This is the watchword in Israel today, no matter the price.
Late last night (Monday), I was driving home from work and listening to the talk show hosted by Jojo Abutbul, who is sort of an old-time folk hero in this country – a Mizrahi Jew with down-to-earth wisdom. An Israeli common man. He speaks mainly to an older, Likud-oriented Mizrahi crowd, which is still very reflective of Israeli mainstream views, and is disproportionately represented in Sderot and some of the other towns near the Gaza border that have taken the brunt of Hamas’ rockets. Jojo Abutbul and his callers are an important voice in Israeli public opinion, especially now, during the war. They’re thought to be on the right wing of the mainstream.
They were speaking after a day in which seven Israeli soldiers had been killed, and a family of 26 had been killed in Gaza. The first tragedy overhung everything they said; the second was not mentioned. And the phrase that kept being repeated was, “Finish the job.” Abutbul said, “It hurts me, the number of soldiers who have fallen. But I think I’ll be able to withstand any number if they finish the job. But if even one soldier meets his fate and they don’t finish the job, then I’m going to find this impossible to take.”
I thought, well, that’s an “authentic” Israeli voice today, but it’s not the only one, and it’s probably somewhere to the right of the center of gravity. I still believed there were a lot of Israelis who are saying “enough” – not just left-wingers but centrist Israelis who cannot take anymore Israeli soldiers getting killed and want the fighting to end now. This, after all, is supposed to be a basic truth about the Israeli political mentality – that they won’t stand for large numbers of casualties in war. And seven soldiers were killed yesterday, and 13 the day before, and now 27 Israelis have been killed all told. This morning the news is that a soldier is missing in action, which means a whole agonizing bargaining ordeal again.
All the things Israelis were warned about if the fighting went on too long – international outrage over the scenes of Palestinian civilians being slaughtered, large numbers of Israelis being killed, soldiers being captured – have now happened. I would expect that a lot of people, not just leftists, would be echoing the world by calling for a ceasefire right now.
Then this morning I picked up a copy of Yedioth Ahronoth, the “newspaper of the nation,” what I consider to be the clearest window there is into Israeli society. The front-page commentary is by Yuval Diskin, the former Shin Bet chief and conscience-ridden star of “The Gatekeepers,” the incessant critic of Netanyahu’s hardline policies – and the title of his commentary is “Don’t Stop Yet.”
We need to expand the ground operation because the operation must not end with the status quo. The home front is prepared to pay the price so that the problem of the rockets will be solved for the long term. The operation to destroy the tunnels is absolutely vital.”
Actually, the main price for the home front now is not the rockets, but the deaths of the soldiers. Are we prepared to pay that price? Evidently.
But there was also a column inside by Shimon Shiffer, who wails away at Netanyahu’s rejectionism toward the Palestinians; his commentary was titled “The Next War.” Ah, he’s going to provide a little balance, he’s going to say the war is futile, that either we change our approach to the Palestinians or the next war is on the way.
Shiffer slammed Netanyahu alright – but for failing to be warrior enough, for bending to international pressure.
As has happened in past military campaigns, so it threatens to happen again: the operation against Hamas ends with a sense of missed opportunity, with the knowledge that the mission and objectives of Operation Protective Edge were not fully achieved. … It can be assumed, without cynicism, that Netanyahu will find a way to sell us the successes of Protective Edge.”
Well, he took it to Bibi, anyway, so he earned his paycheck from Yedioth.
The front-page headline, beneath the photos of 10 soldiers who were killed, reads “Model Commanders.” The tone of the paper is not tragic, it’s heroic. The message is that the deaths of the soldiers has only increased our will to fight to the end, to finish the job.
It’s pretty much in line with what I’m hearing from the people in my “social circles.” They’re not mainly leftists, they’re mainly center-leftists – they’d like Labor leader Isaac Herzog or Tzipi Livni to be prime minister. They’d love to be rid of the settlements. They’re completely heartbroken over the soldiers’ deaths, and they’re sorry for the Palestinian civilians’ deaths, too. But as far as I can tell, they believe in the necessity of this war, they see it as a war of self-defense against Hamas. And if the army says it needs to finish the job and that now is not the time for a ceasefire, which is what the army is saying, they’re not going to disagree.
I wasn’t here in 1982, but it is said that 400,000 Israelis protested in Tel Aviv’s Malchei Israel (now Rabin) Square against the Lebanon War. What happened? I know what happened, but the contrast between then and the way things are now is still uncanny.
At the beginning of this war, when it was impossible to call it a war, when the “kill ratio” was 200 to 0, I was filled with loathing at this country, at the complacency in the face of what the air force was doing to people in Gaza. But now that Israeli soldiers are dying – mainly young soldiers, of course – I don’t think I have any anger left in me.
Sunday morning, after a day in which 13 soldiers were killed and 100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza, mainly in Shujaiyeh, I thought, That’s it. Israelis are not going to tolerate so many soldiers being killed, and the world is not going to tolerate so many Palestinian children getting killed. Putting aside the world reaction, I thought Israelis, as deadened as they are toward the evil we do to the Palestinians, would save the situation with their finest quality: their inability to withstand the deaths of their own, especially their young.
I was wrong. Evidently, if they believe that the war is serving a purpose, in this case to bring long-term security to Israel, at least from Gaza, then they will put up with the deaths of their soldiers.
They’re not callous – far, far from it. Israelis really do have good hearts, and they love their own, especially their young, as much as any people on earth. The problem is their minds, or rather their collective mind, the mind of this society – it is geared like a sports car engine to war.