Israelis, Shooting First and Crying Later Is No Longer an Option

Israel's next leader must provide its citizens with an identity that maintains significant continuity with the Israeli past and doesn’t deny it, but at the same time offers a way to live with it proudly.

Moti Milrod

Upon looking at the burned classrooms and textbooks at the Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School in Jerusalem after Lehava activists allegedly torched and vandalized it in November, it was hard not to recall the warning by Heinrich Heine that “where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings.” But Israeli reality prevented the use of what has become a historical cliche; how can we see the burning as a metaphor – that is, as a warning – for the possibility that people would be burned, when that’s exactly what literally happened to Jerusalem teenager Mohammed Abu-Khdeir? Israeli reality has traversed the metaphoric distance expressed in the cliché, so we can no longer use it.

A similar feeling arises regarding the tears shed by former Mossad head Meir Dagan last Saturday. Is there a clearer, more substantive literal example of the cliché “shooting and crying?” So we can’t use that cliché anymore, either. Its critical element was lost the moment that reality closed the metaphorical gap – when someone who shot stood up in the city square and literally cried.

“Anyone who remained dry-eyed at the sound of this Israeli hero’s choked voice has a heart of stone,” wrote Sefi Rachlevsky in this newspaper on Monday, expressing a sad truth about the Israeli emotional world. For Israelis, the stronger a man is, the more saddening and authentic his weeping. One needn’t tear up, for example, upon hearing the screams of the children in Gaza that filled the world’s television screens last summer – of course not; and if we don’t tear up at the site of women or old or weak people crying – that’s not evidence of the hardening of the Israeli heart. But to remain indifferent to the sight of an Israeli hero weeping? That’s just too much.

To an Israeli, the real victim of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is himself, or even more, the Israeli soldier. “We can never forgive the Arabs for forcing our children to learn to kill their children,” as Golda Meir said. For this reason, Dagan’s weeping, the weeping of someone who shoots, is conceived as authentic weeping. And as such, anyone not saddened by it “has a heart of stone,” as Rachlevsky put it. Moreover, Dagan’s heroic weeping is seen as that which could cause the Israeli ship, which is sinking in its own grief, to finally change course.

The shooting-and-crying Israeliness, which achieved its literal realization this week in the Tel Aviv square, has expired; it can no longer accommodate the complexity of life here. The cover it gave those who fired in its name – even when they felt that it was aimless fire, such that there was no choice but to cry afterwards – has been blown.

Many fear that the choice of Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni is a return to the polite status quo that will block any real change. In other words, back to the shooting-and-crying way of life. But they’re missing the point: From the moment you encounter the real, there’s no way to retreat back to the metaphorical, even if you want to. The weeping in the square will spread to the battlefield, and nothing will be able to stop it. Israel has arrived at a real crossroads.

Naftali Bennett understood this, and indeed, he offers a new Israeliness, an alternative to the shooting-and-crying Israeliness. From now on we should “stop apologizing,” in other words: shoot and not cry.

Those who want to lead the country in a different direction have to understand that they must provide a new Israeli identity that maintains significant continuity with the Israeli past and doesn’t deny it, but at the same time offers a way to live with it proudly. Something that could be phrased with Israeli clumsiness as “shooting and making peace.”