Eyal. Gilad. Naftali. After eighteen days of prayers and tears I removed the piece of paper with these three names from my siddur. And I mourned their loss along with Jews the world over.
I am saddened by this tragedy and I am also angered. Angered at the policies put into place that paved the way for the brazen killing of Israel’s finest youth. These strategies, pursued by both Israel and the international community, defied the current reality on the ground and the predictable reality of what would be.
Too many tragic missteps ignited this domino effect of disaster, from Oslo to the Disengagement to the subsequent Hamas takeover of Gaza to the recent PA/Hamas unity government. Indeed, while Israel was scouring the fields and hills of Hebron for the kidnapped teenagers, Hamas was busy bombing Southern Israel.
For a country famed for its brainpower and innovation, Israel failed miserably at foreseeing the end result of a dangerous game of wishful thinking. Despite all its inventions and technology, it failed to adhere to the sagest and simplest dictum in Pirkei Avos (2:9): “Who is wise? One who sees that which is to be born.”
But Israelis are not alone on this ill-advised path. While they were searching for the missing victims of a crime their government inadvertently enabled, Americans beheld the results of their own recklessness.
Two days before Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali disappeared, Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, fell to the al Qaeda-linked ISIS army. Eleven years of thwarted and misguided efforts to roust al Qaeda out of safe havens have resulted in the same crusading jihadist terrorists digging in even deeper.
In literature we call this tragic irony. For the thousands of American soldiers who lost their lives in Iraq, we call this tragic sacrifice.
Every day Jews pray to be able to serve Hashem in a way “so that we do not struggle in vain nor produce in futility.” The fulfillment of just such a prayer seems to have eluded America in a seeming war of futility in Iraq, with close to 5,000 killed, more than 30,000 wounded, and a cost, up to now, of well over $1 trillion.
Futility may actually be a misnomer. A June 20 congressional report states that the ISIS army “ultimately wants its emerging Islamic state to be a launching pad for attacking the U.S. homeland.” Like the vacuum left by Israel in Gaza and filled by Hamas, the void left by America in Iraq is being filled by the very terrorists Americans sought to eradicate.
President Obama’s stated intent in 2011 to withdraw all American troops from Iraq and his gradual actualization of that announcement also resulted in more deaths among Iraqis themselves, with 2,417 deaths last month alone. And without the protection of American troops, the Sunni battle against the Shia in Iraq has gradually erased all vestiges of any American gains in the push for democracy in that country.
More than a decade ago, that push seemed to have been George W. Bush’s underlying aim after removing Saddam Hussein’s still-unaccounted-for weapons of mass destruction. Heavily influenced by Natan Sharansky’s 2004 bookThe Case for Democracy, Bush and his fellow neocons thirstily imbibed the words of the Jewish-Russian hero who successfully stood up to the cruelty of the Soviet empire and drew upon his experiences to detail a passionate argument against any compromise in the pursuit of democracy.
I have always been an enormous fan of Sharansky, who was and is a superstar in the battle of good against evil. And like all patriotic Americans, I cheered implementation of the Bush Doctrine to preemptively protect American lives from the perceived threat of WMD. At the same time I always had qualms about the viability of successfully disseminating democracy around the world.
Is democracy for everyone? Can a value system based on Judeo-Christian values of what’s just and fair be effectively imposed on societies that are not just and fair? It seems that both Israel and America are learning the hard way that not all cultures are candidates for constitutions and bills of rights.
The Bush administration’s push for Palestinian elections in 2006 resulted in the landslide victory of the terrorist organization Hamas. Obama’s interference in Libya and his non-interference in the Arab Spring, particularly in Egypt and Syria, misfired against the Arab citizens of those countries and engendered anarchy rather than order in the Middle East.
Indeed we can now look back at old guard Arab dictators almost with nostalgia. The embattled Hafez al-Assad and the ousted Hosni Mubarak, though no friends of Israel, kept the lid on any conflict from boiling over with Israel. And notwithstanding the Scud missiles he launched against Israel in 1991, Saddam Hussein was a known quantity some 547 miles away. Now the ISIS, encroaching on Israel’s bordering neighbors of Jordan and Syria, is operating out of Gaza, claiming responsibility for recent bombings in Southern Israel and vowing to reach Jerusalem.
Too many descendants of Yishmael, whether or not they seek an Islamic caliphate, decry the democracy we cherish and wish to spread. Theirs is a culture our eternal Torah refers to as “pereh adam” (Bereishis 16:12), which Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch defines as “a free man…free from the human yoke and from the constraint of cities [i.e. civilized standards of behavior].”
Such “freedom” explains why, of the current 22 world conflicts around the world, 21 involve Muslims. Muslim societies stand out for subjugating women, championing jihad, and beheading infidels. And while the world advances in technology, science and medicine, Muslim countries continue to slide centuries backward.
Perhaps such societies are better off governed by autocracy. And perhaps the world itself would be better off if they were, especially if the autocratic rulers can be forced to mind their own business on the world stage.
Trying to impose tolerance on an intolerant people has only jeopardized our own standing as a beacon of freedom. Rather than foist a fantasy on others, Americans and Israelis should focus on safeguarding the precious gift of democracy for ourselves so that boys like Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, Hashem Yikom Damam, will not have died in vain.