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How to be a liberal Zionist when Israel is at war

(JTA) — How to be a liberal Zionist at war?

For 10 months (much of it from Jerusalem itself) I watched Israel’s most ultra-nationalist and religious government in history tear the country apart with a controversial package of judicial reform, increased subsidies to the ultra-Orthodox, and expansion of settlements and Jewish sovereignty in the West Bank.

The West Bank smoldered following settler terrorist rampages at Huwara, attacks on Israeli civilians on West Bank roads and towns and repeated incursions by the IDF to root out Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist cells. Palestinian statehood was increasingly sidelined by Israelis and Arabs alike in the pursuit of normalization agreements. Diaspora Jews agonized, condemned or just became more apathetic about Israel, and Western world opinion shifted against the state of Israel and her government. 

Everything changed on Saturday morning. News reports poured in about an unprecedented barrage of 4,000-plus missiles into Israel from Gaza and, most significantly, the infiltration of hundreds (if not more) Hamas terrorists into Southern residential communities. Some of them surrounded a crowd of festival-goers at a desert rave within Israel, killing, raping and taking men, women and children captives back to Gaza. I stared at my screens and feeds in disbelief.

I stayed up far too late on Saturday night trying to absorb the shock of the day’s events — the colossal intelligence failure, the unprecedented breach of Israel’s security barriers protecting civilian settlement, the fears for regional war. But by the time I awoke on Sunday morning, the horror had magnified beyond what I could have imagined: A professor with whom I was recently on a panel was killed in the South, my postdoctoral supervisor’s daughter and son-in-law were murdered on a kibbutz as they saved their child, a friend of a friend’s son and recent PhD in my field was kidnapped and is now confirmed dead. 

Many others posted about loved ones missing or killed, or tales of near escapes from terrible fates. Friends — my own age or older — submitted selfies in uniforms, having been called up as reservists. Parents posted about their panic over children in the army being sent to the front or returning to duty. Others expressed general fears from bomb shelters or safe rooms, wondering what happens next.

As modeled by friends who joined the pro-democracy camp week after week at demonstrations across Israel this summer but have now dutifully donned the uniform, volunteered to give blood and generally have come together to support a grieving nation, to be a liberal Zionist at a time of war means putting the love of Zion and loyalty to the people of Israel (as well as to a future peace with Palestinians) ahead of a loathing for Netanyahu and some of his partners and policies.

Liberal Zionists can acknowledge that both Israelis and Palestinians have suffered at the hands of corrupt and callous leaders who have not sought peace. A liberal Zionist can hold two ideas in their head at the same time in this historical moment: both that Israel can and must do what is necessary to defend herself and that a diplomatic solution to the Palestinian issue is the only way to avoid permanent war. Liberal Zionists can see merit in the Palestinian cause but full-throatedly declare that liberation cannot come by raining rockets over coastal Israel, murdering families in their homes or taking grandmothers and babies captive.

While liberal Zionists like me believe in free speech and the Palestinian cause for statehood, I can’t find any place in my heart for those — like the pro-Palestinian protesters who gathered in New York, San Francisco and so many other places on Sunday — who celebrated over Israeli corpses. This is neither justice nor peace and a disgrace to the democratic public square.

Yet just as liberal Zionists must agree that Hamas is the aggressor to an unprecedented escalation perhaps only comparable to the surprise attack of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, they can admit that this emerges from a cycle of violence that goes back decades, ultimately to the unresolved existential arguments of 1948. As Gaza is no democracy, one can hardly know how average Palestinians there feel about or whether they support Hamas’ attack (even as we know that successive generations of Israeli young people are more hawkish). By the time this is all over, fingers will be pointed, leaders will lose their positions, hearts will be hardened and societies scarred. So many more on both sides will be dead and the dream of a two-state solution buried for another generation.

While Israel’s harshest critics claim this is a tragedy for the Palestinian people, perhaps even the beginning of a second Nakba, it is no less a calamity for Israelis, who have not only seen their national security threatened, but the promise of a peace for both sides living side-by-side once again put on hold.

Alas, there is likely worse to come for Israelis and Palestinians in the next days and weeks. It seems almost inevitable that if the Israeli civilian captives are to be freed and Hamas leadership decapitated once and for all, an IDF ground invasion will be necessary to secure the Strip, even without the alarming calls by ultranationalist, rabble-rousing coalition partners to reduce Gaza to rubble. As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who one hopes will only be forced to account for this failure on his watch) vowed no shelter for terrorists and called upon Gazans to leave — to where? Will a humanitarian corridor be opened to Egypt? — aerial bombing of Gaza’s densely populated neighborhoods commenced and Palestinian civilian casualties will surely mount.

Should IDF troops follow, I fear the images of flag-draped coffins coming home. Meanwhile, the IDF responded to rockets from Hezbollah territory into Sheba Farms on the Israel-Lebanon border, raising the specter of the worst-case scenario: a two-front war, or even regional conflict, with Iran’s proxies.

