You would think that the global outcry against Israel in the wake of the human devastation of Gaza would have had an effect on Israeli self-esteem. After all, Israelis love to be loved, especially in the cosmopolitan capitals of Europe.
And yet after four days of hanging out in Tel Aviv, I’ve seen plenty of sobriety and sorrow, but not too much self-doubt.
So far, the world has failed to convince the Israelis that they screwed up in their war against Hamas.
The cab driver who took me to Habima Square Saturday night lamented the absence of tourists – he’s lost about 75 percent of his business since the start of the war – but when my ride was over, he ended our conversation by saying, “we can’t stop now, we have to finish.”
A reporter with a local magazine who calls himself “very to the left” spoke to me of how excruciating it is to see all the human suffering. “I don’t want my country to kill children,” he said. But he grudgingly understands why Israel had to go to war against the genocidal Hamas.
He’s among the 95 percent of Jewish Israelis who, according to the Israel Democracy Institute, agree that this war is just. In Israel, you can’t get 95 percent of people to agree that the earth is round.
Amos Oz captured the root of this solidarity in two questions he posed to a German reporter during a recent interview: “What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?
“What would you do if your neighbor across the street digs a tunnel from his nursery to your nursery in order to blow up your home or in order to kidnap your family?”
A Tel Aviv couple with whom I struck up a conversation on Saturday night had no hesitations about the war. “It’s us or them,” the wife said.
Maybe that’s the phrase I was looking for earlier that day, at 6 a.m., as I ran to a bomb shelter from my room at the Intercontinental Hotel.
It’s us or them.
You can sit in Los Angeles and read about rockets flying towards Tel Aviv, but when you actually hear explosions in the sky, when you find yourself sharing a bomb shelter with strangers wearing pajamas and bathrobes, you start to have some strange thoughts.
Like, “I think that bomb was meant to kill me.”
My daughter, who’s been studying at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya for the past three years and has several friends fighting in Gaza, has developed her own math when it comes to the war.
“For every bomb that comes at us,” she says, “I imagine one Israeli killed. That would be over 3,000 dead so far. Crazy.”
The fact that the Iron Dome has prevented those 3,000 Israeli deaths has nothing to do with the fact that Hamas really wanted to kill all these people.
This is the math of the bunkers. When you sit there as the siren wails, you don’t just think about the bomb, you think about the people in your bunker, and you realize: We’re not just humans, we’re human targets.
You visualize a nameless, faceless killer releasing that bomb from far away and yearning to kill you, simply because you are a Jew.
But then, in a quieter moment, you realize that it’s far worse than that: The terrorists also want to kill their own.
“The more Israeli casualties,” Oz said, “the better it is for Hamas. The more Palestinian civilian casualties, the better it is for Hamas.”
So, it’s us and them.
I guess if I had to pick one reason for the extraordinary consensus in Israel about the war against Hamas, this would be it: Israel does more to avoid Palestinian casualties than Hamas does.
As Oz chillingly puts it, it’s “better” for Hamas when Palestinians die.
This is why Israelis – left, right and center – seem to be giving the world the middle finger in this war. They are certain about the justness of their cause. They know that Israel builds shelters to protect people, while Hamas builds shelters to protect bombs.
But no one is celebrating. As the leftist magazine reporter told me, “Maybe we have no choice but to kill, but we should never be happy about that.”
Amidst the anxiety of a war that doesn’t want to end, the Israeli sentiment that they have more anguish about Palestinian victims than their enemy does has given them the strength to absorb the blows of a hostile world.
David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.