Swords of Iron

What is the price of Israeli sovereignty?

The current attack, in itself, is not an existential threat to Israel. The dissolution of the covenant of fate is an existential danger.

At the present moment – after suffering an unimaginable disaster in scope and meaning, and after embarking on a comprehensive military ground operation that the current generation of soldiers has not yet experienced – some fundamental reflection on “the situation” is in order.

The Israeli muscle is stretched to the limit: about 5% of all Israelis have been called up for service. Almost every family has sent loved ones to war, including my four sons (a paratrooper, an armored corps soldier, a fighter in the Duvdevan Unit, and a sailor) and my two sons-in-law (an Egoz commando and an intelligence officer).

I remain the only man in my immediate family who is not bedecked in an IDF uniform. And when my children, like all their friends, risk their lives, my mind wanders to my four grandparents who perished on Polish soil in the Holocaust: Shimon, Esther, Yaakov, and Tova (may God avenge their blood). That is the essence of the Zionist story.

In the 1930s, my mother of blessed memory, who passed away this past week, fled Poland for Palestine and was the sole survivor of her entire extended family. At the age of 104, she was obliged to go from time to time into her reinforced security room. But she knew that a formidable defender protected her: the State of Israel, in whose army her grandchildren serve. She was protected – under missile barrages – as no Jew was protected during 2,000 years of exile. She was afraid, and she was proud.

Over the course of 75 years, Israel built a solid iron wall against its enemies. The wall revealed cracks, socially, during the past decade as Israelis were pitted against each other. The wall cracked again – politically – in the past year, when Israelis’ self-concept as a democracy was undermined. The wall cracked further, from a security perspective, three weeks ago – when the Israeli national home was broken into and ransacked by Hamas pogromists. These fresh fissures in the iron wall erupted as a result of the failures and omissions of Israel’s elected leadership.

A dispute over destiny

Since the inception of the Zionist enterprise, there has been a running internal dispute over its mission. But Israelis knew how to work together, despite their disagreements, thanks to a shared covenant of fate. That covenant is the foundation and substance of the Israeli iron wall.

In the last decade, the dispute over destiny intensified and began to erode the covenant of fate and fracture the iron wall. But even now, at this appalling nadir, from the depths of pain and shock of this most terrible time in Israel’s history, it is important to look forward and see the beneficent light of Israeliness awakening to itself.

The covenant of fate between Israelis is forged anew in blood and gunpowder. Military heroism and civilian heroism are now intertwined throughout Israel, everywhere. The Hamas attacks targeted Jews as Jews – leftists from the kibbutzim of the Gaza envelope and rightists from towns in the Negev.

They now stand behind the defensive wall of Israel’s entire citizenry – patriots from the anti-judicial reform group Brothers in Arms alongside patriots from the settlements in Judea and Samaria. This is a contemporary realization, a new interpretation, of Isaiah’s prophecy: “For you shall spread out to the right and to the left.”

My eyes well up at the many hundreds of mounds of fresh earth in which Israel’s finest sons and daughters are being buried. But I hold my head high watching the determination and the strength with which Israeli society responds to the challenge.

The greatest danger is disunity

Just over three weeks ago, when Israel was torn apart over judicial reform, some Israelis were considering emigration. Today, thousands of young people are returning on emergency flights from all over the world, ready to risk their lives for their country. Some 10,000 reservists, opponents of the reform, had refused to serve in the army due to their lack of confidence in the government. Today, the report for service rate is 120% or higher in all combat units.

Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) draft evasion? Hundreds of young yeshiva students are volunteering with the ZAKA disaster victim identification service and scar their souls as they carry out their holy work. Liberal secular Israelis who were fantasizing about an independent “State of Tel Aviv” are voluntarily koshering the kitchens of their restaurants so they can send food to soldiers on the front lines.

The current attack, in itself, is not an existential threat to Israel. The dissolution of the covenant of fate is an existential danger. This primal alliance is now being reforged. A political manifestation of this is the admirable and respectful way parts of the opposition in Israel have mobilized to shoulder their share of the national burden. All sectors of Israeli society are now partners in restoring the covenant of fate and fortifying the iron wall.

The Israeli face has changed over its 75 years of independence. Wrinkles and scars have been added, but the spirit that pulses within Israel is strong and steadfast. I send my sons to the army with a heart full of gratitude for the very possibility of doing so. That is the price of the sovereignty my grandparents did not enjoy. How fortunate I am to have that privilege.

The writer is the president of the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI).

Published by the Jerusalem Post