On the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the Jewish world paused for 25 hours for self-examination and reflection. For Israelis, there is a sense of national reflection as well: Yom Kippur brings back memories of a traumatic war that left open wounds. This year’s Yom Kippur marks the fortieth anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, the most painful war in the modern history of the State of Israel, with 2,222 casualties, a war that forever changed the Israeli psyche.
The war began when Egyptian and Syrian forces unexpectedly crossed ceasefire lines to enter the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights, which had been captured by Israel in the 1967Six-Day War. Within three days, Israeli forces had managed to push the Syrians back to the pre-war lines, and within a week, Israeli artillery began to shell the outskirts of Damascus. The Israelis then counterattacked and crossed the Suez Canal into Egypt, slowly advancing southward and westward towards Cairo. Over a week of heavy fighting inflicted heavy casualties on both sides.
Though the war reinforced Israel’s military deterrence, it had a dramatic effect on people’s mood. Following their victory in the Six-Day War, the Israeli military had become complacent. The shock, the intelligence failure, and the surprise attack on the holiest day of all, inflicted a terrible psychological impact on Israelis, who until then hadn’t experienced any serious military surprises or failures.
Four months after the war ended, the first-ever major protest against the Israeli government took place. As result, a state inquiry investigated the events leading to the war and the setbacks of the first few days. Many in Israel believe that that first protest led to other major protests and demonstrations, and eventually to the summer of 2011 social protest and the ones following it.
The war also led to the reluctant recognition that Israel might not always dominate the Arab states militarily. These changes opened the door for the future peace process. The 1978 Camp David Accords followed the return of the Sinai to Egypt; Egypt’s was the first peaceful recognition of Israel by an Arab country. Since then, most Israelis have woken up to a new reality where they are willing to pay the price for peace. They expect their government to prioritize peace negotiations and to forever try to find diplomatic solutions to the Israeli Arab conflict. Today, after a three year break, peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have resumed, hopefully to lead to a brighter future for the two people.
These Days of Awe also mark twenty years since the Oslo I Accord, the first face-to-face agreement between the government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). We all remember the image of the handshake on the White House lawn between the late Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Arafat had for many years represented war and terror, and now was a partner for peace talks.
Back to 2013: the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams have already met for six rounds of talks. The talks are taking place under a heavy veil of secrecy, with mainly the Israeli side refusing to provide even the smallest detail. (Israeli media hardly mentions these talks.)
Twenty years have passed since Oslo, and 40 since the Yom Kippur War. Before these two landmarks, in between and since, the Jewish State has fought military and diplomatic battles, negotiated, withdrew, compromised, celebrated victories, mourned losses, and at the end, from the height of all these years, can we foresee a better future for our children? I believe we can, I believe we don’t have another choice. We cannot give up on trying to reach brighter days where peace talks aren’t mentioned not because the need for secrecy, but because we have already fulfilled our dream and can now report on other things.
“He who makes peace in his high places
he shall make peace upon us
and upon all of Israel
and say amen”
May 5774 bring peace, prosperity and happiness to us all
Shana tova and happy Sukkot!
Leah Garber, Vice President, JCC Association Israel Office