Ceasefires are illusory in the Middle East. Everyone realizes that the hiatus in hostilities between Israel and Hamas will last only until the first provocation occurs. In the coming months, hundreds of millions of dollars will flow into the Gaza Strip, which will rebuild its military infrastructure that the IDF so skillfully destroyed with surgical precision to minimize civilian casualties after Hamas deliberately positioned its most critical assets in high-rise buildings, hospitals, and kindergartens. Israel’s hope that it will take Hamas years to rebuild its power has no grounds to stand on. With the entire world behind it, it will refurbish its arsenal and reconstruct its military infrastructure in no time, and at no cost to itself, since the world will readily finance it. And when Hamas feels strong enough, it will rain another barrage of rockets on Israel’s civilians, and no one will blame Hamas for it, but rather Israel.
I don’t know how the next round will unfold, but I know that as much as we don’t want it, we will be compelled to partake in it, since we don’t call the shots, but rather Hamas. In the eyes of the world, no reasoning justifies our presence here since reason is meaningless when it comes to feelings, and the feeling that pervades the world when it comes to Israel is hate.
The only way we can avoid future standoffs with our neighbors, and in the process turn the world’s opinion in our favor, is to understand why things go against us and how we can change it. First, we need to understand that reasonable arguments don’t convince anyone. We can employ the most eloquent speakers, the most knowledgeable pundits, and the most successful models and actors to present Israel’s case, but no one will buy our story. Since they don’t believe a word we say, it makes no difference who speaks or what they say. Second, we need to understand that appeasing the Arabs’ demands will not pacify them. On the contrary, it will only embolden them. We must understand that they do not want a piece of this land; they want all of it, but even more than that, they want us dead.
Third, in light of the first two, we should stop looking at what we can do for the world, and start looking at what we can do for each other. This is the battlefield we have neglected for too long. Among each other is where we will find our strength, and where we should have focused all the time. I understand why it made more sense to try to convince the world that we want peace, but now that this strategy has failed entirely, it’s time to reroute and see how we can build our inner strength.
Historically, our strength came from one and only source: our unity. Our ancestors did not evolve into a nation as do other nations: through natural multiplication of biologically affiliated people. Jews, on the other hand, had to weld their nationhood consciously and laboriously, since their nucleus consisted of members of just about every tribe and clan in the ancient world. These foreigners were initially so alienated from each other that unless they united, they would have slit each other’s throats, as indeed they did in times when enmity defeated unity.
However, when unity prevailed, a miracle unfolded before the eyes of the world: People from all the nations lived together in harmony, mutual responsibility, and loved their neighbors as themselves. Indeed, the ancient Jewish people was a proof of concept, a role model that presented an alternative to the bloodshed that was the everyday reality of people in antiquity.
Whenever Israel’s internal unity prevailed, the nation thrived and achieved greatness. Whenever division got the better of us, the nations tormented, persecuted, and banished us from our land or from among them. History seems very consistent when it comes to this aspect of our history. Under Joseph in Egypt, we were united and thrived. When he died, we aspired to assimilate and the Egyptians enslaved us. When we united in the desert after fleeing from Egypt, we were declared a nation that was not only “legitimate,” but was tasked with being “a light unto nations,” namely set an example of unity and cohesion to the whole world.
While our unity prevailed, over crises and strives, we went from strength to strength. We even conquered the land of Canaan and built the First Temple. But when our unity waned, Nebuchadnezzar II banished us out and sent us out to Babylon. In Babylon, we wanted to be as the Babylonians and brought upon us Wicked Haman, the “archetypal” Hitler. But when we united, following Haman’s intention to annihilate us, we prevailed and earned the Cyrus Declaration, which sent us back to the land of Israel with gold, silver, lots of food, and the support of an empire to build a Second Temple.
When we divided, became Hellenists, and sought to become like the Greeks, war broke out among us and the Temple was burned. When the Maccabees managed to reunite the people, even if only briefly, we won the Temple back and drove out the Seleucid empire, who took the treacherous priest Menelaus and put him to death for inciting them against the Jews.
When we divided once again, the Romans came and put a siege on Jerusalem. Here, they waited for us to decide, and we opted for civil war, killed each other indiscriminately, burned each other’s food supplies, and the Romans finished the job and exiled us from here for two millennia.
History has never deviated from the correlation between our inner division or solidarity and the world’s enmity or affinity toward us. Currently, Israel’s precarious situation requires that we notice this pattern and employ our ancient tactic: unity against calamity, or as the Talmud states it: “Either friendship, or death” (Taanit 23a).
[Palestinians react at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad]