That is an iconic photo of Israeli paratroopers at the newly liberated western wall of the Temple Mount, on which the Temple (Beit Hamikdash) stood. It was the second temple, built to replace the first, called Solomon’s Temple which was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, concurrent with the massacre of many Jews, and the beginning of the Diaspora…the flight of Jews from conquered Israel into the rest of the world.
That photograph is symbolic of the creation of the modern state of Israel, which in the span of six days in June of 1967, in response to a three-front war, expanded from an essentially indefensible strip of land along the Mediterranean to a large part of historical Israel. That state was created in part as a culmination of the political effort spearheaded by Theodore Herzl known as Zionism, and in part as a response to the Holocaust…the unimaginable destruction of 6,000,000 Jews in Europe.
But that wasn’t the first time Jews had been murdered simply because they were Jews. That has been happening for more than 2,000 years. The Alexandrian riots in Egypt? 38 CE! European Jewry has been the target of countless riots and pogroms and wholesale slaughter, even before Hitler’s final solution. And the Jews who remained in the Middle East were similarly persecuted.
Remember the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008? Those terrorists sought out the few Jews in that city and murdered six of them, including a Rabbi and his pregnant wife. In a country with more than one billion people, the terrorists looked for some of the 4,000 Jews!
Whatever the cause of this rabid and frankly insane drive to destroy Jews and Judaism, Israel is the lodestone of world Jewry, where we control our own destiny, where we can be comparatively safe, where we are not “other.” That Israel is surrounded by enemies is not new to world Jewry. We have been surrounded our entire existence, but Israel is ours, and we are not beholden to anyone or anything. And look what Israel has created out of nothing! The country is a vibrant liberal democracy, a technological marvel, a social melting pot that draws people from around the world, and a bastion of Western thought holding back the savagery of backward cultures throughout the rest of the Middle East.
The military dominance of Israel was purchased with the blood of thousands of Israelis, lost in countless wars and military actions, and as many terrorist attacks perpetrated by its neighbors and by countries and terrorist organizations thousands of miles from Israel. The war against these heirs to Hitler and his Holocaust is never-ending, but there was a sense that Israel would always prevail…that the bloodthirsty haters of Jews and Judaism could be kept at bay with military might, technological prowess, and most of all a sense of unity of purpose; that all Israelis were in it together, that whatever their differences they would unite against the common enemy.
On Saturday that failed.
Whatever the reasons: hubris, arrogance, over-reliance on technology, incompetence, politics…the enemies of Israel finally succeeded in destroying the aura of invincibility that Israel has created. The vaunted Israeli army failed. The technology failed. The famous intelligence services failed.
if there can be anything good to come out of this horror, it will be an examination of all of these failures and a renewed commitment to the defense of Israel and Jewry. But that must also come with a sea change in the attitude of Israel towards the rest of the world. No longer can Israel afford the luxury of paying attention to the world’s disapprobation when it confronts its enemies. No longer can Israel allow the existence of terrorist organizations on its borders, and if that means a world-wide media barrage of criticism and vitriol, then so be it. The lives of Jews are more important than the approval of newspaper editors ensconced in their high towers, safe from the guns and knives of savages intent upon their destruction.
And more important; the lives of Israeli soldiers are more important than the lives of their enemies. The rules of engagement for which Israel is famous must be relaxed. Israel’s enemies use every evil construct imaginable to protect themselves from Israel’s might: hostages, their own wives, children, schools, mosques, hospitals…all are shields from behind which these cowards attack. Israel must turn that on its head, and show the world that the death of a child being used as a shield is the fault of the coward behind the child, not the soldier who is defending his country from destruction.
And…sadly…Israel must not be swayed by the threat to the hostages. Yes, that is easy to write, safe in America. But the rules must change if Israel is to survive.
America can show Israel at least one thing that can be changed to prevent the unimaginable from happening again. In most of America we have a robust civilian culture of self defense, with guns a part of our lives. Israel does not have that culture, and the sad result of an unarmed population can be seen across southern Israel.
But…Israel will prevail. Of that I am confident. Judaism has survived more than 2,000 years of savagery directed at us, and we will survive this. We are unbelievably lucky and blessed that Israel exists, and it will take more than 7th century fanatics to destroy the oldest country on earth.
Am Yisrael Hai!