Lessons of the Yom Kippur War

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Yom Kippur


    While it may be a matter of dispute whether Shabbat or Yom Kippur is our “highest” holy day, we and our neighbors all know that to the vast majority of Jews Yom Kippur is unique in its solemnity and its meaning. In Israel, Yom Kippur is a day on which everyone attends a Beth Haknesset. The streets are empty, there is no public transportation, stores are closed and Jews reflect on their lives and their hopes for the next year. Shem Yisborach, we say, reviews our conduct and we are judged and a decree is entered into the Book of Life.

    So it was on Yom Kippur 1973. We were all “in shul” listening to the chazan, the sermon, the reading of the Torah, the prayers and the confessional.

   Suddenly, one of our neighbors told us that he had just “heard” that there was a war in Israel. Someone had heard this on his radio while driving to “shul”.  The rumor was soon confirmed. Those willing to turn on the radio on Yom Kippur heard that the Egyptians and the Syrians had attacked in the south and in the north simultaneously and that Israel was in serious peril.

   At once, the Egyptians had captured the Israeli soldiers stationed at the Suez Canal since the great Israeli victory of 1967.  At once, the Syrians came rushing down the Golan in an effort to reach Haifa. The Egyptian third Army had actually penetrated a large part of the Sinai desert in just one day.

   Then, however, Israel received a large number of tanks and other supplies from the U.S. stock in Europe. Using these supplies and mounting an incredible courage, the Israelis struck back and reconquered the Golan Heights. Under the leadership of General Ariel Sharon, Israel seized the initiative and defeated the Egyptian army in the Sinai by completely surrounding them. The Egyptian army was utterly defeated. Out of food and water, their Russian equipment destroyed, they sat dejected on the ground waiting to become prisoners of war. Israel was now in a position to roll on to Damascus in the north and to Cairo in the south.

   All reasonable people expected that within days both Arab capitals would see the Jewish flag on the flagpoles of the haters and aggressors. But, to the surprise and disgust of all of Israel’s friends, the victorious Israeli army suddenly stood still. The Syrians promptly regrouped and inflicted further casualties on the Israeli boys.

   The reason for this idiocy was a Jewish psychosis that has caused us endless misery and sorrow for centuries. The Israeli politicians overruled the generals and failed to go on to Damascus and Cairo for worry over “what the goyim will think.” The Hebrew word “goy” means nation or people, so that in our prayer book we include a song called “goy Israel.”

   Now, as I just showed, the Israeli diplomats were afraid of world opinion. Whose opinion? Surely not the Arab opinion. The Soviet opinion was well known since they had threatened to interfere on the side of their Arab clients until Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State at the time, flew to Moscow and let it be known that the Nixon administration would not allow Russians to go to the Middle East to fight Israel. The American administration would have been happy to see Damascus overrun.

  In the south the Israeli army under Gen. Sharon had already crossed the Suez Canal and was moving towards Cairo when the Egyptians, who had started this war, sued for peace. Well, the diplomats agreed and arranged a ceasefire, not a surrender.

   Thereupon the Arabs bleated that they had won the Yom Kippur war. Thereafter, Israel made one concession after another until the Arabs learned that they can lose unending wars without ever having to pay the price of hatred and aggression. Surely it is evident that if Cairo and Damascus had been taken the consequent Arab aggression would have been ended once and for all.

  But, Golda Meir, then prime minister of Israel, was worried about “what the goyim think”. She and the politicians surrounding her knew in advance that the Egyptians and the Syrians were getting ready to attack Israel. Reports concerning Arab preparations for war were coming into her office every day. Nevertheless, the Israeli government did not call up the reserves. Such a “call up” would have demonstrated that Israel was ready to defend herself and might have prevented the attack in the first place. At the very least, such a “call up” would have given Israel a far better chance of defending herself. Yet, no such preparations were made. Golda Meir said afterwards that Israeli intelligence was good and that the whole cabinet knew of the coming aggression. She also said that it was decided not to use a pre-emptive strike against the aggressors so that the world would recognize that Israel is not belligerent but peace loving and that aggression lies elsewhere.

   This absurd argument cost Israel over 2,500 lives.

   Since then, readiness to negotiate even at the risk of seeing the destruction of Israel became prominent again when the erstwhile Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the haters everything they demanded. Barak offered to give Arafat all of the West Bank, all of Gaza, the Jordan Valley and the old city of Yerusholayim.  Seeing that Barak had withdrawn from Lebanon, Arafat and his cronies viewed that withdrawal as a defeat of Israel by the terrorists under his command. Therefore, Arafat turned down this unprecedented offer and demanded that in addition, Israel allow three million descendants of Arab terrorists to move into Israel which they had never seen and which they seek to destroy. That demand, however, backfired on Arafat as Barak was defeated at the polls and Sharon, the hero of the “Six Day War”, became prime minister. Why did Barak offer to relinquish Israeli security? You guessed it. He was afraid of what “the goyim” might think.

   The lesson of the Yom Kippur War is clear. There are those who will support Israel but also those who seek the destruction of the Jewish people. The first group does not criticize but supports Israeli efforts to defend itself against yet another drive to bring on a holocaust. Those who seek the destruction of the Jewish people and recently screamed anti-Jewish epithets on the streets of Durban cannot be favorably influenced by anything we Jews would concede to them. Therefore the lesson is, according to the Talmud: “If a man comes to kill you, kill him first.”

    Now the Yom Kippur War is forgotten by almost all Americans. Few are interested in events that happened 28 years ago. Yet, those who have not forgotten learned over again what we really knew all along. The lesson is: never mind the critics and the hate screamers. They will not listen to reason in any event. Fair-minded people, however, listen all the time. We need not worry about them. We need only to worry whether we will survive as we must and will live as we determine. Both in our private lives and surely as Jews we must relinquish the old ghetto mentality and do what is in our interest no matter who likes it. We must stand up for ourselves and act at once and strongly if threatened or attacked. Honorable people everywhere respect those who stand up for themselves and for their beliefs.

   We have just seen how the hate monger Arafat incited the lynch mobs in Durban, South Africa to race through the streets and shout “kill the Jews” and “burn the synagogues”. This time, Israel stood up for itself. Our great country, our administration also walked out of that evil, hate inspired U,N. conference.

   Even as the Israelis defend themselves against the daily terror campaign against them, they are criticized for shooting back, for seeking to stay alive. Yet, Ariel Sharon will not give in. He and the Israeli people fight back. Their courage will always defend them so that the only danger to the survival of Israel is the politics of the powerful nations of this world. We have seen that in that connection the Bush administration stood up for Israel and walked out of the U.N. conference on anti-Jewish discrimination. We need to think about that and see that we do have friends after all.

  Further, all of us should be grateful that we have a government willing to confront the haters on behalf of Israel as well as on behalf of all Americans following the recent Arab terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.  We live in a great country with a population which will not give in to failure, misery, depression and other names just as we as Jews will never disappear, for we are a “chosen people” willing to stand up for our beliefs and for the survival of Israel and all Jews, wherever that may be. May we soon see the end of the war imposed on Israel and on America during this past year and may we see peace everywhere bimhayro v’yomanoo as we observe another Yom Kippur.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of Stigma:  How We Treat Outsiders (Prometheus Books, 2001) and over 60 other publications.

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