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Yael Leibowitz
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Slaying the giant

Israelis don't want to fight, but they have no choice: They are the front line defending civilization against the onslaught of savagery
Relatives and friends walk among portraits of people taken captive or killed by Hamas during the Nova music festival on October 7, 2023, during a visit at the site near Kibbutz Re'im in southern Israel, on January 5, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Relatives and friends walk among portraits of people taken captive or killed by Hamas during the Nova music festival on October 7, 2023, during a visit at the site near Kibbutz Re'im in southern Israel, on January 5, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Goliath.

His name preceded him.

He was mammoth, ironclad, and ruthless.

David was feeble, green, and an easy target. But David slayed that giant. And as he did, he spoke of a benevolent God, of his people’s pride, and of his unwillingness to let them go down without a fight.

Once, Israel was David. Once, Israel fought with crude weapons and the odds stacked against the Jewish state. Being David was terrifying, but it was simpler. No one questions the rights of a shepherd to protect his flock, certainly not after he had just seen six million of them slaughtered.

But then, two things began to happen, in different parts of the world and along parallel historical paths. In the Middle East, the fledgling state began to grow in strength and in confidence. Israel fought numerous defensive wars, wars for survival, and won. But each victory chipped away at the world’s rendering of the country as an unarmed David because, while trying to survive, we also began to thrive. At the same time, countries to our west were beginning to take a careful, honest look at themselves. They began searching for the root causes of phenomena like colonialism, systemic racism, homophobia, and misogyny that had plagued their cultures for centuries. And what they discovered, time and again, was a Goliath lurking within. They found cruelty rooted in power, sustained by hierarchy, and fueled by hate. So, as a result, well-intentioned people in the West began to bristle at anything with the faintest whiff of the trappings of the giant, even when they did not come from the giant.

And now those two developments are being conflated and confused. Many in the West look at Israel through a too-narrow lens of perceived dominance and see Goliath. They see strength and equate it with evil; they see power and assume it must be oppressive. But what so many of them refuse to see are the complex truths that Israelis have been wrestling with for the better part of a century. The truth is that Goliath was not evil because he had weapons; he was evil because of what he chose to do with them. And the truth is that David’s weakness was not a virtue; his ability to surmount that weakness was. The truth is that while, on limited fronts, Israel may appear strong, it remains precariously perched between larger, stronger, richer nations unanimously sworn to ensure its destruction.

So, Israel has been forced, constantly, to both wield power and to curb it, simultaneously worrying about our collective body and soul. The truth, which so many in the West are spared firsthand experience, is that we send our sons and daughters to borders and checkpoints to keep our home front safe, but we pine for a day when we will not have to do so. We flex our military capabilities in the hopes of intimidating our hostile neighbors and reminding them that Jewish blood is not cheap, but we pray we never have to use them because we are not, and we have never been, bloodthirsty.

Israelis have grappled with these agonizing truths since our country’s founding, which is why, after every military triumph and before every security resolution, internal quarrels break out. We argue in the streets, on buses, at beaches, and at market stalls. We attend rallies and dispute what Israel is and what it should be. The arguments are disguised in realpolitik, but if you dig deeply, down to the core of every debate, you find an identity crisis churning.

Because, while Israelis want nothing more than to shield ourselves from our enemies’ swords, the prospect of becoming Goliath has always been our greatest existential fear. So, for decades, we scrutinized and we yielded; we renounced and we hoped. We wrenched families from their homes, one flourishing plot of land at a time, hoping, against all evidence to the contrary, that our withdrawals would bring peace; that maybe, at long last, we would need only plowshares. But, time and again, our concessions were hailed by our enemies as a sign of weakness. Each kilometer we ceded emboldened them to persist in their long game of wearing down our resolve. Terror attacks against Israeli civilians have never stopped because our enemies believed that, if they made life unbearable, one day, the State of Israel, which is fundamentally the land from the river to the sea, would be free of every living Jew.

Yet even as we feared for our safety and our hearts ached from our losses, we stayed hopeful. So we trusted the people who came into our places of work, our hospitals, and our kindergartens. We knew that at night they went back to sleep in the lion’s den, but we trusted them because we believed in a shared humanity. Contrary to what our forefather Abraham had been told, we believed that righteous people could be found in Sodom. And we trusted our intelligence and security units, our technology and spyware, to do the work of distinguishing good from evil.

Then, on October 7, we woke up. We woke up to intelligence bases ambushed and soldiers with critical intel dead or abducted. We woke up to a field littered with corpses of ravaged women and to the cries of mothers screaming their last words into cellphones on live television. We woke up to a world in which entire families were murdered, and the very people who believed most in the possibility of peace were thrown, bleeding, into the backs of pickup trucks and dragged into an underground labyrinth of horror constructed from repurposed international aid.

We woke up to a world in which the people who had slept in our kibbutzim and shared cups of mint tea with Israeli farmers were caught on video guiding terrorists along well-known paths, past bicycles and schoolyards, into people’s homes. The terrorists had villages mapped for them, by hand, with the number of family members in each household, so they knew to keep looking if anyone tried to hide.

On October 7, we woke up. All our paradigms had been shattered, and with them, our trust.

We no longer trust the fences we built or our naivete on which they relied, and we no longer trust notions like “deterrence,” or “land for peace,” or even “shared humanity.” Because creatures who bind parents in the corner of a room and force them to watch as their children are dismembered are not humans; they are monsters. And those monsters run a factory that produces more monsters by never allowing the babies born on their watch to know there is an alternative to evil. They indoctrinate their children to annihilate ours and then sacrifice their own on the altar of media manipulation. There is no humanity in that brutal cycle.

On October 7, we woke up to inconceivable pain. And then, that pain was further exacerbated when we realized we had woken up to the world our grandparents and theirs before them knew all too well — the world we thought we had left behind. A world in which Jewish blood is spilled with impunity, and, as our children lie in that blood, Israel is blamed for the massacre. A world in which microaggressions against a contrived minority are cause for cancellation, but RPGs fired into Israeli living rooms are frowned upon, at best. After the terrorists publicized their gleeful gang rape of Jewish teenagers, we assumed women’s rights groups would be outraged, but in the world we woke up to on October 7, those groups were conspicuously silent. And they remain silent as our innocents rot in a subterranean hell. The irrational, timeless hatred of Israel and Jews wholesale is intensifying everywhere, and those who hate us are growing increasingly comfortable spewing their vitriol.

Which is why now, perhaps more than ever, we need to be able to trust our allies in the West.

We need to trust that there are those who see us for what we are and not what others paint us to be. We need to trust that the countries shaped by enlightenment principles, the origins of which emerged in Israel millennia ago, will stand with us. And for those with whom we most closely relate to recognize false dichotomies when they see them and call out the vile hatred that hides behind the fabrication and glorification of victimhood. We need to trust that they will not encourage the monsters to continue slaying their own citizens by granting them the sympathy and outrage they seek through this brutality.

The leadership in many Western countries, particularly the United States, has been decisive and vital. But what we need at this critical juncture in history is more profound and runs deeper than this isolated military conflict. We need allies who are brave enough to admit that not all cultures are the same and that this fight is a contest of wills between civilization and savagery.

Our founding fathers named our army “The Israeli Defense Forces” for a reason. Using weapons was never something we wanted. Being on the receiving end of violence for thousands of years seared that conviction in our collective psyche, and we need to trust that the West knows that. Israel did not accrue weapons with the intent to destroy or invade, but because, to survive against the forces of darkness that threaten to engulf the free world, it needs to be feared. The moment Israel stops being feared, they paraglide into our kibbutzim and fly planes into the towers.

Goliath today goes by the name Iran, but he is no less ferocious than he once was. Today, Goliath funds colleges around the world and systematically brainwashes the next generation to hate the Jewish people and their homeland. Today’s Goliath sends proxies to fight his wars and Israel is surrounded by them. Like Goliath, their intent is to eviscerate, and, like Goliath, their size and weapons are daunting. But Israelis know that, like their king, David, they stand as the first line of defense against Goliath’s onslaught, so they have no choice but to fight. We just hope that the world we are fighting for understands the stakes.

I have written about this before, but my outlook has shifted.

About the Author
Yael Leibowitz has her Master’s degree in Judaic Studies from Columbia University. Prior to making aliyah, Yael taught Tanakh at the Upper School of Ramaz, and then went on to join the Judaic Studies faculty at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women. She has taught Continuing Education courses at Drisha Institute for Jewish Education and served as Resident Scholar at the Jewish Center of Manhattan. She is currently teaching at Matan Women’s Institute for Torah Studies, and is a frequent lecturer in North America and the United Kingdom.
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