ground. In Gaza too.
And then, drawing on passionate commitment that comes from true belief in your cause – religious-nationalist faith in the justice of the Jewish People’ return to Zion – you express confidence that the Heavens will help stickhandle the helm of state.
All this starts with getting a gun. Today, I downloaded an application from the Ministry of National Security website.
Israeli leaders have no mandate to scale-back the assault on Hamas. Read below the correctly demanding graveside eulogy for Yonadav Levenstein Hy”d by his elder brother Elnatan Levenstein:
“I call from here upon the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, other government ministers and decisionmakers: Don’t you dare stop! Don’t you dare hesitate! Don’t you dare fold! Don’t you dare allow even one drop of fuel into accursed Gaza until the rats, the evil terrorists of Hamas-ISIS, those who murder Jewish babies and rape little Jewish girls, those who rain rockets down upon all Israelis without discrimination – until they come out of their ratholes and are eliminated. Don’t you dare! And if you are not up to the task, if you don’t have the guts to win the war – stand aside, vacate your seats at the cabinet table, so that others, better leaders, can take your place.”
Pressures on Israel from Washington and other Western capitals are mounting to curtail the campaign to destroy Hamas, because of the humanitarian toll in Gaza.
Israeli government leaders must resist these pressures with all their might. They must persist in pounding Hamas-ISIS to smithereens until every last Hamas commander is dead, every last Hamas terror attack tunnel is destroyed, and every last Hamas missile bunker is obliterated.
That is the only justification for the tenure of this government; that is its promise to Israeli society. That is the only way Israel can restore basic security to a battered and traumatized public, the only way Israelis will return to their homes in the Negev and the Galilee.
It is the only way Israel can restore some of its deterrent posture and survive in the predatory Middle East. It is the only way Israel stands a chance of pushing back against radical Islam’s attempt to strangulate Israel and achieve regional hegemony.
The war cannot and must not end until Israel has achieved its legitimate military objectives in full, with no fudging, no obfuscations, and no hesitations. Israel cannot tolerate ceasefires along the way – no truces, no armistices, no fallbacks, no restrictions on its use of (overwhelming and simultaneously precise) force – until total victory is achieved.
Complete capitulation or annihilation of Hamas is the goal, nothing less. No more Hamas in Gaza, or in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). No more Hamas terrorists alive elsewhere in the world either. They all must be hunted down and eliminated.
In the history of modern warfare, there is no more justified military campaign than this one. And only such a campaign to absolutely end the Hamas threat to Israel justifies the heavy losses that Israel already has suffered and the pain of what almost certainly will be further losses.
Israeli leaders have no mandate from the Israeli public to call-off or scale-back the assault on Hamas. Would they do so, under pressure from well-meaning and fickle allies alike, Israelis will explode in anger, assuredly filling the streets of every city in this country with millions of protestors demanding that the war against Hamas be fully prosecuted. Compromise with Hamas would be defeat. Bending to US President Biden (who, it must be acknowledged, thus far has been rock solid in his backing of Israel) would be considered collapse.
OVER THE PAST TEN DAYS, Israel has buried more than 30 brave warriors, more than 30 fine and fearless young men pressed into military service to defend their country, many of them with tender wives and beautiful, little, now-orphaned, children.
One of them was my beloved young friend Yonadav Levenstein, may the Heavens avenge his death. Yonadav was a physical giant (known as the “Viking” of the Givati brigade’s elite reconnaissance unit) and a singer-scholar of a soul. He fought heroically in Nahal Oz on October 7-8, and then in Jabalya and Shati in Gaza before being felled by Palestinian barbarians who popped-out of a terrorist attack tunnel.
Just two months ago, I danced with him at his wedding to the delicate Hadar Karavani, singing together about happiness and joy in the streets of Jerusalem.
Yonadav was the youngest son of my closest friends, Leora and Dr. Michael (Mordechai) Levenstein of Maale Adumim, who like me made Aliyah from Canada many decades ago. Tragically, Michael died of cancer three years ago.
Michael’s last request, pressed on me the night before he passed away, was to assist Yonadav in his wish to serve in a frontline IDF combat unit. Michael knew that Yonadav’s deepest desire, and in retrospect I guess his ultimate task in life, was to fight for the freedom and safety of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel.
