Sunday, January 18, 2009

Waltz with Bashir, Gaza, and Israeli Militarism

This week, the Israeli movie “Waltz with Bashir” won a Golden Globe for best foreign film. It is up for an Oscar as well.The movie has been highly acclaimed around the world for its exceptional animation as one of the most creative movies for years. Mazal Tov! So, what is the movie about? It is about a soldier who is trying to piece together his traumatic memories of the Lebanon War. The horrors of war and sense of moral compromise that wars bring are illustrated graphically.

Why am I mentioning this? Because here, yet again – even as we win awards around the world – Israel is portrayed and cast as a military nation, dedicated to violence, addicted to it. Likewise, last summer’s hit movie, “Don’t Mess with the Zohan” (link), despite being a farce and a comedy, highlighted Israelis as military machines (as well as sex-obsessed and crude. The values of the Zohan movie have been discussed in this article.)

If this was only in the movies, I wouldn’t mind, but I believe that we are living in a generation where for a great number of people around the world, Israel is perceived as an aggressor, as a personification of the “blessing” to Esau – על חרבך תחיה – and not as a purveyor of morality, truth, wisdom, sensitivity and the like. The word Israel is synonymous with war. See this interesting blog piece by Treppenwitz (link) as he describes a visit to Sky News’ offices in Jerusalem. He pays attention to the art on the walls and what they say about Israel:

On the walls of their Jerusalem office are ten or twelve beautifully framed black & white photographs that are clearly supposed to demonstrate to a guest, the space's occupant's appreciation for the rich, multi-cultural tapestry that is Israel.
There are photos of Christians in and near the ancient Churches of Jerusalem... Muslims (including crying children) near mosques and in pastoral settings, and of course Jews... mostly in prayer:

Jew photo #1- A close-up of a hand holding an open siddur (Hebrew prayer book) with a sub-machine gun in soft focus on a table in the near background, within easy reach.

Jew photo #2- An Israeli soldier wrapped in tallit and tefillin praying in front of an enormous battle tank (not the famous one from sukkot taken during the Yom Kippur war).

Jew photo #3 - An Israeli soldier wearing a helmet and holding an assault rifle next to his face, peering around a corner of a stone building as if trying to line up a difficult shot.

After viewing the first two images of Jewish Israelis, an observer could be forgiven for assuming that the soldiers were praying, not to G-d, but to the tools of war before them. And the third photograph does nothing to dispel the notion of Jewish Israelis as an entirely militaristic society.

Whereas we within Israeli society perceive ourselves as peace loving and gentle, as interested in furthering our society, Israeli technology, poetry and the like, the outside view frequently looks upon Israel as aggressive, militaristic and violent.


Now some will say that the world likes Jews as docile and powerless. They are disturbed to see a Jew in a position of force and domination. If this is true, then possibly this feeling has Christian roots, in that Christianity believed in the destiny of the Jews as a degraded, displaced and shameful people. Christian doctrine sought to subject the Jews to humiliation and disgrace. And indeed, Zionism came to change that. The notion of the fighting Jew is central to Zionism. The idea that we can take care of ourselves is a cardinal principle of the modern State of Israel.

As Dominic Lawson put it last week in The Times: (link)

I was startled by the monument that stands at the entrance to Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s memorial to the Holocaust. One side of Nathan Rappaport’s diptych is what looks like a caricature of Jews. The hunched, twisted figures, with hooked noses and heavy-lidded eyes, seem devoid of physical energy. The other panel displays a group of heroic young men and women who are heavily muscled, standing tall, weapons at the ready.

It turns out that the first group is meant to depict Jews being marched to their deaths, while the second is the leaders of the Warsaw uprising; the whole monument is constructed of granite imported from Sweden by the Nazis for the construction of what was meant to be one of the Third Reich’s victory towers.

The message is in fact close to the view expressed with brutal clarity by Israel’s founding father, David Ben-Gurion: “That masses of exiled Jews walked to the death trains . . . silently, stupidly . . . is a decisive, embarrassing and painful statement of the disintegration of spiritual-ethical strength. What is their place among us?” Ben-Gurion envisaged that “new Jews”, with the security of their own nation state, would erase what he saw as the shameful memory of a “submissive, lowly camp of strange creatures . . . who know only how to arouse pity”.

In short, Israel decided that it would represent the empowered Jew, the fighting Jew.


