Sweet while it lasted

When almost everyone across the ideological spectrum began to defend the government, it felt as though we were witnessing a miracle.

IDF soldiers after returning to Israel from Gaza August 5, 2014. (photo credit: REUTERS)
IDF soldiers after returning to Israel from Gaza August 5, 2014.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A funny thing happened on the way to the demolition of 32 terror tunnels in Hamastan: Israeli society experienced nearly a solid month of internal unity. This would not be worth mentioning if it weren’t so extraordinary. Indeed, in the 37 years that I have lived in the Jewish state, I have never witnessed anything like it, even during wartime.
One could argue that the reason public support for Operation Protective Edge reached a whopping 95 percent was the utter justice of its cause; that the incessant rocket-fire from Gaza, now hitting the center of country, was too much even for the peace utopians to bear.
One could assume that no matter what an Israeli’s personal political leanings, he would see the virtue in defeating an enemy that glorifies death, uses children as canon fodder, abuses women, tortures homosexuals and the disabled and vows to annihilate the world’s Jews while converting or slaughtering its Christians.
Nevertheless, it is usually impossible to get even those Israelis with similar outlooks to agree on anything, including where to hang a communal clothesline, for more than five minutes. Hence the quip, “Two Jews, three opinions.”
As a result, when almost everyone across the ideological spectrum began to defend the government, it felt as though we were witnessing a miracle.
True, the far Left held demonstrations in which they waved placards calling Israel Air Force pilots murderers, while the riff-raff Right got violent and screamed for “death to the Arabs.” But neither of these expressions of extremism was representative of the general population. On the contrary, the overall sanity, rhetorical restraint and accord of the populace were as palpable as the international community’s condemnations of Israel were predictable.
To add wonderment to the mix, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia were practically begging Israel to finish off Hamas. And since none of those regimes would give a hoot about civilian casualties in Gaza, it’s too bad they didn’t do the job themselves. In such an event, as is apparent from every conflict in the Middle East that involves Arabs killing Arabs, the United States, Europe and the United Nations would have looked the other way, at best, and assisted the wrong side at worst.
Still, the acknowledgement on the part of some of Israel’s neighbors that Hamas is an evil regional threat with backing from Iran was not only ironic, it was also comforting.
In short, though Israelis have been spending time in bomb shelters, burying dead soldiers and worrying about what appears to be a brewing intifada in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), we have felt like a family.
We have had a sense of being in this together.
Though such solidarity has characterized the very beginning of previous battles, it never lasted more than a few days. This is because the local media – always quick to focus on Israel’s flaws – harbor and promote the notion that none of Israel’s defensive wars would be necessary if Israel would only make peace with the Palestinians. When presented with the inconvenient fact that Israel has done little else since its inception than attempt to live in peace alongside its neighbors, and has a proven record of withdrawing from territory to achieve this, the pundits claim that Israel hasn’t done enough. (You know, like the Obama administration chiding Israel for not doing enough to prevent civilian deaths in Gaza – making any greater effort in either endeavor would have entailed holding up a white flag before drowning ourselves in the Mediterranean.) But during the current war, even the mainstream media have been keeping their knees from jerking too far in their usual direction.
Most astonishing of all is that this sweeping unity has occurred under the stewardship of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Normally disdained by the Right as a weak leader who betrayed his Likud party’s platform by favoring a two-state solution, and reviled by the Left as an intransigent obstacle to peace and international acceptance, Netanyahu has managed to steer the ship with almost no serious opposition at home.
At 8 a.m. on Tuesday morning, a 72-hour cease-fire went into effect, just as the IDF announced it had completed the political echelon’s mission of eliminating those tunnels leading from Gaza into Israel. Prior to agreeing to this particular halt in fighting – after Hamas violated each previous one – Netanyahu assured the Israeli public that troops were on the border, ready to go back in if it were to become necessary.
And thus ended the honeymoon.
The dysfunctional family that constitutes Israeli society promptly resumed its bickering and dissatisfaction.
From those enraged that Netanyahu pulled out of Gaza too soon, to those already picking at the carcass of his coalition – gleefully praying for it to be toppled before the next election – the vultures didn’t miss a beat.
Even when the talks in Cairo resulted in renewed rocket fire from Gaza on Friday morning and retaliatory actions from Israel, the magic was gone, replaced with rage at the government and malaise at the prospect of defeat.
But it is too early to judge whether Netanyahu has been doing a dance of accepting cease-fires and then gaining the moral backing of the public that he needs to proceed in order to continue pummeling the terrorists and their infrastructure.
This is a marathon, not a sprint.
And Hamas is a tiny piece of a much larger puzzle with which Israel, as a part of the West, has to contend.
This is why I am urging my fellow Israelis to pause before coming to literal and figurative blows. It won’t do any good, of course. The morning-after pill has been swallowed, and it is impossible to reverse its course.
But the glimpse of consensus was truly sweet while it lasted.
The writer is the author of To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’