Wednesday, July 30, 2014
THIS ONE FEELS DIFFERENT by Rabbi Berel Wein
I have been present in Israel for a number of wars that this small grave country has been forced to endure. Even before I made aliyah I was present here during the first Gulf War when Saddam Hussein rained SCUDs on a then defenseless population here in Israel. Since then I have lived here as an Israeli resident and citizen during the first and second intifada, the second Lebanon war, the reassertion of Israeli security in the West Bank, and the two previous Gaza conflicts. Coming as I do from an American background where during my years in the United States and never having experienced an air raid siren or any other overt acts of war, dealing with war here in Israel took some adjustment – physical, emotional and intellectual. But over the years and through the experiences of having to deal with actual wars I felt that I adequately adjusted to this situation fairly well. No one enjoys hearing the wail of the air raid siren but I like all other Israelis have accepted that this still is unfortunately part of our experience in attempting to live in our homeland and fulfilling our destiny as a people. So, to me, the events and the feelings and emotions of the past wars became a unit – there was a certain likeness about them that almost made for familiarity and sameness. One almost knew what to expect from our side and from the enemy. There was a predictability to the dance of death and destruction that was taking place. It almost made these past wars ordinary in spite of their tragic costs and disturbing consequences.
However, this Gaza war feels far different to me. I don't know why that is and I cannot even define or explain how it feels. But take my word for it, it feels very different. It was and is full of surprises and twists and turns. A war that began with the kidnapping and murders of three young Israeli yeshiva students and has since then escalated into a large number of deaths and untold property destruction, seemed to have a magnetic force all its own. No massive deterrent force was able to prevent the arrival and escalation of the war. Cease-fires were proclaimed a number of times only to collapse in the rubble of hate and indiscriminate rocket fire. Hamas infiltrated Israel a number of times using a labyrinth of tunnels that it had developed under Gaza and Israeli territory over the years. Thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israel. Almost all of them were either shot down by Israel's Iron Dome defensive system or fell relatively harmlessly in open areas. In the Second Lebanon War Hezbollah fired hundreds of rockets to the Israeli north with apparently far greater effect on the Israeli population than the thousands of rockets that Hamas has fired at Israel in this last war. We have suffered many dead and wounded amongst the forces of the Israel Defense Force. The bravery of the soldiers themselves has been matched by the tragic stoicism and inspirational demeanor of the families of the dead and wounded soldiers. Almost everyone seems to realize that this time we really had or have no other choice but to fight for our survival and security.
There are very few illusions left in Israeli society about the world that we live in and the surrounding neighborhood where we exist. Only the very hard Left, the radical nihilists that somehow always seem to exist in a democratic society and really worked to destroy it, still demand that Israel commit national suicide so that the rest of the world will finally be rid of ‘The Jewish problem.” Though there are still differing opinions regarding the conduct and eventual outcome of the war – and certainly about “the day after” – I have never experienced a sense of common purpose and a will to deal with the consequences of this war whatever they may be as exists today in Israeli society. It may be a sad commentary that it took the murder of three innocents and a bloody war to achieve this common feeling that we are all in this to the end. But I feel that this is the case and our fortitude and grim determination, which is now clearly present in Israeli society, will see us through to better days and greater achievements. It is never easy to recover from a war, not for the soldiers, civilians and nations involved. But out of the wreckage of this war perhaps the destruction of the Gazan tunnels will be the light at the end of our own tunnel that can lead to a better time of security and calm.