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Defending freedom: A tribute to the warriors of Israel

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As people of peace, the warriors and all citizens of Israel long for such a time with all their hearts, but first there are battles to be won.

By Nils A. Haug, Gatestone Institute

The initial defenders of Jewish destiny — which later gave birth to the West’s Judeo-Christian cultural heritage — were a rather insignificant Middle Eastern tribe of Hebrews guided by somewhat obscure precepts recounted in five small books, and led in battles by their legendary leader, King David.

These early warriors were not only defenders of an ancient civilization, but early progenitors of the modern Jewish democratic nation and the West’s political tradition.

Through their priests, kings, and prophets they became custodians of a Holy Writ that provided definitive truths, morality, ethics, freedoms, human rights, and principles of righteousness essential for future generations of humanity.

The motivating factors driving King David and his men apply equally to the current cohort of Israeli warriors, facing lethal attacks by terrorists little different in nature from King David’s earliest opponents.

These assaults are not only aimed at Israel and its inhabitants but, ultimately, at the West. The underlying cause has not changed much through the ages.

It can be traced to tribes determined to impose their ideals, religion, and ideology on others everywhere.

Adversaries of the West — whether religious fundamentalists or authoritarian states such as China, Russia, and Iran and its allies — appear intent upon imposing a new totalitarian world order.

To do so, they seek destruction of the two main countries standing in their way: United States of America and Israel, the global champions of democracy, freedom, Western values, and human rights.

Regrettably, with freedom often comes the need to protect it, at times by force, from those who would take it away.

Sometimes, this requires measures open to criticism by those who may have a different goal, or unable fully to understand the issues at play.

Despite dissenting voices of the world, the soldiers of Israel, like the citizens of Ukraine, understand that if they wish to ensure their freedom, they must fight for it.

The Greek leader Pericles, in 432 BCE, declared in his funeral oration for the great Athenian warriors who sacrificed their lives in the first Peloponnesian war:

“Therefore, having judged that to be happy means to be free, and to be free means to be brave, we do not shy away from the risks of war.”

Even with the risks involved, the soldiers of Israel, as inheritors of King David’s indomitable spirit, are, according to Yael Eckstein president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, “more alive now than ever before, more motivated, passionate, and heroic than ever imagined.”

Although Israel’s soldiers originate from many nations, they possess the same intentions as their predecessors: to retain possession of their ancient homeland, providing a sanctuary for the unwanted Jewish scatterlings of the world in a safe setting they can call home; a shelter from the many nations despising them.

To the soldiers of Israel, their country is a “city of refuge,” a place where their people can live in peace and, above all, a place they can worship their Creator in freedom.

The land of Israel can therefore be understood as a figurative cave of Adullam – where King David once assembled a motley collection of uprooted individuals of various origins but bound by mutual faith in their people’s right to be.

As expressed by the ancient prophet Micah, “But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid.”

In the spirit of Judas Maccabeus, rebelling against threats to their faith and possession of their land, the soldiers of Israel now fight not only to rid the province of enemies seeking to eradicate them but to ensure peace, freedom of worship, and harmony with all those who call Israel home.

The late UK Chief Rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, pointed out that although the Maccabees were small in number, they “had a double portion of the Jewish spirit that longs for freedom and is prepared to fight for it.”

Israel’s soldiers have inherited that same spirit, inspiration and determination, the purpose and faith of a people baptized into battles necessary for survival of their nation.

Rabbi Sacks metaphorically describes this continuity as a song where no single note or chord makes the song complete in itself for, “as music connects note to note, so faith connects episode to episode, life to life, age to age, in a timeless melody that breaks into time.”

Israel’s soldiers remember, perhaps, the fragility of King David’s struggles in securing the land from the Philistinian and Amalekite assaults; they might also recall when the tribe’s wives and children were abducted by enemies, how the Israelites pursued them and rescued their families.

Those events were repeated by the unspeakable acts of Hamas on October 7th 2023 when Israel’s men, women, children and infants were beheaded, burned alive, raped, abused and abducted.

The soldiers of Israel need to ensure, not out of vengeance but for the nation’s survival, that their adversaries can never commit such savage atrocities against their people again.

It is no coincidence that Gaza was the historic home of David’s avowed enemies, the Philistines.

Goliath was a Philistine; David killed him not far from the caves of Adullam in the Kingdom of Judah, present-day Judea, in Israel’s heartland.

In similar mode, Israel’s enemies invaded Judea in October 7th. Statements by these enemies openly acknowledge that they will continue hostilities and repeat attacks until all Jews are eliminated:

“The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews (related by al- Bukhari and Moslem) – Hamas Covenant, Article 7, (from the Hadith: “The Book of Tribulations and Portents of the Last Hour,” 54:18)

Hamas official Ghazi Hamad has clearly said that the terror group will repeat the October 7 attack, time and again, until Israel is annihilated. He added “Everything we do is justified.”

Clearly, many in Gaza and the West Bank remain enemies of Israel and are little different, if at all, in dedication and purpose, from their forebears.

The October 7 massacre and the odious Western response to it has compelled Jews to confront a new generation of enemies determined to eradicate them.

The Israelite warriors of the past trusted the dictates of their leader, King David. Not only was he their commander, he was respected as a man of combat experience, as his encounter with Goliath testified.

Similarly, Israel’s leaders in the war cabinet, commanders of their forces, are not only men of extensive combat experience in the current confrontation with jihadist terrorists, but, go to unprecedented lengths to honor the laws of ethical warfare as befits a nation dedicated to principles of human rights.

In contrast, Hamas, the instigators of hate, torture and murder, conduct terror operations against civilian targets – including their own (here and here).

It is time for Western unity with Israel, which is fighting for the values of civilization opposing terrorist barbarism so that the rest of us in the West will not have to.

We should be sending whatever they need to end the terrorism, not withholding precision-guided weapons – especially, as we sanctimoniously claim, if we do not want to harm civilians.

Henry Kissinger noted the importance of supporting a nation’s leaders in times of crisis: “Societies become great not by factional triumphs but by common purpose and reconciliation.”

As with the warriors of King David, the soldiers of Israel are again surrounded by enemies driven by hatred for the values represented by the Jewish nation and seeking their eradication.

Once more, Israelis are called upon to resist forces threatening their destiny.

That is the crux of the matter: the battle is both religious and nationalist: a mortal contest between terrorists and a people who insist on the values of individual freedom and the right to think without restriction.

Encouraged by the words of Yitzhak Lamdan, “Never again shall Masada fall,” Israel fights for all that is beautiful, free and democratic, and shall protect civilization to the end.

It is therefore incumbent upon a new cohort of great men and women, the latest giborei Yisrael – heroes of Israel – to secure the nation so that its hard-won freedoms, values, and moral-ethical precepts, can be enjoyed by subsequent generations.

Finally, Israel’s brave warriors might identify with Eli Wiesel’s statement in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech of December 10, 1986:

“I have faith in the Jewish people. Let Israel be given a chance, let hatred and danger be removed from her horizons, and there will be peace in and around the Holy Land.”

As people of peace, the warriors and all citizens of Israel long for such a time with all their hearts, but first there are battles to be won.

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