Yonadav’s eldest brother, Elnatan, a prominent lawyer and rising community figure, is a fighter for the Jewish People too, having served in an elite, secret commando unit on Israel’s southern border, and this month in an elite reserve unit on the northern border. I see Elnatan and his cohort as the next generation of Israel’s leaders, a new generation of principled and wise leaders whom this country desperately needs.
Elnatan was laying in ambush against Hezbollah when he was called offline to travel home for Yonadav’s funeral on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Standing over the fresh gravesite of his youngest brother, Elnatan gave majestic voice to the defiant demand that the Israeli government stand firm in pursuing the war goals without flinching.
This is what he said:
“Yonadav: You were intimately familiar with our people’s history. You loved this country with all your heart. You built yourself up and fought to be accepted as a warrior in the Givati reconnaissance unit, where you excelled.
“Alas, now you too are part of our history; part of a bloody war that is a historical turning point. A tough but necessary war. A war for the future of our people in our land. A war that should have been over a long time ago, a war that your generation should not have had to fight.
“In Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, I and my army unit, along with the entire IDF, were trained and ready to complete the task. We had detailed battle plans and received clear instructions – only to have these plans and orders cancelled repeatedly at the last moment. And over the years since then there were other opportunities (to crush the enemy) that were not taken.
“And now you, little Yonadav, the baby of our family, were forced to fight this fight on behalf of us all.
“This war must be Israel’s last war! Otherwise, the price is too high. Yonadav, you and your comrades-in-arms did not die in battle so that others will have to die in yet another war in two- or five-years’ time. The price that Israeli society has paid since that evil, horrible day of massacres on October 7, Simchat Torah 5784, is intolerable. No more!
“Therefore, I call from here upon the Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense, other government ministers and decisionmakers: Don’t you dare stop! Don’t you dare hesitate! Don’t you dare fold!
“Don’t you dare allow even one drop of fuel into accursed Gaza until the rats, the evil terrorists of Hamas-ISIS, those who murder Jewish babies and rape little Jewish girls, those who rain rockets down upon all Israelis without discrimination – until they come out of their ratholes and are eliminated. Don’t you dare!
“It is the obligation of the Government of Israel to ensure that every Israeli can live in quiet, peace, and security without fearing that terrorists will overrun their homes or fire missiles at them.
“David Ben-Gurion once said that ‘Our future is not dependent on what the goyim, the nations of the world, say, but on what the Jews do.’ And now is the time to do, to act decisively. We did not want to lose in battle Yonadav or any of our brave young men and women. But this war has been forced upon Israel, and we must finish it once and for all.
“I say to our government: The People of Israel stand firmly behind you for this purpose, putting aside all internal disagreements. We, our family, already have paid the highest price in grief. Our lives will never be the same. Now you must finish the job, for us, for the fallen soldiers, for our people, for the sake of future generations.
“And if you are not up to the task, if you don’t have the guts to win the war – stand aside, vacate your seats at the cabinet table, so that others, better leaders, can take your place.”
Half a million Israelis have been made refugee in their own homeland, an astounding and ultimately unacceptable dislocation.
Friends of Israel must have a clear picture of how battered Israelis are, how infuriated they are, and how resilient they are! Friends of Israel around the world ought to be similarly infuriated and motivated to stand strong; to build for themselves abundant reserves of spiritual and social stamina for the long road ahead, alongside the stamina of Israelis.
Underreported and insufficiently understood is the scope of dislocation in Israel caused by the Hamas attack on Israel and the ensuing, ongoing, and likely-to-be long war.
At least half a million Israelis have been made refugee in their own homeland, displaced internally due to the war. This includes Israelis whose homes in the Gaza envelope were destroyed by the enemy in the initial attack, Israelis from more than 100 communities near the southern and northern borders who have been evacuated to the center of the country by order of the military, and Israelis in southern and northern Israel who have fled on their own account to relatives in the somewhat-safer center of the country.
There also are many, many families with men drafted to the military whose wives and children feel vulnerable and who have moved to live elsewhere with grandparents or relatives.
By way of example, here are some less-than-complete statistics: Over 36,000 residents of Sderot and 18,000 Israelis who lived in 29 towns between four and seven kilometers from the Gaza border are “resting and refreshing” in over 50,000 state-subsidized guesthouse and hotel rooms. Some 65,000 evacuees/refugees are currently “sheltering” in Eilat, far from the fighting (although Iran’s Houthi hunta in Yemen this week fired missiles at that city) and far from their homes, schools, and businesses.
