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Yom Kippur: Atonement and Politics

09/23/2004

Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, is a time for self-examination and self-criticism. According to legend, between the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and Yom Kippur, the deeds of each of us are examined and we are written down in the book of life or the book of death. Yom Kippur represents a last chance for atonement.

Since the 1973 Yom Kippur war, the self-examination and atonement of Yom Kippur have had a special additional public political meaning. In a few days, because of political and military errors, over 2000 young men and women were registered in the book of death. Unfortunately, we have not learned the major lessons of the Yom Kippur war, and apparently, we are condemned to commit the sins of our ancestors and to suffer the punishment as well.

The major sin that led to the disaster of the Yom Kippur war was not this or that battlefield error, nor the unreadiness or incompetence of the IDF and intelligence services. The major sin was hubris, overweaning pride. It was pride that caused us to believe that we are invincible, and all the errors that were made flowed from that pride. Pride caused our leaders, principally Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan, to insist that Anwar Sadat couldn't possibly be serious about attacking Israel, and pride caused them to discount any evidence to the contrary. A stubborn belief in military invincibility also influenced the response to Sadat's peace overtures, which didn't even bother to find out if he was really serious. Israel paid a very high price for the sin of pride.

Now we are once again enthralled by pride. Our government has once again rebuffed Syrian peace overtures , but hardly anyone protests or even notices. Nobody is anxious to withdraw from the Golan in any case, and nobody believes that peace with Syria will be any different from peace with Egypt, a "peace" colored by non-stop incitement and antisemitic as well as anti-Israeli propaganda.

Perhaps Bashar Assad is not serious about making peace, but we will never know unless we find out. Peace with Syria will have a heavy price - withdrawal from Golan, which for many Israelis is unthinkable, and is certainly politically difficult. Peace with Egypt had a heavy price too, withdrawal from Sinai. Before October 1973 it was unthinkable, not least because of the political opposition of Menahem Begin. Because of our stubborness, we eventually paid the price of withdrawal from Sinai plus heavy interest for late payment: thousands of dead and wounded, plus damage to Israeli prestige. Don't we owe it to ourselves, and to our children, to insist that our government explore every possibility for peace, however remote?

Even more dangerous, Israeli policy with respect to the Palestinians seems to be wedded to the concept of invincibility as well. Despite recent suicide attacks, there is widespread agreement that the Intifada is over, and that therefore Israel doesn't really need a peace policy. Good intelligence, security fences and military operations against terrorists are needed to control the problem, but they do not constitute a solution. Disengagement will rid Israel of the Gaza settlements, an expensive security liability, but it will not bring peace. If we do not provide the hope of a reasonable solution, the cause of Palestinian moderates will be hopeless, and the extremist refusal strategy of the Hamas and Fatah Al-Aqsa martyrs brigades will continue to prosper. Granted that nearly 60% of Palestinians still support terrorism and suicide bombings, but they are unlikely to support any other strategy unless we offer them a reasonable alternative. Disengagement, evacuation of settlements from Gaza and isolation of the Palestinians may be a reasonable solution for Israelis, but it certainly isn't a reasonable solution for Palestinians.

Yom Kippur was an expensive lesson. Too bad that we paid the tuition but did not benefit from that lesson at all. Peace may be out of reach right now, but if we don't make the effort to find out, we will never know for sure. When the next disaster comes, the mistakes of today will be obvious, and then, too late, we will be ready to pay the necessary price.

Ami Isseroff

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Original text copyright by the author and MidEastWeb for Coexistence, RA. Posted at MidEastWeb Middle East Web Log at http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000297.htm where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Distributed by MEW Newslist. Subscribe by e-mail to mew-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by email with this notice and link to and cite this article. Other uses by permission.

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