May 19, 2021
By: Jonathan Feldstein
The Talmud (Taanit 23a) teaches a timeless lesson that should be intuitive for any good, humble people who care about the future more than themselves. One day a young man saw an old man planting a carob tree. The young man asked the old man how long it would take for the tree to bear fruit. The old man replied that it would take seventy years, to which the young man responded, “Is it absolutely obvious that you are going to live another seventy years?” The old man said, “Just as my fathers planted for me, so I plant for my children.”
I was thinking of this as Israel continues to endure barrages of hundreds of rockets a day fired by Palestinian Arab terrorists in Gaza, deliberately targeting Israeli civilians with the goal to inflict the greatest amount of death, injury, and damage possible. The paradox is lost on nobody of good conscience: terrorists fire rockets from amid their civilian populations to protect themselves and their weapons, and Israel builds advanced technology to protect its citizens – Arabs and Jews – from terrorist rockets.
Last week my son was given leave from his base near the Gaza border to come home for the wedding of dear family friends. No sooner had he come home, changed out if his uniform, and arrived at the wedding, scores of rockets started being fired from Gaza at Israeli communities. We were southwest of Jerusalem in the Judean mountains. While we didn’t see the rockets, we did hear their landing and explosion just a few miles to the north. Fortunately, these fell in open areas. But throughout Jerusalem and communities around Jerusalem, air raid sirens were sounded. Millions of people ran for cover.
In minutes, my son received instructions that he needed to be back on his base two hours later. As a paratrooper, the unstated statement was clear: all hands-on deck. While the Israeli air force began striking back at terrorist targets and infrastructure, infantry would be ready for a possible ground incursion. As unnerving as it was that my son was potentially being mobilized into combat, albeit as prepared as he is for that, it was all the more so that two of my daughters decided to drive him. They rationalized that it would be dangerous for one daughter to have to drive back home alone, as rockets were flying, so two would go to keep eachother company. That was hardly comforting. Then, just before they all left the wedding, I learned they were picking up my son-in-law who was among the first 5000 reservists being called up. Conveniently, my son-in=law needed to be at a base not far from my son, so they all drove together.
Thank God my daughters got home safely. Thank God, Israel has responded to the terrorists’ rockets with tactical and strategic accuracy that has left scores or more terrorists permanently out of business. To avoid an escalation that would not just risk many lives on both sides, and an entrenchment from which it would be hard to withdraw, Israel has tried to avoid going into Gaza with ground troops, so far.
However, I can’t help but wonder if that’s the best strategy. There’s talk of a cease fire which, on one hand, is a good thing. However, we’ve been here before. Since Hamas took over Gaza in a violent, bloody coup against the Palestinian Authority, Israel has suffered tens of thousands of mortars, rockets, missiles, and more fired at our communities. There are different catalysts why they start firing rockets each time, but terrorists don’t need an excuse. That’s their M.O. While the excuses to start the violence vary, they end more or less the same, with a cease fire in which the terrorists extort concessions from Israel to save face from the inevitable reality that they have lost the battle, again.
If there’s a cease fire – this week, next week, or in a few weeks – there will be more or less the same ending. Hamas has to save face, especially this time with the efficacy of Israel’s targeted retaliation pummeling their leadership and terrorist infrastructure. They need a “win” and have yet to achieve that, either by their rockets against Israel, or for their own population which lives under the brutal heel of intolerant Islamic extremists for whom death and suffering is their currency. And yes, one cannot dismiss the legitimate fear in which many Palestinian Arabs in Gaza live. Even when Israel responds surgically to take out only terrorist targets, and when civilians are warned in advance, giving them and even the terrorists the time to escape, it’s not without stress and trauma, and occasional and unintentional loss of civilian lives.
If there is a cease fire, Israel will have a period of quiet. The terrorists will have time to rearm, rebuild their infrastructure, hijacking precious resources that should be used to improve the lives of their own population. But at some point, in a year, two, or five, we will be back where we are today. Even with a son who’d be among those going in on the ground to rout out the terrorists possibly door to door, I worry that a cease fire just pushes off the inevitable next round. Is kicking the can down the road, again, the best policy?
Many Israelis think that this current round is particularly egregious and that rather than kicking the can down the road, we need to “go in and finish the job.” Borrowing the Talmudic lesson of planting for the next generation, should we not uproot the poisonous weeds that threaten us, once and for all, and give our children and grandchildren real security, not one intermittent war that’s acceptable as long as it doesn’t reach a certain level? This is more than rhetorical. It’s life and death.
Is that even possible against terrorists, what will the price be, and is it worth it, are questions I am pondering this week, with no answer. If I plant for my children, should I not also be uprooting for them as well?