This is an astounding and ultimately unacceptable dislocation. Jews made refugee in their own sovereign homeland! It is a shocking reality.
The scope of the displacement, and the uncertainty about its longevity, is both traumatizing and just plain difficult. A host of secondary problems arise such as zero to minimal educational frameworks for children, the inability to reach places of employment or to make time for work (because kids are not in school and husbands are away), zero to minimal running income and a consequent inability to meet home mortgage payments or repay business loans, and so much more.
The Ministry of Labor formally estimates that 764,000 Israelis have lost their places of employment, been laid off, or otherwise knocked-out of the workforce since the beginning of the war. That is about 18% of the workforce!
Close to 40% of Israeli businesses are operating only at a rock-bottom level with less than 20% of their employees. In southern Israel, 60% of businesses are operating at this rock-bottom, barely surviving level.
The building industry is nearly shut down, and major infrastructure projects like rail and light-rail construction are suspended. (Almost all foreign construction workers have fled the country, and Arabs of Judea and Samaria are locked-out.) The hospitality/tourism sector is devastated, the agricultural sector is struggling, and 62% of food production and general industries are operating at minimal levels – with less than 20% of their employees and with a 50-80% drop in business activity. More than 40% of all Israeli businesses have their youngest and most able employees serving on emergency draft in the military.
Worst hit are independent businessmen who have called into military service and consequently their businesses have been shuttered. Those in southern Israel in particular, are not sure they will have any business to return to, either because they will soon go bankrupt or because the broader population won’t be returning home anytime soon and thus there will be no customers.
The IDF and National Social Insurance Institute have a formula that theoretically could eventually pay self-employed and independent contractors anywhere from NIS 6,000 to NIS 47,000 in compensation per month. But that would be months from now, after businessmen file income or corporate tax returns for 2023, and by then it may be too late.
On top of this, 9,500 Israelis already have filed claims for compensation for physical damages to their homes and businesses caused by falling Hamas rockets, missiles, and shrapnel from these projectiles. This especially includes many homes and factories in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Netivot, and Tel Aviv in addition to the Gaza envelope, of course.
And on top of all these logistical and financial burdens is the challenge of dealing with the psychological traumas evoked by Hamas atrocities and military casualties, including orphanage and widowhood; and the rehabilitation of the thousands of injured Israelis including many hundreds still hospitalized.
Eventually, after Hamas is demolished and the terrorist threat from Gaza is eliminated, Israel also must (must!) rebuild the magnificent communities in southern Israel, a task estimated at over NIS 5 billion. (The government has allocated an initial NIS 1 billion for this purpose to the Shaar HaNegev, Sdot Negev, and Eshkol regional councils and the Sderot municipality.)
OF COURSE, NONE OF THIS should have happened. One of the promises, at least the aspirations, of modern Zionism was that after the return to its indigenous, ancient homeland, the Jewish People would “dwell safely” in the sovereign State of Israel, under “vine and fig trees from Dan to Beersheba” (see Kings I 5:5).
Obviously, we’re not there yet. But at the very least, Israel’s borders should have been better protected and 500,000 Israelis should not have been forced out of their homes overnight.
The good news is that Israeli society (and the global Jewish community) is up to the task and has responded gloriously with volunteer drives that go a long way in supporting the afflicted. People have responded generously with charity campaigns that take some sting out of the grand disruption. But overall, Israelis don’t want pity. Rather they crave community and need solidarity all the way to victory over the enemy.
Israelis don’t want pity. Rather they crave community and need solidarity all the way to victory over the enemy.
A wise colleague of mine asked me why I was writing this column. After all, he said to me, you won’t successfully garner more sympathy for Israel on the international scene. Palestinians are suffering far more from the terror of Hamas and from Israeli bombardment than Israelis are suffering from the terror of Hamas and its bombardments – even when considering the Hamas atrocities of October 7.
(Unfortunately, that is the way it must be if Israel is going to restore its deterrent posture and survive in the hostile Middle East, supercharged against Israel by the Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies.)
My friend’s evaluation is correct. Israel cannot compete with Palestinians over victimhood. Nor does it want to. Israel won’t win and does not want to win the “Most Hard Hit” trophy of the year from the UN or the Academy of Motion Pictures.
The point of this article isn’t to claim victimhood or generate superior sympathy. Rather, I want friends of Israel to have a clear picture of how battered Israelis are, how infuriated they are, and how resilient they are! The dislocation is enormous and probably will get worse before it gets better – but nobody plans to run away.
