The mindset of Israelis when it comes to protecting their state is an unparalleled force. The October 7th attacks unearthed the subconscious response that comes from this mindset. Internal differences were put aside and life was put on hold in order to support the country. Where does this mindset stem from?
I believe initial responses to this question might include the millennium of antisemitism and persecution, or the phrase ‘אין לי ארץ אחרת’ which means ‘I have no other land’. Both responses hold truth. However I want to look deeper at specific factors in the build up to May 14th 1948.
In the months leading up to the declaration of Israel’s independence David Ben Gurion, Abba Eban and other political commentators highlighted two important factors:
- Israeli independence would lead to an immediate attack from the Arab world.
- If the opportunity to establish a Jewish state was not seized at this time, Israeli independence would likely remain an idea and not a reality.
It is the latter point that requires further elaboration. The decision to capitalize this ‘opportunity’ thereby taking on this extensive threat of attack, shifted the mindset of firstly Ben Gurion, and thereafter every individual depending on his leadership. This mental shift in understanding war and security continues to influence the way Israelis perceive their country today.
Defeating the enemy, becoming the startup nation, and continuing to defend themselves, was never guaranteed, or even marginally predictable in 1948. At the time, it was a foregone conclusion that Israel’s existence would be short lived. The United States emphasized that they would recognize Israel’s independence, but with the awareness of the inevitable attack from all Arab neighbors, they had no desire to be extensively involved in defending the state.
Although Israel had some support, especially from the US, the finer details of the diplomatic exchanges highlight that it was recommended to the Jewish leaders that they avoid the inevitable war that independence would bring. Failure to avoid the war would be their responsibility, and theirs alone. There’s only one way to interpret this: ‘We expect you to lose the war, and to lose your country while in its infancy, and it won’t be our fault’.
I believe this was one of the most significant developments amongst Israelis in the context of security and overcoming threats. This was a fundamental test of their belief that their defense would succeed. For the first time in millenia, the fate of the Jewish people was in their own hands. Sovereignty means having independence and a vision that is converted into action and the willingness to make any personal sacrifice. Sacrifices were made, the death count was high, but the mindset ensured that the vision became reality.
In hindsight we can now say, the vision of Ben Gurion was more credible and more accurate than the international political figures who predicted Israel’s collapse. Ben Gurion not only declared the establishment of a Jewish state; he simultaneously created a mindset that Israelis have been reminded of since the attacks on October 7th. Stronger than the iron dome, more significant than U.S support. This mindset is our most valuable asset, and will enable Israel to overcome the current threat.