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Why we need to stop sharing Golda Meir quotes every time there’s a war

Ittay Flescher
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PLUS61J 53 (15)

Published: 25 May 2021

Last updated: 4 March 2024

ITTAY FLESCHER: Her famous pronouncements imply that Israel is always in a binary situation: either kill or be killed. But there is a third way, as Israel showed in 1978


Since your time as prime minister, some quotes attributed to you always seem to go viral every time Israel is at war.

If we have to have a choice between being dead and pitied, and being alive with a bad image, we’d rather be alive and have the bad image.

Peace will come when Nasser loves his own children more than he hates the Israelis.

What we hold against Nasser is not only the killing of our sons but forcing them for the sake of Israel’s survival to kill others.

Recently, many people misquote these last two, replacing the name of the late Egyptian Prime Minister with “Palestinians” or just “Arabs”.

The message one takes from the three quotes together is that at all times Israel is in a binary situation. Either kill or be killed, annihilate the enemy or be the victim of genocide. While this was certainly true before the Six Day War, when Egypt did indeed express intent to destroy Israel, and before the Yom Kippur war, when Nasser attacked Israel unprepared on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, there is much more to the story.

In 1978, Israel showed that a third way was possible, by signing a peace agreement with Israel’s sworn enemy who had attempted to destroy Israel on numerous occasions. In signing the Camp David Accords, Begin, Sadat and Carter showed that compromise brings far more security than war.

This proved your quote was false. The Peace agreement brought peace between Israelis and Egyptians that has withstood the test of time under several changes of government and despite a great deal of enmity between the two peoples.

In 2021, Israel again faces a deadly enemy, Hamas, and the discourse has again returned to the place we were during your time in office. Many Israelis feel their only options are to destroy Hamas or face annihilation from their thousands of rockets directed at their population centres.

Yet after several wars and dozens of Hamas commanders killed by the IDF, the terrorist group only gets stronger and seems to grow in popularity.  

What would happen if Israel ended the occupation, stopped evictions and lifted the siege on Gaza in exchange for Hamas disarming and dismantling the tunnels? 

Something that has become very clear since the last round of fighting is that the 14-year blockade on Gaza since the election of Hamas, six wars, and even regular cash payments from Qatar, approved by Netanyahu in exchange for “quiet”, have done little to weaken the terrorist group’s capability to fire rockets and Israel.

Beyond the Golda Meir binary, what if a third way is possible today as well? What would happen if Israel ended the occupation, stopped evictions and house demolitions in East Jerusalem and Area C, and lifted the siege on Gaza in exchange for Hamas disarming and dismantling the tunnels? 

While such an idea sounds fanciful today, so did the idea of peace with Egypt in 1973. After the ceasefire was signed on Friday, the American-born Israeli author Daniel Gordis lamented that perhaps  “the purpose of Israel’s creation was not peace’, adding that while it may well be a necessary condition for Israel’s long-term survival, “what matters about Israel is not the conflicts, as critical as they are; what matters about Israel is why we’re here”.

I see  the reason that Israel is are here as being  to live in a place that “fosters the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel”. That was the vision of the founders in the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

While such an idea sounds fanciful today, so did the idea of peace with Egypt in 1973.

What would happen if Palestinians from Gaza were allowed to work and study in Israel as they did before 2007? Is it possible that regular contact and friendships between Israelis and Palestinians from Gaza and southern Israel be an even more effective tool in weakening the support of Hamas than the path taken by successive Israeli governments? 

Would such bold moves for peace endanger Israel further or, if done in the context of a political agreement with the Palestinians and certain Arab states, actually give Israel the true security for which it has been yearning for generations?

Like the agreement with Egypt, there will be many who will oppose the high price Israel would need to pay, and the risk that such a peace agreement would blow up into mass carnage, as happened after Oslo.

For these reasons, many Israelis prefer the risks of the status quo, where Israel, Hamas and the Palestinians of the West Bank engage in endless cycles of violence, to the risks involved in signing a long-term peace agreement.

The front page of last Thursday's Australian Jewish News
The front page of last Thursday's Australian Jewish News

Many Palestinians may also oppose a political agreement with Israel, for fear that Netanyahu may not be able to keep any promise he makes around the negotiating table due to his political weakness as a result of his corruption trial. 

Without brave leadership and sufficient grassroots education, promoting mutual respect and equality on both sides of the border, it’s unlikely that any political solution will have any chance of success. Unlike war which starts in a moment, this kind of struggle takes much longer to unfold, and would need to last generations before bearing fruit. 

Ultimately, though, it may be time to add a new quote to our mindset around our struggles to live together in this land. It was once said by the American psychologist Abraham Maslow that “if you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”

Let’s keep that in mind before we fight the next war, and hope that by looking to the future rather than the past, we can imagine another way to protect all that Israelis hold dear in this twice promised land. 

About the author

Ittay Flescher

Ittay Flescher is the Jerusalem Correspondent for The Jewish Independent. For over twenty years, he has worked as an educator, journalist, and peacebuilder in Melbourne and Jerusalem. He is the co-host of the podcast ‘From the Yarra River and the Mediterranean Sea' and the author of the upcoming book ‘The Holy and the Broken.’ He is also the Education Director at a youth movement that brings together Israeli and Palestinian teenagers who believe in building equality, justice, and peace for all.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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