It’s a strange paradox that we live here in Israel. On the one hand, things have never been better from a security standpoint. In the early years of the state, Israel faced a very real existential danger in the form of the surrounding Arab armies. Israel faced militaries from as close by as neighboring Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria and as far away as Iraq in fighting several bloody wars during the first 25 years of independence. Then, nearly a decade after the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel and Egypt signed a historic peace agreement and the threat emanating from the surrounding armies began to diminish. After years of close partnership, Israel and Jordan signed a peace treaty in 1994; Lebanon imploded into civil war in the 1970’s and Syria, though willing to fight Israeli troops on Lebanese soil, didn’t attack Israel itself and made no military attempts to retake the Golan Heights after the Yom Kippur War.
This of course does not mean that Israelis enjoyed peace. As the threat of invading armies decreased, the scourge of terrorism increased. Jordan may have attacked Israel for the last time in 1967 but PLO terrorists crossed the Jordan River to murder Israelis even after the Six-Day War had ended. After having been chased to Lebanon by King Hussein, the PLO began to terrorize Northern Israel, sending terrorists to attack homes, schools, buses and army bases. During this period of time, Israelis by no means experienced Western standards of peace and security, but at least there was no longer a fear that the country would be overrun.
Israel’s experience with terrorism peaked during the Second Intifada. Buses, nightclubs, pizzerias, bar mitzvahs and Passover Seders all became targets for terrorists from various Palestinian factions from the Islamist groups of Hamas and Islamic Jihad to more secular groups like the Tanzim or Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Israelis may have felt confident that the country was here to stay but were afraid to take the bus to work or to go to grab a bite to eat. On the macro level, the security situation was better but at the micro level, people didn’t feel safe when leaving their homes.
Fast-forward to 2014. Malls and buses are safe again. Whereas when my family and I made Aliyah in 2003, every store on the street had a security guard, most no longer do. Israelis can and do feel safe to go out in public. But there’s a catch. If at first Israelis feared that the country might be lost and the Jewish People subjected to a second holocaust, and then knew that the State of Israel was here to stay but venturing out into public could at times be dangerous, now we are faced with a new and absurd situation. There is no neighboring army threatening to destroy us, the IDF and the security forces are doing an excellent job of keeping at bay the terrorists who would kill us in public but we no longer feel entirely safe in our own homes. Perhaps, once you thought that if you lived far from the border you would be safe. Then you thought that if you just stayed at home and avoided crowded places you would be safe. Now, the specter of rocket barrages means that even in your own home, you are subjected to terrorism.
Thankfully, the development of the Iron Dome system has greatly reduced Israeli casualties caused by rocket barrages as well as the number of homes, schools and businesses that have been damaged or destroyed since the latest round of fighting erupted. This of course does not mean that the success has been total as there have been instances where rockets slipped through and hit homes in various towns over the last few weeks. By in large though, the successes of the system have been tremendous and have been reported on around the globe. That being said, Iron Dome doesn’t protect us from everything.
When we came to Israel, I remember numerous occasions on which plans were modified because parents were concerned about terrorism. When one of the buses that my friends and I would take to school was blown up, parents decided to pitch in for a car pool with a cab. Itineraries for trips to Jerusalem were changed because parents were afraid to have their kids walk around in the downtown area that was subjected to many bombings. Yes, things were bad but people felt that if they modified their behavior they could protect themselves and their loved ones. Everyone who did so made an attempt to control their world and protect it from the surrounding chaos.
This is no longer possible. If an Israeli parent wants to protect their child, physically and emotionally from the rockets being fired from Gaza they have only one choice: run. Israeli parents are faced with the choice of uprooting their family and looking for a (hopefully) quiet spot to wait things out or subjecting themselves and their children to rockets, sirens and explosions. A whole generation is growing up in Israel that didn’t first experience violence on the battlefield or at the site of a suicide bombing but rather in their own living rooms.
So, are things better, or are they worse?