Opinion

Israel’s remarkable resilience

We can all learn from their stellar example.

Israeli singer Aviv Geffen performing at the Jerusalem Theater, June 3, 2012. Photo: Uri Lenz/FLASH90
Israeli singer Aviv Geffen performing at the Jerusalem Theater, June 3, 2012. Photo: Uri Lenz/FLASH90
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East. She is the author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Terrorist Network (2011).  

Resilience. There is simply no other word to define the remarkable Israeli psyche, which was again on abundant display last week. On May 11, amid over 1,000 incoming rockets from Gaza, an outdoor concert was held in Tel Aviv. Despite the obvious threat, an estimated 40,000 people came out to dance and sway to the music of Israeli rock star Aviv Gefen.

On Sunday evening, despite a ceasefire that was brokered by Egypt between Israel and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), bringing Operation Shield and Arrow to an end, an “errant” missile was fired at the coastal town of Ashkelon. That did not prevent a wedding from taking place in Ashkelon.

The Israeli value, with traditional Jewish antecedents, of taking every opportunity to enjoy, celebrate and appreciate life despite adversity is wise and profound.

For five days, PIJ—a relatively weak, Iran-backed terrorist organization—launched 1,200 rockets at Israeli civilians. This gave residents of the border town of Sderot a mere 15 seconds to seek shelter in their sealed rooms and 60 seconds in Tel Aviv. Sadly, the rockets managed to destroy one home in Rehovot, killing one and injuring 10. A Palestinian from Gaza temporarily working in Israel was also killed by rocket fire.

Of course, everyone should know there is absolutely no territorial dispute between Israel and Gaza. In 2005, Israel went through the divisive and gut-wrenching removal of every single remnant of a Jewish presence from Gaza. I was told at the time by many powerful people in support of the withdrawal, “This will finally prove to the world, once and for all, how far Israel will go for peace.”

Do you think the world remembers today?

Operation Shield and Arrow began because Khader Adnan of PIJ went on a hunger strike, refusing not only food but life-saving medication in an Israeli prison, for 86 consecutive days. The word on the street in Gaza was that the Israelis had killed him.

As a result of this self-inflicted death, the Israeli people were besieged by rockets beginning on May 9.

Gaza’s reigning terrorist group Hamas, funded by Iran and Qatar, had relatively little role in this latest conflict. Perhaps deterred by the extreme level of devastation it suffered during Operation Guardian of the Walls in 2021, Hamas did not get directly involved.

Hamas is also trying to establish its international prestige. It already has relations with Turkey, Iran, Syria and Qatar, and might well be looking to rebrand itself as the heir apparent of the Palestinian Authority after P.A. chief Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah dies.

Abbas, 87 and in ill health, was elected on Jan. 15, 2005. He is now in the 18th year of his four-year term. When he soon passes away, it is inevitable that there will be internecine conflict as to which rival faction will take control.

According to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, if there were free and fair elections in the disputed Palestinian-populated territories today, Fatah would lose badly. According to their most recent poll taken in March 2023, fully 83% of Palestinians said that Fatah has no right to arrest members of other terrorist groups.

Although not directly involved in the latest fighting, Hamas has allowed PIJ to make use of its tunnels and permitted PIJ leaders to seek refuge in Gaza. The shared objective of Hamas and PIJ—the complete eradication of the State of Israel—enabled these “rival” factions to assist one another during this conflict.

It appears that, at least for now, the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire between PIJ and Israel is holding. Israel had managed to use the conflict to achieve certain military objectives, eliminating three PIJ commanders, including the mastermind of the rocket attacks.

Not one person was reported to have refused military service during this conflict because of the contentious issue of judicial reform. One soldier in the reserves whom I personally know has demonstrated against the judicial reforms. He was supposed to leave the country for a family reunion, but stayed behind in case the situation escalated and his unit was called up.

Despite Israel’s often vociferous internal debates, the Israeli people have once again demonstrated their ability to put aside such differences and pull together in the face of an implacable enemy.

Every Israeli I have spoken with in the aftermath of this conflict has immediately cleaned up the rubble and appears to be going on with their lives. Schools, work places and border crossings for Palestinians are now open. Life is back to normal.

Everyone is aware that this is a temporary ceasefire or hudna and not a real, lasting peace. They know, paraphrasing the immortal words of Golda Meir, that a true peace will not come until they love their children more than they despise ours.

Yet the Israelis remain on their highly contested piece of real estate—resilient, resolute and determined. They have learned the  profound wisdom of cherishing each day, and continue to sway to the lilting music of Aviv Geffen.

We should all learn from their stellar example.

Sarah N. Stern is founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy institute in Washington, D.C.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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