But after the fighting in Gaza, after any fighting, I always experience a personal backswing. After listening to and reading the foreign media, I am disturbed by this military personification of Israel. Is that our message to the nations? Is that our legacy?

I recall how Rabbi Jakobovits, a man who I admired, spoke out against excessive militarism in Israeli society. He warned of the ethically corrosive nature of the Israeli-Arab conflict, of the moral compromise that is war. He insisted that we keep in mind even our enemies suffering: “Compassion extends to all who suffer, even our enemies.” He was deeply disturbed that Israel was one of the world’s major arms exporters, trading in death. He spoke of how we were meant to export “Torah from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem,” rather than tools of destruction.

We have just been to war. Let there be no doubt about it, this war has been justified absolutely. We have engaged in a battle against an amoral enemy which doesn’t balk at using women and children, schools and mosques as weapon launching pads, as arms stores. These people have perfected the demonic art of the “Human shield” uncaring as to how many will die as they seek to achieve their hallowed goal of destroying the “Zionist Entity.” As Nassrallah said some years back:

"We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death."

He said it! This culture of Hamas and Hizbolla is evil personified. This is the culture of Molech. This is the ideology of suicide bombers and people who let miserable refugees fester in hatred, despair and squalor rather than allowing them rehabilitation, hope, life, a future. In this regard, this war has been a supremely moral war, the sons of light against the sons of darkness, hatred and death.

And yet, at the same time, we have now killed over 1000 people, many of them innocent; so many children. How do we regain our sensitivity to life? Morality needs hard work in times like this. How do we ensure that the bullets of war do not warp and twist our moral direction? How do we refine our ethical compass so that we educate our children to love life and to understand that human life is still ultimately sacred?

I recall the famous Midrash quoted in the name of our patriarch Jacob. As he prepared for battle when his life and the lives of his family were threatened, the Torah tells us:

“Jacob was greatly afraid and was distressed.”

Rashi elaborates:

“Greatly afraid: that he might be killed; Distressed: That he may kill other people.”

In war, we have to protect ourselves, we must know that our first priority is to protect our people. However woe to us if we lose that worry, that concern with the lives of others. We may not delude ourselves that our right to defense is a license to kill. We must retain a sensitivity to the life of our enemy. Furthermore, we must understand that even when we kill justifiably, the act of killing desensitizes us and darkens us. We do not remain unaffected.

My feeling is that in the dialectic between War and Peace, between sensitivity and softness on the one hand, and aggression and violence on the other, in the excruciating dance between the hand reaching for the gun, and alternatively, extending it in Peace, we are in need of a rebalance. Not for the world, not for the media or the UN or international opinion; No! - for ourselves! We need to teach our children to preserve, to love and protect life; Not only our own lives, but the lives of the children in Gaza, as well.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

No Withdrawal without Gilad Shalit

If we are the winners in this war, If we have indeed "crushed" Hamas, is there any justification whatsoever for Israel to accept a Ceasefire without the safe return of Gilad Shalit?

(And I would say furthermore, that unless we get Shalit back, Hamas will always proclaim this as their victory. The return of Shalit will prove inconclusively that we had the upper hand.)

I call upon our leaders: No Withdrawal without Gilad Shalit!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Brothers in Arms

I received a letter today which reported a visit by two chayalim (who had been in Gaza this week) to a Jerusalem Yeshiva. It gives the picture above added meaning:

"After Mincha, our Rosh Yeshiva broke into a round of "Am Yisrael Chai" (figuring the non-dati chayalim would be familiar). We danced around the beit midrash, and then the dancing came to an end.

As we were about to "break ranks," Omri called for our attention. Putting his arms around the students next to him, he shared a description of the moments before they entered Gaza.

"We stood in a big circle like this, prepared for battle. We put our arms around each other, and we sang the following song." Recreating their experiences of two weeks, we gathered in a large circle encompassing the beit midrash, and sang with them: "Yisrael b'tach bashem, ezram u'maginam hu. Anachnu maaminim bnei maaminim v'ein lanu al mi l'hisha'en ela al avinu shebashamayim." Yisrael, trust in Hashem! He is their help and defense. We are believers, the children of believers, and we have nobody in whom to trust but our father in Heaven.'"

