Opinion |

Now as Before, Israelis Can Join Hands

Israel Harel
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Anti-Netanyahu protesters march in the port city of Haifa, October 22, 2020.
Anti-Netanyahu protesters march in the port city of Haifa, October 22, 2020.Credit: Rami Shllush
Israel Harel

A good number of intellectuals who regularly use Haaretz as a platform for expressing their anguish foresee the end of the Jewish state, the end of the Return to Zion. They offer myriad reasons for this bleak prediction. Chief among them: the irreparable fragmentation of society – with the wanton violations of the coronavirus regulations bearing irrefutable witness to this – due to Benjamin Netanyahu’s divisive, corrupt rule.

Empirical evidence – seeing how past crises were overcome – does not convince these people; to each generation its own sense of doom. The Altalena affair and the dismantling of the Palmach, Irgun and Lehi militias at the start of the War of Independence left the inhabitants of the small Yishuv deeply shaken.

Israelis watch as the Etzel's ship Altalena burns after being shelled by the Palmach, off the coast of Tel Aviv, June 1948.
Israelis watch as the Etzel's ship Altalena burns after being shelled by the Palmach, off the coast of Tel Aviv, June 1948.Credit: Pinn Hans / GPO

Many foresaw the end of the young state that was fighting five armies from the outside and internally was on the brink of civil war. The hatred harbored by members of the former underground militias, their families and supporters for David Ben-Gurion and the Mapai tyranny was – like the animus many now feel toward Likud and Netanyahu – intensely powerful. But precisely then, at the height of the crisis, the nation united to pull off the greatest (proven) miracle since Israel’s founding: the absorption of a million and a half immigrants.

Yes, a small yishuv of 650,000 souls valiantly overcame its hatreds, divisions and rifts and in the space of less than two years, tripled the country’s population. And all this at a time when Israel was under a severe austerity regime. Today, as we witness so much flouting of the law, it bears noting that back then, any failure to adhere to the austerity measures, especially by more well-off veteran Israelis, was deemed just as scandalous as the conduct of the Haredim during the coronavirus lockdowns.

There is not enough space here to describe the many “existential” crises we’ve endured since then. In each one, moralists, scientists, jurists, historians and literary figures prophesied the end that was nearly upon us; about how the Jewish people is not cut out to run its own state, that the long years of exile sapped us of these abilities. The height of despair came after the Yom Kippur War. Then practically everyone asserted: The country is galloping headlong into the abyss.

And now, less than half a century after this “abyss,” we’re living in a country that has tripled its population, hugely bolstered its GNP, enriched itself through science and boosted its standing among the nations of the world.

I suggest that those who are currently despairing take an example from the people who were uprooted from Gush Katif, Israel's settlement bloc in Gaza, and from the victims of the Oslo Accords. Despite having experienced the worst personal and communal tragedies in the country’s history, they never lost their faith in the Jewish state and the future of Zionism. All those who predicted, like Yeshayahu Leibowitz, that these people would convert, abandon Israel, abandon their communities or refuse to serve in the IDF turned out to be false prophets.

Evacuation of the Kerem Atzmona settlement during Israel's Gaza disengagement, 2005.
Evacuation of the Kerem Atzmona settlement during Israel's Gaza disengagement, 2005.Credit: Nir Kafri

Many of the people (or their intellectual heirs) who brought about Oslo and the disengagement, while coldly dismissing the suffering of the victims they sacrificed, are currently spearheading the protests. Although the feelings of the uprooted and those who belong to their camp prevents them from joining the protests, many of them do understand the protesters’ pain. The protesters’ perseverance attests to their faith that what needs fixing here can indeed be repaired; it does not point to a trend of deserting Israel, as the post-Zionists hoped or predicted.

I count myself among the believers (and they are numerous) that despite all the baggage of the past, it is possible to join forces with those who brought about those past calamities and together ensure that we and our offspring will live in a country that is governed by honest people for whom the good of the people and the country, not their personal, family or party interests, is paramount.

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