According to Israel’s news media, Israel has just announced (Tuesday, July 15, 2014) that it would accept an Egyptian-made ceasefire with Hamas (“Security Cabinet Agrees to Cease-Fire with Hamas”, Arutz Sheva, July 15, 2014). This announcement comes after seven complete days of fighting. It is supposed to be in effect right now.
Early street reactions among Jews in the Jerusalem-Central area seem mostly to be expressions of shock, horror and unspeakable anger. These reactions seem intensified because today is the 17th day of the Hebrew month called, Tammuz. It is a fast day.
The 17th of Tammuz was established as a fast day long ago to commemorate Jewish national tragedies. On this day, we recall the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem some 2,500 years ago during the Babylonian attack that destroyed the First Holy Temple. This is also the day we remember how our Second Holy Temple was destroyed by the Romans-- during the very same time period some 570 years later (app 1,944 years ago).
To remember this destruction—and two forced exiles from our homeland--we take on some rules of mourning. We observe those mourning rules for the next three weeks (The Code of Jewish Law, Chapter 122).
Therefore, today is a time to contemplate what we lose when we are defeated. For many in Jerusalem, this cease-fire looks and feels like defeat.
Hamas agrees. It called talk of a cease-fire as tantamount to surrender—and they were having none of that kind of talk! (“Israel accepts Egyptian ceasefire proposal, Hamas rejects deal”, Times of Israel, July 15, 2014). But Israel accepted the cease-fire. Therefore, it seems, Israel accepts surrender.
The Arabs surrounding us appear to agree with this assessment. All morning, we have been listening to celebratory gun-fire coming out of nearby Arab communities. Such celebration at our expense does not sound encouraging.
Is this possible? Has Israel surrendered? Well, Israel has rushed to say it will stop fighting. What does that sound like to you?
In the Middle East, accepting a cease-fire is like crying ‘uncle’. Remember that word? That’s the word you used when you were a child in a ‘fight’--and wanted to admit defeat. It was what you uttered in order to get your opponent to stop hitting you.
Many Jews are outraged. First, three Jewish teens were kidnapped and murdered last month, after years of Hamas calls to kidnap Jews. The murderers have not been caught. Then, Hamas started firing hundreds of rockets at us. Now, we rush to back off from fighting Hamas?
Many Jews feel betrayed. Nationalist Members of the Knesset feel betrayed (“Nationalist MKs Outraged Over Impending Ceasefire”, Arutz Sheva, July 15, 2014). Some say this cease-fire is a disaster for Israel.
But wait. This is the Middle East. This may not be what it appears to be. Could this acceptance of a cease-fire be nothing more than a daring move in an elaborate chess match with Israel’s enemies?
It might be. For example, the US and the UN have grown impatience with Israel. They are so concerned over Israel fighting Hamas that US Secretary of State John Kerry had reorganized a European trip to meet with both Egypt (which brokered the cease-fire) and Israel. For some, a meeting with Kerry could mean only one thing for Israel: intensely painful arm-twisting by the United States.
Everyone knew what Kerry would talk about: Israel had declared its intent to start a ground offensive into Gaza (“Soon in Gaza? IDF Paratroopers Train for Urban Warfare”, Arutz Sheva, July 14, 2014). The US –and the UN--didn’t want that (“US Warns Israel Against Ground Offensive in Gaza”, Arutz Sheva, July 14, 2014; “UN Chief Warns Against Ground Operation in Gaza”, Arutz Sheva, July 14, 2014)).
But then, as soon as Israel announced it had accepted the cease-fire, Kerry cancelled his stops here. He chose to return directly home to the US.
Score one for Netanyahu?
Then there’s Hamas. Hamas didn’t just reject the cease-fire. It claimed it had never even seen it (Times of Israel, above).
Would Israel accept a proposal concerning Hamas without Hamas’ participation? I don’t think so.
Finally, there was an announcement many ignored. Almost three hours after the original announcement appeared, an unnamed diplomat in Jerusalem said, “If Hamas continues to fire rockets after the ceasefire, Israel will respond forcefully” (Times of Israel, ibid).
This cease-fire may not be real. It could be a gamble. It could be an attempt to silence objections. It might be Israel’s way to say to the nations, ‘you wanted us to show restraint? We did. Look at the result: Hamas declares victory, Arabs riot to celebrate that victory, and we are hit by even more rockets from Gaza.’
Israel could then wait thirty-six hours before pounding Gaza aggressively. The acceptance of the cease-fire, coupled with that brief wait, might just buy Israel the time it needs to take care of business unimpeded.
Let us pray this is what will be.