Why haven’t I posted in several days? Well, I’ve had a bunch of ideas, but they were all pretty lightweight, compared to what was happening in Israel. Pretty much everything we talk about in the political sphere seems pretty trivial… compared, again, to what’s happening in Israel.
So I’ve been reading, and listening. (As you know, I listen to a lot of podcasts and other items in audio form these days, mostly via NPR One and NYT Audio.) And I’ve been trying to decide what to say.
But with something this huge, there’s an awful lot to sort out. Only two things seem to be clear:
First, I know that from the moment the headline of this post is published, many friends on the left (not all, but many) will leap to correct me. They will shake their fingers and their heads at my simplistic failure to perceive the terrible injustices visited upon the Palestinian people. They don’t understand that I have heard, and I have perceived, and I have cared, and I have sympathized — over and over and over since the 1970s, and really since the Six-Day War, which happened when I was 13. Before that, you would have been on point to say that I really wasn’t aware. I remember thinking in 1967, “What is this ‘Mideast’ I keep hearing about?”
If you’ll allow me this small digression, probably the most eloquent evocation of the Palestinian cause I’ve ever encountered was in John le Carre’s The Little Drummer Girl. If you haven’t read that, you should — or at least see the 1984 film, or the 2018 TV series, both of which are excellent. The novel came out in 1983. I was pretty deeply impressed at the way le Carre’s Israeli intelligence officers recruited a young woman who had hung around the edges of the Palestinian movement to be their agent, to infiltrate a terrorist bomber’s cell. They wanted her passion for the cause. They wanted her to be believable to supremely suspicious people. They fed her indignation toward Israel. Of course, in the end she laid her life on the line to accomplish the Mossad mission, because she wasn’t too far gone to understand that no cause could justify what this bomber was doing.
Which brings me back to the first clear point I wanted to make: No grievance, no bitterness, no cause in the world justifies what Hamas did on Saturday morning.
The second point that is clear: Israel, so long distracted by its own stupid internal squabbles, must act to make its country and its people safer. It won’t be easy. They’re up against an enemy that will do anything and everything possible (if you don’t believe it, see what they did on Saturday) to make Israel come out of this in an even worse situation that it is in now — starting with executing the innocent men, women, children and babies they took as hostages.
The Washington Post summarized the situation, and the difficulty of it, fairly well in an editorial I read this morning:
That is much easier said than done, of course. Israel has a right to defend itself, which, in this context, also means a right to take the fight to Hamas in Gaza, as the United States had a right to go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Support, solidarity and sympathy for Israel and its people, and condemnation of Hamas, expressed by everyone from President Biden to the European Union to the United Arab Emirates to Bono, U2’s frontman and international humanitarian activist, could be the Jewish state’s greatest assets. The Israel Defense Forces, embarrassed at being taken by surprise, has an opportunity not only to regain the military advantage but also — in limiting collateral damage — to demonstrate the moral difference between a terrorist group such as Hamas and a professional army…
Yes, that’s what we have here — a fight between a state of great military might that must deal with an enemy that is geographically intertwined with its own population, and do it while limiting collateral damage. Those last three words are in no way a handicap to the enemy, of course. As in so many attacks over these decades, on Saturday the innocent were the targets, and in no way collateral.
And that fact is as clarifying as anything. Israel must make it stunningly clear that Hamas has not gained from what it has done, and will see doing it again as madness. And yet still be the good guys. Which is very tough in the best of circumstances, against such an enemy.
If there is an upside to all this, it is that Israel’s internal turmoil seems to be on hold. Many members of the IDF and security services had increasingly and rightly signaled a diminishing willingness to serve a country that followed a leader who was determined to undermine liberal democracy. But they’ve come unquestioningly to their duty at this moment. This should shame the leader, and others, who have tried to pull the country down from within.
But that’s for later, as are the inevitable questions about how Israeli security failed to prevent this attack. There’s a bigger, and more urgent, matter before everyone now.
I’m going to stop now, and in the coming days I’ll probably post about more trivial things. So I’ll come back to my initial, simple point, which I expressed in a retweet of something Beth Bernstein tweeted:
So do I. https://t.co/7kLDTFwIEl
— Brad Warthen (@BradWarthen) October 9, 2023