Fifty years later, a divided Israel remembers the war for its survival

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel is marking the 50th anniversary of the 1973 war that brought the country to the brink of catastrophic defeat, but the unity of the war that helped it survive seems a distant memory for a generation increasingly at odds with the country. heir.

The war began on October 6 with a surprise attack on two fronts by columns of Syrian tanks and Egyptian brigades, which caught Israeli forces by surprise at the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

Totally ill-prepared and with many soldiers on leave, the IDF initially retreated before regaining the initiative and repelling its enemies in a series of decisive confrontations in the northern Golan Heights and in the South Sinai desert.

“There was terrifying fear, but we had faith that we would eventually overcome it – we had to that”. injured.

The half-century anniversary saw a wave of newspaper editorials, television documentaries and features broadcasting criticism of then-Prime Minister Golda Meir and her government for failing to prepare.

Many of Israel’s leaders participated in the war as young men, including conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and their experience helped solidify the determination to do whatever they believed was necessary to protect Israel’s security from external enemies.

However, any sense of unity has increasingly eroded in a climate of growing polarization over the internal dynamics of Israeli society, most clearly demonstrated this year in the toxic battle over Netanyahu’s plans to reform the judiciary.

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The case has exposed deep divisions between his national-religious supporters and the more liberal and secular sectors of Israeli society, raising major questions about Israel’s constitutional foundations and its future direction.

Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in weekly protests against the changes, which the government says are necessary to rein in liberal judges who encroach on politics, but which critics see as an assault on the democratic foundations of the State of Israel.

Among the demonstrators, large numbers of military reservists announced that they would refuse to report for duty, sparking warnings from the military establishment that the country’s security could be at risk.

Army Chief of Staff, General Herzi Halevy, said in a speech yesterday, “The ability to manage conflict is one of the signs of a healthy society, but the disagreement that is followed by deepening polarization and division in Israeli society is dangerous.” 1973 War Memorial Month.

“Save Israel’s existence”

Although the war itself sparked an immediate feeling of national unity, many Israelis also felt profound shock that the country was left exposed, fighting for its life as Syrian and Egyptian tanks streamed across the battlefield.

A few years after the 1967 war in which Israeli forces defeated their Arab neighbors in less than a week, seizing territory on which Palestinians now seek to establish their own state, the loss of life and the country’s unpreparedness in 1973 sparked recriminations that continue to this day. .

Israeli forces, aided by American airlifts of supplies and equipment, clashed with numerically superior Syrian and Egyptian formations supported by the Soviet Union, before a UN-brokered ceasefire stopped the fighting about three weeks later.

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More than 2,600 Israelis were killed including Zwebner’s brother. On the other hand, there are no accurate numbers for the victims, but estimates reach 15,000 Egyptians and 3,500 Syrians.

Five years later, Israel signed a peace agreement with Egypt, the first with an Arab country, then with Jordan in 1994, followed in 2020 by normalization agreements with two Gulf countries under the Abraham Accords.

For many front-line soldiers, the war remains a traumatic event, but the feeling many express five decades later is pride in helping to save their country.

“I met with my friends this week and it made me feel really emotional, but you feel like you saved the existence of Israel,” Zwebner said.

For Zwebner, who opposes judicial reform, the lesson of the 1973 war is that people must be prepared to think for themselves rather than blindly accept what leaders of any kind say.

“I think it’s ultimately good for leaders not to think that everything they do is taken for granted and that they’re allowed to do anything.”

(This story has been corrected to remove reference to the largest loss of life in a single war in paragraph 15)

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