The Editor’s Desk: 10 Lessons From The Gaza War


If you listen carefully you can hear the fraying of the unity that has held American and Israeli Jews together over the last six weeks of the war in Gaza.

Until now polls in both countries have shown overwhelming Jewish support for Israel’s military and diplomatic actions, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu given high marks for relative restraint in the face of more than 3,000 Hamas rockets fired at Israeli civilians and the revelation of dozens of “terror tunnels” intended for the murder and kidnapping of Jews in the south.

Inevitably, though, as the crisis continues with no dramatic solution that can assure Israel of security and deprive Hamas of a victory of sorts, voices of dissent and frustration are being heard, fingers are being pointed and commissions of inquiry are being formed to assess blame. Unlike the “miracle” Six-Day War of 1967 or the dramatic turnaround of the Yom Kippur War six years later, where Israel prevailed after a disastrous initial blow, conflicts in recent years with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza have resulted in temporary and less-than-satisfying stalemates.

Who “wins” and who “loses” a war can take decades to assess, and even then depends on one’s outlook. Did Israel’s conquering of the West Bank in ’67 signal a clear victory when so many view the settlements now as an albatross? Did Anwar Sadat’s initial success in 1973 give him sufficient pride to make peace with Israel six years later, or was it the realization that Egypt could not defeat Israel militarily?

Even now, before the fog of war has cleared, some sobering observations can be made about the current state of affairs for Israel in the international community and at home.

The first mistake:

In hindsight it seems clear that officials in Jerusalem should never have tolerated hostile rockets fired years ago, and consistently over time, into Sderot and other communities in the south. It signaled that citizens of Israel there, rather than in cities like Tel Aviv or Haifa or Jerusalem, warranted less protection. The refusal to take an immediate and more aggressive stand against forces seeking to kill Jews living inside Israel’s borders was a moral, military and diplomatic mistake.

The lesson: You fire on our citizens and we will respond with full force. Will that be the case going forward?

Judge combatants by their intentions, not their accuracy:

One can only imagine, with horror, the result if Israel did not have the Iron Dome and if thousands of Hamas rockets had found their targets: Israeli civilians. Would the nations of the world have been more sympathetic then to Israel’s plight? Maybe, but it is better to have their anger than their pity.

Don’t confuse “Palestinian” with “Hamas”:

Those who insist that there are no innocent civilians in Gaza lack political understanding as well as basic human empathy. The fact is that most Gazans are the victims of circumstance, virtual prisoners of Hamas, which is committed not to their security but to the destruction of Israel. Speaking out against Hamas from within Gaza is dangerous, if not suicidal. We have to acknowledge the tragic suffering of so many citizens of Gaza, whose leaders use them as human shields, literally as well as metaphorically. The blame may well be on Hamas for initiating a war of aggression and refusing to step down, but that should not blind us from compassion for the lives lost.

Anti-Semitism is real, and growing:

The blurring of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic violence, rhetoric and political views has come to the surface, particularly in Europe, to an alarming degree. Most egregious, perhaps, is the United Nations and its ongoing, blatant bias against Israel. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay of South Africa calls Israel guilty of defying international law when in fact no other country, including the U.S., goes as far in seeking to avoid harming civilians as does Israel. Pillay also blamed the U.S. for not supplying Gaza with the Iron Dome system.

More recently, and cynically, the UN Human Rights Council established a commission to investigate war crimes in Gaza, headed by Canadian law professor William Schabas, who in a speech once said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be “in the dock of an international court” and is “the single individual most likely to threaten the survival of Israel.” Schabas has refused to label Hamas a terror organization and refused to make clear whether his investigation will review Hamas’ actions. A total sham.

There’s “daylight” in the U.S.-Israel relationship:

It’s no secret that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are a dysfunctional duo; the question is how much effect their dislike of each other will have on Washington’s support for Jerusalem at this critical time. For all the talk of the administration not allowing any daylight between the positions of the U.S. and Israel, it is delaying arms for Israel in its fight against a U.S.-acknowledged terrorist group and not insisting on the disarmament of Hamas. Deeply worrisome.

Connect the dots:

There is a common thread and threat to Mideast headlines … ISIS, the new Islamic state, is increasing its murderous advances on Syria, which already has lost close to 200,000 citizens, and on Iraq, negating the decade-long, hard-fought gains of American soldiers and would-be peacemakers. Hezbollah controls Lebanon, Hamas gains international support by making war on Israeli civilians, and Iran stalls and dodges efforts to prevent it from going nuclear. What we have is The War of the Islamic Militants on Western Culture, though it is politically incorrect to label it as such or counter it with a unified approach.

Media bias continues:

Whether it is a misguided sympathy for the underdog, a failure to provide context to a complex conflict or simple anti-Israel bias, much of mainstream media has failed to point out the impossible position Israel is in, castigated for fighting back against a terrorist regime bent on destroying it and its people. “Defend yourself, but not too much” is neither practical nor helpful advice. And displaying photos each day of suffering Gazans — and no militant fighters — has played into the hands of Hamas, who only now are being called out for intimidating and threatening the media.

Doves and hawks double down when assessing the crisis:

Has anyone changed his or her mind based on the reality of these last few weeks? Hawks point out that one Hamas rocket closed Ben-Gurion Airport and argue that a West Bank state would present a far greater threat to Israel. Doves counter that the war and destruction only prove that there is no military solution to the conflict, which must be resolved by diplomacy and compromise.

Support for Israel is slipping:

Americans remain significantly more supportive of Israel than of the Palestinians. But there is serious slippage among the 18-to-29-year-old cohort, including Jews, especially when it comes to whether Israel’s military response in Gaza is justified. Younger Jews tend to have less knowledge of modern Israeli history than their elders and are ambivalent and conflicted about Jerusalem’s military stance and the lack of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

True colors come out in times of stress:

Many Israelis and Jews around the world have come to see themselves as family during this Gaza war. They speak of a common bond of support for Israel’s right to defend itself as it sees fit against an enemy willing to sacrifice its own children to destroy the Jewish state. A number of American Jews have rallied, raised funds and traveled to Israel to show their love and support while some Jewish groups have focused primarily on criticism of Israel’s conduct, and that is telling.

Vibrant discussion and debate are the lifeblood of a nation. But at its core must be a sense of shared values. In a crisis, friends help, not harp.

“Tough love” is acceptable – as long as “love” truly is part of the equation.

was editor and publisher of The Jewish Week from 1993 to 2019. Follow him at