Rabbi Steven Pruzansky in the Israel National News: Looking back and ahead
October 17, 2023

by Rabbi Steven Pruzansky in the Israel National News

We have learned that it is miraculously easy to put aside all the discord and strife in Israeli society; a ruthless enemy enables us to prioritize our common heritage, fate, and destiny. But we have also learned that it is not easy – not possible – to put aside Jewish history and our place in it. For those who fancied themselves in a post-Jewish history, post-Zionist world, the Simchat Torah massacre and the war with Hamas should have refocused their thinking and changed the way we all look at the world.

Certainly, all Jews anticipated that the establishment of the State of Israel relegated the horrific scenes of the massacre of Jewish men, women and children, the elderly, and the infants, to the bloody pages of our history. No longer would we have to behold the anguished spectacle of Jews murdered in cold blood, women raped by marauders, Jews carried off by inhuman abductors to an unknown fate in captivity, their homes destroyed, their possessions ransacked. It was all ancient history, even if “ancient” meant eighty years ago. A Jewish army and a Jewish government would protect us.

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But the laws of Jewish history have not been repealed, we have not yet arrived at its most glorious and concluding chapter, and so we were forced to witness images drawn directly from the tochachah, the rebuke and retribution of a straying people, that is recorded twice in the Torah.

That the government and security establishment presided over a colossal catastrophe is indisputable, and surely the day of reckoning will come. And we do have a military whose soldiers are courageous and dedicated, motivated now by a righteous zeal that is unmatched in our annals. Nonetheless, we are still ensnared in a pattern of weakness, to an extent an obsequiousness, to foreign powers, that I fear will stay our mighty hand.

It was only last week when Israeli government ministers spoke of a “zero assistance” policy, “not one drop, not one watt” to Gaza until all our hostages are released. That staunchness seemed to have already waned somewhat because of concern over the “humanitarian crisis in Gaza” and the so-called “rules of war.”

Every Israeli should respond to the term “humanitarian crisis in Gaza” unequivocally: “there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. There are almost two hundred hostages being held in deprivation and agony in gross violation of the so-called ‘rules of war.’ So not one drop, not one watt, until all the hostages have been released. That is the only humanitarian crisis that concerns us at the moment.” That will take a steely will, of which our soldiers seem to possess more than do our politicians.

Besides, enough talk about the “innocent citizens of Gaza.” People with short or intentionally foggy memories do not seem to recall that the innocent citizens of Gaza elected Hamas to power in 2006. Hamas only began to rule when it violently expelled Mahmoud Abbas and the PA in 2007, as the PA was disinclined to accept the election results. But these innocent civilians voted into power Hamas, then as now a group of genocidal maniacs.

Forgive me if my sympathies for them do not run deep. Indeed, has any group of Gazans – even a single Gazan resident – denounced the massacre and ravages, expressed shame that such monsters lived among them, even called them unrepresentative of and a disgrace to Islam? Not that I have heard. If anything, the vile images of the massacre have provoked glee, celebrations, and support, across Gaza, the PA, and much of the Muslim world.

We have yet to hear the sobbing demands for soul-searching, so common among Jews. And the West has still, after all these decades, failed to internalize that martyrdom is a supreme religious value for these fanatics. They venerate their “love of death” (the words of Nasrallah himself) and see our love of life as pathetic weakness.

Sure, the children are innocent, but children always pay a price for the folly of their parents (and not all of them are – see the video clip of children beating and taunting a young Israeli hostage).. As do citizens for the folly of the politicians and leaders. In our haste to dispatch Gazans to the southern portion of the Gaza Strip, aren’t we also allowing Hamas terrorists to go there and regroup? Aren’t we allowing the hostages to be dragged there as well? In resupplying the south of Gaza (which is just a few miles from the north, after all) aren’t we resupplying the enemy in the north as well?

And spare me as well the crocodile tears about the “rules of war.” Note that the Geneva Conventions were first adopted in 1864, updated several times, and supplemented in 1929 and 1949.

Not one Geneva Convention saved even one Jew during the Holocaust. Today, the international laws of war are abused in order to protect the wicked from the might of the righteous. Supporters of Hamas cynically use them to shield the evildoers from the consequences of their evil. They are employed as rhetorical weapons to constrain the power of good and decent people to eradicate evil. And they are wholly unrelated – even remotely – to the Torah’s morality of warfare.

