The sirens that woke me up yesterday morning were accompanied by breathless radio reports of armed forces entering Israel. Trying to decipher what the radio was saying was one of the most important tasks: it meant knowing what was happening with my family and friends. Very early in the morning, my granddaughters seemed happy to be in a safe room that makes life a little safer in case of attack. But a friend in the south told me she felt terrified.
She was in her safe room, with the door bolted shut, but she didn’t know whether the voices she was hearing in the rest of her house were Israeli soldiers or Palestinians. In Sderot, a town three kilometers from the college where I have taught for the past 25 years, Palestinians had entered the police station and killed everyone who happened to be there, police officers and civilians. They were among the many who were killed or taken hostage. Later I learned that the entire family of one of our students had been massacred. One of our teachers is struggling to recover from the trauma of the attack on her kibbutz near the Gaza Strip.
On Saturday night, as I am writing this, there are reports of 150 dead, civilians or members of the armed forces, and about 1,000 wounded. And dozens of Israelis, soldiers and civilians, have been taken prisoner and brought to the Gaza Strip. These tragic figures are likely to increase in the coming hours.
As warning sirens alerted us of the more than 2,200 missiles, fired mainly at the southern part of the country, radio and television stoked fears that widespread and destructive missile attacks would soon hit the entire country. The shadow of Lebanese Hezbollah, and perhaps Iran, loomed larger than ever.
In the face of the enormous number of casualties among soldiers and civilians, in addition to the hostages in Gaza, there was astonishment in Israel: how was it possible that we’d been caught so off guard? With supposedly the best intelligence in the world, the best army, with billions invested in all kinds of safety measures that were supposed to prevent the underground incursions of the recent past. So much advanced technology, sophisticated video cameras, all at the disposal of skilled soldiers, who were supposed to be able to detect any possible attack by the enemy.
In recent weeks, discussions about a possible Hamas attack had been dominated by two key issues: Hamas was expressing a growing interest in improving the economic situation in the Gaza Strip, while trying to secure a place at the table on the difficult issue of a U.S.-supported Saudi-Israeli agreement. For the Israeli leadership, this would have been the ideal “peace”: restoring relations with Saudi Arabia and giving some minor concessions to the Palestinians, thus not only achieving a supposed peace in the region, but also ensuring the survival of the shameful government of Netanyahu and his far-right allies.
What about the Palestinians? Well, they’d get a little more money from the Saudis and Qataris. And who would take part in the negotiations? Mahmoud Abbas, the PLO, Hamas? Would Hamas join the negotiating table? And what about the influence of Iran?
The “surprise” of the 1973 war is still being discussed today. Now, the most knowledgeable commentators are promising us that there will be a thorough investigation of Saturday’s enormous surprise. Regardless, the essential issue remains: the dominant paradigm is wrong. The “best intelligence,” the “best army,” when even today, on that war’s anniversary, we’re still celebrating an idea based on the occupation of the Palestinians, on state terror, justified by us being “more moral” and the others using “inhuman terror.”
A people that subjugates another people can never be free, and the barbarism of the Israeli leadership will never lead us to an improvement of the situation. In the coming days, the Israeli military will try to “get even for the affront,” and the Israeli hostages might end up being the only possible curb against their coming rampage.
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