Winning the war will require great reserves of spiritual and social stamina, as well economic reserves – and Israel will find them. Israelis are mobilized to the highest degree at every level of society to do so.
What I really want is for friends of Israel to be similarly infuriated, and motivated to stand strong; to build for themselves too abundant reserves of spiritual and social stamina for the long road ahead.
The bad policy thinking and faulty paradigms of the past about Palestinian-Israeli conflict still dominate in many capitals around the world, and too many people fall prey to the enemy’s propaganda. Here are ten myths that must be busted, ten arguments that must be won.
As Israel enters tough battle against Hamas in Gaza, it has no-less-difficult wars to win on the diplomatic playing field. The bad policy thinking and faulty paradigms of the past still dominate in many capitals around the world, and too many people fall prey to the enemy’s propaganda. The battleground is global.
Here are ten myths that must be busted, ten arguments that must be won.
1. Neutrality: Reticence to condemn Hamas amounts to collusion against Israel. Hesitancy to express explicit support for Israel at this time, which also will mean unequivocally backing Israel in the many months ahead of tough fighting to crush Hamas, is tantamount to siding with the enemy.
Neutral and anodyne sentiments about broken hearts, heartfelt feelings, sympathy for “all victims of conflict” and other such mushy musings – even as Israeli Jews were brutalized by heartless barbarians that next are coming for the West – is profound moral failure and a stab in Israel’s back.
Sympathy for the Palestinian People is understandable. To some extent, Palestinians are, after all, victims of their own horrible leadership. But this is the time for friends of Israel around the world to speak-up loudly and unambiguously in support of Israel, not emote limp feelings of concern or equivocation.
2. Ceasefire: The call heard around the world for a ceasefire is neither reasonable nor right. This call must be rejected. Ceasefire now would be a victory for the radical Islamist attackers and a defeat for Israel. The call for immediate ceasefire is in fact meant to neutralize Israel, to leave it exposed and weakened against the next attacks sure to come from Hamas and Hezbollah and other proxies of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
3. Negotiate: Believe it or not, the same Mideast “experts” who brought us the failed approach to handling Hamas are once again advocating negotiations with Hamas because it supposedly is “rational” and can be bargained with to achieve “stability.” Hamas has an interest in “economic peace,” they tell us; a desire to reach understandings on the release of all hostages; and to rehabilitate civilian Gaza neighborhoods – if only Israel would play ball instead of bombing.
The obtuseness and blindness of these experts is astounding and their shilling for Hamas must be repulsed. They blabber-away as if the October 7 massacres never happened, as if Hamas’ true intentions have not been revealed. As if any compromise with Hamas is possible or advisable.
4. Distinction: “Hamas does not represent Palestinians in Gaza.” We have heard this contention from President Biden himself and many other Western leaders, even some Israeli leaders too. Except that broadly speaking Hamas does faithfully reflect the desires and goals of most Palestinians in Gaza, otherwise Hamas would not have been elected by the Palestinians of Gaza and been able to draft tens of thousands of jihadists to its military.
Gaza’s “civilian” population actively abetted Hamas in plotting against Israel, and thousands of “everyday” Palestinians (not the “Nokhba” assault commandos, mostly) carried-out the worst atrocities of the Simchat Torah (October 7) assault. Tens of thousands have participated in riots on border fence going back years (which apparently served as cover for assault planning).
The “uninvolved” danced like dervishes around the trucks that hauled away the abducted men, women, and children of Kibbutz Beeri, crying “death to the Jews” and helping Hamas hide them. “Uninvolved” mothers proclaim they are proud to send their children into battle to turn them into shahids (martyrs). And “uninvolved” teachers teach the children of Gaza that it’s a religious obligation and heroic task to kill Jews. The “uninvolved” have helped Hamas hide its rocket launchers and other weaponry too.
This does not mean that Israel can or should target every Palestinian household in Gaza. Not at all. But it does mean that the soft sentiments meant to prettify a lot of nasty Palestinians; to completely tie Israel’s hands behind its back in wartime; and to weaken Western resolve in backing Israel – are out of whack.
