The wisest words from our political leadership in response to Wednesday’s attack in Tel Aviv came not from anyone in the ruling national coalition, but from Ron Huldai, the mayor of Tel Aviv. He was asked by journalist Ilana Dayan on a popular morning radio show if we Israelis have not perhaps made our peace with living under the shadow of violent death from terrorism. Huldai answered Dayan thoughtfully, noting that this question contains within it the question of questions as to whether or not we are condemned — fated — to live within a sea of unrelenting hostility from which we must always defend ourselves, or if there are ways to lower the hostility and find a more stable situation of accommodation with our neighbors. Essentially, do we have a choice?
He clearly believes that we do, but that, sadly, we lack a leadership with the courage to make the compromises necessary to ensure a more secure and peaceful state. Exacerbating this situation is a complacent public that does not press Israel’s leadership. When there is no terrorism, we fall into a state of complacency. And when there is terrorism we fall prey to the argument that there is no one to talk to.
Still, it was especially jarring when Huldai suggested that perhaps the only thing that will shock the Israeli electorate from the somnambulance into which it has fallen is a trauma similar to the 1973 Yom Kippur War. It is clear that Huldai does not want things to get worse before they get better, although he recognizes that this may be the way we will move forward.
According to Huldai, we continue to have within our power the ability to take practical steps to demonstrate our own peaceful intentions. These steps could open opportunities for compromise that presently elude us. He further pointed out that our present reality is inherently precarious and volatile. There is no way that we can continue to rule over another people, denying them equal rights, and expect that they will accept this situation.
And now we come to the deeper wisdom of Huldai’s words. While condemning the terrorist attack in his city, he was clear not to seek easy targets for the public’s pain, anger and fear. He refused to condemn the security arrangements around Sarona Market where the attack took place and he avoided the bluster of cabinet ministers — including Prime Minister Netanyahu — whose only responses amount to the collective punishment of Palestinians and reinforced military and police presences in Tel Aviv and throughout the West Bank.
Huldai presents a constructive paradigm in which our choices hearken back to those presented to Moses just prior to the people of Israel entering the Promised Land according to the biblical story. In Deuteronomy: Parashat Nitzavim we read: “This day, I call upon the heaven and the earth as witnesses [that I have warned] you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. You shall choose life, so that you and your offspring will live.”
Despite Yitzhak Shamir’s famous declaration “the sea is the same sea, and the Arabs are the same Arabs,” it is not self-evident that we inherently face a sea of hostility. We can choose to shape our reality. That is — and always has been — the Zionist response.
Despite our pain, our fear and our desire for revenge, we retain not only the option, but the obligation to choose the path of life. We may choose this path even as we respond (as we must) to the evil that is terrorism.
As Huldai pointed out, the path we sadly remain on is a cursed one and leads only to hopelessness, death and destruction.
But can we manage to wake enough of us up to the bitter, fragile and dangerous reality of our situation before it is too late — so that we and our offspring will live? Can we hold our elected leadership accountable — making them bring us along a path of peace as opposed to one of never-ending war?
The choice, indeed, is ours.