December 5, 2023

When a country is at war, its people often experience many surprising coincidences. With all of the shuffling around that takes place during wartime from one day to the next, people suddenly end up in places they never expected to be, talking to people they never expected to talk to, about matters it had never before occurred to them to think about. Israel is a very small country where wireless communication is excellent. My cousins whose military-age sons have all been called up to serve in the Israel Defense Forces are in regular contact with them by phone. That is commonplace.

Here is a story of a different nature.

There is a kibbutz near a border town that has been evacuated for the safety of its inhabitants who are now living in the center of the country. Some IDF soldiers have been stationed at this kibbutz to secure it. As it happens, the kibbutz’s kindergarten has been converted to a makeshift dormitory to house these soldiers, who are now sleeping on cots surrounded by the paraphernalia of wee children, boxes of various toys, a colorful alphabet on the wall, assorted finger paintings, and such. It is certainly a surreal scenario, but so be it. This is the sort of thing that can happen when lives are suddenly and massively disrupted, and people in various stations of life are forced for the time being to make do with whatever is available.

But there is a further twist to this story. It happens that the cousin of one of the soldiers stationed in this kibbutz is a social worker working with the inhabitants who have been evacuated, and one of the projects these little ones had undertaken, very common to this age group, was to take care of a pet goldfish. The children have told the social worker that they are worried about their goldfish, and the social worker in turn has asked her cousin to make sure the goldfish is being taken care of. 

The moral of this story is, of course, self-evident. Israeli children, like those in all civilized societies, are taught at an early age to revere life, to take care of it. Tragically, we have seen the opposite in many graphic displays of Palestinian children, at the youngest of ages, brandishing guns and taunting their Israeli counterparts who have been taken captive. In his book Genesis 1948, an account of the Israeli War of Independence, the historian Dan Kurzman describes a scene in which a group of Israeli soldiers are being besieged in a house where they have taken shelter. In their haste to get inside, a pet dog was left outdoors, where it is in great danger of being killed. A debate ensues about whether they should go out and try to rescue it. To some people, such a debate would be unthinkable, but in this case, it was serious. While they are arguing, the dog is shot and killed by their Arab pursuers, whereupon many of the soldiers burst into tears.

Netanyahu’s promise of rebuilding the communities in the south even bigger than before is one that … he must somehow find a way of keeping.

Hamas leadership has proclaimed that Hamas’ pogrom was only the first of many that will eventually wipe out the state of Israel, and, based on these premises, they are obviously right. Because of the Hamas atrocities, which were unprecedented in barbarity and scale, all the communities of the south in the vicinity of the border with Gaza have been evacuated, as have a couple communities in the north in the vicinity of the border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah is entrenched. Practically speaking, this means that, at least for the time being, Israel has shrunk. (READ MORE from Max Dublin: Poster Wars)

Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel will rebuild the southern communities bigger than before. But it stands to reason that the denizens of those towns and kibbutzim have been so traumatized, have suffered such severe losses, that there is no chance they will return and rebuild without an ironclad guarantee of their safety. So, Hamas leaders are right — if they are able to rinse and repeat this invasion/pogrom, inching ever closer to the major Israeli population centers, they will indeed succeed in wiping Israel off the map. 

But logic can lead anywhere based on the original premises. Netanyahu’s promise of rebuilding the communities in the south even bigger than before is one that, given all the circumstances, he must somehow find a way of keeping. This is indeed an existential war for Israel, and, therefore, its goal of eliminating Hamas so that it can never start up again is ineluctable. In fact, based on what we have seen of the ground invasion of Gaza so far, the IDF is working on turning the tables on Hamas instead of allowing Hamas to shrink Israel. Israel is bit by bit shrinking Hamas’ hold on Gaza, and, if this strategy is allowed to continue to its logical conclusion, not only will Hamas be obliterated in the end, but their premises will also be. 

That’s why it’s a non-negotiable that those preschool children be allowed to return to their homes — and to their school, where they can peacefully and safely take care of their pet goldfish.