I am a middle-class, Jewish woman born in suburban New Jersey. Why have I spent most of the last 21 years living in a war zone?
Since I was blessed to settle in the Land of Israel, I have witnessed -- no! experienced -- a succession of wars. Each had its own distinct persona.
The "first intifada" in 1988 was like an adolescent boy, exuding the meanness and petty violence of a juvenile delinquent. Throwing rocks and burning tires in their own Arab villages, they affected me only when Jewish soldiers were injured. Passing through the Arab shuk, a two-minute walk from my Jerusalem Old City home, I would see the shops ominously shuttered and dark, "on strike," for months at a time, on the orders of the P.L.O., safely sequestered in Tunis. When one poor shopkeeper dared to open his shop, it was swiftly set aflame by his Arab brethren.
The Gulf War of 1991 was like a mythical dragon threatening to incinerate us with its fiery breath. We donned the appropriate armor -- plastic-wrapped safe rooms and gas masks -- and were miraculously saved by our Champion, God Himself. He worked miracles so patently obvious that even seasoned news reporters enthused on the air: "Another Scud has hit a densely populated area and has caused neither injuries nor damage. It's miraculous!"
But the Gulf War had its scary moments, as all dragons do. The first time the sirens went off, we ran to our safe room (our bedroom), sealed the door, donned our gas masks, and then coaxed our four-year-old daughter to put her child-sized mask on. She refused, so we forced it on her. The next morning the news reported that a four-year-old Israeli Arab girl had died when her parents forced her gas mask on her. I still shudder at the memory.
The Oslo War taught me how to pray with fervor every time my husband or one of my children took a bus or went to shop in downtown Jerusalem.
Then, just before Rosh Hashana, 2000, the Oslo War erupted. With its weekly and sometimes daily terror attacks, it was a deadly, sinister monster that could not be defeated and usually not even identified. Disguised variously as a religious Jew getting on a bus, a nondescript girl entering a supermarket, or a woman in a thick coat attending the Passover Seder at the Park Hotel, this enemy fought with an impassioned cruelty that kept us all trembling in fear. The Oslo War taught me how to pray with fervor every time my husband or one of my children took a bus or went to shop in downtown Jerusalem. And when they returned alive and whole, I would praise and thank God with an enthusiasm that the spiritually tepid could well envy.
Israel lost the Oslo War. Its terrorist perpetrators succeeded in terrorizing us. Many wealthy Israelis took their children and fled abroad. Those of us chained to the Land of Israel by idealism or poverty stayed, and spent the war's duration going from funeral to condolence call to hospital visit, shedding copious tears insufficient to quell the fires of our enemy's hatred.
I remember the funeral of five-month-old Yehudah Shoham, his parents' only child after years of waiting. The infant was in his car seat in the back of his parents' car when a barrage of rocks fractured his skull. Listening to the heartbreaking eulogies, I thought to myself, "I am heartsick from attending the funerals of children." We as a nation buried over a thousand children, mothers, fathers, even whole families, during that worst of all wars.
Then, in 2002, after the Passover massacre that killed 29 Jews engaged in their Seder, Israel finally retaliated with its own war: Operation Defensive Shield. We went back into the territories we had entrusted to the care of Yassir Arafat, and tried to clean out the terrorists' nests. Operation Defensive Shield was like a battered woman finally fighting back. An unprecedented record 90% of reservists who were called up reported for duty, as well as many who were not called but who were eager to finally be allowed to fight the monster.
On Israeli Independence Day, two weeks after that calamitous Passover, my family helped serve a barbeque to the soldiers in an outpost near Bethlehem. Dressed in their battle fatigues, the soldiers ate hurriedly, then donned their helmets, jumped onto their armored personnel carriers, and, waving to us, started to rumble off toward the battle. They were reservists, in their thirties. In addition to being someone's son, most of them were also someone's husband and someone's father. As we stood there, waving them off, I wondered how many of them would return alive.
THE NEW WAR
Eventually Israel, aching for peace, decided to build a fence to end all wars. "Unilateral withdrawal" became the peace panacea. With a state-of-the-art fence keeping our enemies out—on the Lebanese border, in Gaza, and in Judea and Samaria, one Israeli politician bragged that we had bought ourselves peace on our own terms.
