The rockets from Gaza are frightening, and they are certainly disrupting our lives. However, the real monster that’s emerged in this round of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the violence of Arabs who are Israeli citizens against Jews. Last night, rioters went through all the Jewish businesses in Old Acre, in Northern Israel, and torched every one of them. Attempted lynches were carried out in Lod, Tamra, and Acre. Jews were also injured from gunshots fired into homes in Lod, as well as from rocks and stones, and Molotov cocktail bottles. In Haifa, 60 Jews were hurt by smoke inhalation after Arabs torched cars owned by Jews, and the list goes on and on. All this comes on top of the hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel, killing several people, wounding many more, and destroying homes and property.
Such mayhem is enough to shake up the confidence of anyone, and indeed it has. The Israelis are losing their confidence, but I believe it’s for the best, since now we can begin to base it on a solid foundation.
Let me be clear, we must have military power. We must protect ourselves to the best of our ability, and attack those who attack us. However, if we base our confidence on military edge, it will fall apart, as we are seeing now. Israel’s only might always was, is, and will forever be the unity of its people, and nothing else.
It doesn’t matter how divided we are; it doesn’t matter how deeply we hate each other for our different views or cultures. If we spread a canopy of solidarity over all our differences because of the simple fact that we are Jews and the essence of our peoplehood is unity above division, then no harm will come to us. On the contrary, by doing so, we will win the world’s respect and favor. Below is a piece of Jewish history that tells the tale of unity, division, and ultimate unity, and how it impacts other nations.
During the reign of Antiochus III the Great (222 to 187 BCE), Judea was ruled by the Seleucid Empire but enjoyed almost complete autonomy, as long as they paid their (reasonable) taxes to the king. In fact, in Antiquities of the Jews, Flavius Josephus writes that Antiochus the Great considered it his duty to guard the autonomy of the Jews. To show his appreciation for their assistance and his reverence for their way of life, he wrote a formal letter permitting the Jews to live according to their way: “On account of their piety toward God, [Antiochus decided to] bestow on them, as a pension for their [Temple work] … twenty thousand pieces of silver, in addition to abundance of fine flour, wheat, and salt.” His successor, Seleucus IV Philopator, kept the status quo with the Jews, who continued to live untroubled in Judea.
Even Antiochus Epiphanes, who succeeded Seleucus IV, initially had no intention to change the status quo in Judea, were it not for certain Jews who had decided to incite him against their brethren. Those Jews wanted to force the Hellenistic culture on Judea and take control of the country. To achieve this, their leader, Yason [Jason], paid Epiphanes a hefty sum of money, who, in return, ousted the incumbent High Priest in Jerusalem and handed the position over to Jason.
Jason quickly turned Jerusalem into a polis, renamed it Antiochia, and constructed a gymnasium at the foot of Temple Mount. In addition, the Hellenistic Jews abandoned ancient customs that related to the Temple and began to sow division in the country. In fact, the Hellenists sowed so much division that they even fought among themselves, between supporters of Jason and supporters of Menelaus (who in 170 BCE paid off Antiochus to oust Jason and make him the High Priest). By the time Antiochus Epiphanes wrote his infamous decree that demanded all Jews to become Hellenists, many of the Jews were already in agreement with his demands. In fact, according to The Book of the Maccabees (Vol. 1), “many of the Israelites consented to his religion and sacrificed unto idols.”
But we know the end of the story: The Hasmonean family in Modiin revolted against the decree, and under the leadership of Judah Maccabee, the Jews united and ousted the Hellenists. Moreover, Antiochus V Eupator, who succeeded Antiochus Epiphanes, restored the agreement of freedom to the Jews that his great grandfather, Antiochus III, had signed, and put the final seal on the Hasmonean Revolt when he executed Menelaus as a punishment for luring him into a war he did not want to fight.
Today, twenty-three centuries after the saga, it seems as though we haven’t learned much. As then, so now, we have to fight for our freedom because we didn’t fight for our unity before. Had this been our one and only focus, we wouldn’t have had to worry about anything else, just as the Jews in Judea enjoyed their freedom as long as they had kept their unity.
As long as we still have a country, we must shift our attention to our solidarity, to our unity, as this is our real weapon. While fighting against our enemies, we must fight the separation among us even more, since this, in the end, will determine the outcome of the war against the Arabs.
[Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a meeting with Israeli border police following violence in the Arab-Jewish town of Lod, Israel May 13, 2021. Yuval Chen/Pool via REUTERS]