On War and Peace In Israel

After the devastation of the war with the Romans, Jewish leaders opted to abandon the sword completely. For 2000 years Jews perfected a system that preferred survival over independence and prosperity.

Life in the diaspora was mostly life of poverty, humiliation, occasional murder and rape, and frequent migrations when conditions became unbearable. It was a heavy price to pay for preservation, but in the long run it was proven an effective way to preserve Judaism and the Jewish nation.

For a long time Jews were known as pacifists. No one expected them to fight back, under no circumstances. Not even during the Spanish expulsion, or the terrible programs in Russia. This system had its obvious disadvantages, but from their point of view, Jews saw how they survived long after their nemesis vanished. Empires came and went, but Judaism continued to exist.

Then came the Holocaust and changed everything; Jews learned that without a country and an army of their own, they may not survive much longer. From the ashes of the concentration camps a new generation was born. A generation that believed that a sword is a necessary evil and the IDF was created. The IDF is the only army in the world where every soldier knows that losing a war means the murder of every Jewish person in the country.

Jewish people are smart, talented, and very motivated to make sure that this will never happen. They built an army that is highly sophisticated and much more potent than any army in the region. For the first time in many generations, Jewish people feel that they no longer need to fear that in any moment someone would step or spit on them, steal from them, rape them, kidnap their children, or murder them. The IDF is so powerful that the traditional enemies of the Jewish people learned to respect it and stay in a safe distance.

It is certainly a much better position to be in. I certainly thank the almighty for letting me be part of this generation, an exception in the long Jewish history of the last 2000 years.

Yet, having such a strong army led many people to believe that it is the solution, the only solution to  ensure the survival of the Jewish people in Israel.

How did it happened, that a nation that abandoned the sword and perfected a system of survival without it, in less than a hundred years, forgot all about the art of negotiation, quick adjustment to changing realities, and the recognition of the limitations of use of force?

Fear is a good thing; it is a motivation to make changes and make painful compromises.

There was no serious attempt to make peace with the Palestinians in the past 10 years. Israeli governments learned that they couldn’t trust any agreement signed with Palestinian leaders so they pretty much abandoned this option. Instead, they rely on their strong army to ensure stability. Generations of Israelis are born into this reality, where they grow in a country that survives on its sword. Many of them believe that this is the right way.

Growing in a country with a strong regional army, surrounded by people who think the same way, distort the view. Many take for granted the strong traditional backing America. not realizing that this can change in an instance if Americans decide to do so. They do not realize how much Israel is dependent on strong alliances with other countries; nations, which many of their citizens are very critical of Israel’s lack of interest in true negotiations with Palestinians.

The problem is that just like having no sword is a recipe for disaster, having only a sword is also a recipe for disaster. A reminder of that is the refusal of Golda’s government to negotiate with Egypt in the 70s, believing that having a strong enough army was much better than making painful compromises. This off course led to the disaster of the Yom Kippur war, which in the end, the Egyptians, got everything they wanted in the first place.

There is another lesson to be learned from that war. A lesson that is often overlooked; the peace treaty with Egypt, the one that Israel was so worried that it won’t last when it was signed, is proven to be the best thing that happened to Israel. It brought a stability to Israel’s southern border, and cleared the way for additional peace treaties with Arab nations.

I know that it is difficult, but Israel must learn how to have both; a strong army to protect her, and at the same time to operate as if it doesn’t exist. A lot of wisdom, skills, and vision, were required to preserve the Jewish nation without a sword. This knowledge should be put to use. The combination of the two is much more powerful than relying on one system at the time.

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