'Blunder,' Israel's Alibi

When it comes to the Yom Kippur War, the language of the media is the greatest sweetener of bitter history.

Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor
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Yitzhak Laor
Yitzhak Laor

The Yom Kippur War is growing distant and turning into a series of research studies on the one hand, and a compulsive binge of photographed scenes on the other hand. It has no real past and no continuation. It is another Israeli myth swelling up: The few against the many, the youths against the evil-doers. The mythology that the state has cultivated in our collective decades as a country is now being replaced by the media industry, which feeds on “sensations” about what “we did not know until today.” Instead of the old sing-alongs in public, there is the forced excitement over the recordings from the Defense Ministry “pit,” the dialogues between Golda and the soldiers, or IDF chief David (Dado) Elazar testifying in front of the Agranat Commission of Inquiry.

Take a look at the journalistic literature written immediately after the war. How many writers bothered to remind their readers of the public refusal two years before the war: the refusal of the Golda-Dayan-Galili government to reply to the proposals made by Sadat and United Nations negotiator Gunnar Jarring, which came down to a total Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai peninsula in return for peace with Egypt. Of all those who wrote right after the war, only Amnon Kapeliouk bothered to sum up Israel’s refusal under the headline, “This was no blunder.”

Since the war, the word “blunder” has become the major alibi used by “the people” – the news customer who is always right – due to its share of the responsibility. Even the depiction of the collapse as a victory is unmatched by this nonsense: “blunder.” Moreover, every “blunder” has now become a “Yom Kippur”: “the Yom Kippur of the press,” “the Yom Kippur of soccer.” The language of the media is the greatest sweetener of bitter history.

At a conference of high school students in their final year of studies at the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv in 1971, one of them asked the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Haim Bar-Lev, what he thought of Hanoch Levin’s antiwar satire “Queen of the Bathtub.” Bar-Lev replied, “I visited with our soldiers on the [Suez] canal and they told me, ‘You bring the queen and we’ll give her a bath.’” Everybody laughed so loud at this answer. The radiance of youth. Outside, just before the conference, a civilian car suddenly emerged from the darkness, the Shin Bet, and its agents grabbed all the fliers the left-wing Siach students were planning to distribute. During those years, which can be summed now as “complacency” – namely, the period between 12th-graders’ protest letter in 1970 and the war – the regime was busy “wiping out nests of opposition.” So few activists and such a large educational effort - organized, thuggish, clandestine. Who still remembers?

Here is an anecdote that illustrates something for which no state archivist and no top-secret document is needed. Spring 1972. Tel Aviv University. The Naftali Building. The speaker: the IDF’s new chief of staff, David Elazar. Packed with students. All Likudniks or Laborites, and filled with admiration for the handsome general, who didn’t beat around the bush.

One Siach student, Yossi K., waited his turn to ask a question so he could clarify if the chief of staf considered it possible, or impossible, to defend what were then called the June 4 (1967) borders. It was a pointed question, coming after Sadat’s positive answers to Jarring. Yet the warnings of a horrible war were written only in the leftists’ fliers.

Dado looked at Yossi K., studied the audience and said, “I could answer that question, but first I want to ask those present, ‘Who is against my answering that question?’” A forest of collegiate fingers, LIkudnik and Laborite, shot up for the revered general’s query. Dado smiled and asked, “Who is in favor?” Then he announced, “Since this is a democratic country, I will accept the opinion of the majority.” The military man obeyed and did not answer. How the elitists of today laughed at Yossi. This is the most telling story about the worms that were there before the war, before the maggots came. It’s true that the leaders stupefied the people, but “the people,” that mystical entity of democracies and wars, got wasted on heroism.

No one will ever know how many college students in the Naftali Building auditorium and how many high school students in the Mann Auditorium were killed afterwards. Nor is it clear how many remembered those moments. Oblivion sanctified by blood.

Golda Meir during the 1973 Yom Kippur War.Credit: Reuters

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