OpinionIsrael at War

We’ve forgotten what ‘enemy’ means

While sympathy is normally an admirable trait, it is concerning when it manifests itself in sympathy for “the other team.”

Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion at a public appearance in Tiberias. Photo: Naftali Oppenheim/Wikimedia
Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion at a public appearance in Tiberias. Photo: Naftali Oppenheim/Wikimedia
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski
Rabbi Uri Pilichowski is a senior educator at numerous educational institutions. The author of three books, he teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.

In an address to the Knesset, Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion once said, “Israel does not possess great power, tremendous wealth or broad territories; she has no common language, religion or race with any other state; and the peoples who are closest to us from the point of view of language and race are the Arab peoples who, for historical and, I believe, temporary reasons, are at present our bitterest enemies.”

In this statement, Ben-Gurion simultaneously expressed hope for a peaceful future with the larger Arab world and recognized the reality that the Arabs were Israel’s enemies.

Today, the pro-Israel community is worried about its younger members’ understanding of Israel’s current war. This generations tends towards sympathy for the Palestinian people and even the terrorists the IDF is fighting in Gaza. While sympathy is normally an admirable trait, it is concerning when it manifests itself in sympathy for “the other team.” In such cases, it demonstrates a misunderstanding of what it means to have an enemy.

While the early Zionists and founders of Israel understood what it means to have an enemy, the Jewish people have long forgotten. Whether it was crusades, pogroms or the Holocaust, Jews saw their attackers as haters, not enemies. But Ben-Gurion didn’t hesitate to use the word “enemies,” for good reason.

Jewish tradition is clear about how to treat your enemies. Maimonides wrote, “War should not be waged against anyone until they are offered the opportunity of peace. … If the enemy accepts the offer of peace … none of them should be killed. … If they do not agree to a peaceful settlement … war should be waged against them. All males past the age of majority should be killed. Their money … should be taken as spoil, but neither women nor children should be killed.”

The prophet Jeremiah stated, “Cursed be he who does God’s work deceitfully. Cursed be he who withholds his sword from blood.”

Haaretz writer Amir Tibon recently tweeted, “When Hamas entered the civilian community where I live, they knew exactly what they were doing—and what would be the price. There are many military targets along Israel’s border with Gaza. Some were attacked on Oct. 7. But that wasn’t enough for Hamas. … They deliberately chose to enter civilian communities and the homes of families to murder innocent people.”

“The military arrived at a crucial moment,” he continued. “In one neighborhood, the terrorists had just began opening car trunks and pulling out spare tires. Why? So they could start fires in homes and force families to come out and be shot or taken. I don’t want revenge in Gaza. I don’t feel any satisfaction upon hearing that civilians are killed there now. I’m as sad as one can be over their deaths. But I know that when Hamas came into my community on that morning, it knew exactly what would happen in Gaza the next day. Hamas declared war after several years in which successive Israeli governments looked for ways to improve the economic reality in Gaza.”

Tibon added, “When Hamas terrorists came to my home, they knew a family with young children was living there. Our baby stroller was parked outside the door as they shot through the windows. And they knew that after they completed their mission, Israel, like any country, would have to retaliate. On that day, they knew they had signed the death certificate of thousands of people in Gaza. For them, it was a price worth paying for the joy of murdering my teenage neighbor and kidnapping children. They knew Gaza would suffer terrible, shocking destruction. They did it anyway.”

“No country in the world would have accepted what happened to my family on that awful morning—and you must multiply it by many thousands of families,” he said. “A country that doesn’t kill the people who tried to murder my daughters, and those who sent them, has lost its right to exist. A country that doesn’t retaliate in the most forceful way after terrorists kidnap an eight-year-old from her bed simply won’t exist. Especially not in the Middle East.”

Ben-Gurion and the founders of Israel wanted to create a peaceful neighborhood in the Middle East. It didn’t happen immediately, but over time peace was established with some of Israel’s greatest enemies, such as Egypt and Jordan. Over the past half-decade, Israel has normalized relations with several other Arab states. Israel will expand the circle of normalization, but it won’t happen today. In the meantime, while at war, Israel will follow the example of its founders: naming its enemies and eliminating them. It is Israel’s only way to secure its future.

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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