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October 22, 2014 / 28 Tishri, 5775
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Gaza: Looking Back And To The Future


The guns are now stilled. Criticism and debate, suggestion and advice, censure and fault-finding are being unleashed – as befits a Jewish society to which analysis and self-search are as natural as sunrise and sunset are to the realm of nature.

No one need doubt that questions into whether the government of Israel was right in announcing a unilateral cease-fire, or whether the Israel Defense Forces should have pushed forward in Gaza to attain various specified or unspecified goals, will be raised and discussed endlessly.

Be that as it may, we need to stop for a moment, put all differences aside, and raise from within the innermost wellsprings of our being a silent shout, a collective outcry of “hurray” to our valiant soldiers who so fearlessly and unhesitatingly faced a task fraught with utmost danger.

Together with the reservists who responded to the urgent call-up, they forged ahead on a battleground pockmarked with mines, booby-traps, and tunnels meant to facilitate their abduction. They forged ahead to free southern Israel from the continual threat of missiles and rockets, Katyushas and Grads.

These are our heroes, infused with a spirit of dedication to the safety and welfare of our country and its population, wanting to live but ready to die for our homeland. We owe them a debt of deep gratitude, these soldiers and their officers, many of whom ignored their wounds and forced their way back from the hospitals with arms and bodies bandaged to rejoin their comrades on the frontline.

Not so long ago, many intelligent people were predicting the demise of Zionism and sounding the death-knell of Jewish patriotism. Many self-appointed fortune tellers in Israel claimed that the spirit of the chalutzim, the founders who were ready to face up to privation and want, was gone and now we would need to deal with a generation nurtured and pampered on materialistic goals and luxuries.

Well, the prophets of doom were proven utterly wrong by our young generation. The Jewish heart cannot help but swell with pride in the presence of such spectacular devotion to our people as has been exhibited these wondrous days.

Our gratitude goes out to our young soldiers who revived in us the faith and trust that had begun lagging in the capability of the Jewish people to face up to the enormous pressures placed on Israel by enemies who wish to see our imminent destruction and by civilized nations incapable of honoring merit and justice.

We are indebted not only to the young generation for its readiness to sacrifice and for its zeal and enthusiasm in safeguarding Israel but also to our army for being the most unique defense force on this globe. Show me another army that would make a quarter of a million telephone calls warning the very people who offer support and cover to the enemy to distance themselves from their homes so they would not be harmed in the approaching attack.

Show me another army that would airdrop millions of leaflets warning an antagonistic population of its plans to momentarily attack installations of resistance in their area. Show me another army that would suspend hostilities for three or four hours daily to allow the delivery into enemy territory of humanitarian supplies – a great portion of which would be immediately sidetracked to the terrorists.

Having praised the spirit and determination of our soldiers and the nation as a whole, it may not be out of place to make some observations and tentative conclusions regarding the 22-day Gaza war.

The first thing to note is that a war against a terrorist group backed by a local population cannot be “won” in the classic sense of the word. The best example is the experience of the great Napoleon Bonaparte. When historians consider the cause of his downfall, they refer to his disastrous invasion of Russia. However, Napoleon himself stated while in captivity that what ruined him was “the Spanish ulcer.” He was referring to the guerilla war that had erupted in Spain against French occupation two years before his Russian campaign, costing him half a million fighting men.

Terrorist groups are not mandated to fight in uniforms. Hence they melt into the local population and become indistinguishable. Consequently, a war against terrorist or guerilla groups has to be judged by altogether different standards. Unless a country harassed by terrorists is willing to obliterate the total local population, victory against terrorism consists of containing the source of terror.

About the Author: Dr. Ervin Birnbaum is founder and director of Shearim Netanya, the first outreach program to Russian immigrants in Israel. He has taught at City University of New York, Haifa University and the University of Moscow; served as national superintendent of education of Youth Aliyah and as the first national superintendent of education for the Institute of Jewish Studies; and, at the request of David Ben-Gurion, founded and directed the English Language College Preparatory School at Midreshet Sde Boker.


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