Operation Protective Edge
מבצע צוק איתן
Just a Few Thoughts
- Yose Ben Kismasaid: Once I was walking by the way, when a man approached me. He greeted me with Shalom and I reciprocated.
He said to me: “Rabbi where are you from?”
I replied: “I am from a great city of Sages and Scribes”.
Said he to me: “Rabbi, would you be prepared to come and live in our Town? If you agree, I will give you a thousand thousand Denarii of Gold and precious stones and pearls.”
I replied: “If you would give me all the silver and gold, precious stones and pearls that are in the world, I would not dwell anywhere except in a place of Torah….” (Pirkei Avot 6:9)
If you permit me poetic license, I would like to borrow the words of this beautiful Mishna and slightly change the content:
Once I was walking by the way, when a man approached me. He greeted me with Shalom and I reciprocated.
He said to me: “Where are you from?”
I replied: “I am from the land of Israel”.
Said he to me: “Is it not dangerous there? Would you not prefer to come and live in our Town far from the guns of war? If you agree, I can ensure you a life of peace and quiet, an environment of relaxation and tranquility.”
I replied: “If you would offer me the greatest of treasures, the greatest of pleasures, I would not dwell anywhere except in the land of Israel….”
We have had a challenging month here in Israel, starting with the abduction and murder of our three boys, Naftali, Ayal and Gilaad, and the horrendous “revenge” killing of the young Arab teenager, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, from Shoafat. Now we find ourselves in the middle of a serious military operation in the South of Israel. The English idiom for the operation is “Protective Edge”; its Hebrew name is “צוק איתן”.
Yet despite the sadness, the worry, and the never ending intensity – the only place that I would want to be is here in Israel with my people.
We have experienced terrible events, but we have also, once again, experienced the inner strength of Am Yisrael:
I do not need to remind you all of the courage of the parents of our murdered teenagers – their courage, that continues today when they are no longer in the headlines, and have been left alone to confront the ugly reality with which they are now meant to come to terms.
During those terrible weeks, the Jewish people came together in a way that we have not seen for so many years. The inner strength of our nation to work and pray, to unite in order to bring back our boys was inspirational. But that strength and conviction did not end there. We were immediately plunged into a war on our southern borders, and once again our enemies have revealed the strength in Am Yisrael.
Close to 1800 rockets have been fired at Israel during the last five weeks. The people of Sderot, Beer Sheva, Ashdod, Ahkelon, to name but a few, have spent much of their time running to and from sheltered areas. As I am writing, sirens have been sounded in four cities. There is no timetable for these attacks; the siren can go off at 2am at 3pm; in the middle of shopping, at a business meeting, at a social gathering. In short, the people in the south of Israel have not been able to live properly for close to a month. But the reaction has once again been inspirational.
There has been no mass exodus, even though there are many people in central and northern Israel who would be more than happy to accommodate families looking for a few days respite. Our people, regular people, have shown the same backbone that has ensured the survival of Am Yisrael throughout two millennia of anti-Semitism. The courage of these families cannot be understated. Their belief and determination has played an enormous part in foiling the enemy, who it would seem were convinced that they could break us with this unprecedented barrage of missiles.
Moreover, the reaction of the regular citizens throughout the country has been remarkable. People take daily trips to the front line with packages for our soldiers. Families are purposely traveling south to do their weekly shopping in towns that have little to no business. People are busy looking after families whose members have been drafted to the army on emergency duty – the list is simply endless and it emanates from every part of the community.
The operation in Gaza has been named Operation “Tzuk Eitan” (Protective Edge). I would like to refer to the name “איתן” (literally – strong), and its relevance to our current situation.
The Talmud (Bava Batra 15a) identifies the name Eitan with Avraham – “Eitan the Ezrachi is Avraham Avinu”. The inherent message therein is more relevant today than ever before – “Operation Eitan”!
Avraham Avinu is often referred to as “Avraham HaIvri”. The word Hebrew – Ivrit – is clearly a derivative of “Ivri.” But the word describes more than just our holy language; it represents the unwavering resilience of Am Yisrael – “Eitan” – our inner strength – our determination – our belief!
Avraham was called “Ivri” because “He stood alone on one side of the river, whilst facing the whole world on the other” (See Bereishit Rabbah, Parashat Lech Lecha, Parasha 41 – “Veyaged leAvraham Haivri”).
