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Issues of the Day A Weekend During the Gaza-Israel War

On Friday morning, August 1st I awoke to the news that people on both sides of the Gaza-Israel conflict had won a reprieve from the month-long hostilities: A temporary truce had been announced overnight and would take effect at eight that morning.

The “humanitarian” ceasefire (what other kind is there?) would be in effect for 72 hours and allow victims on both sides to tend to their casualties, assess their situations and perhaps pave the way for negotiations toward a more durable arrangement. 


The lull, I thought, would also allow me to pay a condolence call to a family in the south of the country that was mourning their son; their son and mine were friends. The slain soldier had been mortally wounded nearly ten days earlier but rocket fire from Gaza made travel during the traditional shiva mourning period too risky. With the break in the fighting, I thought I would finally have a chance to comfort his survivors.

The Ceasefire Did Not Hold

But the ceasefire did not hold. Within hours missiles began raining on southern and central Israel and the bombardment of Gaza resumed.

Under the circumstances, I had to again defer visiting the soldier’s family. I regretted that -- the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is a people’s army made up of our sons, brothers, fathers and friends and one family’s loss is acutely felt by us all -- but it would have been foolhardy to continue as planned.

In fact, since late June nothing in Israel has gone on as usual: After the kidnapping and murder of three yeshiva students near Hebron and the heinous revenge killing of a Palestinian youth in East Jerusalem, bad went to worse when Hamas began indiscriminately firing rockets into Israeli civilian centers. In response, the Israel Defense Force’s undertook its incursion into Gaza.

Accordingly, with civilians on both sides running for shelter, neither Israelis nor Palestinians lived normally this season.

A Further Deterioration

After the resumption of hostilities on that Friday morning, the day deteriorated sharply.

The launching pads and arsenals used by Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists and targeted by the IDF were well documented prior to Operation Protective Edge.  The existence of tunnels from which terrorist launched attacks had also been known, though their number and sophistication was not.

Accordingly, few Israelis anticipated what our troops discovered once they moved into Gaza: Beneath its neighborhoods a  labyrinth of bunkers, command centers and arms storerooms were connected to each other by a network of tunnels. More than 30 subterranean conduits were uncovered. Many of these were subsequently shown to extend under kibbutzim, moshavim and other border settlements with the expressed goal of using them to attack civilians and kill or kidnap soldiers.

The lethalness of these tunnels became evident early Friday when the army confirmed that a special forces unit had been ambushed by Hamas men who had surprised them by surfacing from a tunnel shortly after the ceasefire went into effect.

Two fighters, the officer who commanded the unit and a sergeant were killed immediately during the attack. A third soldier, a lieutenant, was missing and feared kidnapped. This nightmarish scenario haunted the entire country throughout Friday and Saturday and the military made maximum efforts to isolate the kidnappers and bring the hostage home.

Hopes Dashed

Late Saturday night we were hopeful that the young officer might still be alive. But after midnight, the defense minister and high-ranking officers visited the missing soldier’s home. They had come to tell the family that forensic evidence retrieved from inside the tunnel confirmed that their son had died in the altercation and had not been taken alive.

As wrenching as that news was, at least the family and the rest of the country would not have to face the tribulation of waiting to know whether the captive had survived, if so in what shape, and what price the other side was demanding for his release. Unlike other instances of soldiers who had fallen hostage it would not take five years of uncertainty and the freeing of a thousand terrorists to achieve closure, as was the case of former hostage Gilad Shalit.

At least the family and the nation could begin the long process of healing.

My son had been friends with that fallen soldier as well.

War is Harmful

The fighting took the lives of young men with whom I had only one degree of separation: They were friends of my children. It also directly affected my family as a whole by way of the projectiles that that drove us into shelters, in the anxiety it caused us concerning the welfare of our troops and civilians in harm’s way, and in the loss of life among people who were pawns in the fighting.

And so, during that very sad and worrisome weekend, it was cear to me that no one really wins in war. I thought of what the Prophet Isaiah wrote: “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

It seems to me that achieving that would be the greatest victory of them all. 



© Yosef Gotlieb, . All rights reserved