The recent escalation of terror between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad based in Gaza made me feel as if I had entered a time machine. As my Twitter feed flooded with videos of sirens blaring and Israeli civilians rushing to bomb shelters, I remembered my same experience when boarding my flight out of Ben-Gurion airport just last year. Ear-piercing sirens rang throughout the airport followed by repeat announcements: “This is an emergency. Please go to the designated security zones.”
Carrying three bags, I and hundreds like me ran to the nearest bomb shelter where I witnessed a crowd seated on the floor resting their head on their knees. I couldn’t help noticing the expressions of exhaustion from days of travel amidst the persistent missile barrage from Gaza. As I zigzagged my way through the crowd, a woman kindly ushered me in with the most reassuring demeanor. “גם זה יעבור—This too shall pass,” she said to me.”
Duck-and-cover is a routine practice and a most natural reaction for anyone growing up in Israel, including my parents and extended family. I, however, grew up in America and the experience of a crowded bomb shelter was surreal: Parents comforting their kids, pious Jews reciting their prayers, and others simply oblivious to the chaos. It all appeared perfectly normal and most everyone appeared to enjoy a relatively sense of safety.
This time around was no different. Over several days, as the PIJ launched an unabated barrage of missiles into Israel’s residential hubs, Israel’s spirit remained undying. Not too far from the targeted areas, family and friends celebrated weddings on the beachside Tayelet boardwalk under a radiant Tel Aviv sun. They went about their shopping, dined in restaurants, and danced the night away at packed nightclubs to Israeli pop-star Noa Kirel’s latest Eurovision hit “Unicorn.” Israelis have been there countless times and knew that by fixating on living, the wave of terror would surely pass.
But make no mistake, Israelis were not without fear. Many mourned the lives of the injured and those murdered in the attacks; many wondered if they’d run a similar fate. They prayed, and comforted their crying infants traumatized by the sight and sound of explosions.
But despite their fear, Israeli children are not raised to hate nor do they grow up seeking revenge. Israel’s spirit, focused on the living, cultivates a culture rooted in Eric Fromm’s philosophy of biophilia, “the passionate love of life and of all that is alive, and the “wish to further growth, whether in a person…an idea, or a social group.” The alternate, necrophilia or death instinct, stems from a mentality of perpetual victimhood that drives fear, hate, and breeds an ethos of acrimony.
The history of the Jewish nation and Israel’s geography present exceptional examples of resilience. Israel’s biophilic generations are those shaping the fourth happiest country on earth, prospering as the Middle East’s only democracy. With perilous terror threats, it’s as if this small strip of land embodies a divine personality; even for the Hilonim, or Israel’s secular majority, a faith in some higher power has gained their trust.
Since inception, Israel has been surrounded by autocratic regimes who have mostly rejected peace and waged relentless campaigns to obliterate her. Terrorist factions, including PIJ and Hamas, indiscriminately target Israel’s Jewish, Arab, Druze, and Christian populations and use their own civilians as human shields. Most alarmingly, they’ve convinced their populace into believing that death to Israel is the key to liberation.
As Israelis ran for their lives or braced their children under cars, multiple videos circulated on social media of Palestinian children jumping with joy as rockets were launched from rooftops in Gaza’s neighborhoods. Israelis are keenly aware that future generations of Palestinians are unlikely to change, and that, paradoxically, life in this land of milk and honey will be forever fraught with anxiety and peril.
Unlike most Israelis, I’ve never experienced the feeling that my life could end in a matter of seconds. While a proud Israeli, I live in America, where safety concerns are plenty, but none can compare to those in Israel day in and day out. Israel’s citizens, however, are not ones to be discouraged or be depleted of hope. An epigenetic fear imbues them with impenetrable layers of grit that builds a strong Israeli kvutza, or community, infused with nefesh, or soul. Carpe diem, or seize the day, is Israel’s shield and arrow.
Despite perpetuating danger, Israel’s population creates a nexus for elite advances in business, technology, healthcare, and beyond. While the population is not immune to terror, recurring incidents are anything but shocking. Their feelings have been internalized—not however, as a burden on the mind and spirit, but as a battery fueling an unparalleled resilience and a drive to excel. Innovation has become the catalyst fulfilling an obligation to ensure its security no matter how politically, religiously, or ethnically divided. With defense technologies like Iron Dome and David’s Sling, Israelis remain dedicated to the land and each other’s safety.
At a young 75, Israel stands as a model of resilience to humanity as a whole,whereby obstacles transform into opportunities. Adopting a mentality of “it will pass,” and a positive spirit in the face of tragedy is a paradigm for growth and self-actualization.
Israelis may be discouraged at the prospects for peace, having made great concessions in exchange. Their unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 is one such instance—one that resulted in the disastrous state of affairs that Israel faces today under the constant threat of rocket fire. Still, Israelis remain focused on the purpose of enriching their lives and those of other neighboring countries that have welcomed peace.
The 2020 Abraham Accords saw the United Arab Emirates’ stride toward progress, abandoning a long tradition of hatred and embracing biophilia. Economic, political and social benefits were soon realized as cultures meshed through trade, art, and technology. While these accords have not resulted in a perfect peace, Israel and her neighbors are realizing that they share far more similarities than differences. This recognition is certain to help propel genuine relationships between Israel and her Arab neighbors onto new horizons.
Zionist revolutionary Theodore Herzel famously said that “if you will it, it is no dream.” Israel’s dream to persevere towards peace combined with an action-oriented ‘will’ imbues a solution-oriented mindset. A biophilic and active approach to life can invoke fulfillment and simultaneously fulfill elusive prospects. Israel’s resilience, despite the constant threat of terror, becomes a model whereby our well-being, identity, and aspirations must never be surrendered in the face of great challenges. Each setback is a signal to take an even larger step forward—to be the bigger person, positively and compassionately contributing to something outside of the self for the benefit of oneself and others.
In Israel, what may seem outside and distant is in fact near. One can only conceive this feeling by living in a country whose existence is precarious but all the more valuable and necessary. The Israeli experience teaches that the most insurmountable challenges must not be approached with an attitude of animosity or destructiveness. Rather, they must be viewed as opportunities to produce, “to give birth to oneself, to become what one potentially is,” in the words of Eric Fromm. Israel continues to demonstrate that the “product of her effort”—passionately loving all that is alive, even in the face of terror—is a spirited nation composed of the most tenacious, resilient—and yes, some of the happiest, people on earth.