Even though the entire community of nations stood in conflict on the opposing river bank, Avraham retained his beliefs, he was “Eitan” – strong – refusing to be intimidated by the pressure and threats of those who rejected his ideology. He lived his life steeped in his principles and was prepared to die for his values. He remained aloof from the social norms abounding at that time. The natural human phenomenon that draws us towards assimilating with our surroundings did not affect Avraham – he was “Eitan”. He was relentless in following his self-attained faith in the Almighty. As Abarbanel says (Bereishit, 21:33-34): “Even though Avraham lived in the land of the Philistines, it did not deter him from calling out in the name of God”.
It should be noted, however, that Avraham did not view this isolationism as an ideal but as a necessity forced upon him. Indeed, Rashi describes Avraham and Sarah as a couple determined to uphold their own theological beliefs but definitely not estranged from their fellow human beings. They were also idealistic pioneers determined to convince and convert others to monotheism and Divine service (Bereishit 12:5). Their aim was to reveal to those “on the other side of the river” that God is One and His name is One.
With much the same theme in mind, the Prophet Yeshayahu speaks of a time when the nations of the world will see Yerushalayim as the epicenter of the world (Chapter 2). Our objective as Am Yisrael is not to remain alone in our faith in God, but until that time arrives we will follow Avraham Avinu – we will not be afraid of “what the world says” – we will not be swayed – we will remain “Eitan”.
Operation Eitan can be seen clearly as Operation Avraham.
Today, at least to a degree, it appears that we, the Jewish people, are on one side, the rest of the world on the other. In truth, so far, the United States and Germany have shown real support for our predicament but sadly they do not reflect world opinion as protests against Israel, sometimes violent, take place throughout Europe. We are being “advised” to “show restraint” in an area in which they themselves have never shown temperance. Our country has been attacked by Hamas in Gaza. Gaza is not “occupied territory”. They have their own governing body that they freely elected after the Israeli Government evacuated Gush Katif. This recent exchange was initiated by Hamas before our three boys were abducted, and it has slowly escalated since then. No country can be asked to “show restraint” when it is attacked and provoked by another. How does one reply “in proportion” when 1800 rockets are fired at one’s cities? What does that mean? When the United Nations speak of “both sides needing to be calm” they imply that “both sides” are to blame – that is simply not the case.
We will not ‘cross the river’ with our tail between our legs, meekly agreeing to false theories that we cannot accept, agreements that will ultimately lead us into more danger and further crisis. Others cannot coerce us into negotiations for which we and we alone will pay the price.
Would citizens of any country ever be asked to sit quietly if hundreds of missiles were being fired at them every day? Would they only respond “with restraint” or “in proportion”? Only by the grace of God, and with the phenomenal success of both the Iron Dome missile interceptor and the cooperation of both army and citizen protection efforts, have we had such low casualties so far (long may it continue). But the amount of casualties is of absolute irrelevance – to compare the casualties of both sides as a measure of justice, is a cynical political maneuver aimed at disgracing Israel. Are we only to be accepted if we don’t defend ourselves? Can we be considered victims only if we die? Are we to be justified only after tragedy? We are being asked to negotiate with such evil – but did anyone negotiate with Bin Laden? Why is this different? Would those who demonstrate against us be prepared to live for five weeks in bomb shelters without responding?
We are facing an enemy who has initiated a war against the civilians of Israel, and has no inclination whatsoever to protect its people, instead forcing the people to be used as human shields. In stark contrast, the IDF is an army morally superior to all armies and has, at a risk of loss and cost to itself and the people of Israel, over the last ten days, only targeted terrorist missile sites and tunnels. The fact that civilians have died is truly a tragedy, a real tragedy, but Israel cannot to be blamed. The Israeli Government protects its people with the “Iron Dome”; Hamas protects itself with its people!
If Hamas place their missile launchers in hospitals, prayer halls, schools, homes, and UN buildings, can we not destroy them? When terrorists travel around in ambulances in Gaza, using children as human shields, or set off missiles whilst children are forced to stand in a circle around them, are we meant to leave them be so they can shoot at us? Are we meant to be sitting ducks in the face of aggression? Hamas are fully aware of the moral standards of the IDF and they use this against us time and again. They know we do our best to completely avoid or reduce civilian casualties – and they place civilians deliberately in the way of our defense. We will never drop our standards, but there will always be civilian casualties with enemies like Hamas. We have been so careful in our actions and to be castigated nonetheless is grossly unfair.