5. War crimes: It is Hamas that is guilty of war crimes, not Israel. In fact, Hamas must be held accountable for triple war crimes. Its barbaric attack on Israeli towns constitutes a war crime. Its use of civilians in Gaza as human shields (along with its expropriation of mosques, schools, and hospitals as bases of military action and weapons storage) is a second, compounded war crime. And its efforts to impede evacuation of the civilian population from the war zone (and in at least one instance, the bombing by Hamas of a civilian evacuation convoy that resulted in the deaths of over 80 individuals), represent a third layer of war crimes.
Add to this several additional war-related offenses like inflating and manipulating casualty counts, stealing relief supplies meant for Palestinian civilians (see below), and more.
6. Palestinian Authority: The suggestion to bring the Palestinian Authority back as ruler of Gaza is both ridiculous and dangerous. No leadership Palestinian group is weaker, is more corrupt, and has less legitimacy among Palestinians than the PA. Abbas and his Fatah party never could or would block the rearmament and rebuilding of Hamas. Moreover, Mahmoud Abbas and his coterie also are no less hostile to Israel than the Hamas gang, although they use less Islamic terminology. So, don’t delude yourself into thinking that the PA is the solution, or that the full-fledged “two-state solution” is smart or feasible with Palestinian leaders of the near-term future.
7. Iran: Incredulously, Washington is reluctant to call-out Iran for its leadership of the radical Islamic assault on Israel and its material support for Hamas, and there is a significant policy camp in Washington that still hopes for grand deal with Iran after this war to “stabilize” the region. President Obama’s predilection/delusion for strategic partnering with Iran is dug deep into the Biden administration. Few in the administration yet understand the current opportunity (and the absolute need) to cut Iran’s regional heft down to size. This is a strategic and advocacy challenge for Israel.
8. Qatar: This small, opulent emirate in the Gulf has a history of playing both sides in conflicts and getting away with it. It harbors Hamas leaders, funds Hamas, and operates the equally evil Al Jazeera television network which plays an outsize role in fanning radical Islamic and fiercely anti-Western flames across the region.
There should be an American ultimatum to Qatar with two hours warning to expel Hamas leadership, or else troops from the big US airbase in Qatar will raid Ismail Haniyeh’s luxury compound in Doha and capture or kill him – just like it assaulted Osama Bin Laden’s headquarters in Pakistan.
Yes, I know that the Israeli national security advisor publicly thanked Qatar this week for its role in trying to have hostages released by Hamas. I think this is mistaken, playing into Qatar’s wicked double-dealing (and probably was said under extreme duress).
9. Humanitarian refuge and relief: Relief for Gazan Palestinians should be the world’s problem, not Israel’s. Egypt, for example, outrageously has sealed its border with Gaza to hundreds of thousands of civilians seeking safety, because Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi does not want “to hurt the cause of Palestinian statehood.”
In other words, Sisi is denying Palestinian asylum seekers safety for geopolitical ends. This is a violation of international law and goes against the overwhelming practice of dozens of states in conflicts around the world over the past decade.
For its part, Israel cannot allow Hamas ongoing supply of fuel and electricity during the war, therefore a blockade on Gaza is needed and justified. Limiting the flow of fuels and electricity into Gaza is meant to substantially impair the enemy’s military capabilities, and thus is legal warfare. This is not unlawful “collective punishment” of the civilian population.
Furthermore, to the extent that such tactical means are meant to pressure Hamas to release Israeli hostages, the non-supply of fuels and electricity to the enemy is ethical and further justified under international law.
Note: International law requires only that Israel facilitate the passage of food and medicine to civilians by third parties – if and only if such goods can be reliably delivered without diversion to Hamas and without fear the goods will give Hamas an economic and military boost. Given Hamas’ 16-year exploitation of humanitarian aid and infiltration of human rights and international organizations in Gaza, diversion is not merely a possibility – it is a near certainty. And this has the potential of prolonging the conflict and resulting in greater loss of civilian life.
10. The Day After: Who will rule Gaza once Hamas is annihilated? What is the endgame? I don’t know. This is going to be a long war. Who knows how the war will develop and where it will lead? And as above, this matter is the world’s problem, not just Israel’s because resolution is tied to broader regional battles. So, Israel is exempt from answering this question – certainly now when it must laser-focus only on outright military victory.
Israel is rightfully fixated on its entrance and victory strategy, not on exit strategies and Palestinian rehabilitation. In fact, the demand that Israel answer this question now is pointedly meant to prevent Israel from doing what needs to be done in Gaza, so it must be rebuffed.