The Cliffside Caves Used by Jewish Revolutionaries Fighting the Roman Empire

In his account of the Judean revolt against Rome in the 1st century CE, the historian Josephus—who also served as a commander of Jewish forces—mentions nineteen Galilean villages that were fortified against the Romans. Archaeologists have identified four or five of them. Analyzing these excavations and others, Yinon Shivtiel concludes that the rebels used hundreds of both natural and artificially expanded caves in the region’s steep cliffs as hideouts and fortresses:

In the Galilee, hiding complexes have been discovered in dozens of well-known Jewish settlements from the Second Temple period, all within the boundaries of the Lower and Upper Galilee as described by Josephus. One of the key places where a hiding complex was discovered was in Yodfat (Jotapata), where . . . Josephus turned himself over to the Romans.

The archaeological finds in the hiding complexes resemble those found in the cliff shelters, supporting the view that these were also intended for sheltering against the Roman army. . . . In the preparation of these sites for hiding, the channels were hewn very narrowly and required crawling from room to room. The tunnels, with few entrances and exits, were designed for underground concealment for a limited period and offered the possibility of temporary escape. Seventy-four of these have been found in the Galilee. Hundreds more have been discovered in the Judean foothills, the Benjamin region, and southern Samaria. Nearly all are in close proximity to ancient Jewish settlements.

The distinctly [military] use of these hiding complexes necessitated the camouflage of entrances and exits, such as entry via cisterns. In many cases, the tunnels were hewn through or into ancient underground facilities like ritual baths, oil presses, storage pits, or cisterns, all part of the standard facilities of the Jewish population whether in the Galilee or in Judea.

Read more at ASOR

More about: Ancient Israel, Ancient Rome, Archaeology, Josephus, Judean Revolt

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security