The Jewish community worldwide is experiencing pain and despair. Feelings of grief for the murdered, empathy for the injured, rage at the perpetrators and anguish and terror for the kidnapped are overwhelming. The deep heartbreak is palpable.
While events in the past have harmed Israelis’ sense of security and hopes for peace, these attacks seem to have shattered them. The invasion of Jewish homes, the seizing of Jewish people, young and old, reaching for their loves ones as they are dragged away – these are images hauntingly redolent of a stateless past, without a government capable of preventing large-scale, coordinated assaults on the dignity, human rights, freedom and lives of Jews. The magnitude of this terror, with the heart-rending images and videos that illustrate the dehumanization in a way impossible until recent technological advances, means this moment is uniquely affecting.
Israeli politicians and military strategists have largely aimed to “manage” the conflict. Now, there will be calls for a lasting resolution. Israelis will not tolerate a second experience like this. After a decade and a half of successive skirmishes and wars with Hamas, many, including top military officials, are warning this will be the last.
A resolution to the status quo is something everyone – even Hamas terrorists – agree on. What that resolution will look like is where differences emerge. The approach Israel takes will affect not only the reality there but, secondarily, the world’s attitudes and approaches to Israel … and to Jews, as is often the case. There is fear and anger and understandable calls for retribution – actions that, at press time, were partly being tempered by the presence in Gaza of an estimated hundred-plus hostages from Israeli villages and towns.
History has shown one thing to be sure of, and to brace for – the window of empathy for Israeli victims will inevitably close. The author Dara Horn wrote that “people love dead Jews.” What the world seems to welcome far less enthusiastically are Jews, and a Jewish state, that are very much alive, with agency in the world. As Israel’s response rolls out, we can expect much of the nascent public sympathy to evaporate.
We cannot predict the mayhem and pain that seems imminent for both Israelis and Palestinians in the coming days, weeks, months and possibly years as a result of this radically changed circumstance. However, the temptation to assert that “this changes everything” is almost certainly false. Some things will remain the same.
There is a core of intolerance and hatred at the heart of opposition to the Jewish presence in the region and to Jewish national self-determination. Peace has rarely seemed further away.
Not incidentally, some of the central values of Israeli society – providing affected individuals and families with support and resources in times of crisis – have been left to individuals and various networks of mutual aid. The governmental and political failure goes beyond not having been prepared for the terrorist attacks but extends to the aftermath. Families have been left by their government with little communication or intelligence on their lost, possibly dead, loved ones. Among all the sacred things left in ruins today, this may prove to be one of the most shattering remnants from this time. That, at least, was something that Israelis could rely on – and even that has been ripped away.
For Jewish Canadians, this conflict is at once so far away and so close and, for some of us – like the family and friends of Ben Mizrachi, the young Vancouver man murdered Saturday – so very close. Wherever we are, we must be there for one another, across all lines of geography, affiliation, background and, yes, politics. Right now, a resolution forced by military might be the preference of the most vocal people. The middle of a war can be a hard time to talk about peace. A moment of agony and outrage is a difficult moment to encourage reflection and restraint. And yet, lasting peace and justice depends on what happens next and how our institutions react. We cannot control the actions of others, as psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel suggested, we can only control our responses to these events. This is the choice each of us makes as we assimilate the inhumanity around us and reflect on our deeply held values.