Israel Is Reframing Life as Defiance

The soldiers fight on the front lines, the civilians fight by showing the enemy that the best of their lives can go on.
June 20, 2024
IDF officer Daniel and his bride Kochava kiss after breaking the ritual glass next to IDF Chief Cantor Lt. Col. Shai Abramson (L) and Noam Buskili (R) blowing the shofar on November 21, 2023 in Northern Israel. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

I’ve only been in Israel for 48 hours but I can already feel the angst. I asked a prominent thinker what is different about the current crisis, and he promptly replied: “The enormous gap between the level of our problems and the quality of our leadership.”

Among other concerns, there’s a genuine fear that a war in the north with Hezbollah– a terror army equipped with tens of thousands of guided missiles that can disable critical infrastructure– will make the Gaza war feel like kid’s play.

Meanwhile, there is also exasperation with a governing coalition that seems to care more about its own survival than anything else. As the war in Gaza drags on and the casualties mount, as the hostages continue to languish with little hope in sight, and as the economy suffers and thousands of Israeli refugees still can’t go home, the news from the Knesset is dominated by political games to keep the coalition going.

Israelis, though, have no choice but to keep going.

At a wedding I attended in a nature preserve in the village of Abu Ghosh, I asked an Israeli guest what it felt like to be at a joyous event while the country was going through such precarious times.

“It’s defiance,” she told me. “It’s how we fight back.”

I loved the notion of defiance. I loved the reframing of the good life as a weapon in the war against Israel’s enemies. The soldiers fight on the front lines, the civilians fight by showing the enemy that the best of their lives can go on.

The real miracle of Israel is that it has never settled for survival. Despite the endless wars and terrorism it has faced, its aim was always to thrive. There’s a very long list on Wikipedia of Israeli inventions and discoveries that is mind blowing in its breadth. These achievements represent an urge to meet life at its highest level, to aim for sophistication in culture, arts, science, philosophy, literature, music and whatever else makes life worth living.

The problem with fighting a primal evil like terrorism, however, is that it makes it a lot harder to maintain that sophistication. How can one focus on advancing the arts or sciences while seeing bodies getting blown up? How can one think of cultural creativity while surrounded by enemies who only want to send you back to the dark ages?

Oct. 7 was the most concentrated delivery of human savagery imaginable. For Israelis, it was like seeing 75 years of terrorism in 10 hours.

Naturally, the reaction was primal. The terrorists had to be destroyed. In Israel today, the tug of war between the primal instinct to fight and the refined instinct to create and innovate has never been in greater tension.

It’s encouraging to see that with so much attention diverted to the war, the societal engines haven’t stopped. A recent report, for example, shows that Israel’s tech sector continues to grow, albeit at a slower rate, with some 600 new startups created last year and tech firms raising $8 billion in 2023.

But while Israel has managed to thrive for so long while under siege by primitive enemies sworn to its destruction, it won’t continue to do so without strong leadership. The current crisis is next level: it demands it.

That’s why so many people here are disheartened that their government itself has become somewhat primitive. Being obsessed with its own survival, and stifled by the agendas of extremist parties, this coalition is devoid of the sophisticated strategic thinking that the nation desperately needs to get through this uniquely treacherous phase of its history.

So while the leadership dithers, the people are fighting as best they can. They’re expressing their defiance by living their lives, volunteering to help those in need, raising their voices for the hostages, supporting the soldiers, and, yes, dancing at weddings.

They want the savages to know that they won’t become like them.

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