Israelis resilient under fire, but there are limits

Israelis resilient under fire, but there are limits

Asher  Wiseman
Asher Wiseman

KIBBUTZ KFAR RUPPIN, Israel — The routine comfort and rural tranquility of the kibbutz was interrupted Wed., Nov. 14, when all students were urgently called to their respective lounges to see the first images of “Operation Pillar of Defense” being broadcasted live on television.

Upon learning of the IDF’s successful termination of Ahmed Jabari, a prominent Hamas general, a tangible feeling of pride pervaded the kibbutz, comparable to the American reaction to Osama bin Laden’s death. Likewise, we boarding school students were confident of our country’s strength and ability to get the job done.

However, regardless of our national pride and solidarity, the frightening images of conflict humbled us. We knew that rockets would never fall in our kibbutz in the Jordan River Valley but the war was brought right into my living room and I was afraid.

It has always been evident that the IDF is the superior force in the Gazan conflict. My homeroom teacher claimed that the IDF could erase Gaza from the map in a matter of minutes if it so willed. With that in mind, I asked myself what could Hamas possibly have to gain in a war with Israel? The answer is clear: Hamas wants to win a big victory in the court of public opinion and spread its message of terror.

Tactically speak-ing, Hamas’s rockets deliver little more payload than a military issue grenade, while Israeli jets destroyed entire apartment complexes numerous times throughout the operation. However, one must simply hearken back to the contested Goldstone Report of 2009 that accused Israel of targeting Gazan civilians or the Mavi Marmara incident of 2010 to understand how Israel can lose to Hamas in the court of public opinion. Likewise, this conflict was well publicized throughout the world. Opinion-forming news of the war in Gaza rivaled reports of the ongoing slaughter in Syria and a changing of the guard in China.

When distant explosions were brought into our living room it became impossible to evade the anxiety of war. Privately, people were glued to their televisions all over the country. If they didn’t watch television then they received updates from their smart phones. Every code red and military maneuver was instantly posted on the Web, enabling any Israeli to identify with his southern neighbors bearing the brunt of the conflict.

About half of the Israeli population never heard the sirens warning of an incoming Gazan missile, but the ubiquity of war in the media shook every Israeli from Metulla to Eilat.      

Happily, I have good news to report. Israel is poised to win the war of public opinion and her experienced citizens know how to live normally under the immense weight of terror.

Israel has learned from her publicity failures. Pro-Israel activism online is now thriving; the IDF has made exemplary use of social media, and an early cease-fire prohibited a ground campaign from spoiling IDF gains. Even my high school encouraged me, as an English speaker, to support Israel in the war on the Web. Israeli society is well aware of the necessity to defend its reputation in the media.

Not enough can be said about peculiar resilience of the Israelis themselves.  They dropped the topic of parliamentary elections during the operation and became politically united. Northerners hosted their war-torn southern neighbors and people came together bound by common purpose.

Simultaneously though, daily life went on. I went to school while the kibbutz’s groundskeeper cut the parched grass. Students continued playing “Temple Run” on their iPhones during class and complaining to the teacher when their phones got confiscated. Israelis refused to let the war get under their skin.

Don’t be fooled by the thick-skinned Israelis, though. There is duality to Israel’s relationship with war. In Israel, the death or capture of one soldier can throw the whole nation into despair. Israelis are strong and efficacious, but they aren’t immune to the perils of war. The pain shows through in the eyes of families in bomb shelters or with relatives in uniform.

With the signing of the cease-fire Nov. 21, the majority of the country breathed a sigh of relief. No one expects peace; no one expects the missiles to stop flying, but at least the Jewish state bought more time. Until then, in the words of Hanoch Levin, it’s “you, me, and the next war.”  

(Asher Wiseman, 17, of Pittsburgh, is a Diller Fellow who now attends Gaon Hayarden High School and lives in Kibbutz Kfar Ruppin in Israel. He begins a monthly column for the Chronicle on Israel from a young person’s perspective.)