As My Son Goes to War, I Am Fully Israeli At Last
By Yossi Klein Halevi
Sunday, January 4, 2009; B01
"I just heard on the news that Gavriel's base has been shelled," my wife, Sarah, said to me last Tuesday, referring to our 19-year-old son, a member of an Israeli army tank unit waiting on the Gaza border for the order to enter. And, she added in a deliberately calm tone, "A soldier was killed." We texted Gavriel, and within five minutes he called, safe. How, Sarah asked, did families survive war before cellphones?
For days we waited for a cabinet decision: Will there be a land invasion or a new cease-fire? The politicians began to bicker while our soldiers waited on the border, in the rain and the mud. Anything but this, I said to Sarah. Not another Lebanon War, which, like Gaza, began with an impressive show of Israeli air power but ended with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah predicting the imminent end of "the Zionist entity." If we don't win this time -- deliver an unambiguous blow if not topple Hamas entirely -- our deterrence will further erode, inviting more rocket attacks and encouraging the jihadist momentum throughout the
And then I caught myself: How can I be hoping for an outcome that will send my son into battle? This is my first experience as the father of a soldier, and now, after 26 years of living in
A majority of Israelis emerged from the first intifada convinced that we need to do everything possible to end the occupation and ensure that our children don't serve as enforcers of
And now my son is fighting in
Still, I don't regret that withdrawal. If Israelis are united today about our right to defend ourselves against
But we are hardly free of moral anxiety. Even as I pray for Gavriel's physical safety, I pray too for his spiritual well-being: that his tank doesn't accidentally shell civilians, that he isn't caught in some terrible mistake, which can so easily happen in a war zone where terrorists hide behind innocent people.
For the past eight years,
But how? Even some right-wingers are saying that we should have declared a unilateral cease-fire after the initial airstrike and then dared Hamas to continue shelling our towns, rather than risk another quagmire. And even some left-wingers are saying that we should now destroy the Hamas regime and then offer to turn Gaza over to international control or, if possible, an inter-Arab force led by Egypt. Every option is potentially disastrous. Most Israelis agree on two points: that we cannot live with a jihadist statelet on our border, and that we cannot become occupiers of
The despair of
Meanwhile, I try to reassure myself about Gavriel's safety. Growing up in
Just before the conflict in
Even now, perhaps especially now, I feel that our family is privileged to belong to the Israeli story. Gavriel, grandson of a Holocaust survivor, is part of an army defending the Jewish people in its land. This is one of those moments when our old ideals are tested anew and found to be still vital. That provides some comfort as Sarah and I wait for the next text message.
Yossi Klein Halevi is a senior fellow at the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies of the Shalem Center in Jerusalem and the author of "At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land."