Friday, August 1, 2014

Reflections on Another Mideast War

You might be wondering why I have mostly refrained from commenting on the conflict in the Gaza Strip, restricting my posts to first-hand accounts from either Israelis or American visitors to Israel. 

Even in my private life I have resisted round-the-clock immersion in the war. It’s just too depressing to spend all my waking hours, as others seemingly are doing, monitoring news feeds when everyone knows Israel will not be defeated.

Israel’s fate was not always a certainty. On June 6, 1967, I spent harrowing hours with friends at the Knight House “fraternity” table in the Brooklyn College cafeteria, not knowing if Egypt and Syria and their allies were on their way to conquering Israel. The Arab media were trumpeting huge successes, tank columns driving on Tel Aviv. 

I had particular reason to be apprehensive. My sister Lee was nearing the end of her second year in Israel studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Our family had no idea where she was. Was she safe? 

As the world soon learned, Arab media were not to be trusted. Israel had achieved a stunning, lightning victory in the Six Day War. In her own way, Lee contributed by volunteering to pack foodstuffs for the troops. 

Three years ago Gilda and I visited communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip, the ones that, until the recent onslaught of long-range missiles aimed at larger population centers, were the targets of spontaneous and repeated attacks by, thankfully, often inaccurate Katyusha and Qassam rockets. Trauma, however, does not need a direct hit to be experienced. 

We were the guests of 16 trauma care first responders from the Sha’ar Hanegev area who had been brought to New York in 2010-2011 for two weeks of rest and relaxation by Shalom Yisrael (24 others came from the Eshkol Regional Council over the last three years). 

They have no rest or relaxation now. As long as the tunnels from Gaza into Israel exist, no Israeli, particularly the residents of the Sha’ar Hanegev and the Eshkol region, will sleep comfortably.  

When I do check Facebook and see the postings, I am surprised by some of the deeply hidden stories that surface. Here are a handful I found fascinating:

Do you know who Ismail Haniyeh is? He is often named as the Hamas leader in Gaza. Israel fired a missile at his home on Tuesday. But that’s not why I bring his name up.

Turns out three of his sisters live in Israel and are Israeli citizens. Moreover, several of their children have served in the Israeli army (

Here’s another interesting fact about Haniyeh. Last fall, when his granddaughter was critically ill with an infection of her digestive tract, he sent her to Israel for treatment (

I got a chuckle out of this recently revealed fact. The British newspaper The Telegraph reported that the photograph of the perfect Aryan baby chosen by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was, in fact, a picture of a Jewish infant!

Finally, for those who cringe and despair at deaths of civilians in Gaza, it is important to keep in context several points. First, the voters of Gaza chose Hamas, knowing full well its commitment to the destruction of Israel and all Jews. Second, instead of building a productive land, Hamas invested in tools of war. Instead of building schools, hospitals and, yes, bomb shelters, Hamas built a network of tunnels to kill and terrorize Israelis. Third, there is no equivalency in war. Civilian Israelis haven’t been killed because Israel invested in defensive measures, such as safe rooms and the Iron Dome missile defense system. It seems sometimes the world is waiting for one of Hamas’ missiles to penetrate the Iron Dome and kill masses of Israelis. Only then would they, possibly, feel Israel has been justified in curbing Hamas’ power. Fourth, even as the war progressed, Israel continued to send food and other supplies into Gaza. What other country at war has been quartermaster to its enemy? Fifth, though the inevitable mistakes and tragedies of war have occurred, Israel has been more careful and considerate than any other adversary would be, warning Palestinians to vacate target areas. 

On Monday, Theodore (Dutch) Van Kirk died. He was the navigator and last surviving crew member of the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He died nine days before the 69th anniversary of the catalyst that hastened the end of World War II.

Did we have to drop the bomb? I’ll leave that answer to historians and to your own conscience. But here’s what Van Kirk had to say about war. Read it knowing what Hamas thinks about Israel and Israelis: 

“We were fighting an enemy that had a reputation for never surrendering, never accepting defeat.  It’s really hard to talk about morality and war in the same sentence.”

“Where was the morality in the bombing of Coventry, or the bombing of Dresden, or the Bataan Death March, or the Rape of Nanking, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor? 

“I believe that when you’re in a war, a nation must have the courage to do what it must to win the war with a minimum loss of lives.” 

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