On Remembrance Day, members of the reserve infantry company that lost 13 men last Tuesday were given a day's furlough from combat to visit the families of their fallen comrades.
Outside the home of their dead company commander, Maj. Oded Golomb, they spoke to reporters of their friends' heroism. Capt. Ya'acov Azulay, for instance, died after running into battle to save the soldiers who were struck down in the initial ambush. Azulay, a policeman in civilian life, was wearing his blue bullet-proof vest from his day job on top of his olive drab uniform.
"At first we couldn't figure out who the guy with the blue vest was. But he yelled out he was going to save them. Then 15 minutes later, we saw the blue vest again, as his body was evacuated on a stretcher," one of his comrades said."It's really amazing," said another. "All of us are just regular people in civilian life, family men who work for a living, but the heroism we saw there was just incredible, unthinking, running in under constant heavy fire to save our wounded. It was unbelievable."
Where does this reserve of resilience and strength come from? Israel is after all, fighting for its life in a war against terrorism that the world is hell bent against allowing us to wage, let alone win. The answer, is that Israelis today know the truth about ourselves and that truth, quite simply, is that Israel is a great nation.
A poll conducted by Market Watch for the Independence Day Ma'ariv provides a stunning picture of Israeli society in the midst of war. While 469 Israelis have been murdered and more than 3,000 wounded over the past 18 months, 73 percent of Israelis are hopeful about the future of the country. Even as 61% of Israelis fear for the existence of the state, 83% of Israelis prefer life here to life in any other country.
We see this patriotism in our army, where manpower officers are reporting a 130% mobilization rate of reservists – 100% of the reservists called up for service reported for duty along with thousands of volunteers.
And it is not simply a matter of duty; it's a matter of decency. The reservists, who risk their lives to protect Palestinian civilians from the terrorists who exploit them as human shields, also treat them with humility.
In Tulkarm, a group of reservists that needed to break down the wall of a Palestinian home took up a collection among themselves when they finished fighting – NIS 1,500 in total – and gave it to the family to pay for the damage.
In Bethlehem, another group of reservists gave a Palestinian family NIS 2,000 they raised among themselves after seizing three rooms in their home for 48 hours. Reservists who seized homes in Bethlehem and Ramallah insisted on mopping the floors before departing. Hundreds of reservists have added candy to their regular gear. They hand out the chocolate bars to Palestinian children to try to ease their anxiety.
When last week a priest at the Church of the Nativity, held hostage by terrorists, emerged from the church to speak on his captors' behalf to the IDF troops, he was greeted by a soldier who dug into his pockets and pulled out an apple and a bottle of mineral water which he offered to the beleaguered clergyman.
While having such men forming the backbone of the IDF is a source of pride, it becomes a wellspring of strength and endurance when placed in the context of the forces arrayed against us today. Perhaps again, the contrast was most starkly described by the same company of reservists that lost 13 men in 25 minutes of fighting in Jenin last week. One of the men described his shell shock, "We went to the kibbutz for our commander's funeral late that evening, and I remember standing outside a house on the kibbutz and feeling frightened a sniper would start shooting at us from the window. We were just a half an hour from Jenin, and yet it is a completely different world. There, we were fired at from every window from every house. Here, a window is a window."
As Foreign Minister Shimon Peres described the scene in the Jenin refugee camp, "There wasn't a house that wasn't booby-trapped, and there was no way to neutralize the danger without demolishing the structures. We also encountered booby-trapped men, Palestinians who raised their hands to surrender while wearing explosive vests, in an attempt to detonate themselves among our soldiers."
The international community has pilloried us with accusations of a "massacre" in Jenin and charged us with human rights abuses for destroying houses. Division commander Brig.-Gen. Eyal Shlein angrily denied those allegations earlier this week, pointing out the difference between the IDF and the Palestinian terrorists. "There was no massacre whatsoever. If we wanted to commit a massacre, we could have taken over the camp in one day. The IDF did not use artillery or aircraft."As for the house demolitions, Shlein was emphatic. "A balanced person does not booby-trap his house with the intent to return to it."
In a swipe at the Palestinian propaganda machine and the international press corps that parrots its claims without comment, Shlein said, "We intend to demolish the booby-trapped buildings, because after we get everyone out, they will accuse us of leaving booby-trapped houses."
The saying goes, "A man is known by the company he keeps," and the same is no less true of nations. Israelis today scan the international community and note the difference between our supporters and our adversaries. On the adversaries side, we have European and Arab governments who brazenly threaten us with sanctions and war. We have Kofi Annan and the UN that threaten us with international troops who will come in to stop "Israeli aggression" against innocent Palestinians; and we have urban terrorists in European cities who attack Jews, destroy Jewish property, and call for our collective destruction.
On the friends side, we have the American people and Diaspora Jewry. Israelis note that while Secretary of State Powell may have been taken in by the EU, the UN, and the Saudis – the same forces doing everything in their power to scuttle the US war on terrorism – the American people are far from fooled.
We saw with gratitude and appreciation that at the mass rally in support of Israel in Washington on Monday, members of Congress from both parties, leading Christians, and African Americans stood shoulder-to-shoulder with American Jews in declaring their support of Israel and in explaining to Powell and his associates that there is no difference between Yasser Arafat and Osama bin Laden.
We saw that under a week after the call was put out for the rally, over 100,000 Jews, from all over the US descended on Washington, where they stood for hours in the blistering sun to show their commitment to Israel.
We saw last week that a third of France's brave and anxious Jewish community, which has suffered from an average of a dozen daily attacks since Easter and more than 400 attacks in the last year, rallied virtually alone in the streets of Paris in support of Israel.
The architects of the Oslo process promised us we were standing at the precipice of a new world order. But the terrorism and anti-Semitism, and the blind hatred that fertilizes them both, have proven the old order is still the order of the day. Although most of us would have been happier if the utopia Oslo promised had materialized, there is comfort and relief in knowing the truth.
The utopians, who promised us everlasting peace and universal brotherhood in exchange for signing our land away to a terrorist, told us it was by appeasing our enemies that Israel would fulfill its mission as "a light to the nations." Today, as we return to the old world order, where we are hated because our enemies like to hate us, the i
nternal strength denied us in a decade of self-abnegation has returned.
We look at ourselves in the mirror, and we like what we see. We look at our friends, and we respect them for who they are. We look at our enemies and understand their hatred for what it is – an expression of their moral failure.
Today, we understand that being a light to the nations means setting an example of loyalty to our traditions of valor and simple human decency, with the hope that others will follow, and not attempting to appease murderers and begging for acceptance.
Given this state of affairs, it is not surprising that 83% of Israelis wouldn't want to live anywhere else.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post