But now, six years after leaving Lebanon and one year after leaving Gaza, we are at war again, on both fronts. Our fences are not deep enough to keep terrorists from tunneling under them, nor high enough to keep Katyusha rockets from hurtling over them. Following Wednesday morning's Hezbollah attack on Israel's northern border, leaving eight Israeli soldiers dead and two kidnapped, Israel has called up the reserves and put a siege around Lebanon. On Thursday, Hezbollah launched over 80 rockets into the towns and cities of northern Israel, killing two women and wounding 120 others. Two missiles hit Haifa, Israel's third-largest city. We are at war again.
Jerusalem is out of the range of the rockets, but my heart is within the range of the enemy's diabolical attacks.
Thursday night we call our friends Eliahu and Teva in the northern city of Safed, where scores of rockets have fallen, killing one and seriously injuring others. Our friends and their children spent the afternoon in the bomb shelter of their apartment building. "The sound of the rockets whizzing through the air and exploding scare all the children," Eliahu comments dourly. Some of their neighbors have fled Safed. We invite our friends to come to Jerusalem and stay with us.
Jerusalem is out of the range of the rockets, but my heart is within the range of the enemy's diabolical attacks. I cry when I pray for Gilad Shalit (Gilad ben Aviva), the young soldier kidnapped by Hamas terrorists this side of the Gaza fence. And I cry when I pray for Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the two young reservists kidnapped on this side of the Lebanese border. I cry for the families of the eight soldiers who are preparing to bury their dead sons.
On Friday night, our Shabbat guests are five soldiers, tank commanders. Until the last minute, we are unsure whether they will show up. If Israel decides on a ground offensive, these boys (the oldest of them is 20) will likely be sent to the battlefront. I am filled with fear for them. On the first day of the war, a tank sent over the border to search for the kidnapped soldiers hit a giant explosive and was ripped to pieces, decimating the bodies of the four boys inside.
Our Shabbat guests tell us that Gilad Shalit (kidnapped near Gaza) is a member of their unit, as were the other three soldiers who were killed when the Gazan terrorists fired an anti-tank missile at their tank on a routine patrol. Sitting around our Shabbat table, they explain to us that every tank has a built-in mechanism that, when the tank bursts into flames, sucks the air out of the tank interior to put out the fire. But, because human beings need air, the tank crew then has no choice but to evacuate the tank. This, they explain, was the fatal tactical error of the crew in the attacked tank: They got out, and thus were easy prey for the terrorists, who killed three of them and kidnapped Gilad.
"But what could they have done if there was no air inside the tank?" I ask, perplexed. The boys look at each other and squirm. They have no good answer. No answer that could have saved Gilad and his crewmates. No answer that could save themselves.
THE SIMPLE EQUATION
My battered heart reels at the continued news of deadly rockets raining on Israel's towns and cities. I mourn for the death of our soldiers and civilians, but I am gratified by the death of illusion, the illusion that further unilateral withdrawals will bring peace, the illusion that we can be secure behind our fences, the illusion that our enemies can be placated by more and more concessions, the illusion that the international community will this time be on our side. Our present predicament results from the wishful thinking of those who choose to ignore the clearly stated (in Arabic) designs of our enemies; From those who crave international acceptance more than a reckoning with our own reality.
As God has made abundantly clear throughout the Torah and the Prophets, the Land of Israel is the eternal inheritance of the Jewish People. But to actually possess the Land, we must merit it.
Reality has now caught up with us, and it, too, has its own persona. It has the face of the Prophet Jeremiah, to whom God made clear the simple equation: When we as a nation merit spiritually to keep the Land of Israel, we will keep it. And when we lack the spiritual merit to keep the Land, we will lose it. As Jeremiah, a mouthpiece for the Divine voice, proclaimed "For what reason did the land perish and become parched like the desert, without a passerby? God has said: ‘Because of their forsaking My Torah that I put before them; moreover, they did not heed My voice nor follow it.'" (Jeremiah 9:11-12).
As God has made abundantly clear throughout the Torah and the Prophets, the Land of Israel is the eternal inheritance of the Jewish People, as promised to our Patriarchs. But to actually possess the Land and live in it, we must merit it. The Land of Israel belongs to us like a mortgaged house belongs to its owner. The "mortgage" that we owe is compliance with the Divine covenant that governs our relationship with God and man.
I do not know if we will win this latest war. But I do know that it is not in the hands of Hamas nor Hezbollah. Not in the hands of our political or military leaders. Not in the hands of the U.S. nor the U.N. Our victory depends on us and the spiritual merit we generate by keeping the mitzvot. Until we accept on ourselves this reality, we are doomed to be at war -- again and again.