Friday, January 09, 2009

Destruction above Human Life and Wellbeing

From today's Guardian, I loved this quote (link):

I will never stop criticising Israeli policies that I take to be wrong-headed, short-sighted or immoral. But I have no sympathy for the critics of Israel who refuse to see that there are ideologies who put destruction above human life and wellbeing. Hamas has changed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from something that can be solved, to a clash defined by the principle that only one side can survive - critics cannot expect Israel to accept this simply because it is the stronger side.

• Carlo Strenger is a professor of psychology at Tel Aviv University

See this piece from the NYTimes:

January 9, 2009
Fighter Sees His Paradise in Gaza’s Pain

GAZA CITY — The emergency room in Shifa Hospital is often a place of gore and despair. On Thursday, it was also a lesson in the way ordinary people are squeezed between suicidal fighters and a military behemoth.

Dr. Awni al-Jaru, 37, a surgeon at the hospital, rushed in from his home here, dressed in his scrubs. But he came not to work. His head was bleeding, and his daughter’s jaw was broken.
He said Hamas militants next to his apartment building had fired mortar and rocket rounds. Israel fired back with force, and his apartment was hit. His wife, Albina, originally from Ukraine, and his 1-year-old son were killed.

“My son has been turned into pieces,” he cried. “My wife was cut in half. I had to leave her body at home.” Because Albina was a foreigner, she could have left Gaza with her children. But, Dr. Jaru lamented, she would not leave him behind.

A car arrived with more patients. One was a 21-year-old man with shrapnel in his left leg who demanded quick treatment. He turned out to be a militant with Islamic Jihad. He was smiling a big smile.

“Hurry, I must get back so I can keep fighting,” he told the doctors.

He was told that there were more serious cases than his, that he needed to wait. But he insisted.

“We are fighting the Israelis,” he said. “When we fire we run, but they hit back so fast. We run into the houses to get away.” He continued smiling.

“Why are you so happy?” this reporter asked. “Look around you.”

A girl who looked about 18 screamed as a surgeon removed shrapnel from her leg. An elderly man was soaked in blood. A baby a few weeks old and slightly wounded looked around helplessly. A man lay with parts of his brain coming out. His family wailed at his side.

“Don’t you see that these people are hurting?” the militant was asked.

“But I am from the people, too,” he said, his smile incandescent. “They lost their loved ones as martyrs. They should be happy. I want to be a martyr, too.”

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The whole Country is a Front Line

The news isn't so great today. Katyushas were fired from our NORTHERN border. Yes! The North! Is it Hizbolla, or some splinter Palestinian group? Who knows? The Government did expect this. Nonetheless, the knowledge that rockets are now hitting BOTH in the North and South is not particularly heartwarming.

I love how the news talk about the "Northern Front" (from Haifa Northwards) and the "Southern Front" (From BeerSheva to Kiryat Gat to Gaza) and the Palestinians have been throwing rocks and Molotov Cocktails on the roads in the West Bank. The whole country is the Front!

Yesterday, Gush Etzion had an evening fair with shopkeeperes and businesses from Sderot. The idea was to invite the stores of Sderot to do business here to prop up their waning revenues. A great idea. However they got to the army checkpoint, and when the army said that there had been some rock throwing on the road up to Gush Etzion, most of them turned round and went home. Better the rockets you know than the stones that you don't! The whole country is a Front Line!

Anyway, we'll have to see how things develop today. Seems like the army are working hard in Gaza. I have two pieces for you to look at today.

the British Press have been strongly anti-Israel throughout this crisis. Some of the language has certainly gone beyond the lines of any reasonable journalism. But see this strident piece by one of their central editors, a proud Jew, Daniel Finkelstein. It is an excellent read. (link)

In regards to the UN school that was hit, this post (link) was unbelievable. The headmaster is the mastermind of Islamic Jihad's missile division! There are reports that Hamas fighters go to children in the street and demand that the children accompany the fighters in order to ensure that the fighters are not fired at. Sick!

All I can say is .... Shalom! Hope it is a good day.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Something to laugh (or cry) at...

Something to take your mind off Gaza! (and worry about our other problems.)

A Soldier's Update

Today has been a difficult day with several soldiers killed, some from an incident of friendly fire. Of course, now is the hard part. The first week, we were bombing them from a distance. The first day of the ground assault, the soldiers were moving in open areas. Now, they are fighting in built-up regions where Hamas have an advantage and we have a disadvantage. By all accounts, our Chayalim seem to be doing excellent work. Keep praying and connecting!

