OpinionIsrael at War

The gates of Gaza

Only coming to terms with the nature of the enemy can save Israel.

Israeli troops operating in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Nov. 12, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Israeli troops operating in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Nov. 12, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Daniel Greenfield
Daniel Greenfield is an Israeli-born journalist who writes for conservative publications.

In 1954, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, a bus carrying passengers from the Red Sea beach town of Eilat entered Scorpion’s Pass.

A decade before there was any “Palestinian” cause, Muslim terrorists ambushed the bus. Ephraim Fuerstenberg, the driver, was shot dead, and his wife Hannah was taken out, raped and murdered. Men had thrown themselves in their dying moments on his two children to hide them. But his 9-year-old boy, Haim, raised his head to call for his sister. A jihadist lifted up the body on top of him and shot him in the head. He would lie in a coma for 32 years before finally passing away. His sister Miri, who wrote the story in her book“The Girl From Scorpions Pass,” survived only by hiding under the man who had thrown his body on top of hers to save her life.

The PLO would not be founded until 1964. An account in Time Magazine made no mention of “Palestinians” because no such people had been invented yet. The West Bank and Gaza, the territories at the heart of the two-state solution and the “Palestinian” cause, had been seized by Jordan and Egypt, and were being used as the bases from which the Islamic terrorists operated.

Nor had Islamic terrorism entered the popular jargon. These jihadis were known as the “fedayeen,” or those who die for Allah. Their style of attacks closely resembled those perpetrated by Hamas on Oct 7. And the Israelis had no high tech, no border wall and not nearly enough manpower to come to grips with the constant Islamic jihadist raids across the border.

The Islamic attacks escalated under the cowardly leadership of Moshe Sharett, Israel’s second prime minister, who had put all his faith in international diplomacy and the United Nations.

After the Scorpion’s Pass massacre, Sharett had refused to respond, arguing that “an act in reaction to the bloodbath would only blur the horrifying effect and would place us on the same level as the murderers on the other side.” Israeli commandos, who had little respect for Sharett, a leftist hack with no understanding of the battlefield, began to go rogue against the jihadis.

Long before drones, Israel responded with a more personal form of targeted killings. Small commando units tracked down terrorists inside Gaza and the West Bank and killed them. They also came after the Egyptian officers who, like the Soleimanis of today, were organizing them.

Throughout the early ’50s, jihadis raided Israel from Gaza, killing and raping those they could, including Leah Festinger, a young Holocaust survivor. During one attack they threw a grenade into a room where a family was sleeping, killing the children, including a 3-year-old girl. Meir Har Zion, a war hero who excelled at penetrating enemy territory, responded to the murder of his sister by making his way to the West Bank with a few friends and hunting down the men he believed were the killers.

Finally, a murder near Nahal Oz, one of the communities targeted by Hamas in the Oct. 7 massacre, brought the situation into clear focus. Roi Rotberg, a young man who was patrolling the fields, was ambushed, had his eyes gouged out and his mutilated body left on display.

Expecting the international community to mediate peaceful borders had been tried and it had failed. Egypt and Jordan were never held accountable for Islamic terror raids, and only the Israeli responses to them were condemned by the White House and the United Nations. The Eisenhower administration had turned over its foreign policy to the oil industry and Arabists like Assistant Secretary of State Henry Byroade whose true allegiance was to Arab Muslim states.

And that was the setting for what was just another funeral, until IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan, who knew Rotberg personally, delivered a famous eulogy that defined the new state of affairs.

Invoking the story of the biblical figure Samson, who had carried away the gates of Gaza on his shoulders from the Philistines, Dayan spoke of the small community of Nahal Oz, which “carries on its shoulders the heavy gates of Gaza, beyond which hundreds of thousands of eyes and arms huddle together and pray for the onset of our weakness so that they may tear us to pieces.”

“It is to us that the blood of Roi calls from his shredded body,” Dayan warned. “Although we have vowed a thousand vows that our blood will never again be shed in vain—yesterday we were once again seduced, brought to listen, to believe. Our reckoning with ourselves, we shall make today. We mustn’t flinch from the hatred that accompanies and fills the lives of hundreds of thousands of Arabs, who live around us and are waiting for the moment when their hands may claim our blood. We mustn’t avert our eyes, lest our hands be weakened. That is the decree of our generation. That is the choice of our lives—to be willing and armed, strong and unyielding, lest the sword be knocked from our fists, and our lives severed.”

