In the past Israel was famous the world over as a society that knew how to maintain its equanimity and to behave in a balanced, judicious and restrained manner even in very difficult situations, in the face of terror attacks, infiltrators, wars, terror, threats and grave security challenges. It is no coincidence that Ariel Sharon always used to say that "restraint is power, too" - all, of course, in the right dosage. This unique quality, which aroused admiration all over the world, was the secret of Israel's strength and power, and to a large extent the secret of its success as well.
Recently the impression has been strengthening that Israeli society is beginning to lose the equanimity, good judgment and psychological equilibrium that characterized it for so many years. This has been accomplished with the generous assistance of a frighteningly irresponsible, sensationalist, loud and populist media. It has been demonstrated both on the issue of the captives and in the unbalanced reactions to last week's attack in Jerusalem.
The issue of our captive soldiers is very complex. It must be handled with great sensitivity vis-a-vis the families, and with no less determination vis-a-vis our bitterest enemies. Populist slogans such as "Don't let indifference kill them," or "At any price," as well as the various demonstrations that have been held, do not contribute anything at all and in fact only undermine the supreme goal, which is bringing them back home. Anyone who follows the media could get the impression that Gilad Shalit is being held by the State of Israel, and that only because the prime minister is preoccupied with his own problems has he not taken the time to open his cell and release him.
It is not indifference that is preventing Shalit's release, but the exaggerated demands of Hamas, which no Israeli government can accept. The sooner Israeli society goes back to exhibiting determination, and the more Hamas is convinced that there is a limit to its ability to blackmail and to the price Israeli society is willing to pay, the sooner the day will come when Gilad Shalit returns home.
The unbalanced reaction to the attack in Jerusalem is another example of the weakness and absence of equanimity that are undermining Israeli society. A normal country does not pay the burial costs of a terrorist, nor does it give his family a survivor's allowance. There is no need for passage of a law for that, it's a simple matter of common sense and survival instincts. But that is a far cry from demolishing the home of the terrorist's family. There are cases when demolishing a terrorist's home is justified, but in this case the demolition is not only an unjust act that is contrary to Jewish ethics, it is also and mainly an unwise one. Demolishing the house will not deter anyone, it will only intensify the hatred among the residents of East Jerusalem, and unnecessarily so.
The terrorist was a drug addict, a rapist and a criminal, who operated alone and on his own cognizance, and who according to all signs, did not receive concrete or moral support from his immediate surroundings or his family. So what is the justification for demolishing the family's home? We would do well to cite the cry by Moses and Aaron to God, which we read in the Torah portion only a week ago: "Shall one man sin and wilt thou be angry with all the congregation?"
Those of us who want with all our might to preserve a united Jerusalem have a strong interest in illustrating to the entire world that Jerusalem is not like other regions, and that even the Arab residents of East Jerusalem enjoy the same rights as the residents of Israel. The time has come to return to what we used to be: a society that knows how to deal with challenges while maintaining equanimity, restraint and good judgment.
The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies.
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