"You didn't really check it."
The uppity customer seemed to arouse shopping mall security guard from his topor. Nobody wants to work on a Saturday night, just a few hours after the end of Shabbat (Sabbath.) "Just go through."
"No, if you're going to check my bag, you have to open it up and look inside! How do you know I'm not carrying something? There's a matzav!"
I first got word of the matzav, the "situation," in synagogue on Saturday night. Rav Lau, Chief Rabbi of Modiin, was teaching a class on Chanukah, the revolt against our Greek tormentors which had started 2,144 years ago in the very same town of Modiin. Not wanting to desecrate the sanctity of Shabbat, Rabbi Lau had refrained from mentioning the bad news he had heard from his neighbors. After evening prayers brought Shabbat to a close, as everyone turned to leave the synagogue, he stood up and announced that the modern-day tormentors of the Jews, the Arabs, had struck.
"A barrage of missiles has hit southern Israel, and military operations have begun against Gaza. We should stay in shul and recite Tehillim (Psalms) to pray for the safety of our people and our soldiers."
The matzav has been a long time coming. In fact, it never really went away. Maybe it started with the second Intifada, which never really ended. Or maybe it began when the state of Israel was declared, after which the state has not experienced a single day's peace, or perhaps when Mohammed exterminated the Jewish community of Mecca. Perhaps it can be traced all the way back to Abraham, expelling his son Ishmael, the biblical ancestor of the Arabs, from his tent in order to protect his other son Yitzchak (Isaac,) the biblical ancestor of the Jews, from Ishmael's violent impulses.
This particular round of violence was unavoidable. The late Yasser Arafat's gang, Fatach, in English, "Conquest," pulled off some of the most spectacular terrorist atrocities of the 1970's and 80's but then tacitly, although never officially, recognized the right of the non-Muslims of Israel to live free of Muslim rule in the 1990's. The newer gang, Hamas, "Fanaticism," sprung up as a more purist anti-infidel organization and overthrew Fatach, but is now also seen as growing soft. Hamas, like its predecessor Fatach, has been forced to make certain compromises with reality. A "hudna," Arabic for cease fire of fixed duration, of the past few months during which Hamas has reduced its rocket fire at Israeli cities from an average of six a day down to an average of three per day, and in exchange Israel turned the other cheek, has expired. During this hudna, Hamas had been busily arming itself with longer-range missiles for the big fight coming. Meanwhile, breakaway gangs had seen the mere fact that Hamas had been willing to negotiate anything with Israel as a serious violation of Arab pride, and began firing missiles into Israel on their own. In failing to kill a sufficient number of Israelis, Hamas was quickly losing legitimacy and public support, and no choice but to go to war.
Similarly, in Israel, with no military action against the last seven years of rocket bombardment from Gaza, accompanied by endless negotiations to expand the Palestinian State, the country had been swinging hard to the right. With elections only a month away, this war could serve as a welcome distraction for Barak and Livini, the two liberal candidates who were so instrumental in creating the monstrosity of Gaza we face today.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the peace processors who authored the Oslo negotiations of the 1990's, which brought the horror and bloodshed of the Second Intifada, had been safely quarantined to the editorial pages of the New York Times for the last eight years. But with the new incoming administration, they are being pulled off the benches and given rank and influence. With a relatively friendly president in the White House for another three weeks and an unknown Obama administration in the wings, it was now or never.
For us, the little people, life goes on as normally as possible for most, and ends for some. After one of the longer-range Grad missiles struck Ashdod, killing a mother of four, I called my friend Gali who lives there to check in.
"Hey, man, good to hear from you!" he yelled through the receiver, "I've got something you might like. I have a six-outlet extension cord with those weird American plugs!"
"The American plugs are normal," I answered, "it's the Israeli ones that are weird."
"Ha ha. Okay, so I'll put it in a box and write your name on it, and next time you are in Ashdod, you can look through the rubble of my apartment and dig up the box."
One of my friends at my new job got his reserve duty callup.
"You going to Gaza?" I asked him.
"No. I asked my commander. They always send us out there to Shechem or Ramallah to guard the checkpoints. Then they take the young full-time soldiers who were on the checkpoints and send them to Gaza. I'd much rather go to Gaza myself. