hizbullah flag 88.
(photo credit: )
Israeli life is at once grotesque and heroic. We have a penchant for hyperbole and wild passion - visionary firebrands, biblical diehards, Tel Aviv hedonists, secular zealots, party dogmatists. It is hard to find a footing in the soft moss of composure here.
I once asked prime minister Levi Eshkol wwithin his famed Yiddish wit answering: "Mein teirer yunger mann, we are still at war. We face terrorism. We live with menace. We're a stiff-necked people of nonconformists. Disputation is in our blood. Shouting at each other keeps us together."
Thus, the raucous clash over the conduct of this dreadful war. We are confronting a totally new style of warfare. Even America acknowledges it is not geared up for the Hizbullah technique of fighting - a technique whereby a hybrid terrorist militia of ferocious fighters, fired by jihadist fanaticism and a culture of nihilism, possesses the disciplined sophistication of a national army capable of fielding advanced weaponry while maintaining the lethal invisibility of a guerrilla force.
Hizbullah's Islamic zealotry, like that of Hamas, is a transmutation of a political conflict into a religious one, and there are no solutions to a religious conflict. It is your God against my God, Islam against Judaism, Muslim against Jew.
Passively we watched as, under our noses, Shi'ite Hizbullah, a crack military division of Shi'ite Iran, carved out a state within a state - if Lebanon can be called such, rather than an artificial contrivance of French colonialism.
To defang this foe takes a will of steel and a capacity for idealism and sacrifice. Anxious families bid farewell to husbands and sons - veteran reservists and new recruits - who don their uniforms, shoulder their weapons, and march off across the blue line to most perilous places.
The brute bleeds us. Kinfolk stand in silent vigil over individual plots of grief. Kaddish - the mourner's prayer - is sobbed across the land.
OUR SOLDIERS were never meant to be soldiers. We are not a martial people. War is not in our blood. Unlike our enemies, our legendary heroes are not warriors and conquerors, but prophets and scribes. Yet we have had to learn to fight with ferocious proficiency in order to stay alive in this merciless and unforgiving neighborhood.
It is a neighborhood which, by a quirk of geology, sits on the largest energy reservoir in the world. It is a neighborhood whose masses aggressively reject our right to exist. (Egypt and Jordan signed peace treaties, true, but these are between governments, not peoples.) And it is a volcanic, volatile neighborhood, considerable strategic sections of which are in the grip of an inhuman brand of militant Islam preaching and planning to wipe us off the map.
We fight front-line troops of Iran. It is the fight of our lives. It is Teheran versus Dimona. And to win it requires more than a mere civic duty; it requires a passionate Jewish patriotism.
Jewish patriotism requires an understanding of who we are. We are not a normal people in a normal country with a normal history. Many fellow Israelis have never been schooled in such patriotism. The secular Zionist theorists and thinkers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, whose philosophic teachings formed the pillars of the secular ethos, promised national normality. It never dawned on them that almost 60 years after its birth the Jewish state would still be embroiled in wars. And it certainly never entered their minds that the very existence of the Jewish state would, of itself, fuel anti-Semitism.
One wonders if the secular Zionist founding fathers, beguiled by emancipation and bedazzled by Enlightenment, fully grasped the inner soul of their own people, shaped by Jewish history's mysteries. Uniquely, Jews personify a seamless blend of nationhood and religion born out of the two seminal events of this nation's beginnings - Exodus (peoplehood), and Sinai (faith). A Jew is a synergy of both. He cannot be the one without the other.
This subtle nation-faith symbiosis is a paradox which secular Zionism has never been able to resolve. It is the essence of Jewish distinctiveness which many an Israeli education minister over many a year has tried to hide. This is why Israeli society is forever seized by religious-secular tensions, making our debate on self-definition such a feverish matrix of emotions about Providence, and territory, and rights, and claims, and culture.
Paradoxically, this war against Islamic zealotry has stirred soul-searching among our secular elite. Ari Shavit, one of the country's most incisive columnists and representative of the class, challenged his intellectual colleagues in last Friday's Haaretz, asking: "Was the idea of a civil agenda and a civilian leadership correct or false? Was the attack on Israeli militarism and Israeli macho-ism justified or dangerous? Does the attitude toward the occupation and the convergence plan need to be reassessed? Is it the occupation that caused the IDF's 'metal fatigue,' or is it Tel Aviv's hedonism? Should we treat the settlers differently now because they still preserve an energetic source of national vitality? Is it time to define a militant approach of a secular Israel that will make it possible for young Israelis to defend their world of freedom and pleasure against Muslim fanatics?"
These are uncommon questions. They arise out of a sense of vulnerability. Their very airing brings skeptic and believer together into a mutual discourse on Jewish identity the likes of which has not occurred, in this manner, before.
We do not know what will yet happen. Our task is not only to win the battle but to win the war. Ultimately, win it we shall. For, in the long run, there is an empiric truth of our national rebirth - that on every occasion we have been assaulted, the stronger have we emerged. And there is an even larger empiric truth in the grand design of Jewish history - that those who plot our obliteration are themselves obliterated. This shall be the doom of nuclear-crazed Iran and of the barbarians of the North.
Im yirtze Hashem. God willing.
The writer is a veteran diplomat. email@example.com>