On Nov. 21, 1977, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was on his historic and courageous visit to Israel that led to a peace agreement that still exists.
In a meeting of Israel’s parliament — the Knesset — Sadat listened to a speech by former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in which she referenced Six-Day War hero and future Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
“With us today is Mr. Rabin. After the war of 1967 … as chief of staff, he said: ‘Here is the Israeli army that came back victorious. It came back a sad army, despite its victory; sad because of our men who fell, but also because of our sons who were compelled to shoot others.’
“These two things we do not want,” Meir continued. “We do not want to be shot at — and, believe me — we do not want to shoot others.”
Now, almost exactly 35 years later, long after both Sadat (1981) and Rabin (1995) were assassinated by their own countrymen because of their willingness to make peace, Israelis are being shot at … and they are shooting others.
Thousands of missiles have been launched at the Holy Land from Hamas militants in Gaza, killing five Israeli citizens and injuring dozens more as of Wednesday's cease-fire announcement. Israel responded with firepower that caused heavy damage and killed more than 150 people, including many civilians.
A bunch of those civilians were children, some too young to even know Israel exists.
It is an awful dichotomy for those of us who are American Jews.
On the one hand, we sit here safe and secure, half a world away from the missiles that terrify Jewish mothers and their kids living in the country of Saul, David and Solomon — the land our ancestors were led to by Moses.
On the other hand, on our television screens we see the tiny, lifeless bodies of Gazan children carried by their wailing parents who lost them in an Israeli air strike.
Yes, it is beyond dispute that Hamas is a ruthless terrorist group bent on Israel’s destruction. A bane to the 1.7 million people crowded into Gaza’s 141 square miles, Hamas callously fires missiles from crowded residential neighborhoods, hoping to take propaganda advantage of images of dead and wounded civilians hit when Israel fires on the missile launchers.
And yet, the Gazan children killed before they had a chance to live their lives bore into our consciousness. Bombs from a Jewish state killed those little ones. That’s not who we are, not as Jews … not as a people who have been on the receiving end of brutality for so much of our history.
But what choice is there?
While Hamas sends its missiles indiscriminately into Israel, trying to kill as many Jews as possible, the Israelis go out of their way to make their strikes as tactical as possible, trying to — without inflicting collateral damage, two awful words for innocent victims — get to the Hamas leaders cowering among civilian residences and even media hotels.
But the Gazan children still die. Women, too. So do fathers just trying to eke out a living for their families.
We can say that it’s all so unnecessary, but it is necessary because of Hamas leadership unworthy of the memory of Anwar Sadat, who after trying to wipe out Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, realized that peace was far better for his people than war.
We take a measure of pride in that Israel, in conjunction with the United States, has created the world’s first successful anti-missile system. The Iron Dome batteries have reportedly knocked down more than 80 percent of the incoming missiles they have targeted.
But we mourn that the brainpower that created the Iron Dome protecting Israeli children, women and men could have been better employed winning international prizes for peaceful scientific pursuits to benefit mankind … if only … if only …
Intellectually, we recognize that Israel has no choice but to defend its citizens. It can’t sit idly by while missiles traumatize and kill people. No nation could.
Hamas was the only one with a choice. It could stop firing missiles and thereby stop the bloodshed … or it could continue to bring misery to its people for little purpose except terror.
“Peace will come,” said Golda Meir in 1957, “when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
Sadly, for Hamas, that time has yet to arrive.
Sam Pollak is the editor The Daily Star. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (607) 432-1000, ext. 208. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/sampollak.