There is a tense atmosphere in Israel these days. Within a week, a total of 11 people have been killed in terrorist attacks perpetrated either by Israeli Arabs or by Palestinians who entered Israel illegally. There is no question that we should not let fear overwhelm and disrupt our lives, but at the same time it is obvious that there is panic in Israeli society. The recent attacks inspired by the tactics of ISIS have proven that such acts can happen anywhere and at any time.
Any city in the world that has been affected by terrorism can relate to the sense of panic and anxiety that permeates every street, every inch of entire neighborhoods. Fear, mistrust, anger and sorrow are all feelings that describe the current state of mind of Israelis who feel that their right to live a normal life has been taken away from them.
Our sages wrote, “He who comes to kill you, kill him first” (Midrash Rabbah, 21:4) and “If one comes to kill you, kill him first” (Midrash Tanchuma, Pinhas, Chapter 3). This ancient law also applies to those who protect themselves or others from an existential threat. It aims at saving lives from those who deliberately want to kill us or others.
The terrorists today are not afraid of anything; even their own death is no deterrent. They know that if they succeed in inflicting harm, they will be hailed as heroes in their hometowns, their pictures will adorn squares, and candies will be distributed in the streets where they lived to celebrate the murders they have committed. We have seen this many times in previous attacks. On top of that, the murderer’s family will receive generous financial compensation from those who support terrorism. And in the event that the terrorist survives and goes to prison, he or she will find better conditions there than some of them had at home.
Even if we covered every street and every neighborhood with security personnel, we would not be able to eliminate the threat and the fear that plagues us. However, if we begin to respond with an iron fist to those who seek to kill us, as we are commanded to do, we could effectively combat terror. If, on the other hand, we continue to cringe, the circle of terror will widen, and we will keep witnessing violent and extreme events that befall us, and will again and again face the heartbreaking images of orphans and widows.
We are in a constant struggle for our safety here in Israel. From attack to attack, we feel shock waves that force us to question ourselves: Why should I live this way, for what purpose? If not here, where could I live?
If we assess our situation correctly, we will eventually arrive at the simplest truth: Our external foes can only be neutralized by our internal unity. Our existence depends on how much we support and help each other. We must build a society that lives in mutual guarantee over our differences, because “love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18) is the great rule of the Torah. If we lived according to it, all people would feel a positive enlightenment emanating from the Jewish people, and thanks to it, the rest of humanity would also come closer to the realization of this rule.
If we implement this principle and unite with each other like members of a close-knit family, no one will be able to harm us. Thus, internal solidarity and cohesion are the true and lasting defenses against our enemies.