Bombing Nonstop and Hiking for Israel

Israeli Jews are and always have been tribal and separatist, and war is the tribal bonfire that unites all

Israeli tourists looking into Syria from an observation point in the Golan Heights (illustrative)
Gil Eliahu

The division of labor between the Israel Defense Forces and the civilians during Saturday’s day of combat in the north was as follows: The planes bombed; the civilians went hiking.

“They’re bombing nonstop,” I heard an older man boast, with an air of expertise, to the others at his table at an Aroma café in Rishon Letzion on Saturday morning. “Bombing nonstop” – it sounds like the slogan for a bargain-basement war, or an advertisement for the air force.

The mall was still deserted; the stores were closed and barred. Its corridors are named after European capitals, which symbolize the delights of the good life. Aroma is located on Rome Avenue, at the corner of Paris Avenue, or perhaps London. But it’s a very Israeli place. It is impossible to sit there and imagine you’re far away.

For a few minutes, the conversation around the table focused on updates on the state of the wounded pilots and expressions of satisfaction that they were still alive. Then it moved onto financial concerns.

Because of his autism, my son Yotam tends to be extra careful about manners. He told me it’s not nice to eavesdrop and then quote a conversation taking place at an adjacent table. “I was interested in their attitude toward the fighting up north,” I explained. He didn’t know there was fighting up north.

“Up north, davka?” he asked himself, and took another bite from his sandwich. He uses the word davka – which in this context would mean “of all places” – rather idiosyncratically. He didn’t mean that the outbreak of fighting in the north, rather than with Hamas in Gaza, defied his prior expectations.

Sometimes, I imagine that I’ve discovered surprising depth and significance in that “davka” of his. “Up north, davka?” His offhand insight continued to echo in my head. Sometimes, one of Yotam’s innocent remarks rouses troubling thoughts.

Yes: up north, davka. In that theater where the underhanded Russian President Vladimir Putin – who in Chechnya came up with several fiendish and successful schemes to preserve his authoritarian rule by manipulative use of the war on terror to influence public opinion – is now operating. Up north, because the Iranian devil is uniting his ranks. The north is far more suitable than Gaza.

But on Rome Avenue, at the corner of Paris Avenue, or perhaps London, there was no doubt about the motives of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Israeli Jews are and always have been tribal and separatist. War is the tribal bonfire. They’re bombing nonstop. You live in Rishon Letzion, but feel like you’re in Europe. What tragic folly.

The weather was perfect. Perfect for bombing. Perfect for hiking. Up north, people hiked proudly. They hiked nonstop. Someone on the radio explained that hiking is “a statement that we’re here and we’ll continue to be here.” We didn’t come to enjoy ourselves, we came to be.

Hiking is a continuation of war by other means.

People on the radio were amazed by the swift, smooth transition from emergency to routine and back again. Emergencies are a continuation of routine by other means.

All the analysts explained that “we aren’t looking for an escalation.” Of course not. We’re only looking to go hiking, to have fun with the gang.

We’re looking for high morale, intoxication with the landscapes of the homeland, a stop at an Aroma branch to use the restroom and get some coffee and pastries for the children, if we manage to find them under the mountain of potato chip crumbs in the back seat. We’re looking for Aroma. We’re looking for the traffic jam on the way home from our hike, to make it clear to Iran and Syrian President Bashar Assad and Hitler that we’re here and we’ll continue to be here.

It’s hiking as a demonstration of ownership. The north is ours, and therefore we’ll litter it with trash just as we please.

It’s hiking as provocation: “You want to bomb us? Go ahead, we’re not afraid of you.” Go on, bomb us. Bomb nonstop.

“You have to pay a small price,” a retired general explained, “in order to prevent a large price.” Is there anything more logical than that? I wonder which Israelis will pay this truly minuscule price.