To read an interesting account of a soldier describing his experiences in Gaza and what they have found there, see this article (link) released today. It describes how Hamas have boobytrapped Mosques, how they have traps everywhere, tunnels for kidnap operations, loads of weaponry and other things for military action. Sounds like most of the Hamas operatives have fled their homes. But one wonders why a people who have little money to live expend so much of the scant resources on weapons whose objective is killing us!

Another fantastic article that is well worth reading attacks people who make loose comparisons between Tzahal and the Nazis! You can find it here. He argues his point eloquently and convincingly. (And to the best of my knowledge, Aaronovitch is not Jewish)

Let's hope that we can achieve a victory and an end to the killing very soon.

Two moving pieces. Our children as Soldiers.

Here are two moving pieces regarding the Gaza operation and our children as soldiers: Daniel Gordis (link) and Yossi Klein Halevi in the Washington Post (link): As My Son Goes to War, I Am Fully Israeli At Last.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Keep in Touch with Israel

"We are not war hungry, but we shall not, I repeat shall not, allow a situation where our towns, villages and civilians are constantly targeted by Hamas." (Ehud Barak - today)

Here are 2 blogs and one charity to keep you connected with our battle in Gaza. From what I can read between the lines, we are doing well, and Hamas are pretty desperate. Let's hope that things continue that way.

I have found the the Muqata blog has excellent coverage of the Matzav. I already pointed out Oleh Girl. Here is another blog. It is from sderot by Yakira Weisel, an 18 year old Sherut Leumi volunteer (National Service.) The work that these young women do at a pretty young age is unbelievable. Last week Yakira brought her group of kids from Sderot to get out of the fighting and raised the funds to take them bowling and to the zoo in Jerusalem. Read her blog here (link).

Here is an amazing charity. See their work here. Standing Together, is collecting warm socks, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deoderant, fleece ski masks, hot cups, bottled drinks, packaged cookies and cakes to bring to our soldiers coming in and out of Gaza. . You can also help by sponsoring online an $18 package for a chayal containing long underwear, hats, and socks. To donate funds to puchase these things please go to Thanks so much and Tizku L'mitzvot.

Keep in touch!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Prayer for Tzahal

If you visit this blog, please say this prayer for our soldiers in Gaza:
מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבותֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקב הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת חַיָּלֵי צְבָא הֲגַנָּה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, הָעומְדִים עַל מִשְׁמַר אַרְצֵנוּ וְעָרֵי אֱלהֵינוּ מִגְּבוּל הַלְּבָנון וְעַד מִדְבַּר מִצְרַיִם וּמִן הַיָּם הַגָּדול עַד לְבוא הָעֲרָבָה בַּיַּבָּשָׁה בָּאֲוִיר וּבַיָּם. יִתֵּן ה' אֶת אויְבֵינוּ הַקָּמִים עָלֵינוּ נִגָּפִים לִפְנֵיהֶם. הַקָּדושׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יִשְׁמר וְיַצִּיל אֶת חַיָלֵינוּ מִכָּל צָרָה וְצוּקָה וּמִכָּל נֶגַע וּמַחְלָה וְיִשְׁלַח בְּרָכָה וְהַצְלָחָה בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יְדֵיהֶם. יַדְבֵּר שׂונְאֵינוּ תַּחְתֵּיהֶם וִיעַטְרֵם בְּכֶתֶר יְשׁוּעָה וּבְעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחון. וִיקֻיַּם בָּהֶם הַכָּתוּב: כִּי ה' אֱלהֵיכֶם הַהלֵךְ עִמָּכֶם לְהִלָּחֵם לָכֶם עִם איבֵיכֶם לְהושִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם: וְנאמַר אָמֵן:
See also my post from the Lebanon War here.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


I have been deliberating about what to write about Gaza. So much has been written already. I must admit that I have had many doubts as to whether this is the right thing for us (Israel) to have entered into at this time... a war is a big thing. In addition, we have all been shaken by the huge numbers of casualities in Gaza. Of course the coming days and weeks will tell us whether this was the right course of action. The test of this will be whether we can indeed stop the rocket fire and not function as if Hamas is calling the shots, which has been the case for the past 3 years. To write comprehensively about this would take many posts. I will just write some short notes here and give you some links. (I liked this blog)

1. There is no question that this is more than justified. after 8 years of holding back and trying every negotiation route, what is Israel to do? we have the right to fight back.

