I have been in Israel for the past several days attending conferences on the Holocaust at Yad Vashem and at the Ghetto Fighter’s House, near Nahariya, all amidst the shelling.
Sirens go off in the morning and the evening and we face a decision of whether to hasten to the shelter or choose a windowless room and wait it out. My sister carries a blanket in the car in case she has to stop at the side of the road. But we really don’t have a feeling of danger so much as annoyance, at least in the center of the country and up north where citizens have time to respond. In the south, the arrival of rockets is a matter of seconds.
Former Labor Leader Amir Peretz, who was scorned as Defense Minister when he looked through binoculars at the wrong end, is suddenly a hero because against more experienced military leaders and politicians he insisted on creating the Iron Dome, which has worked marvelously. He is the only political leader looking good.
A new situation has developed. So now Israel has time to inflict damage on Hamas. Let me explain:
Egypt under President Al-Sisi doesn’t mind Israel giving Hamas a terrible beating and will only intervene after it has done so. He will sue for peace for an opportunity to look like a statesman. Palestinian President Abbas, no matter what he says publicly, knows that his hand is strengthened by weakening Hamas.
The U.S. will not intervene for a while, giving Israel the opportunity to have at it until it gets out of hand or Israel makes a mistake. Even the media is consumed by other issues, the U.S. border ‘crisis’; Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and the Ukraine; and for the last few weeks—above all—the World Cup.
The population is not rattled because the Iron Dome works and it is no longer the South alone that is at risk. A new, albeit tentative, sense of national unity is prevailing, but not for long. There were air raid warnings in Jerusalem each day. Last night in the North, we heard a siren at 12:00 a.m. People came to the shelter or safe room in night gowns and pajamas but many returned to their rooms to watch Germany win the World Cup.
We went out to lunch at the shuk on Friday afternoon in Jerusalem; the market was full, no one felt under duress or unsafe. My grand-niece is undergoing preparatory military training in the South in case there is a ground attack, while her loving father was drinking beer and eating fish and chips. Had Israel actually invaded Gaza, he would not have been so nonchalant about the situation.
At Kabbalat Shabbat, after Mincha, a Gabbai rose and calmly announced, “We have no shelter. The safe room downstairs is for women and children, all others should move to the center of the room and away from the windows if our Shabbat peace is disturbed.” No panic, a simple, clear statement.
Most, except the extreme right, hope that there is no ground invasion, for it would take a year to be effective in getting rid of missiles—and Israeli casualties would be high. There is no problem getting into Gaza; getting out is another matter. Right wing politicians have not fared well in the political turmoil. Foreign Minister Lieberman broke his pact with Netanyahu in the middle of the crisis, hardly the act of a patriot. Bennett yelled at the IDF chief, demanding a military solution and was disappointed when the General said there is none. The Deputy Defense Minister has been simplistic.
There was no need for this series of battles—except that Hamas was weak and needed to assert itself, or thought it had immunity after the brutal killing of the Arab youth by Jewish thugs in Jerusalem. Their actions managed to change the subject quickly and Israel went—from feeling ashamed and outraged at Jewish vindictiveness and the brutality of the murder—to a wartime footing.
The horrific kidnapping of the three yeshiva students was overplayed—the government knew the three innocent young men were dead—but kept false hope alive. And in the act of flushing Hamas from the West Bank, they unleashed a wave of hatred within the population visible and audible all over social media and the airwaves.
One truly optimistic note, a rare one: as I came to the Kibbutz Lochamei HaGhetaot and its Center for Humanistic Learning, Jewish and Arab teachers were meeting with the Mayor and local principals, preparing themselves to deal with the hatred expressed on all sides. They were anticipating the coming school year and what would happen without the safety valve of school, which will not start for another six long weeks.
Israel still has only tactics, not strategy. Hamas sees itself as the beneficiary of a large number of Palestinian casualties which they create by using human shields. In the end, all sides may regret not keeping the peace process going.
And all the while, as the sirens sound, we are listening to lectures about the Holocaust. Unfortunately, we can better understand the past than the present.
By Michael Berenbaum