If the “caring people” of the world are looking to point a finger at the terrible predicament in which the Palestinian masses in Gaza find themselves they should point the finger directly at Hamas, not at us. During this entire period, Israel has, against all logic regarding a hostile enemy, continued to supply electricity, water and food to Gaza. Even last night, as Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel, and with our troops in Gaza, the border remained open and humanitarian aid was being transferred. Wounded civilians from Gaza have even been admitted to our hospitals!
The Palestinians are being used by their own leaders in a despicable manner. This, of course, is not new – it has been the case in our region since the UN Partition Plan was passed all those years ago. The “peace loving demonstrators” can choose to rewrite history if they wish but they cannot change the truth. The truth will ultimately emerge – truth will prevail!
The decision of Mr. Netanyahu to initiate a ground attack late Thursday night was a clear result of the refusal of Hamas to stop shooting its missiles at our civilian population, and a direct reaction to its use of underground tunnels for terror attacks. Indeed, Israel did not break the humanitarian ceasefire throughout the six hours on Thursday. Hamas did. Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly refused to use the infantry despite internal pressure within his government and the people. He is no warmonger; this was a last option. We are faced with a cowardly enemy who hides underground, emerging just long enough to shoot a barrage of missiles, before returning to his hideout whilst his own people remain exposed to pay the price for his evil. In such a case the only solution is to go meet the enemy face-to-face – to force him out of hiding.
Our soldiers are the true heroes in this conflict. These young men go into battle with an enemy who fires anti-tank missiles at individual fighters. There are no ground rules here – our soldiers are truly courageous, even more than most people imagine – “Eitanim”! May God bless them all and bring them back home in good health.
The State of Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. We have never encouraged war with our neighbors. We have an army, but it is called the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force. Finally, after two thousand years of pogroms climaxing in the Holocaust we can defend ourselves, and we will defend ourselves. We have every right to protect our borders and fight for our democracy – just as any other country in the world would do. And we demand no more than any country in the world – all we want is peace. There is no city in Israel without a street named “Shalom” – the streets of Gaza are named after suicide bombers.
Avraham was an Ivri, and we are his descendants – we are Ivriim.
Even though the masses stand opposing us on the other side of the river, and despite hypocritical UN resolutions, we the people of Avraham will stand up for our rights and for our belief. We refuse to be intimidated by the pressure and threats of those who oppose our right to exist – those days of intimidation are over. We live our lives steeped in ideology and we are prepared to fight for our beliefs.
We, like Avraham Avinu, do not view this isolationism as an ideal, but as a necessity. We cannot and will not capitulate because our peaceful existence is politically inconvenient to some – the truth will prevail!
It was important to me to share my thoughts with you, our students. Your letters of concern are so much appreciated. Many of our staff have sons deep in Gaza, and knowing that Am Yisrael is united is a great comfort. I know that many of you would like to be here with us, but in the meantime keep praying, and be sure to defend Israel. If there are pro-Israel demonstrations it is crucial that you attend and make our voice heard.
As for me – there is no place in the world that I would rather be than Israel. This is my life and it is the life of my people. This is our home – we have no other. We are united, and determined. We have survived two millennia of exile but now we are home and we are home to stay! To be here is a privilege. We worry, and that is both true and natural, but we are together at home and that is more important than anything else! Happy am I that this is my portion – I have never been more fulfilled than during my 25 years in Israel. I could have been born at any time during the last two millennia, but I was born at the time of The Jewish State, and for almost all of my life Jerusalem has been my Capital! I never take this gift for granted; I treasure it with all my heart and all my soul.
We hope and pray for a speedy end to the current crisis.
We hope and pray for our soldiers who risk their lives so courageously – that they return home in good health.
We hope and pray for our heroic civilians under daily threat from terrorism.
We hope that sometime in the future our neighbors will finally accept our right to live in the Holy Land of our Forefathers.
And we hope and pray that we will live to see a true “peace in our time”.
Prayer for Members of the Israel Defense Force and for the people of Israel
He Who blessed our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Force, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our God from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Aravah, on the land, in the air, and on the sea.
May Hashem cause the enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He, preserve and rescue our fighting men from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness, and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor.
May He lead our enemies under their sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory. And may there be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is Hashem, your God, Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you. Amen.
Our brothers the whole house of Israel, who are in distress and captivity, who wander over sea and over land – may God have mercy on them, and bring them from distress to comfort, from darkness to light, from slavery to redemption, now, swiftly, and soon. And let us say: Amen.
עושה שלום במרומין, הוא יעשה שלום עלינו, ועל כל ישראל, ואמרו אמן