ITEM: The Jerusalem Post (March 10) vividly recounted the heroism of Capt. David Shapira, a former student at Mercaz HaRav, who, hearing gunfire at the yeshiva during the recent terrorist atrocity, grabbed his weapon, left his nearby home, and ran to the rescue of Jewish children:
“At the entrance to the yeshiva in the capital’s Kiryat Moshe neighborhood, Shapira ran into a group of police officers who were standing outside the building, listening to the gunshots from inside. They warned him not to go in, but Shapira pushed them aside and entered. The officer tracked the terrorist to the library, and shot 16 bullets at the terrorist, immediately neutralizing him.”
Were Jewish police officers actually “standing outside the building” while Jewish children inside were being methodically, systematically murdered?
ITEM: The next day, the Post reported Israel had apparently agreed to an Egyptian initiative of a 30-day “period of calm” in which Jerusalem would cease “ground and air attacks in the Gaza Strip and refrain from retaliating for the terror attack at Mercaz HaRav.”
Undoubtedly, this will enable the enemy to smuggle in more and deadlier weapons as it prepares for the next round of hostilities against a nation that apparently will not defend itself or its citizens.
PERSONAL ITEM: On March 11, while driving home on Route 443 (the popular Modiin-Jerusalem highway), my sister and brother-in-law’s car was stoned by Arabs less than a kilometer from the Atarot checkpoint and within sight of an army base. Within minutes, more than a dozen cars arrived, stoned like theirs, with shattered headlights, broken windshields and dented hoods. Police and army personnel, duly informed of the danger lurking within walking distance of their location, told their fellow citizens that because the Arab assailants were standing behind the security fence, there was nothing they could do about it.
Words kill, dishearten and eventually demoralize decent, law-abiding people who are proud to live in a Jewish state. Words maim and injure – but in real time, when uttered by policemen, by soldiers, by politicians to their citizens that they will not be defended, that their lives are expendable, that their personal safety is not a priority. And words demoralize.
Had American naval hero John Paul Jones declared to the attacking British in 1779 “I will not begin to fight”; had Winston Churchill stood in the House of Commons in 1940 and proclaimed “We shall not fight in the fields nor in the streets, we shall not fight in the hills; we shall surrender”; had Douglas MacArthur left Bataan in 1942 with the stirring words “I shall not return,” they would all be – justly – disreputable figures, scorned by their nations and forgotten by history. The battles they fought would have been lost.
But such is the dispirited and dysfunctional leadership provided by the Olmert government and its immediate predecessors to the people of Israel today – a relentless message of defeatism, hopelessness, vulnerability and despair.
In the current issue of Azure (Winter 2008), Assaf Sagiv lamented modern Israel’s peculiar inversion of normative security policy. Usually, a nation risks its soldiers’ lives in order to protect its civilian population. That is why nations maintain armies to secure their borders and police departments to keep order in their cities. But in Israel today, the civilian population – in Sderot, Ashkelon, and elsewhere – is left in jeopardy in order not to risk the lives of the soldiers in combat. It is worse than unprecedented; it is a policy that crosses the line separating the simply bizarre from the truly inexplicable.
Certainly no sane person wishes for a war that will cost lives, but no sensible nation (that is, a nation that does not have a death wish) allows its civilians to be the constant targets of rockets, missiles, bombs and bullets without an effective response, in order to protect its soldiers from carrying out the missions for which they were drafted and trained.
Such pusillanimity – combined with Israel’s adoption of the enemy’s narrative that any military response is “disproportionate” and that every attack kills “innocent civilians” – only emboldens the enemy and eviscerates whatever feeble deterrence Israel still has.
Is it possible the Olmert government is laying the foundation for future horrific concessions on the grounds that Israel’s weak security posture leaves it no choice but to cut the best deal with the surging enemy and hope for the best? Sadly, it is, and would explain as well why Israel – alone among the countries of the world – cannot seem to say “no” to Secretary of State Rice. It is a nifty two-step, of asking to be pressured and then “caving in” to the pressure, but also fecklessness of an unimaginable magnitude.
Worse, Olmert’s constantly discouraging words completely underestimate the resilience, faith and courage of the Israeli people and its security forces. They endanger the lives of every man, woman and child in Israel, every resident and every tourist who walks its streets and travels its roads.
Islamic fundamentalism – the modern incarnation of Amalek – will not disappear as a result of wishful thinking and wild fantasies. While the Jews of Shushan were perplexed and bewildered upon learning of Haman’s nefarious scheme, their leaders Mordechai and Esther – Torah Jews and thinking people – formulated a plan of action to turn the tide, transform the situation and take the war to the enemy. They did not sit back passively bemoaning their fate, pleading weakness or making empty threats with blustery words that are mocked by the enemy (words that ultimately kill innocent Jews). And their efforts were rewarded with the intervention of the divine hashgacha that effected the salvation of the Jewish people and the annihilation of our foes.
The Jewish people will always respond to a leadership that instills in us faith and fortitude based on the wisdom of Torah, the imperatives of Jewish history and the call of Jewish destiny. Such leadership is sorely lacking today. Instead, Israel’s current band of incompetents has already led the country into one failed war and is incapable of planning for and successfully waging the next. Their speeches are clueless and their policies are incoherent.
Those are the real words that kill, and when that vacuous rhetoric is replaced by a truly Jewish leadership of ideas, substance and strength we will merit a revolution of Jewish life and fortune, triumph over the Amalek of our day and salvation as in the days of yore.
Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck, New Jersey.