Op-Ed: How do Israelis cope?
Outside my window, in the Palestinian village across the road, they celebrated every night after the cease-fire. Fireworks hailed the supposed victory of Hamas over Israel — despite the devastation in Gaza, despite a cease-fire that gave Hamas nothing and could have been achieved a month earlier. A poll confirmed that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians believe Hamas won, and that an astonishing 87% now support the organization whose deepest religious longing is the destruction of Israel.
I watched and tried to resist despair. I believe that Israel’s long-term survival depends on ending the occupation, on empowering our neighbors. The Jews didn’t come home to deny another people its sense of home. But how to create a Palestinian state outside my window that could well be taken over by Hamas? How to share the governing of Jerusalem with a Palestinian state — negotiated, say, with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas — when we could wake up one morning and discover that we are “sharing” our capital city with a genocidal enemy?
Meanwhile, the more the conflict persists, the more the hatred and violence grow — on both sides. In Jerusalem, Jews have long feared entering Palestinian neighborhoods; now Palestinians avoid Jewish neighborhoods.
In the cool September mornings, standing on my porch at the edge of Jerusalem, I can clearly see the desert mountains of Jordan, less than an hour’s drive away. On the news they’re reporting that members of Islamic State have infiltrated across the Jordanian border. We’ve got Hezbollah on our northern border, Hamas to our south; what’s next?
During the recent failed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, Secretary of State John F. Kerry suggested that Israel yield control over the West Bank border with Jordan to an international peacekeeping force. Yet last week hundreds of U.N. peacekeeping troops on the Israeli-Syrian border barely escaped into Israel after Al Qaeda forces overran their position. Who should we rely on to protect us if not ourselves?
Israelis watch the fate of the Yazidi and Christian minorities in the Middle East and tell each other: Imagine what would happen to us if we ever lowered our guard.
We know that the cease-fire in Gaza is just that: a lull until the next time. A senior Israeli commander recently said that if Hezbollah launches its tens of thousands of missiles against the Israeli home front, our missile defense system, so successful against Hamas’ limited arsenal, will be largely ineffective. The only way to respond, he concluded, would be with overwhelming force.
We are caught, then, in a pathological pattern. A jihadist enemy fires rockets against Israeli civilians. Israel tries to stop the rockets, often launched from schools and mosques. The result is widespread civilian casualties, which is precisely what the terrorists want. The international community reacts with horror — against Israel. And we emerge from each round of fighting one step closer to becoming the world’s pariah state.
As hope for a resolution to the Palestinian conflict recedes and the madness around us approaches, how do Israelis cope? How do we continue to raise children here and resist despair?
One way is through enforced amnesia. As soon as the rockets stopped falling, daily life resumed. From war to war, we’ve learned to feign normality until we almost believe it.
We cope too by remembering that nothing is ever final in the Middle East. On Yom Kippur 1973, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat launched a surprise attack against Israel and was the most hated man in the Jewish state; four years later he made peace with Israel’s most hawkish prime minister, Menachem Begin. So we try to reassure ourselves: Who can predict what will happen here?
We cope because we have no choice. This is the only corner of the planet where Jews are sovereign. Many of us continue to struggle to preserve a decent Israel. Despite growing mutual suspicion, coexistence efforts between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews persist. The Israeli Supreme Court and Israeli media are among the most vigorous anywhere. In a seemingly endless conflict, we can’t take those achievements for granted. Other democracies have broken under far less pressure.
And through it all Jews keep coming home. This year, 1% of France’s 600,000 Jews are moving to Israel. Even as the missiles fell on Israeli cities, planeloads of French immigrants continued to land. They are fleeing growing anti-Jewish violence. But these well-educated immigrants aren’t going to Canada, they’re coming to the Jewish state. The final shore.
In these days before Rosh Hashana, penitential prayers are recited in synagogues and the call of the shofar is heard in the early morning streets. This is a society of believers. Even those who don’t believe in God tend to believe in the enduring mystery of Jewish survival.
The other morning, while driving my 16-year-old son, Shachar, to school, I said: “Here we are, in a traffic jam in Jerusalem. But sometimes I think about how the most ordinary details of my daily life were the greatest dream of my ancestors.”
“I think about that a lot,” he replied matter of factly.
That was all he said. But that was enough. I knew he would be able to survive here.
Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. His book “Like Dreamers: The Story of the Israeli Paratroopers Who Reunited Jerusalem and Divided a Nation” won the 2013 Book of the Year award of the Jewish Book Council.
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