Israel’s Military, in an Extraordinary Scene, Escorts Gazan Civilians Fleeing From Hamas — What Would Golda Meir Say?

A full month after experiencing the worst attack on civilians in Israel’s history, its citizens increasingly find themselves on the defensive.

AP/Mohammed Dahman
A woman carries a white flag to prevent being shot, as Palestinians flee Gaza City to the southern Gaza Strip, November 7, 2023. AP/Mohammed Dahman

In a video published Tuesday, the Israel Defense Force is seen escorting Gaza civilians, white flags in hand, toward safety in the south of the strip. An Israeli tank defends the civilians against Hamas, which had blocked their escape from the battlefield.

What would Golda Meir say about that extraordinary scene?

A full month after experiencing the worst attack on civilians in Israel’s history, its citizens increasingly find themselves on the defensive. Global pressures are growing to halt their war to prevent future repeats of that catastrophe. Israel’s press is reporting of heavy prodding from Washington to increase humanitarian deliveries to the strip, and to pause the battle. 

CIA director William Burns is the latest administration official to land at Tel Aviv Tuesday. A pause, he reportedly told Israeli counterparts, would promote diplomacy over the release of 241 men, women, and babies who were abducted on October 7. Israelis say that unless real progress is made on the hostages, there will be no pause, which would only help Hamas. 

“A humanitarian pause, before all else, is about our hostages. No pause until they are back,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told reporters Tuesday. “Pressures on us will grow. As far as I’m concerned, we will not stop until our mission” — dismantling Hamas — “is complete.”

The Washington pressure is reminiscent of a scene from the new biopic on the life of Prime Minister Meir. In “Golda,” Secretary of State Kissinger, as depicted by Liev Screiber, pleads for Egyptian soldiers trapped in the Sinai toward the end of the 1973 war. The chain smoking eponymous premier, played by Helen Mirren, tells him no dice.  

Mr. Kissinger: “You have to open a humanitarian corridor. We cannot allow 30,000 men to die of thirst.”

Meir: “We’ll send them water when we’ve got our prisoners back. If he doesn’t, I’ll order our planes to attack. All those men will die. All of them.”

Golda then relates her childhood experience at Kyiv, hiding in a cellar as local Cossacks make sport of killing Jews. And how her father hid his children in the cellar and the children stayed silent, hoping the cossacks would pass them by.

“I’m not that little girl hiding in the cellar,” Golda hisses to Mr. Kissinger. “Side with me or I will create an army of orphans and widows,” she says. “I will slaughter them all. Whose side are you on? You must choose.”

Regardless of whether Meir indeed made such a threat, Israel is in a different place today. Unlike our war against ISIS a decade ago, in which some 70,000 Arabs were killed in Iraq and Syria, including an uncounted number of civilians, the world scrutinizes the IDF’s conduct under a magnifying glass — and many side with Hamas and believe its propaganda.     

Israel has long called on Gaza civilians to move to safe areas in the south of the strip. “We’re telling anyone living north of Wadi Gaza, move south,” the commander of the IDF’s southern command, Major General Yaron Finkelman, said in a press briefing Tuesday. “We’ve been saying it since day one.” 

“Thousands pass through the evacuation corridor the @IDF opened for civilians in northern Gaza to move southwards,” the IDF’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories writes on X, where the video is posted to show the difference between the Israeli army and the terrorist group it fights.  

Yet, unlike Mr. Kissinger’s quiet pressure on Israel in the Yom Kippur war as depicted in “Golda,” Washington currently wears its concern for Gazan civilians on its sleeve. 

President Biden is under increased pushing back from political allies on the Democratic Party’s left flank, as well as from Arab and European allies. Mr. Kissinger’s current successor, Secretary Blinken, is boasting of successful pressure on Israel to end its supposed “slaughter them all” reaction to the October 7 horrors. 

While at Israel, “we had conversations three weeks ago about starting humanitarian assistance,” Mr. Blinken told reporters at Baghdad over the weekend. “Since then we’ve had trucks moving, we have about a hundred trucks a day going in. That’s good, but it’s grossly insufficient.” He called on Israel to consider “humanitarian pauses.” 

While pressure to halt the fighting increases, America is also attempting to dictate the post-war environment, when, according to Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israel “will have overall security responsibility” over Gaza. “We don’t support a reoccupation of Gaza by the Israel Defense Forces,” the national security council’s spokesman, John Kirby, countered Tuesday.

As outside kibitzing over its military action grows, Israelis are unfazed. The war is to assure Hamas cannot ever again control Gaza, a war cabinet member, Benny Gantz, told reporters Tuesday: “We aren’t currently as worried about what Gaza looks like the day after as we are about what it doesn’t look like.”


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