2. While we certainly do not want any civilian casualties on the other side, of course there will be, and have been many. Any talk about how we are hitting civilians has to be considered in the light of the following factors:
a. Hamas put their arms depots and military instillations amongst civilians to make them immune to Israeli attacks. So does that mean we can never attack terrorists like this?
b. Of the 300+ Palestinians killed 75% are terrorists. So say the UN figures. That is a very good statistic. Tzahal clearly have their bombs well aimed.
c. In Gaza just like in South Lebanon, I think that most people civilian or military are Hamas. The entire population are mobilised to destroy Israel. Just like 9/11 which was perpetrated by cicvilians, in the new constellation of the non-conventional war (like in Iraq or Lebanon etc.) there isn't the traditional division between civilian and military. Where do you draw the line for Ahmed who has a store but mans a Hamas phone line at night, or Fatima who passes messages by hanging out her green shirt on the washing line, or Muhammed who smuggles arms for money but doesn't really believe in the cause?

3. we need to pray that this is succesful and that many Chayalim don't get hurt.

4. Having said that, I am fearful that we are going to fail here. why?
Because of us and because of them.

Us: See Harel's article in Haaretz (link) and Bret stephens in WSJ (link).

We are not determined enough. We need to persist and not to look back. If we realy want to succeed we are going to have to be quite ruthless and to really engage in alot of destruction and punishment. I am unconvinced that Olmert Livni and Barak have the staying power. already after 48 hrs, Barak was pining for a way out. What is that? If you start, don't you know how you want to continue? as Harel writes, the person who blinks first is dead. Barak blinked first! This, if it is to be succesful will be long, very long and arduous. Do we have the stamina? Do our leaders have the ability to keep going... y'know - the long haul?

Again what is the point of this op.? It is to make them realise that shooting missilies is NOT in their best interests. How do we do that? By making sure that we take out their infrastructure and weapons stores and by making them suffer. True, we have destroyed development labs and many missiles and tunnels. All good. We have given them a shock. But if we go in, do we know the objective? When will it be clear that we have victory? What if the missiles don't stop? Do we stay in Gaza if the missiles dont stop? At what cost? And if we do pull out , how can we ensure that they do not see it as a victory??

Caution is needed.

Them: I always think that our secular leaders misjudge the religious mind. Hamas are religious people. They are passionate and they believe in the name of God in their way. They will fight to the death. I feel that frequently secular thinkers don't get it, they think that our decisions are based upon self interest and quality of life. But for a religious person it is based on belief. The Haredim are willing to live in abject poverty for the sake of limmud torah. Hamas think that we are infidels. They believe that Israel should be destroyed. Will a few bombs break that? I doubt it.

(Now again, this just underscores how dangerous Hamas are... go back to Bret Stevens article. When they get funds, they use it to buy weapons, not to pave streets or to creat industry and prosperity for the average Palestinian in Gaza. But again, if they are so motivated, so focused, so ideologically directed, then will a few strikes deter them? I fear that we are back in Lebanon 2006.)

And then there is the desparation of the Palestinians. See this interesting article. (link)

“There is a state in the world with no heat, no gas, no oil, no diesel, no drugs, no food,” said Muhammad Ahmed, 33, angrily. “The Jews have everything, and they won’t understand that on the other side there is nothing!
“People dig the tunnels out of hunger,” he insisted, and then warned, “When you don’t feed animals, they get angry and they bite you!”

They Palestinians have little to lose. In Sharon's Op. of 2001 (Homat Magen) he was succesful because he totally ran over the cities and he did stop the terrorism. Will this do the same? I fear that the Gaza people have little to lose. How will their lives become worse exactly? Do they have anything to lose?

Once again, I do hope our leaders know what they are doing,and I know we are justified in striking Hamas, but knowing Ehud Barak and Olmert, I doubt they have what it takes to finish the job.

And if we pull out and they see it as a victory, we are far worse off.

I do really hope that our leaders will prove my fears wrong. I hope that we can indeed change the status quo, and restore Israel's deterrent vis a vis Hamas. I do not envy our leaders in these situations. Only time will tell.