OpinionIsrael at War

Surely, now they’ll understand

We know our values, and we’ll let you know when our response is proportional.

The World Trade Center towers up in smoke on Sept. 11, 2001. Credit: Michael Foran via Wikimedia Commons.
The World Trade Center towers up in smoke on Sept. 11, 2001. Credit: Michael Foran via Wikimedia Commons.
Paul Rotenberg
Paul Rotenberg is vice-president of the Toronto Zionist Council. Two of his daughters serve in the IDF.

Each time terrorists strike, we think, “Now they will understand.” You might think that this time, with the horrific atrocities perpetrated on Oct. 7 in Israel, there will surely be understanding. But we’ve been here before and seen this movie too many times.

When others were the victims—on Sept. 11, 2001, at the Bataclan in Paris in 2015 or in the Christmas market terrorist attack in Strasbourg, France in 2018—we thought, “Now they’ll understand, now Israel will get more support in its fight against Islamic terror.” But they didn’t understand. In fact, the problem got worse.

Europe and the West in general opened their doors to Islamic terrorists. As a result, every country that did so is suffering for it and won’t admit it. Those who point it out are ostracized. Cities that now have significant Muslim populations have “no-go zones” for police, firefighters and non-Muslims, but if you point it out, you get ostracized. Violent crime rates are through the roof, but if you point it out, you get ostracized. Churches throughout Europe and the West are suddenly being destroyed, even burned down, but if you point it out, you get ostracized.

Left-leaning academia and government have found stunningly contorted ways of creating, disseminating and furthering policies that are destroying their own societies, even civilization. They don’t learn from the resulting disasters. Instead, as failed policy-makers always do, they double down on the disastrous.

Rethink the underlying concepts? Rework the operational policies? It’s not the way of the left. The left will lie, cheat and destroy you if you disagree with them. The left is cannibalistic. If there is a position even further left they can adopt, the vanguard will seize on it. If you want to survive, you better follow along, because if you get left behind, you will be canceled and destroyed for having a different opinion.

So, after 9/11, instead of changing their policies and protecting the civilization that their forefathers fought and died for, the left ran for cover under platitudes that pretended the Islamic dogma that teaches if you’re not part of them, you’re an infidel, a dhimmi, an inferior person, didn’t exist.

So what is Israel to do? This is not a new question and the answer isn’t new either. It’s as old as the Torah. Israel had a beginning that was in a sense as raucous as it is today. Four books of the Torah record a history, but it isn’t a history; it’s stories that are each lessons for us all.

Yet there are five books, not four. The fifth book is very different. Allow me to ask a parallel question: The Torah tells us that Moses was the most humble of men. If I asked you to describe him, is that the description you would use? Sure, he didn’t want the job, but he wasn’t being humble. Fear, disassociation (he’d been out of Egypt for a long time), lack of experience—there are lots of reasons for his refusal that you can derive from the burning bush story. But I don’t think “humility” would be the first word that would come to mind at that or at any other point in the tumultuous relationship between Moses and the Jews for 40-plus years.

When we read the fifth book of the Torah, however, we find humility. Moses was a man of incredible vision. In Devarim (Deuteronomy), we read about Moses’s understanding of the potential and the future of Israel, and here, in incredible detail, we find out how humble Moses is. He is a man of such vision and understanding that he was able to nurture the nation through extreme challenges and patiently bring them to the edge of their potential, the edge of the land that was to be theirs. And there, they had to pick up the ball and run with it.

This is where we stand today: We’ve been taught the lesson; we are at the edge of our potential; and we have to pick up the ball and run with it. In Devarim, there is a clear directive that once Israel is in the land, Israel is not to make agreements with any people who do not share our values. Without consistent values, there is no foundation for any agreement; and without a foundation, there cannot be agreement.

More than 40 years ago. I heard Professor Ruth Wisse explain this to a gathering of thousands of Jewish leaders. She asserted that Israel had done its Arab neighbors a huge favor by recreating them in its own image as reasonable, logical, civilized people with whom they could negotiate a peace agreement. Then she asserted that the Arabs had done Israel the exact same favor, recreating them in their own image as murderers, rapists and plunderers. Wisse said there could never be a successful agreement between people on such different wavelengths.

It’s about values. Israel used to have policies that were a direct result of its values. One of them was that you don’t negotiate with terrorists. This makes sense. What is there to negotiate? Can you trust a terrorist? Should you aid a terrorist? Should you let a terrorist out of jail? You would be crazy to do so, but such insanity can also be very instructive. One Israeli for more than 1,000 terrorists? The terrorists don’t do that, and we shouldn’t either.

As a result of the Hamas terror attacks in Israel on Oct. 7, as many as 200 hostages are being held in Gaza, more than 1,400 Israelis are dead and thousands more are wounded. What if Israel had a hostage? Apparently, the daughter of Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is currently in an Israeli hospital for treatment. Should Israel keep her as a hostage? To what end? The purpose of a hostage is the terror that results because the enemy thinks you might kill him or her. Hamas knows Israel won’t kill the hostage. Besides, Israel doesn’t negotiate with terrorists.

Better still, send her back to Gaza. Send her back to Gaza where she can look up and see Israeli warplanes and wonder if they’re about to waste all the effort that was put into helping her live. Send her back with a message for her father, who is living comfortably in Qatar, that Israel doesn’t take civilian hostages, but Israel will exact an endless price from those who take Israelis hostage because those are our values, and we don’t negotiate with terrorists.

In the meantime, the violence and murder are too fresh, and those who never learn are still quiet. We know that soon we’ll start hearing about proportional responses. It’s about values. Hamas killed 1,400 people. Thus, they will claim, when Israel has killed 1,400 terrorists, Israel has reached its proportional limit.

This is nonsense. The terrorists informed us of their values; they insisted on them. They know our baby, who they killed, is of unlimited value to us. One Israeli, they insisted, is worth over a thousand of their terrorists. These are their values, and Israel hasn’t yet come close to proportionally responding to them. We’ll let you know when we do, and you can have your daughter back now. Keep her safe. We have our values, and by embracing those values we’ve survived exactly this for thousands of years.

For us, it was bad enough a long time ago, and we’re finally able to do something about it. So we won’t forget 9/11, the Yom Kippur War, 1967, the Holocaust, the pogroms, the Inquisition, the Hatuels and the Dees, and so much more. It’s been bad enough, we’ve had enough, so it wasn’t wise to add Oct. 7 to our list. If the rest of the world now understands, that is what we’re here for. If not, we don’t negotiate with terrorists, and we’ll let you know when we’re getting close to proportional.

We know our values. When we forget, thank you for reminding us of them.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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