Gaza War of 2023/2024 Day 129

I was here in Israel for about a month after October 7, and returned at the beginning of February.

I find Israel is very different than when I left three months ago.

In the weeks immediately after October 7, normal life in Israel had come to a complete halt. The shock, and spirit of unity, in the country was very powerful. “Everyone” agreed Hamas could not be allowed to retain the ability to hurt us in this way. The outpouring of volunteers to help IDF soldiers and evacuees from both the south and north was unreal. Everyone I know was volunteering in one way or another.

Three months later, life in Israel is somewhat back to normal. Classes have resumed at universities. People are back to their usual daily activities. There’s still volunteer stuff going on, but now it’s more people volunteering to help farms that need workers to harvest crops since the foreign workers left.

The big difference is the spirit of unity is gone. Criticism of the government’s handling of the war in Gaza is becoming increasingly vocal, in many cases being led by families of people being held hostage in Gaza. Many Israelis believe the human suffering in Gaza is excessive, and the IDF is not doing enough to alleviate it, and is not doing enough to protect civilians. The fact that three Israeli hostages, with their shirts off, waving a white flag, and calling out for help in Hebrew were shot and killed by IDF troops is pointed to as evidence violations of the rules of engagement. Other Israelis believe Israel is not hitting Hamas hard enough.

There are signs all over Israel that say (in Hebrew, of course), “Return them home, now!” There are demonstrations and protests regarding the hostages, but I have not gone to any of them. I don’t know what I would be protesting. Everyone agrees we want the hostages home, and quickly, but there is no agreement on how to accomplish that. For some people, “bring them home now” basically means “surrender to Hamas.” Have a complete ceasefire, and release however many thousands of terrorists we have to release to get the hostages back. For others, “bring them home now” means do not allow any humanitarian aid into Gaza at all. Starve not only Hamas but 2 million presumably innocent people until they give up.

I do not endorse either of those two extreme solutions.

The war dragging on is taking a toll on people. At Shabbat dinner I was talking with a soldier who leads a unit of tank mechanics in Gaza. He’s been in Gaza for three months. He finally got a five day pass to come home, only his wife and baby are out of the country visiting her parents in Europe. It’s very tough. The government is extending the tours of duty for draftees and are raising the age at which people are still required to serve in the reserves from 40 to 45. This is also causing friction and resentment, as the secular population is being asked to make more sacrifices to serve the country, while the ultra-Orthodox continue to be exempt from serving in the IDF.

Antisemitism in some other countries is getting so bad that some Diaspora Jews are considering moving to Israel. At the same time, I know Israelis who have had enough of the stress of living in this place and who are leaving the country for greener pastures.

I’m not a fan of Richard Nixon, but he wrote an excellent book titled “Leaders.” He said real leaders don’t worry about the opinion polls: they figure out what’s the right thing to do, and then they convince people that they are right. Netanyahu, on the other hand, seems to consult opinion polls of his base before opening his mouth, so that he can tell them exactly what they want to hear. 

When the war broke out, he tried to dodge blame, and blamed the IDF for the failures that left us vulnerable to the Hamas attack. When that proved to be overly unpopular, even among those on the right, he tacked, and now he promises the war will continue until Israel achieves “complete victory,” even though everyone, including his generals, knows that complete victory is an illusion. There is no way the IDF will be able to destroy all the tunnels and kill or capture every Hamas fighter. The war will end with a negotiated agreement, not with the complete annihilation of Hamas.

We will get past these horrible times. There will be peace. We will eventually have a new government, and God willing the Palestinians will as well, and we’ll both get leaders who can negotiate a true peace, a lasting peace. 

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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