The power of unity

It is common for dictators and tyrants to underestimate the strength of democracies.

IAF jet 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
IAF jet 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
We are at a national moment of truth. Will we consent to living under the threat of this axis of evil [from Teheran to Damascus] or will we mobilize our inner strength and show determination and equanimity? Our answer is clear to every Israeli, and it echoes today throughout the entire region. ... All of us - Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druse and Circassians - now stand as one person, as one nation, subject together to the same hatred and malice, and fighting against it in consensus and partnership... But above all, the strength of a nation is measured in times of trial, when the home front becomes the front, when the citizens of the country show admirable fortitude, patience and stamina and allow it to operate against its enemies. - Ehud Olmert, speech to the Knesset, July 17 It is common for dictators and tyrants to underestimate the strength of democracies. It is a mistake that has been made repeatedly, and one for which Israelis are once again paying a harsh price, committed this time by Hassan Nasrallah and Hizbullah. But that strength, based on the cohesion built of citizens choosing leaders who are ultimately accountable to them, is real, substantial and resilient. It is an advantage, in the difficult days of this war that has been pressed upon us - one that we should not overlook. That strength is manifest in the stoicism of tens of thousands of Israelis throughout the North who, under the terrible strain of days of continual bombardment - confined to bomb shelters or protected rooms, or forced to seek shelter elsewhere in the country - have not buckled, despite the horror of dozens of family members, neighbors and friends being killed or wounded. One of them was Nahariya resident Andre Zilensky who, with the air raid sirens blaring on Tuesday afternoon, raced toward a bomb shelter with milk for his four-year-old daughter. He never arrived, killed in sight of his wife and others who watched from the shelter's doorway, by a Katyusha rocket strike. There are no words to comfort such a loss. Yet the national reply must be, and has been, one of fortitude born of the understanding, as the prime minister put it, that "Israel will not be held hostage - not by terror gangs or by a terrorist authority or by any sovereign state." That strength is seen in the way the country as a whole, while viscerally feeling the blow of each Katyusha and each Kassam rocket attack and suffering from a renewed sense of vulnerability, has not panicked or shied away from the challenge posed by Hizbullah. In fact, the opposite is true. Polls show an overwhelming majority of Israelis (86 percent) believe the war against Hizbullah is the correct course of action, and a remarkable and near-unanimous 97% of northerners say it should be fought, despite their realization that they will continue to bare the brunt of the home front casualties as the battle continues. And the best assessments of both the political and military leadership indicate the war could continue for days or weeks yet, and may, as the prime minister said in his speech, become even more difficult, an allusion to the possible use against us of weapons with greater range or destructive capability. But as the battle unfolds, our intrinsic strength as a democratic state is further demonstrated and bolstered by the unflinching way all branches of the IDF - an army of fellow citizens - have taken up the fight with the same dedication and sacrifice displayed by their families at home. The strength of our democracy has also been notably evident in the way the usual adversarial wrangling among our politicians has quickly been replaced by a sense of partnership and mutual responsibility. The prime minister calls it a moment of "transcendence," with political disputes set aside. Indeed, the rallying of our politicians during this crisis stands in stark contrast to the hostility and brutality displayed by competing factions within the Palestinian Authority. All of these elements of strength - individual, national, military and political - should give Israelis confidence that this particular battle in the Jewish state's struggle for existence will end with the tyrants and terrorists weaker, and with our own prospects for peace and security greater.