There is no moral or logical reason whatsoever for one side in a deadly conflict to restrain its use of force to “acceptable” norms when the enemy has no restraints, no norms, and no inhibitions. It is a formula for suffering and defeat. Such asymmetrical warfare has been the bane of the West for decades. Israel has always paid the price for the ruminations of these armchair moralists who sit far from the carnage and are in no danger at all. It is intolerable that those who boast about their contempt for the “rules of war” should utilize them as a shield against the victims of their aggression. There should be no immunity for Hamas.

We should be grateful to President Joe Biden for his strong words of support and some of his helpful actions while still being mindful of the fact that his commitment to the two-state illusion, his desire to protect, preserve and strengthen the PA, and his reluctance to allow the destruction of Hamas will soon work to Israel’s detriment. He has said nice things and done nice things, but we forget at our peril that his kindnesses come accompanied by military shackles and diplomatic fantasies. He (or his advisors) will champion Israel’s destruction of Hamas, until pictures of dead civilians emerge.

His impending visit will be a public show of support and a private display of pressure. (I hope I’m wrong.) He unequivocally supports Israel’s right of self-defense, but like much of the squishy left in Europe and America, he is less keen on Israel’s exercise of that right. Israel can try as it always does to avoid civilian casualties, but such are impossible when many of those civilians are not really civilians and even genuine civilians are used as human shields.

At this time, we need to recall some basic facts of our history.

The first several commentaries of Rashi on Breisheet present the Torah’s narrative in a nutshell. We are taught of G-d’s creation of the world to remind us – us, not the nations – that G-d granted the land of Israel to the Jewish people. And the Torah starts with Breisheet, the first, the beginning, because both the Torah and the Jewish people are referred to as reisheet. In other words, G-d’s plan for His world was to establish the Jewish people, give them the Torah and the land of Israel, from which would emanate G-d’s moral law for mankind.

History teaches us that mankind has generally found that to be unacceptable and has hatefully and violently rejected it. There are those who reject G-d’s word, those who reject G-d’s messenger, and those who reject the sovereignty of the Jewish people in G-d’s land. Most of our enemies have rejected all three principles. This essential aspect of our story has never changed.

The great medieval commentator Rabbenu Bachye noted (Devarim 33:29) that one prerequisite for maintaining the land of Israel is the recognition that “no other nation (ummah) can reside there except for the Jewish nation.” It does not mean that individual Gentiles cannot reside in Israel; they can. But there cannot be another nation that claims sovereignty and rights. We have seen for the last century that such claims turn violent, weaken our grasp on the land, and are unending – this is the greatest challenge to Israel’s existence. Those claims will continue as long as we tolerate them and doubt, even partially, the justice of our cause. And that remains the real substance of the current strife – the denial of Israel’s right to exist.

Anything we do to encourage the fantasy of Israel’s disappearance is self-destructive. Talk of Israel conquering Gaza only to turn it over to Mahmoud Abbas, the Holocaust-denying terrorist in a suit, and the PA, is not worth the life of one Jewish soldier. It is not only that he literally pays people to murder us. It is that we have seen this horror movie before. It began 30 years ago with the Oslo delusion – and we have just witnessed its macabre and bloody climax. As many have stated, it is insane to do the same thing repeatedly and expect different results.

Yet, that is what the West will try to foist upon us. We can and must resist and, for once, seek to resolve a problem instead of kicking the can down the road. We have suffered a grievous blow – but the people of Israel are strong, resolute, united, and courageous. Indeed, “we have no other land,” we have no other Torah, and we have the One G-d of Israel.

The spirit of Israel is inspiring and contagious. Let us strengthen our leaders and each other, eschew half-hearted, temporary measures that will only embolden the murderers who (temporarily) reside near us, resist the fools’ errand of convincing our enemies and their supporters to love us, and remind the world – both friend and foe – that Jewish blood is not cheap.

We endured a mini-Holocaust of one day. Let us transform that into a catalyst for victory and redemption. There are chapters yet to be written in the great book of Israel – chapters on faith and kindness, on heroism and courage, on unity and strength. Together, let us write those chapters without fear or foreboding but with trust in G-d and the eternity of the Jewish people.

Originally published in the Israel National News

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