Tidbits From Israel
By Ron Jager
Even great leaders can fall prey to the seductive effect of public indifference and perceive the suffering of their own countrymen as being acceptable. Not since the days of the second intifada, when all of Israel became a battleground for Arab suicide bombers who blew up buses at a rate of two per day, murdering hundreds of Israelis, has the issue of national resiliency become a litmus test for how much suffering the Israeli public can bear before the government decides to act–in this case, the recent war in the Gaza Strip, Operation Protective Edge.
For the past 14 years, since the first rocket was launched against a community near the Gaza Strip, the Israeli public in the South of Israel has been inundated by a resiliency network paid and funded in large part by American Jewish organizations that adopted a political agenda that empowered Israeli political leaders to abdicate their responsibility and, at best, act as very effective conflict managers. Understanding this fundamental difference between management and leadership is crucial. Managing is about coping and learning to live with an external threat; that is, learning to live with missiles that rain on our communities in the South without demanding an end to the threat. Leadership requires officials to project a vision–political goals that motivate and create a consensus among the population. This enables, for example, military action. Leadership means that resiliency is not confused with complacency.
This past month, when all of the Israeli public felt the threat of daily missile attacks, it became impossible for political leaders to operate under the assumption that the daily attacks can continue as “bearable” and politically acceptable. The public, especially those living in the South, who felt the immediate threat of terror tunnels under their communities and missile attacks that left them less than 15 seconds of warning time to take cover, finally were able to differentiate between being strong and resilient, not lapsing into a false sense of complacency–a kind of political numbness that lets our political leaders off the hook.
From the mid-90s to 2003, when suicide bombers were executing terror attacks that at times reached a rate of two terror attacks per day, every effort was made to enable the public to continue to function and maintain a “normal routine.” Municipalities became disaster site cleanup experts; within hours after a terror attack, cleanup crews would erase any indication of what transpired only hours earlier. Population groups were encouraged to get up the following morning and go to work, under the banner of “we must continue on” or “we can’t let the terror win” and so forth. For a number of years, this situation continued, leading to over 1,000 Israeli deaths. Israelis were encouraged to adopt a pathological resiliency, leading to complacency that did nothing more than enable politicians to be indifferent to the ongoing and destructive suffering of whole population groups. Worst of all, it led to a political culture that inhibited true political change that would have been mandated in a similar situation among other Western nations.
In comparison, the communities of Gush Katif prior to the 2003 disengagement, or for that matter, all of the current communities located in Judea and Samaria, have had to contend with Palestinian Arab terror on the roads, in their communities, and even in their homes, for the past 45 years. Yet despite this difficult reality, the communities of Judea and Samaria have blossomed and grown at an unprecedented rate, numbering today 750,000 residents and expected to approach one million residents by the end of the decade. How can one explain this phenomenal growth in population despite so many years of wanton terror? How can one explain the industrial parks, the amazing agricultural, wine, and olive oil industries that have been reintroduced into these areas after 2,000 years of the land being neglected?
The paralyzing “resiliency syndrome” leading to complacency seems to stop at the Green Line. The communities of Judea and Samaria and the communities that inhabited what was once Gush Katif seem to have been overlooked and left on their own. Fortunately, this has been a blessing in disguise, empowering the people of these communities to respond normally–meaning that the government of Israel is held responsible for their well-being and is expected to fully protect them–with people demanding that there should be an end to Palestinian Arab terror and not simply accepting terror as a “force du jour.” They have every right to demand that the national political leadership provide peace and tranquillity.
As we look back on the past decade-and-a-half of unprecedented missile terror on the South of Israel, and on the center of Israel during the recent military campaign, we must ask ourselves whether we want to continue to pay the price of being complacent by allowing our political leaders to use our national resiliency as an excuse to postpone ending the missile threat on Israel once and for all. Over the past month, Hamas has been dealt a crushing blow and so far failed to extract any real gains, unwilling to be held accountable for their lack of accomplishments. They will continue to attack Israel, if not immediately, then in the next round. This time around, the Israeli public must overcome their learned response of complacency and demand of our political leadership to act like a sovereign power and protect all of the people of Israel fully before the next round is upon us again. Ï–
Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Ron currently serves as a strategic adviser to the chief foreign envoy of Judea and Samaria. To contact him, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.ronjager.com.