Liberal Zionists at war will have anguished debates about the future — especially one that may well include the reoccupation of Gaza. Yet, these must be seen as arguments for the sake of heaven at this historical moment, born out of love, rather than hatred, of the people, land and state of Israel.

For the past month, Jews have gathered in synagogues to pray for life and peace — we can only hope now for the alleviation of the harshest decree in this holy and heartless land.

The post How to be a liberal Zionist when Israel is at war appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Kyiv Rejects Putin’s ‘Absurd Ultimatum’ to End War

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a session of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Photo: Reuters/Maxim Shemetov

i24 NewsRussia’s strongman President Vladimir Putin said he would end the war in Ukraine only if Kyiv agreed to drop its NATO ambitions and hand over the entirety of four provinces claimed by Moscow. Kyiv swiftly rejected the demands as tantamount to surrender.

Putin demands that Ukraine transfers to Russia four regions, including a 300,000 city of Kherson and 700,000 Zaporizhzhya as a “precondition” to “peace talks”. This man is delusional, and those in the West who speak of “negotiations” or “cease fire” are enemies of the free world.

— Sergej Sumlenny, LL.M (@sumlenny) June 14, 2024

“The conditions are very simple,” Putin said, listing them as the full withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from the entire territory of the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions.

Putin’s maximalist conditions apparently reflect Moscow’s growing confidence that its forces have the upper hand in the war.

He restated his demand for Ukraine’s demilitarization and said an end to Western sanctions must also be part of a peace deal. He also repeated his call for Ukraine’s “denazification.”

“He is offering for Ukraine to admit defeat. He is offering for Ukraine to legally give up its territories to Russia. He is offering for Ukraine to sign away its geopolitical sovereignty,” said Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, rejecting the demands as “absurd.”

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Deadly Explosion Kills 8 IDF Soldiers in Rafah

Illustrative. Some rises after an Israeli strike as Israeli forces launch a ground and air operation in the eastern part of Rafah, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, May 7, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Hatem Khaled

i24 NewsEarly this morning, tragedy struck in the southern Gaza city of Rafah as eight Israeli soldiers lost their lives in a devastating explosion, marking the deadliest incident for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in the region since January.

The IDF has confirmed the casualties, with one soldier identified as Captain Wassem Mahmoud, 23, a deputy company commander from Beit Jann in the Combat Engineering Corps’ 601st Battalion.

The names of the other seven soldiers will be released after their families have been notified.

According to initial reports from the IDF, the soldiers were traveling in a Namer armored combat engineering vehicle (CEV) as part of a convoy around 5 a.m., following a successful overnight operation targeting Hamas militants in the Tel Sultan neighborhood of Rafah. During the operation, troops under the 401st Armored Brigade reportedly neutralized approximately 50 gunmen.

The convoy was en route to buildings captured by the army for the soldiers to rest, when the Namer CEV, which was the fifth or sixth vehicle in the convoy, was struck by a powerful explosion. The nature of the explosion remains under investigation, with possibilities ranging from a pre-planted bomb to an improvised device placed on the vehicle by Hamas operatives.

Initial findings suggest that explosives stored on the exterior of the Namer CEV may have contributed to the severity of the blast. Normally, such explosives are designed to minimize harm to troops inside if detonated.

The IDF probe indicates there was no gunfire preceding the explosion, and the vehicle was not stationary at the time of the incident. The circumstances surrounding the tragedy have prompted intensified scrutiny into the safety protocols and operational procedures during military movements in hostile territories.

The deaths of these eight soldiers bring the total number of IDF casualties in recent ground operations against Hamas to 307. This figure includes a police officer killed during a recent hostage rescue operation and a civilian Defense Ministry contractor also slain in the conflict.

This is a developing story 

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U.S. Officials Fear Escalating Conflict Between Israel and Hezbollah

Israeli firefighters work following rocket attacks from Lebanon, amid ongoing cross-border hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, near the border on its Israeli side, June 13, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Avi Ohayon

i24 NewsRecent actions by both Israel and Hezbollah have sparked growing concerns among U.S. officials, who fear that the situation could escalate into a full-scale war, according to reports from CBS News.

The tension has intensified following a series of Israeli airstrikes on Lebanese territory, which some American authorities believe are laying the groundwork for a larger military operation.

Sources within the US government have expressed worries that such a move could trigger a conflict that might strain Israel’s alliance with Washington.

Hezbollah, in response to recent events including the assassination of senior commander Taleb Sami Abdullah, has escalated its own actions. The group has begun launching daily rocket attacks targeting northern Israeli communities since October 8, citing solidarity with Hamas amidst the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

US officials cited by CBS News have highlighted concerns over the potential unintended consequences of Hezbollah’s increased attacks. They fear that these actions could provoke Israel into launching a significant military assault, further exacerbating the volatile situation in the region.

The developments come amid ongoing international efforts to de-escalate tensions and prevent a wider conflict. Diplomatic channels remain active, with calls for restraint and dialogue from various quarters.

The United States, a key ally of Israel, has historically played a crucial role in mediating and influencing regional conflicts. Officials are closely monitoring the situation, emphasizing the importance of avoiding actions that could escalate tensions further.

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