December 1, 2023

Israel-Hamas war: Explaining the Gaza war in New England terms - opinion

By Barbara Sofer

Dearest Connecticut cousin,

Thank you for your love and concern, and your desire to explain the conflict. I know you’re surrounded by neighbors and friends who are primed to think the worst of Israel, even now after the October 7 massacres. Here’s what I would say to them if we were drinking delicious hot coffee in your lovely home. 

Do you remember how you were feeling in September 1962? That’s a long time ago – we’re now both grandmothers – but I remember it well. President John F. Kennedy was speaking to the nation on television. He called the Soviets liars and issued a warning to the Soviet Union to remove the “secret and swift” buildup of missiles on Cuban soil, 90 miles from the United States. He reached out to the Cuban people whose “land and lives are being used as pawns.”

I remember being so cold that I needed to wrap myself in an afghan. Add to that the feeling of shock, fear, and rage when the Twin Towers were attacked on September 11, 2001. The United States of America, the strongest country in the world, no longer felt safe.

That’s how we feel in Israel now, and we’re doing something about it. Like 9/11, we’re not reacting to a threat but to an actual, long-planned attack.

We Jews have sworn that we will never be helpless again, even though, to use president Kennedy’s words, “This is a difficult and dangerous effort on which we have set out. No one can see precisely what course it will take or what costs or casualties will be incurred. Many months of sacrifice and self-discipline lie ahead – months in which our patience and our will will be tested – months in which many threats and denunciations will keep us aware of our dangers. But the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.”

Now, let’s do a mind experiment. Imagine that a hostile island is nearer to your home than Cuba – say Mount Desert Island off Maine. That pretty island is a little smaller than Gaza, though not by much. Gaza has an equally beautiful coast and better weather. Gaza isn’t an island, of course. It’s attached to Israel on one side and Egypt on the other.

Instead of a nature park, imagine that there’s a hostile population – call them Islanders – on Mount Desert Island dedicated to the destruction of Maine. These Islanders use all their resources, plus lavish gifts from the free world’s members and enemies, to build missiles and underground tunnels. Barges of concrete and gravel are imported, supposedly to build schools and hospitals, but are subverted to build underground dungeons and lavish villas for their rulers.

Military recruits, instead of learning to code or trying to cure cancer, assemble lethal rockets from imported water pipes and frequently strike Maine cities. 

What can the good citizens of Maine do? They build expensive fences and install Iron Dome protection and warning systems. They construct reinforced rooms against missile attacks. This is costly, but better than going to war. At the same time, they continue to treat sick Islanders with congenital heart disease and other maladies. 

They provide employment for men and women from the Island in their fishing industries and potato farms. The boats bringing actual ammunition to the Island are stopped, but food and health supplies get in.

Numerous ceasefires are negotiated in which the Islanders promise to stop the missiles, but they don’t. Then comes a holiday – say the Fourth of July. The lovely town of Kennebunkport is alive with tourists when a barrage of rockets hits. Residents and tourists run into bomb shelters. 

Next, 3,000 armed Island terrorists enter the city. They carry out the plan of raping women and girls, decapitating and burning babies alive, shooting and incinerating those in the shelters. They attack the holiday-makers barbecuing and fishing off the coast. These include compassionate Island-supporters in Maine who have argued for years that they can make peace with the Islanders by offering them more. The attackers use maps drawn by the Islanders who have been earning their living working in Maine.

The Islanders want to continue their rampage in Portland, Lewiston, and Bangor, but – after the initial shock – the brave men and women in Kennebunkport fight back and the National Guard halts the massacre – but not until the Islanders kidnap hundreds of persons, including children, and imprison them in their billion-dollar tunnel dungeons. 

Now it’s the Islanders who are partying! What a massacre! They’re not alone. Others, even at American universities, exult that the isolated and ill-treated Islanders were so creative! Men and women who consider themselves moral arbiters with elevated values march to support the rape, torture, and murder.

THE STATE of Maine finds this situation intolerable and is determined to save their hostages and dismantle the missile launchers and tunnels on the Island once and for all. They prepared for what president Kennedy called “the difficult and dangerous effort.”

Surprisingly, people in nearby states are unsympathetic to the Mainers. They become insulting. Doesn’t everyone know that people in Maine are stiff and cold, that they reject strangers and are 95% privileged whites? Their supposed “frugality” is mocked.

Mainers, they say on social media, spoil the environment and bring global warming by burning trees to cope with their allegedly freezing weather, while more advanced states are moving to solar energy. Other groups have different gripes. They say that Mainers are abolitionists and pioneers in legalizing same-sex marriage.

Famous journalists pontificate that even if the Mainers fight back, they need to fight “surgically” while continuing to supply the Island with fuel for their needs, including their missile launchers.     

The people of Maine want to limit collateral damage, so civilians on the Island are warned by text message and phone calls to move to a secluded section of the Island to get out of the line of fire. Doctors get dedicated communications to help them keep their patients safe. All this messaging signals to the enemy a lot about the military plans, of course.

Not that life on the Island has been easy. Because of their acknowledged hostile intent, Islanders can’t enter Maine or neighboring Canada without permission. Their schools are poor, their hospitals ill-equipped, and their roads a mess because there’s little money left after digging out the tunnels and building the rockets.

Despite their beautiful coast, they have no tourists. Who would want to go there? Dissenters are thrown off rooftops. Gays and transgender persons are murdered. Insubordinate women are hunted and killed by their brothers. 

As Mainers reluctantly fight back in a costly and deadly war, day by day the cry against them becomes a roar.

Just imagine.

NOW BACK to reality. I know that people hate dealing with facts, so here are just a few. In 2005, after international pressure and internal dissent, Israel decided to remove its 21 civilian communities from the Gaza Strip. It was our experiment to give Gaza autonomy and achieve peace with our belligerent neighbors. 

Israel left behind hi-tech greenhouses to give the Gazans a good start. Instead, the Gazans tore the greenhouses apart – an act not only about the nutritious, valuable crops in the greenhouses but about the self-destruction that would become the dominant pattern in Gaza. When the PLO lost the popular elections to Hamas, the deposed officials were indeed thrown off the roof.

Alas, our well-intentioned experiment in withdrawing from Gaza failed.

Their desire to destroy Israelis and Israel grew. Limited military actions on Israel’s part seemed to slow down the hostilities. Israel believed incorrectly that Gaza wasn’t interested in warfare. This wishful thinking turned out to be disastrous.

Israelis would love to have a friendly state next door. 

Here’s something personal. Three weeks before the October 7 attack, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, your cousin J, the back surgeon, was about to sit down for dinner with his family and guests in Israel. His phone rang with the news that an anesthesiologist had been found. Was J available to operate on a four-year-old girl who was brought in from Gaza? Her back had been broken in a car accident in Gaza.

J’s children overheard the conversation and insisted that they couldn’t sit down to a holiday dinner while a four-year-old might become paralyzed because she needed surgery. They urged their dad to return to the hospital, which he did.

J probably would have gone without the kids’ urging. But I am proud that these grandchildren, your cousins, living here with all this stress, with the need to serve in the army, with the need to run to safe rooms and bomb shelters, are still compassionate to their peers on the other side.

Then again, that was three weeks before the massacre of October 7.

Don’t let anyone convince you that Israel is in the wrong. Remind those around you that they need to be asking themselves if their own prejudices are influencing their thinking about the Jewish state.

Thank you for your love, concern, and willingness to take on the fight for right.

Sending love back from Jerusalem, from your cousins in and out of uniform.

Love, Barbara (Sofer)