Gaza War of 2023/2024 Day 249: Together We Will Prevail?

The last time I wrote anything about the situation in Israel was four months ago. I’ve been away from Israel for three months, and somehow when I’m away I don’t feel as connected to what’s happening here, don’t feel as inspired to write something, even though I clearly still have friends and family here and have access to the internet which is how I get most of my news anyway. But it’s just not the same as being here.

Some pictures I took on my run this morning show why.

I passed a flower bed that spelled out in Hebrew “bayachad n’natzeach,” a phrase you see all over Israel that can be translated in a few different ways. “Bayachad” could be either “together” or “united.” “n’natzeach” could be “we will win,” “we will triumph,” “we will prevail.” However you translate it, the meaning is that we are unified, and that unity will contribute to our victory over Hamas.

The only problem is we are not very unified, and have not been since the early days of the war. I wrote about it in my last blog post from 120 days ago, and the disunity has not gotten better.

A Pew Research Center survey taken in March and April found that 39% of Israelis think Israel’s military response is about right, 34% say it has not gone far enough, and 19% think it has gone to far. It’s worth noting there is a big divide between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis on this question – only 4% of Israeli Jews say Israel’s military response has gone too far, while 74% of Israeli Arabs think it has gone too far. And, of course, one of Israel’s challenges is that most of the rest of the world agrees with the Israeli Arabs, not the Israeli Jews, on whether Israel has gone too far.

The way I see the different groups is as follows: 

  1. A shrinking group that thinks Netanyahu is doing a good job. Only 41% had a favorable view of him in the poll, the lowest it’s been.
  2. A group that supports the message of the families of hostages, who are arguing the most important thing is to get the hostages back, even if it means not meeting our war goal of getting rid of Hamas.
  3. A group that dislikes Netanyahu, but thinks the way we are conducting the war is OK. His unpopularity stems from a sense that he is putting his political survival above the needs of the nation.
  4. A group (including me) that believes our biggest problem right now is the lack of a credible plan for the “day after.” We believe reoccupying Gaza would be a historic mistake.
  5. A group that thinks we need to hit Hamas even harder, and not care about how many dead Palestinians there are, or what the world thinks, led by Ben Gvir and Smotrich.
  6. A small number that are horrified by the Palestinian death toll and think that’s why the way needs to stop.

So “together we will prevail” is a lovely slogan, but we don’t seem very together right now.

Next thing I ran past was a monument to the soldiers who died defending my neighborhood in 1967. The front lines in the war were only about half a mile from my place in Jerusalem. War is not “ancient history” here. The last war on American soil was over 150 years ago. And spending the day on October 7 running to the bomb shelter was another reminder that war is not ancient history for Israelis – and that inevitably colors how we feel about things, and it’s why being physically here puts me in a different mind set than when I’m sitting 7,000 miles away.

In the above picture you can see the hills Jordan in the distance. If I were in the north of Israel I could have taken pictures of Syria or Lebanon. Israel is surrounded by people who would prefer we weren’t here.

The concrete wall in this picture is the “separation barrier” between Israel and the Palestinian territories. Hamas, the organization that killed 1200 Israelis, kidnapped hundreds, used sexual violence against Israeli captives, has jumped in popularity with the people who live on the other side of that wall. They overwhelmingly deny Hamas committed atrocities, which means they are either ignorant or brainwashed, because even the Israel-hating UN found that Hamas committed atrocities on October 7. This helps make Israelis skeptical about the wisdom of a Palestinian state. Only 26% of Israelis polled thought a way could be found for a Palestinian state to live peacefully alongside Israel. 40% think Israel needs to remain in charge in Gaza. This is home. We’re not going anywhere. And neither are the Palestinians. We have no alternative but to figure out how to live together.

I love seeing the Temple Mount on my runs around Jerusalem. It’s worth mentioning, as I’ve said in the past, the conflict here is not fundamentally about religion, despite what extremists on both sides would like you to think. Jews and Muslims get along fine in other places. Judaism and Islam are more alike than Judaism and Christianity. We’re in a tribal conflict about land, power, and control.

I also ran past a monument for the 650,000 Jews who were expelled from Arab lands and Iran, who were welcomed and resettled in Israel. When someone tells the Jews to go back where you came from, these Jews, and their descendants (including my son-in-law) can respond “I don’t think we’re welcome in Iran/Iraq/Morocco.”

So what next? Benny Gantz resigned from the War Cabinet. His faction will no longer help prop up the Netanyahu government, but his departure alone will not be enough to cause the government to collapse. A majority of Israelis are hoping for new elections, but Netanyahu, the ultra-Orthodox, and the extreme right are not at all eager to give up the levers of power, and they know they are the likely losers in new elections.

I happened to be in the car and listening to the radio when Gantz gave his speech, so I heard in real time. He said a lot of the right things – that he was leaving the government because of the lack of a future plan, because Netanyahu puts off making important decisions for political reasons. When he said, “the responsibility for the failures is partly mine,” I said, “words you will never hear from Bibi.”

I try to be optimistic, but it’s easy to get depressed about the future. Some people in Israel were happy about the electoral success of the far right in the recent EU elections. They support Israel! But support from fascists is not what we need. It could be that the European countries recognizing Palestine are doing us a favor, forcing Israel into accepting the only solution that can leave Israel a welcome country on the international scene, a Jewish and democratic state living up to the highest ideals of the Jewish tradition.

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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *