The Black Knight versus the Polish Mother

This has been a time for testing our resilience, rootedness and ability to process the absurd, the unconscionable and the flat out malicious in terms of what is going on around us.

We are left for searching for explanations and ways to accommodate ourselves to a reality that sounds like it was scripted by Kafka or George Orwell.

One way I have always found it easier to deal with difficult situations is to reach into my treasure trove of the seemingly trivial to find analogies that put things into a more manageable context.

So, in looking at the reaction of the two sides in Protective Edge, I realize that we have the bravado of Hamas’s Black Knight, confronting the handwringing of Israel’s Polish mother.

Let me elaborate.

Hamas reminds me of the Black Knight in Monty Python’s “Holy Grail” movie. The menacing Black Knight fights a duel with King Arthur or one of the other Pythonians, only to have both his legs and arms cut off. Undaunted, he threatens his opponent: “I’ll bite you to death.”

That in a single image perfectly captures Hamas.

No matter how bad it goes for them, they are undaunted and therefore victorious. Of course, one would hate to see what defeat would look like. But then, it’s not too hard to figure out: defeat is obliteration, pure and simple. Anything short of that is, well, victory.

Contrasting this posture has been a relentlessly self-critical Israeli perspective, that, like the iconic Polish mother that every Israeli knows about, sees the glass as at best half empty, and maybe without any water at all.

The Polish mother sees how Israel performed and managed through the Operation and can only see the sins of omission as well as of commission. Either we didn’t accomplish our goals, or we didn’t set realistic ones. We started fighting too late, and we stopped too soon. We seized defeat from the jaws of victory, although we were never really victorious.

You get the picture. Its geo-political analytical version, of “don’t worry about me, I’ll just sit here in the dark, by myself.”

Let’s stipulate that both perspectives provide a rather stilted slant on reality. But the key question is what do these postures tell us about the anatagonists and what might they pre-sage for the future of this marathon conflict?

In simpler terms, would you rather be the Knight or the Polish mother?

In a self-esteem obsessed world, there is a lot of sentiment in favor of taking the Black Knight’s posture. I’m still here, I must be ok, and being here is an end in and of itself.

Well, unlike youth soccer, not everyone who fights gets a trophy. Some get killed. Some see their handiwork destroyed, their plans and schemes wrecked and their aspirations for conquest or destruction thwarted.

Normalizing that outcome might allow you to get out of bed the next morning, but it doesn’t bode well for how you are going to do better the next time around.

The Black Knight’s expectation is simply to stay alive. Not being killed is the name of the game.

For the Polish mother, expectations are endless, evolving and never quite to be fulfilled. This makes for anxious, neurotic individuals who are never content with what they have achieved. You might not want to be the child or spouse of such a person, or to be that person yourself.

But if you are a society with this kind of a mindset, you are restless, inquisitive, self-demanding and constantly looking to improve. You become the opposite of complacent, because you are haunted by the things – real or imagined – that you have done wrong, or less than successfully.

It is not a stretch to say that the Polish mother perspective is in fact a reflection of Israeli society itself, just as the Black Knight personifies Hamas’s worldview.

During Operation Protective, one area where there was little if any carping by Israelis was the performance of the IDF. Here, there was virtually unanimous praise for the coordination, field intelligence and motivation of the troops.

What is so striking about this is how different it was from the perception of the IDF’s performance in the 2006 Lebanon War. But in the best way of being of a Polish mother, of internalizing the message and doing something about it, the IDF had realized its problem, not ignored or denied it, but rather had taken upon itself a virtual revolution in the coordination of its various units.

The result was plain and exciting to see this time around.

So, it seems to me that while we don’t get to attend any surreal victory rallies or parades, our perennial “utziness” probably stands us in very good stead. It’s what impelled us to invent an Iron Dome, the Trophy anti-anti tank defense and some of the soon to be announced other technological marvels designed to blunt indiscriminately murderous attacks.

It is what keeps sending us back to the drawing board to figure out how to improve the already exemplary. It is perhaps the very appropriate mindset to have when living in the world’s wackiest neighborhood, where the margin of error hovers around zero.

I for one, while feeling cheated at not be able to gloat about the Operation’s outcome, or being able to high five my friends about it, am proud to live in a place where good is never quite good enough, and when it comes to our own security, the glass is always half empty, if that.

About the Author
After a successful money management career in NYC, Doug Altabef made aliyah to Rosh Pina with his wife Linda and their youngest of four kids in 2009. As a money manager, Doug was a frequent guest commentator on Bloomberg TV, CNNfn TV as well as Wall Street Radio, which was syndicated out to dozens of radio stations throughout the US. Today he spends his time serving as Chairman of the Board of Im Tirtzu and a Director of the Israel Independence Fund, where he has been privileged to get some amazing insights into how people are making a difference here. Doug also has invested in several early stage Israeli companies and is a big believer in the Start Up Nation attractiveness of Israeli technology.