Yom Kippur, War, and Peace

For many Israelis of my generation, even more than spiritual reflection, Yom Kippur evokes political reflections on war and peace. 

Every year since 1973, Yom Kippur takes me back to that dark period in Israeli history, when a disastrous war drove Israelis to question their leaders, the power of their military, their sense of invincibility and the very ability of their national home to survive. Israel won the war, but the loss was immense. Some 2,200 soldiers died and 7,250 were injured. It caused one of the deepest political crises in Israel’s history. It forced a painful collective introspection and drive to overcome the hubris and sense of complacency in the wake of Israel’s spectacular victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. That complacency and hubris was known in colloquial Hebrew as the “conceptsia” (conception).    

In fact, the 1973 war was also a spiritual crisis for many individuals. Some turned away from religion. One of them, Yossi Beilin – later to become a leader of the Israeli left – said that in his mind the war was not just a leadership breakdown but a failure of God himself. Efraim (Effi) Eitam, then a kibbutznick and later a leader of the Israeli right, turned to religion.

I was an impressionable 13-year-old in 1973. On Yom Kippur, I remember my father changing from his white shirt to military fatigues, prematurely breaking his fast, and rushing to reserve duty. In the following days, I volunteered at Jerusalem’s largest bakery to replace bakers who were on the front lines, and helped adult volunteers enforce the blackout in my neighborhood in anticipation of Egyptian aerial bombardments.      

But my understanding of the war’s impact came later, after I graduated from high school and joined the military. I admired the pro-peace movement as it gained momentum and demanded that the government embrace Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s peace initiative. At last, there was a grassroots movement that not only protested the failures of the 1973 war but also advocated peace to prevent the next war and end Israel's military rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

The movement’s leaders were IDF reservists, most of whom fought in the Yom Kippur war and carried its scars. The famous March 1978 letter that 348 reservists sent to Prime Minister Menachem Begin said: “We know that real security would only be achieved when peace comes.” It concluded, “we urge you to choose the path of peace.” Six months later, in the White House, President Carter hosted Begin and Sadat for the signing of the Camp David Accords, the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab state.

During these six months, an Israeli pro-peace advocacy and protest movement, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) was born. And even before Israel’s agreement with Egypt was implemented, Shalom Achshav shifted its focus to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, leading an anti-Occupation public campaign that continues to this day.

Israeli society today is mired in a deep sense of complacency and hubris regarding the Occupation. The current conceptsia is that managing the conflict is preferable to attempting to resolve it, that the Occupation can be managed in perpetuity, that Israel should not be faulted for propagating it, and therefore Israel should not be held accountable for its ramifications. Disastrously, that notion is seeping into the minds of policy makers and policy shapers in Washington.

Some contend that Yom Kippur should be a time for Israelis and their friends overseas to collectively reflect upon the sins of the Occupation. We at Peace Now and APN think about this every day. And we go beyond reflection. Both in Israel and in Washington, we call out the Occupation . We make sure that policymakers on both sides of the ocean are paying attention, and are not allowed to cave in to conceptsia. We work to keep hope alive – for both Israelis and Palestinians – that there can be an answer, a solution. We commit ourselves everyday to a future of peace and justice, and invite you to join us. 

May the coming year bring us a new and better path forward, and a horizon of hope to chance to see the peace in which we all believe.