Tisha B’Av of the Protective Edge variety presents Israel with an unprecedented opportunity to consider its current position along the exile-redemption continuum. Perhaps more importantly, it’s an opportunity for Israel to consider why it chooses to remain stuck where it is.
Tisha B’Av, the tragic anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem’s two Temples, is the Jewish calendar day that lives in infamy. It represents multi-millennial despair, rooted in Jews’ inability to defend themselves from invaders, exercise national sovereignty and celebrate a collective culture. The modern observance of Tisha B’Av as a day of fasting and mourning among observant Jews, both in and out of Israel, proactively addresses a vestige of these themes to this very day. But beyond ritual and religious practice, Tisha B’Av is a reminder of the pervasive ethos of defeat that penetrates all elements of Israel’s society.
But times just may be changing. Operation Protective Edge has ushered in a new season of challenge, opportunity and fear for Israel. This round of the recurrent Gaza War is qualitatively different than its predecessors. Operation Cast Lead was abruptly concluded hours before President Obama’s 2009 swearing in ceremony, for fear of his then-assumed anti-Israel animus. Though Israeli ground troops were mobilized, Operation Pillar of Defense was similarly truncated before they were given a green light to enter Gaza. Today, however, the climate is very different. American pressure is not what it once was. When red lines disappear, Russian conquests remain unchecked and the US Secretary of State drives the final nail into the two-state coffin, Israel’s national security is no longer shackled by antiquated notions of leverage.
More importantly than America’s back seat coupled with the Hamas’s gross breach of the United Nations’ sanctioned cease fire, Israel is on the cusp of historic regional alliances with Arab states. Egypt’s shared distaste for a terror regime along its borders, Saudi Arabia’s parallel interests in undermining Qatar’s beneficiaries and undermining Iran’s nuclear program, and Jordan’s need for stability in the face of an influx of Syrian refugees and an unruly ISIS rise to power in Iraq, are only the tip of the iceberg. For the first time, Israel’s success in crushing terror would result in untold alignments between the Jewish State and its Muslim neighbors.
On a local level, Israel is not fighting an existential war. The Iron Dome missile defense system is even more impressive than anticipated. Hamas is contained in Gaza, with a war-fatigued Hezbollah that remains deaf to their cries for a joint military front against the Zionist entity. As opposed to our extended history since the destruction of our Temples, Israel has unequivocal military supremacy over its assailants, a combination of western ambivalence and impotence leave room for continued military efforts, and popular Israeli support to deal Hamas a long awaited fatal blow continues to soar. And yet, Israel hesitates.
Israel is caught somewhere between asymmetrical war and asymmetrical cease fires, between threats of Goldstone Report II and a genuine desire to rehabilitate Gaza, between unseen tunnels and a hidden enemy. The crossroads are numerous and the questions are infinite. But none of these concerns, tangible as they are, are of historic proportions. The Jewish people has been through far more and weathered far worse. Been there. Done that. All of these considerations combined lack the ability to paralyze Israel.
Today’s fear is different than any other that Israel has faced. Today we fear not failure but success, not defeat but victory, not helplessness but self determination.
What happens if we win? What happens if we wake up tomorrow and Hamas is a thing of the past? Then what? What will we do with Gaza? What will we do with Israel?
What does Israel’s sovereignty look like in 2014, not as a vassal state but as a starting five player in a global village with much to offer the world’s economy? What sort of relationships do we want with our Arab neighbors? What about the minorities living among us? What does Israel look like as a people, with a self defined culture built upon a shared cumulative history and a society wide cross section of perspectives and values?
Our current ambivalence parallels the aftermath of the Six Day War. After 2,000 years of exile and a miraculous and unforeseen decisive victory, Israel chose indecision. The Temple Mount, the iconic epicenter of Jewish prayers, longing and hope for generations, was handed over to the control of others. Victory was too frightening. Jerusalem was too big. Historic responsibility was too intimidating. It was easier to assume the familiar downtrodden-victim-survival mentality Jews had known so long and so well.
The current debate between a diplomatic versus a military conclusion to the Gaza War as the route to ensuring Israel’s safety is of little relevance, as safety is not Israel’s ultimate goal. What is Israel? Who are we? What do we want to become? Are we prepared to assume the responsibility that comes with success? These are the questions that lie at the heart of the matter.
With Tisha B’Av as the backdrop and Protective Edge situated along the front lines, Israel has an opportunity to ask itself timeless questions in a surprisingly new global and national context. Elusive as the answers may be, genuine efforts to grapple with these issues have the potential to lead Israel beyond its paralyzing fear of winning.