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A Jewish state, if you can keep it

Zionism bestowed both a blessing and a curse. It blessed the Jews with responsibility, and it cursed them with responsibility. This sentiment speaks to our current dilemma.

In liberating the Jews, Zionism bestowed both a blessing and a curse upon them. It blessed the Jews with responsibility, and it cursed them with responsibility. With the establishment of Israel, the sovereign state forged by Zionism, Jews found themselves empowered to make choices that would determine their destiny. Zionism liberated Jews to navigate a spectrum of choices — to embody the best, the worst, or the mediocre versions of themselves.

This sentiment speaks to our current dilemma.

The hostage deal, whose nerve-wracking implementation has proven just another extension of Yahya Sinwar’s sadistic abuse, marks the end of the first phase of Israel’s war following the murderous Hamas attack on October 7th.

The interim report isn’t a soothing one. The war is over 50 days old. The northern Gaza Strip has almost been fully cleared of Hamas, and the evidence from Al-Shifa Hospital has shed a light on the labyrinth of horrors suffered by the hostages. Concerns about sliding into a bloody, drawn-out phase, expanding the cycle of bereavement, are only growing, most of the hostages are still in Gaza, and the captured soldiers among them are likely to have a tougher fate.

The tormented families of the hostages and the soldiers, the many people evacuated from border areas, and the dead, now silenced, call on us to ask questions. We shouldn’t succumb to worshiping the cabinet, a folklore that also finds its way into the media, which accepts any briefing as gospel. We must now the ask questions and no longer trust the wisdom of an apparatus that has failed us so miserably.

The mission to topple Hamas is just and necessary. However, the leaders of this war must clarify its objectives. Does it involve the killing of Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh? The elimination of every Hamas fighter in Gaza? An occupation of Gaza? Or the replacement of the Hamas regime with another entity? If so, who and how? If the painful truth is that this worthy goal, whose characteristics are yet to be defined, isn’t feasible at this or any stage, we need to hear this now.

In all the previous rounds of fighting in Gaza we heard the populist slogans from the same politicians, terms such as “demolishing,” “pulverizing,” “destroying” and “crippling.” This was true for the 2014 Gaza war, which lasted 50 days, taking the lives of soldiers and civilians while sowing devastation in its wake. Only then was it labeled an operation that aimed to “restore calm to the south.”

In retrospect, not only did this war not improve the situation of southern Gaza border communities, or restore calm, it contributed to the failed conception that Hamas could be “deterred”. From October 8th we’ve been hearing the same hollow slogans from generals and political leaders speaking to us in the same tone, as if we haven’t heard or seen it all before.

Exactly how does the government view the last day of the war – the waving of a white flag by the Hamas criminals from top to bottom? Or with another ceasefire, a sour cutting of losses? How do they envisage the first day after the war, and mainly, which security guarantees will be granted to Israelis in the south, the people who were so abandoned?

Honest answers to these questions are essential, not only because policymakers must scrutinize them internally but also because it aligns with the fundamental principles of the Zionist approach.

A significant flaw in the messaging of Israeli leadership was evident already in the lack of clarity on the war’s purpose from October 7th onward. As a consequence of this lapse in messaging, concerns about the ongoing international legitimacy of the war fester as we approach the anticipated second phase. I know many find it difficult to come to terms with this, and for good reason, but the legitimacy for continued fighting cannot indefinitely rely on the butchery of October 7. Before taking another step, we must define our objectives.

I do not possess the authority to speak on behalf of the state, nor do I possess the moral authority to speak on behalf of the rest of my fellow Israeli citizens. So instead, I will speak on behalf of myself and defer to the once pragmatic and stirring vision of the Zionist leaders.

The unequivocal message to the world is this: Israel did not instigate this war but was invaded. To bring an end to the conflict, we insist on the unconditional release of remaining hostages, the disarmament of Hamas, tunnel destruction, and the prosecution of the perpetrators from October 7 in a criminal court. Our commitment lies with our people, ensuring their safe return and securing the territory for evacuated individuals to reclaim their homes. This requires a responsible Palestinian entity in control of the strip, willing to reject the annihilationist ideology of “from the river to the sea” that far too often ends in the targetting of Israeli civilians. We have no interest in resuming hostilities. These are the critical issues that must be addressed and achieved. Failure to do so will compel us to resume the war.

While some may deem these demands unreasonable on the international stage, it’s worth questioning whether it is any less reasonable for others to expect us to stand idly by. At this juncture, everyone is aware not only of the war’s origins but precisely what it aims to address, and why it may need to persist should these demands remain unmet.

Concluding these reflections, a lingering concern arises: Benjamin Franklin is credited with stating that for the people of independent America, having a republic is contingent on their ability “to keep it.” Thomas Jefferson is attributed to cautioning that “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.” It is believed that David Ben-Gurion expressed the notion that the success of the Jewish state could only be properly evaluated after seven decades. Thus, at this crucial juncture, seven decades in, one can envision Ben-Gurion advising the people of Israel that the present situation transcends all others. He might assert that failure could only result from a conscious choice of a foolishness void of vision – “A Jewish state, if you can keep it.

Published on IFW