As the sun rose on Shabbat morning, on Simchat Torah 5784, when it was celebrated in Israel, residents of Sderot and the kibbutzim around Gaza woke to warning sirens. In a well-rehearsed and all-too-common ritual, families ran into and sealed their safe rooms. Israel was again under attack by Hamas forces. But this time it was different. It was not just mortar shells falling from the sky but the worst assault across the border and into Israel since the War of Independence. The well-coordinated invasion from the Gaza Strip, featuring gunmen moving by land, sea, and air, covered by a barrage of missiles, swept into unprepared and weakly defended villages. Many hundreds of Israelis were killed in the initial rampage, many of them specifically targeted as civilians.
It was an evil brutality launched by a foe committed to Israel’s destruction and it must be condemned as such.
More than 260 Israelis were slaughtered at a holiday dance festival. In other locations, Hamas terrorists moved from house to house in Israeli communities along the border, murdering occupants. Ethnic cleansing, Hamas style.
Horrifying photos and videos of Israeli civilians shot or taken hostage led to widespread and justifiable international condemnation. Large numbers of Israelis were kidnapped, men, women, children as young as 2 years old and people as old as 90 were taken back to the Gaza Strip as hostages, to be used as human shields or to be traded for the release of Palestinian prisoners.
They have become the currency of war.
While Fatah, operating today through the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank, engages as a security partner with Israel, Hamas remains committed to the destruction of the Zionist Entity — they will not even speak the word Israel.
In Gaza, after the Israeli occupation ended in 2005, conflict between Hamas-controlled and Fatah-controlled security teams led to fighting that concluded with a Hamas victory in 2007. Since that time, respective Israeli administrations have pursued a policy of encirclement and isolation of the Gaza Strip, stifling economic activity to maintain security control, making it a virtual prison. The policy has fueled intense bitterness among Gazans, who blame Israel for the conditions they live under. But it has failed to prevent Hamas from building an arsenal and engaging in periodic attacks. Multiparty democracy is not Hamas’ thing, and since gaining control through force, it has ruled Gaza without any further popular mandate and generally with a heavy hand.
While political support for Hamas is unclear, Israel’s policy of containment has made resistance popular. Gazans blame Israel and not Hamas for the roughly 50% unemployment rate. Therefore, it seems, Hamas has little problems with recruitment.
As Hamas murderers were roaming villages along the border, residents were holed up in the safe rooms common in Israeli homes. From there, they texted messages for help, but help was agonizingly slow to arrive and too often it didn’t get there soon enough.
Where, so many asked, was the army?
Why weren’t we prepared?
Why didn’t the security forces know this was going to happen?
These are important questions, but now is not the time to ask them.
To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven.
There will be a time to find out how it was that the intelligence services had failed to pick up any warnings of the Hamas plans. There will be a time to examine why it was that the Hamas gunmen were not met by a more robust Israeli response. Why had the IDF Southern Command, tasked with defending the Gaza border, been stripped of so many soldiers, soldiers sent to protect the settlers in illegal outposts in the West Bank?
There will most certainly be an investigation, but not today.
As the now fully mobilized IDF clears the Hamas invaders from Israeli communities, the extensive death toll and damage are becoming clear. Now is the time to express our support for the State of Israel and its people.
A time for tearing down
and a time for building up
Today we must look again at our beloved Jewish State and see that the divisions that have torn it asunder for almost a full year — the judicial review and the step-by-step attack on democracy have been put on hold. They are not gone, they have not healed, but they have been put aside as the entire country (perhaps with the exception of the ultra-Orthodox, who are fleeing the country as quickly as they can get on planes) are united in supporting the army.
A time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones together
In one day, the entire framework of the protesters pivoted from fighting the government to becoming the organizing force for supporting the nation. They are coordinating the collection of financial donations to supplement the equipment that reserve duty soldiers so badly need, armored flack jackets and helmets.
They are organizing the countrywide donations of food and staples to be sent down south for the shell-shocked and physically wounded victims of the violence in the communities and kibbutzim near the Gaza Strip, ground zero for the Hamas incursion.
In hospitals across the country, the citizens of Israel are donating blood. Blood banks have opened stations in the malls, and the lines go out the door and around the block. Israelis in the center of the country are opening their homes to those families that need respite from the battles in the south, to those whose homes have been destroyed, to those who have lost family members, or those who don’t know if the missing father or mother or children are alive as hostages or if they have been murdered.
Today Israel has the support of most of the civilized world, but even as you read this, the retaliation has already begun. Israel has declared war on Hamas. The air force is flying bombing runs — artillery, tanks and infantry are already moving south. The United States and President Biden, even without a working Congress, have promised unequalled support. U.S. Navy warships are already moving into the area. Additional munitions as requested by Israel are on their way. And the national news organizations have correspondents in Israel delivering sympathetic messages back home to us.
A time for war and a time for peace
But starting a war is easy. Ending the war is a different matter. Perhaps Hamas thought that a smash-and-grab attack while capturing hostages would force Israel to negotiate in a short campaign. If so, it was a miscalculation. While the IDF has initiated a siege, an IDF incursion seems likely. While the Hamas murder of so many innocent Israeli civilians provides Hamas with little international support, things may change as Palestinian lives are lost and extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure occurs in Gaza’s densely populated areas.
A time for silence and a time for speaking up
Already, Hamas apologists are filling social media and other fora to make excuses for the slaughter of innocents. We must respond in ways that not only affirm Israel’s right to self-defense but affirm the humanity of Israel’s citizens.
It is difficult to know how this will conclude. While the Israeli public’s justifiable grief and anger make calls for the destruction of Hamas popular, we believe that the security leadership know that the complete and total eradication of Hamas is unlikely to be achieved. What it likely is a deep degradation of Hamas military resources.
And after that, then what? Will Israeli authorities return to the policy of Gaza isolation? Wash, rinse, repeat? And who will be making those decisions? Will this be the great fall that ensures that Binyamin Humpty-Dumpty Netanyahu can’t be put back together again? Will this mean the end to his far right theocratic racist coalition?
We have to recognize that it is a mistake to see Israel’s long-term security problem in strictly military terms, and hopefully the political dimensions of the security problem will be appreciated. Security is, ultimately, a two-way street. We must recognize that we are no better a partner that we claim “they” are. A more mature and creative political orientation would be helpful. This is hardly utopian—it is the ultimate in pragmatism. Otherwise, Israelis and Palestinians will be caught in a perpetual cycle of dehumanizing violence.
A time for slaying and a time for healing.
Dr. Mark Gold of Teaneck holds a Ph.D. in economics from NYU. He is on the executive board of Partners for Progressive Israel, a member organization of the American Zionist Movement and an affiliate of the World Union of Meretz.
Hiam Simon of Englewood is the past chief operating officer of Ameinu, the leading progressive Zionist membership organization in the United States. He lived in Israel for many years, where he was the dean of students at what is now the Alexander Muss High School, and he served in the IDF as a noncommissioned officer in the artillery.