"Sometimes," Blaise Pascal once noted, "we learn more from the sight of evil than from an example of good." The great philosopher's pithy observation took on new resonance last week, as Israelis were given ample opportunity to catch a glimpse of what sheer, unadulterated wickedness truly looks like.
In Beirut, it took the form of Hizbullah thug-in-chief Hassan Nasrallah. Speaking on Saturday to a crowd of tens of thousands of cheering supporters, the bearded and bespectacled terror boss delivered one of the most chilling speeches in recent memory.
"O Zionists," he declared, "your army has left the body parts of your soldiers in our villages and fields. Our mujahadeen fought these Zionists, killing them and collecting their body parts."
For Nasrallah to gloat about mutilation and dismemberment is simply inhuman.
As if that weren't gruesome enough, Nasrallah went on to provide still more macabre detail. "I am not talking about regular body parts," he said. "I tell the Israelis, we have the heads of your soldiers, we have hands, we have legs ... there is even a near-complete body, a half or three-quarters of a body, from head, to chest to the torso."
Even for the Middle East, it was an exceptional demonstration of callousness and cruelty. For Nasrallah to gloat about mutilation and dismemberment is simply inhuman. Adjectives such as depraved and degenerate fail to do this cretin justice.
But the evil on display last week was not confined merely to our northern borders. To the east, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was boasting in an interview with Al-Jazeera that Israel is "doomed to collapse," in the process repeating one of his favorite mantras that Zionists are "enemies of mankind." Backing up his rhetoric with deeds, the tyrant of Teheran took delivery of another 11 tons of nuclear fuel from Russia as he races ahead with plans to produce atomic weapons. And we all know just where those warheads will be pointed, should he succeed with his nefarious schemes.
Then, to the south of us lies Hamas-controlled Gaza. In recent days, Palestinian terrorists have fired more than 160 Kassam rockets and 70 mortar shells from the Strip at Israeli towns and villages throughout the Negev, indiscriminately targeting innocent civilians.
The result has been that thousands of Israelis are being terrorized daily by the shrill sound of sirens and the piercing whistle of potentially-lethal projectiles hurtling at them through the air.
Not surprisingly, a new study released by the Israel Center for Victims of Terror and War found that over 75 percent of the children in Sderot exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
And so, an entire generation in that battered southern town is growing up with extensive psychological and emotional wounds.
What are we to make of all this? What does this hatred mean? While this question might seem tantalizingly simple, or even simplistic, the answer to this query is in fact what lies at the root of Israel's foreign and defense policies.
For some, the encirclement of Israel by hostile forces is what underlies their determination to reach a final deal as quickly as possible with Mahmoud Abbas.
Resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, they say, will sap the hostility directed at Israel throughout the Arab world, thereby securing the Jewish state's place in the region.
But such an approach amounts to little more than wishful thinking, as our brief little survey of the region clearly indicates. The enmity we face is not merely political, but fundamentally theological too.
For Hamas, Hizbullah and the Iranian regime, which together constitute an arc of hate surrounding Israel, are ideologically committed to the Jewish state's destruction, regardless of whether a settlement of one sort or another is reached.
Addressing the political demands of our foes, while ignoring their deep-seated sense of sacred duty to erase the Jewish presence in this region, is an act of potentially lethal self-delusion.
Like all human beings, we Israelis are uncomfortable staring evil directly in the face. It strikes at our own historical and existential anxieties, and goes against our basic human need to be loved and appreciated.
But psycho-babble aside, we need to come to terms with the reality of our situation, which boils down to fighting back or being ejected from the ring.
Israel is engaged in a titanic, life-and-death struggle between good and evil.
The arc of hate is growing ever more bold, and it is only a matter of time before they seize upon the sense of weakness that our current leaders are projecting and ready themselves to pounce.
These recent events should serve as a jolting reminder to us all that Israel is engaged in a titanic, life-and-death struggle between good and evil. This is not about a misunderstanding over boundary lines, water rights or even refugees. It is a momentous, ongoing war of annihilation that our foes have been waging against us for over a century. Simply put, it is a struggle against evil.
And the critical component necessary for our survival and our success is maintaining an unwavering sense of faith, and never losing sight of the justness of our cause. The moment we do so is the moment when the battle will be lost.
Twenty-five years ago, during the Cold War with the Soviet Union, US president Ronald Reagan said, "I've always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith."
Those words are equally applicable today. The evil is staring us right in the face, whether in the guise of Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad or Khaled Mashaal.
Our task is to stare it back down and defeat it, plain and simple. Like it or not, averting our eyes or making dangerous concessions simply won't make it go away.
This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.