Israel marks a sad day this week: Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day. No other open and free society has had to send its finest sons and daughters to safeguard its existence for more than 100 years, without an end in sight. The people who comprise the Israel Defense Forces today are the great-grandchildren of the members of the early Jewish militias and paramilitary organizations that helped make pre-state Israel into an independent nation. Without some miracle that would turn the Middle East into Scandinavia, these soldiers’ descendants will have to confront the descendants of the terrorists who targeted the Jews in the 1920s.
Viewed through a historical prism, there is some irony to all of this. Despite Jews getting exponentially stronger over the years, with great national power, the threats against their state have increased in severity. On the one hand, Israel is a successful regional superpower, and on the other hand, the Iranian enemy bent on eliminating it is stronger than all of its Arab enemies in the previous generation, among which it has managed to enlist dangerous proxies.
Israeli society must persevere through its unique blend of multi-generational stamina and liberty, creativity and constructive focus that give meaning to this life. Some tribal societies have learned to live in the shadow of violent conflicts by developing resolve, even if at the price of curtailing personal liberties and undermining human dignity. Their only accomplishment is survival, at the expense of the constructive and creative elements of society; life continues but its quality declines and it has a bitter taste. It’s no wonder that such societies have failed in dealing with the challenges of the modern age.
Israel will be destroyed if it falls into either of those traps. If it slides toward the appeasement route it will be destroyed by its enemies. If it bolsters its defenses at the expense of its people’s liberties and constructive elements, it will lose its raison d’etre and its finest members, who want to live in it and defend it. Without them, it would simply disappear. It must preserve its stamina just enough so that it remains an open and thriving society while radiating toughness. It has had to continue fighting because it is surrounded by enemies that engage in wild violence even toward their own compatriots and coreligionists.
It appears that our regional environment is not going to see a fundamental improvement any time soon. We will have to keep fighting, and losing our finest people in doing so. The pain will not lessen, but we will know that their fight and their sacrifice will have significantly helped mitigate the threats on Israel. The fact that the fallen have knowingly agreed to risk their lives for the protection of society and the life we enjoy in Israel offers some comfort for all of us.
Dan Schueftan is the director of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.