Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin meets in Casablanca with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, 1994. (photo from flickr.com/photos/government_press_office/6324960139)
With all the darkness surrounding us since Oct 7, since the shattering of that tranquil Shabbat, have the people of Israel witnessed a miracle?
When Israel’s guard was fully down, when the south was under a vicious blitzkrieg by the monstrous Hamas, why did Hezbollah – with their 150,000 missiles pointed towards Israel – not exploit this excellent opportunity to open a second front? When Israel was existentially exposed, Hezbollah chose not to respond, at least not in any real-time, meaningful way. Complex geopolitical and military and conspiracy theories abound, attempting to explain why and why not. Pundits speculate and postulate and surmise. But maybe, just maybe, at some very esoteric level, the simplest and most logical answer, according to my close friend, a rabbi: it was a modern-day miracle. Pftt, pftt, pftt, as my great-grandmother would add.
The lights! Growing up, I was conditioned to shut the lights when leaving a room. I attempted to teach the same to my kids – and to my wife, although sometimes it seems she opens the lights when leaving a room. And then the missile sirens go off. Whoa! Slow it down. We have 90 seconds. Certainly time enough to shut the lights when racing to our shelter. My shouts muted by the screeching of the red alert, “Lights! Lights! Shut the lights!” I yell. To no avail, of course.
The day after … too soon to start thinking about it? That is where discussions about the war ultimately end up, each of us with our own theory, our own concerns, our own hopes. Once Israel achieves victory, in whatever form that takes, Gaza must then be rebuilt. But first it must be deradicalized – no more Hamas. Demilitarized – no more bombs hidden in schools, mosques and hospitals. And democratized – according to Winston Churchill, it’s the worst form of government … except for all others.
For this to succeed, Gaza should be divided into three cantons, similar to Germany, post-Second World War, each managed by a strong, Western or westward-looking country with enlightened self-interest for a stable and less radical Middle East. Maybe the United States. Maybe Britain. Maybe Germany. Maybe Egypt or Jordan. Escorted by a massive 21st-century Marshall-like plan. Maybe the Blinken Plan. Channeling the equivalent of $15 billion in 1948 purchasing power, that’s $191,569,917,012.48. OK, not that much, as the Gaza Strip is tiny compared to Germany, but enough funds to restore its economic infrastructure, to rebuild the Strip and rehabilitate its citizens, and make Gaza the Singapore of the Middle East – shipping, tourism, industry, maybe even offshore natural gas – like it could have become in 2005, when Israel fully withdrew. But then, what do I know.
Well before the day after, we need to take care of the Israeli hostages, including babies, children and octogenarians, both those still held in unknown condition by Hamas and other terrorists in Gaza, and those who have been returned. Interesting, but not necessarily surprising, is that neither the United Nations General Assembly nor UNICEF nor even the Red Cross demanded their unconditional release. Let alone a humanitarian visit.
As related by Liat Collins of the Jerusalem Post, Guelah Cohen – a 1980s right-wing parliamentarian, 2003 Israel Prize winner and mother of current senior Lukid lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi – summarized this tragic situation best. Back during the First Lebanon War, when Tzachi was a combat solder, Cohen was asked what she would do if he were taken prisoner. She thoughtfully responded that, as a mother, she would be outside leading the protests to bring her son home, shouting with a megaphone outside the Prime Minister’s Office for the government to do anything and everything in its power to achieve his release. But, as a member of the government, she would be sitting quietly in the Prime Minister’s Office, advising him not to listen to the public.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, during the controversial days of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords process and accompanying Palestinian terror, said, “We must fight terrorism as if there’s no peace process and work for peace as if there’s no terror.” How utterly profound.
So, with the tragic circumstances of the hostages, the government must listen to the cries of the hostages’ families. But they also must lead and not be swayed by public opinion. The government must fight the war on Hamas as if there were no hostages and must, at the same time, bring all the hostages home. Alive.
As for economic recovery, I share a very micro, personal anecdote. About 18 months ago, we redid our condo, buying much of our furniture from BaKatzer, a wonderful and unique boutique furniture store located in a moshav (agricultural community) just outside the Gaza periphery, not too far from Ashkelon, which receives the brunt of the rockets from Gaza. While not the easiest of customers – I can be very demanding on price and service – I recently sent the owner a WhatsApp message. “Hey!” I wrote. “Hope all is well during these difficult times and hope to be back soon for more shopping.” Given my unforgiving consumerism, maybe she saw that as another threat. Alas, I can also be a very loyal consumer.
And there we were, my wife and I sitting around our Shabbat table with my daughter and her best friends, one with a brother who is a paratrooper and fighting in Gaza, the other an intelligence officer whose service was just extended, and still another, who was on a weekend leave from his Golani unit stationed up north. The conversation quickly moving from the trivial and benign to questioning and
responding to issues and concerns that should be far away from them, that should not trouble the young minds of these 20-somethings, who should not deal with the complexities of miracles and hostages and day-after theories. Alas, there we were, talking of war and survival, looking hopefully to tomorrow. Am Israel chai.
Bruce Brown is a Canadian and an Israeli. He made aliyah … a long time ago. He works in Israel’s high-tech sector by day and, in spurts, is a somewhat inspired writer by night. Brown is the winner of the 2019 AJPA Rockower Award for excellence in writing, and wrote the 1998 satire An Israeli is…. Brown reflects on life in Israel – political, social, economic and personal.