Roi Rotberg, the thin blond lad who left Tel Aviv in order to build his home alongside the gates of Gaza, to serve as our wall. Roi—the light in his heart blinded his eyes and he saw not the flash of the blade. The longing for peace deafened his ears and he heard not the sound of the coiled murderers. The gates of Gaza were too heavy for his shoulders, and they crushed him.”

The gates of Gaza never became lighter, except when Israel won its wars. When Samson stayed strong, he prevailed, but when he allowed himself to be seduced, he lost his sight and his strength, and then in the extremity of his despair, he fought and died heroically.

In every generation the gates of Gaza would grow heavy. As they eventually would for Dayan, whose tenure as defense minister ended when Golda Meir’s government gave in to diplomacy and political pressure from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and failed to strike first. The resulting Yom Kippur War nearly destroyed Israel and began the end of the Labor Party.

But the gates of Gaza also grew heavy on the Netanyahu government and his predecessors, prime ministers Bennett and Lapid, who focused once again on international diplomacy and building an international coalition against Iran through the Abraham Accords.

Hamas appeared to have kept its word for two years and Israel was once again blinded and forgot, as Dayan said, that “our children shall not have lives to live if we do not dig shelters; and without the barbed wire fence and the machine gun, we shall not pave a path nor drill for water.”

Israeli leftists, convinced that the Islamic jihadists would settle for the West Bank and Gaza, the territory beyond the “Green Line,” despised those Jews who lived there as “settlers,” messianic fanatics who were keeping up a state of war and destroying any hope for a peaceful solution. And the Israeli right, Sharon and Netanyahu, came to believe that walls were the answer. Barak had pulled out of Lebanon and Sharon out of Gaza, ceding them to Hezbollah and Hamas, but Netanyahu focused on Iran and domestic economics, convinced that walls were enough.

The Simchat Torah massacres showed that walls are not enough unless they are vigilantly manned by men who truly understood, as Dayan said, that “beyond the furrow that marks the border, lies a surging sea of hatred and vengeance, yearning for the day that the tranquility blunts our alertness, for the day that we heed the ambassadors of conspiring hypocrisy, who call for us to lay down our arms.”

On Oct. 7 that day came, and so did the killers yearning to “tear us to pieces.”

Samson could carry the gates of Gaza, but what undid his strength was the need to believe that the people he had been fighting for so long were just like him and could become his friends and lovers. Before Samson’s eyes, like those of Roi Rotberg, were gouged out, he had lost his moral vision.

To live with the starkness of the vision that Dayan laid out 67 years ago at a dusty gravesite near Gaza is too much for most normal people. Samson could not do it and neither could any Israeli leader, from Ben-Gurion, who had to step in when Sharett failed, to Sharon, who had led the ’50s retaliation raids against Muslim villages, to Netanyahu, who wanted to focus on geopolitics rather than the dirty realities that lay before him in Gaza and the West Bank.

It is easier for most to believe that some compromise must be possible, to turn over Gaza and the West Bank, to develop joint economic projects, to meet together as individuals—as one of the abducted women, a peace activist, had tried to do—to deny a reality too horrific to be real.

By the watchfires, sentries know not to look into the flame lest they lose their night vision. Israelis, on the edge of hell, have to continue to look into the abyss. Is it any wonder that so many find pretexts for looking away, develop Stockholm Syndrome, turn on each other, or escape into fantasies of coexistence, lay down the gates and let their enemies cut their hair?

The gates of Gaza are not just here, they are everywhere that the horde on the other side lurks.

Civilization is a set of borders that men once carved out of the wilderness. On one side the village, on the other the wolf and the savage baying for blood. The capitals of civilization have all been blinded. They hold up signs welcoming refugees and wonder why bombs go off. They accept the rationales—capitalism, colonialism, Zionism and imperialism—for these horrors, and convince themselves that this time they can trust Delilah… because what’s the alternative?

“We are tired of fighting; we are tired of being courageous; we are tired of winning; we are tired of defeating our enemies,” former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who finished the retreat that turned over Hamas to Gaza, had told American anti-Israel leftists at the Israel Policy Forum.

The gates of Gaza weigh heavy on even the strongest of men, never mind the weakest, who are tempted to put them down and go to Delilah while dreaming of peace, lacking the moral resilience to bear the weight of the struggle and resist the simplistic promises of a solution.

But when we cease to see the enemy for what it is, then we lose the knowledge of what is true. We let ourselves be tied down by our enemies with promises of peace and love, but they only blind and mock us. The Lord departs from us, the Philistines deface our monuments and kill us. And then at long last we wake up, surrounded by blood and ruin, and the knowledge that we must either perish, bear the gates of Gaza forever or go to wage war against the Philistines.

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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