BY RABBI STEWART WEISS
The check’s in the mail; the relationship is platonic; the cable guy’s coming between 10 and 12; the rabbi and the chazan get along wonderfully; “please hold the line, Bituach Leumi will be right with you;” yes, all kinds of myths abound in this world. But the latest outbreak of violence in the Middle East has exploded some of the most pervasive myths that we’ve stubbornly held on to for decades. Here are a few:
Jews and Arabs can learn to live peacefully side-by-side. You can almost visualize Shimon Peres’ “new Middle East” vaporizing into thin air as riots break out in Akko, Jaffa, Haifa and Lod-Ramla. Young Jewish families who fear for their lives are escorted by rings of police; as they escape to their parents’ home, their “good neighbors” scream obscenities and throw Molotov cocktails at them, calling them a “provocation” that must be banished. While there have been some isolated incidents of Jewish acts of vandalism – and one attempted “lynch” – the overwhelming number of crimes are being perpetrated by gangs of Arab hoodlums; they categorically reject the concept of co-existence, both in theory and in practice.
The scenes of Arab mobs going door to door searching for Jews and the torching of synagogues and Torah scrolls hearken us back to images of 1929, when Arabs hacked to death innocent Jews in Hebron and Jerusalem, many of whom they had lived and worked with for years. And it’s not far from even more horrendous scenes of Germany and Poland in the ‘30’s, when Jews were targeted and brutalized by even their longtime Gentile friends. “We’ve got to live together.” Really?! That seems like a cruel joke after what we’ve seen in the last two weeks.
Which brings us to the next myth: “It’s all about the settlements!” How many times have we heard that stale mantra, from Palestinians and left-wing Jews alike. Oh, yes, if only the “settlers” – who are the root of all evil, of course – would just pack up and leave Judea and Samaria, then Utopia would reign and we would all live happily ever after. Well, that pie-in-the-sky frivolous flight of imagination didn’t work when we packed up and left Gaza – only to see Hamas burn down the synagogues there and even destroy the amazing hothouses we foolishly left for them – but now the same syndrome has struck Israel proper.
While “settlements” are a smokescreen, “occupation” actually is a viable word. Because large numbers of Arabs believe with all their heart that every centimeter of Israel is occupied and belongs only to them. And they are not ashamed to say it openly – they scream it from the rooftops, even as they cast down their bricks and bullets on the Jews below. For them, Akko and Lod are not joint Jewish-Arab cities; they are Arab cities which Jews have invaded and squatted therein.
Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat – who, in a more perfect Israel, would be our country’s chief rabbi – tells of a chilling encounter he once had with a jailed terrorist. The Palestinian told him, “There is no argument over who owns Efrat,” he said matter-of-factly, “the whole world acknowledges that you stole this land from us and illegally occupied it. The real battle will come down to places like this,” and he pointed to a map of Israel and the city of Ra’anana. So anyone who lives under a misconception believing that he or she can relax and live peacefully forever in “Israel proper” had better think again.
Which leads us to the third deflated myth: Terrorism is not an existential danger. While obviously invasion by multiple Arab countries or a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran, God forbid, would be a clear and present danger to our very existence, we have also seen how acts of terror can shut down the country and put a stop to our normal way of life. If 2500 rockets from the south can close our schools and restrict our movement country-wide, what would 25,000 missiles coming in from the south and north do to us? Living in fear, having to dash to safety in a scant few seconds, never knowing where the next bomb will fall is pretty damn existential, in my humble opinion.
And so, pooh-poohing the rocket attacks as a “temporary, minor inconvenience” prevents us from taking the steps necessary to end this latest outrage in the 100-plus year war we have been fighting since we first returned to our ancestral homeland. We have to confront the events of these past days with all the seriousness and strength that would accompany a major war against us and seek ways to effect more than just an endless series of cease-fires. Tune out the static from overseas, ignore the Muslim-incited protests in Europe, and let the IDF do its job for as long as it takes.
Of course, I am no military strategist and, like everyone else, I don’t have a sure-fire solution to this crisis. But I do believe that camaraderie in the nation is crucial to maintaining our stamina and presenting a unified front. All this bloodshed began with the Meron tragedy, and it was heartening to see thousands of Israelis, religious and secular, enthusiastically line up to donate blood to those injured there. But true achdut will come only when the people of Meah Shearim and Bnei Brak also come forward to donate their blood for our injured holy soldiers.
In the meantime, let us at least face the facts and dispel the illusions that cause us to “myth” the mark and distract us from the truth. And let us pray to God that the twin traumas of Pandemic and projectiles are behind us forever.