By DONNIEL HARTMAN
It’s a strange thing, having to live with missiles. Even though it has happened so often, it just doesn’t feel normal. One would not expect that the citizens of a normal country would be subjected from time to time to a barrage of missiles which terrorize, maim, and sometimes kill. One would not expect that a country with Israel’s power would find its hands tied and unable to provide for its citizens the security that is their inalienable right.
Terror has become “normal,” and when kept to a certain degree, tolerable, in modern society. We have come to learn that there are evil and deranged people and groups walking in our midst for whom the language of ethics and sanctity of life are meaningless. But we tolerate them mostly because we don’t know where they are. They emerge and inflict their harm, and what we tolerate is not so much them, but the price they extract from us.
The case of the missiles being fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip has a bizarre twist, for the terrorists are neither hidden nor unknown. They hide in plain sight in the midst of a civilian population and cloak their evil under the mantle of the generic Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the ongoing “cycle of violence.” They roam free, openly declare their intent, and from time to time, on the basis of a schedule known only to them, decide to spend a few hours terrorizing southern Israel.
It’s not normal, and the situation is profoundly intolerable. How should we – the sovereign Jewish State of Israel – respond to this abnormality? On the one hand, sovereignty entails the acquiring of power and both the ability and right to exercise it in self-defense. Sovereignty provides us with a military option. The challenge of a sovereign people, however, is to distinguish between the right to use this option and when it is right to do so.
The nature of asymmetrical war and a conflict not merely with a terrorist organization but also with a population which embraces terrorism is that one’s options are profoundly limited. Neither political overtures nor concessions, or conversely, sanctions will transform the population of Gaza from foe to friend. They have fed themselves a steady diet of evil ideology from which only they can free themselves. At the same time, a reoccupation of Gaza will not alter the reality on the ground but at best merely freeze it for a short time. When one has the power and confronts a situation in which one has the right to use it, it takes great strength to avoid the temptation of succumbing to the short-term comfort associated with using it and the just feeling of revenge which it provides. We come from a tradition which has taught that true strength is sometimes to be found in self-control.
So, where does that leave us, we the sovereign Jewish State, with our powerful army and a just cause?
I don’t know. But what I do know is that when one doesn’t know, it’s best not to pretend that one does. This has been the policy of the Israeli government over the last number of years, and despite my frustration, I commend it for having the ongoing wisdom that it has exhibited in not pretending that it possesses a magic bullet.
While I don’t know, I wonder whether a policy of targeted assassinations of leadership would not move the status quo slightly in our favor. I mention this consideration only because it is self-evident that neither Hamas nor Islamic Jihad, nor other rogue terrorist groups that call Gaza their home, are potential peace partners. The same logic, which guides the United States policy against al-Qaeda, should be assessed as to whether it would be constructive here.
Israeli society must double and triple its efforts to ensure that those in harm’s way feel that their danger and pain is shared by us all. The citizens of the south do not need empty gestures of solidarity but the real allocation of all the resources necessary in order to ensure their safety to the best of our ability and significant financial compensation to offset the hazard under which they find themselves on an ongoing basis. If life in the south is precarious, then those living in the south must be treated as the pioneers and heroes that they are.
If we cannot destroy our enemy, let’s isolate them. An Israel which initiates peace discussions with those Palestinians who can be peace partners strengthens them, marginalizes the terrorists, and creates a political environment in which Israel has more resources at its disposal to protect itself. Allowing the terrorist reality which is Gaza to define our perspective on our neighborhood is to give them a victory they neither deserve nor warrant.
We need to learn to live in an abnormal world. Our people’s embracing of sovereignty entails a willingness to live within the realities of realpolitik and alas, terror is a part of this reality. To be either passive on the one hand, or to succumb to the fantasy that for every problem there is a military solution, is to perpetuate the childlike naivete of our pre-sovereign existence. Sovereignty has its gifts and its challenges, and as a mature people we have to embrace both.
We need to learn to live in the Middle East. By live, I mean that we cannot allow our neighborhood to define or control our world. While we must learn to respond to their dictates, our priorities and values cannot be exhausted by them. We prevent terror every time our technology knocks one of the missiles out of the sky. We defeat terror when we continue to build a society of values, when we not only worry about whether we will be, but about who we will be. When issues of social justice, loyalty, and kindness, democracy, and Jewish identity reverberate throughout our public conversation and policies we are building foundations of strength which no terrorist can destroy.
It’s a strange thing, having to live with missiles, but live we will.