War Over, Israel Can Go Back to Ignoring War as Usual

The last war didn't leave much impression because, really, it was just more of the same old.

Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter
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The Iron Dome system shooting down an incoming rocket in Ashdod. Remember that?Credit: Ilan Asayag
Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter

Israel was at war this summer. That's not long ago but as Israelis celebrate the Jewish holidays, the hostilities from June to August seem very far away, almost like a vacation that failed to leave a notable impression.

In the weeks since Operation Protective Edge ended with a "temporary truce" between Israel and Hamas, life in Israel reverted back to normal. There was a war this summer. Was there a war this summer? It’s hard to tell.

If you’re not Israeli, you must think that sounds crazy. How can a nation seemingly forget a whole summer’s-worth of rocket attacks? But those seem as distant now as other developments related to Protective Edge. Right-wing thugs looking for left-wing activists and Arab Israelis to beat up? They’ve presumably gone back to fighting about soccer. And the rage, the hate that threatened to engulf Israel a mere month ago, where has that gone? Seemingly, everywhere but anywhere constructive.

Israelis seem to have spent very little time thinking about the effects and results of Protective Edge. Many, certainly, fail to realize that Israel is still, technically, at war with Hamas. "Indirect negotiations" for a long-term truce are supposed to be held (in Cairo), not that anybody knows when. The media has returned to heavily focusing on gossip, and the Islamic State. The war disappeared like a long-forgotten reality show. Not even fodder for uninspired water-cooler talks. Was there a war this summer? If you say.

This is our Normal, after all. Wars here never end. There is no climax. These summer skirmishes, these matinées of violence, are interchangeable. All part of the great permanent War within which Israelis try to conduct somewhat-normal lives.

You might think 50 days of fighting with more than 2,200 dead, among them 70 Israeli soldiers and citizens, would leave an impact on Israeli policy makers, would make them dig deep, offer some sort of vision to combat the feeling of desperate stasis, draw conclusions that are different than the ones they had before the war, suggest a future that is more than more of the same.

It did not. Take, for instance, Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the UN General Assembly. Netanyahu said not one word about talks to reach a long-term ceasefire with Hamas. His speech was a rehash of last year’s, plus Islamic State.

If there was a surprise, it was Netanyahu's adoption of his old arch-rival Shimon Peres' phrase "new Middle East". Granted, Netanyahu's New Middle East wasn't that of Peres, who thought of peace and cooperation between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Netanyahu's is a much bleaker region under threat by militant Islam, in which however Israel would have “new opportunities” for Israel to “work with Arab partners” against Islamic State. “I believe the partnership between us can also help facilitate peace between Israel and the Palestinians”, Netanyahu said.

Welcome to the twilight-zone of our Normal, where our leaders talk about peace while not doing much to end the war.

It isn't mass psychosis. Much like denial, it is a coping mechanism for people who have been living for years waiting for something conclusive to happen, for the pendulum to shift toward one side or the other - but most of the time, it stays right where it is, halfway between war-torn and quiet.

Israelis have learned to treat war as almost-routine, an anticipated and therefore usual occurrence.

It is also, of course, much easier to “forget” war when almost every rocket that was fired your way is intercepted above your head. Palestinians don’t have that luxury.

Nor will Israelis, it seems, for very long. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech in the UN, also this week, was perhaps his most belligerent. He vowed that Israel will not “get away” with “unprecedented devastation” it caused in Gaza.

His speech was a direct antithesis to that of Netanyahu: it was firmly rooted in the present of what had happened, in trying to challenge its results, instead of leafing through it like yesterday’s news. And as the rival Palestinian factions approach one another again, there’s the threat that the unconcluded war will resume. A poll conducted last week by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research said 80% of Palestinians support launching rockets against Israel once again if the siege of Gaza is not lifted.

This, then, is the autumn of our Normal. Winter will probably bring more of the same.

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