Fifty years later, another tipping point of Jewish history

By Andrew Adler
Community Editor

An Israeli Centurion tank parks in the Sinai desert during the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt and Syria, 1973. (Harry Dempster/Express/Getty Images, via JTA)

Fifty years ago I was a high school sophomore sitting in Earl Clemens’ American History class where the scheduled topic was Reconstruction and the rise of the New South in the aftermath of the Civil War. But it was a different conflict that occupied us on this particular Monday: Two days earlier Arab armies had attacked Israel – on Yom Kippur, yet – a surprise, unanticipated, undetected offensive, and 48 hours later things were not looking terribly good for Eretz Israel.  

I, and I suspect most of my classmates, were bewildered. At least a third of my approximately 100-member grade was Jewish, and memories of the 1967 Six Day War were still reasonably fresh. “Lightning out of Israel!” was the victory cry then, a divided Jerusalem reunited; the West Bank annexed; Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Golda Meier – the personalities and accompanying imagery of a tiny nation basking in its improbable triumph.  

But here, a mere six years later, that same nation was under existential threat. Eventually the tide turned in Israel’s favor, but there was no denying that the country had been caught woefully unprepared. Soon came the inevitable investigations and recriminations, but once they’d been appropriately digested, we were certain we’d never again be so grievously deluded.  

All that reassurance, of course, came crashing down 50 years and one day later when Hamas launched its murderous rampage against Southern Israel. Comparisons to the Yom Kippur debacle came swiftly, but this was different. At least the previous two conflicts were military in emphasis – armies and air forces pitted against one another; war in a more or less conventional trappings. Hamas carried no such illusions of decency. Its modus opperandi was terror at its most extreme – slaughtering civilians. It didn’t matter if their victims were infants or seniors, teens, tweens, whomever. Others were kidnapped with the same indiscriminate fervor – hands bound, herded into vehicles waiting to carry them deep into Gaza. At least 200 remain as hostages, most presumably held by Hamas, but some likely in custody of Islamic Jihad and similar groups.  

With an estimated 1,400 Israelis dead, the young war has been described as the greatest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust. The atrocities reached ghastly levels of heinousness – there was a report that one band of terrorists videoed the murder of an Israeli grandmother, and then uploaded that video to the Facebook account of her granddaughter.  

It’s the sort of horror that makes the blood boil and the aggrieved cry out for vengeance. “We are fighting against human animals,” Defence Minister Yoav Gallant declared, announcing that Israel would impose a “complete siege” on Gaza – no food, no water, no fuel, no medicine, nothing. A small amount of humanitarian aid was finally allowed in, Israeli Air Force planes hammering suspected Hamas strongholds while some 360,000 IDF troops massed near the Gaza border.   

A massive ground invasion appeared imminent, then delayed, perhaps to allow additional time to negotiate a release of hostages. Meanwhile, a Gaza hospital parking lot was struck in an explosion that killed dozens of civilians. Hamas was quick to blame Israel, but evidence then pointed to an errant rocket fired by Islamic Jihad. Information competing with misinformation amid the marketplace of attack and retribution: the despairing currency of war.  

There is no going back now. We have reached one of those tipping points of history, where a tectonic shift has hurled us into some unknown, unforeseen, unfathomable dimension. All we can be sure of is that we can’t be sure of anything.  


Andrew Adler is Managing Editor of Community. 


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