I have now lost count of the number of emails I’ve received this summer from committed, involved Jews, that began, “Hope you’re having a good summer,” or “Hope all’s well with you.” But I will confess that these notes, more of which I got this week, continue to stun me.
Summer? Most people here won’t go to the beach – what if the siren went off and you were outside, with nowhere to hide? Many fewer people will go camping, for the same reason. Many people who had planned to travel have canceled – what if you’re in Scotland and your kid gets called into battle? What then? When, for that matter, did summer even begin? Ever since Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-Ad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah were kidnapped on June 12, we have been a news-consumed nation – first praying for their return, then devastated by their murders, then horrified by the revenge killing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, then stunned by the beginning of Hamas fire onto almost all parts of Israel, and then the war, the tunnels, the horrific number of IDF soldiers killed, the searingly painful funerals, the multiple cease-fires, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s utter ineptitude, the US Federal Aviation Administration’s reminder that we are surrounded and besieged, American “delays” in resupplying armaments, Britain’s threat of an arms embargo and the emergence of a Europe to which many Israelis are now too frightened to travel.
Summer? What summer? Of the entire above-mentioned list, it was the discovery of the tunnels (which the army and government had known about, but most Israelis had not) that changed everything.
We were used to rockets, even if not in these quantities, and we feel largely protected by a virtually miraculous Iron Dome system. But the images of tunnels so well-constructed that Hamas terrorists could ride motorcycles in them – that was something different.
When the IDF killed Hamas men who had come through the tunnels and found them equipped with weapons, handcuffs and injectable sedatives, it was clear that the movement’s intent was to kill as many Israelis as they could, then kidnap others and take them to Gaza. That, more than anything, struck horror so deep into the hearts of Israelis that, for the most part, internal politics have disappeared.
Yes, there is a left-wing fringe that wants to end the war, but most Israelis know that’s absurd. And there’s a right-wing fringe that wants to retake Gaza, but Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made it clear he has no interest in that. But the fringes are small, and Israelis are united as almost never before. The petty fighting that often consumes us is now a luxury we simply cannot afford.
Far away from Israel, though, the infighting in Jewish circles continues. The New York Times recently published an op-ed, “The End of Liberal Zionism,” which opined that “the original tradition of combining Zionism and liberalism – which meant ending the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, supporting a Palestinian state as well as a Jewish state with a permanent Jewish majority, and standing behind Israel when it was threatened – was well-intentioned.” But Netanyahu’s “decision… to launch a military campaign against Hamas in Gaza” has ended all that, the author writes.
It would be funny, were it not so stunningly myopic. Who in their right mind believes that Israel started this war, that Hamas wasn’t just waiting for an excuse to fire so it could arrest its rapid decline into irrelevance? Who is still sufficiently naïve to believe that had Israel made a deal with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas would not have fired? Who imagines that a Palestinian state will stop Hezbollah from doing the same thing, when it gets the command from Tehran? Who is so divorced from reality as to suggest that a Palestinian state will do anything to stop the steady march of the Islamic State across the region? It is no accident that Israelis were so riveted by the photos of Hamas executing people on the streets of Gaza last Friday, for they were a reminder of what we’re fighting, a reminder of what they would have tried to do to us if we didn’t find all the tunnels, a reminder of the barbarism that surrounds us everywhere we look – in Gaza, in Syria, with IS. We are far from perfect, but make no mistake: Israel’s challenge is to stay alive in a sea of barbarians.
Meanwhile, back at the Diaspora ranch, however, the conversations continue as if it were business as usual. The New York Times dredges up the old Palestinian state issue, which significant though it is, is utterly irrelevant at the moment. And Tablet Magazine reports on bickering at a well-known New York synagogue over whether to read the names of dead Gazans at Friday night services, whether to collect money to buy potatoes for Gazans, and the subsequent resignation of at least one board member over what he perceived as the abandonment of Israel at this critical hour.
When those are the conversations unfolding in a synagogue, it’s clear the participants just don’t appreciate the existential nature of this conflict for Israel. Of course Gazans should have food, and of course the death of innocents is unfortunate. But did American churches read aloud the names of innocent dead Germans during World War II? War is a brutal and horrific thing, but when one’s nation or civilization is under attack, one simply has to take sides.
Israelis have done that because our houses are under fire. In London and New York, the spectator sport called Zionism continues unabated.
Let there be no mistake – this is a battle for Israel’s survival. Some people get that, many do not. We understand that our Diaspora counterparts have still headed for their beach homes this summer. Why not, after all? Staying glued to CNN in the city isn’t going to do us any good. And we don’t begrudge the Facebook postings of our friends’ and relatives’ trips to Barcelona or Berlin or Tuscany, or the #GreatWeekend hashtags we’re seeing everywhere. Life must go on, after all.
It will go on here, too. We’ll fight long enough and hard enough to make sure of that. But, for the record – no, we’re not having a good summer. The writer is senior vice president, Koret Distinguished Fellow and chair of the core curriculum at Shalem College, Israel’s first liberal arts college, in Jerusalem. His latest book, Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul, was recently released by NextBook.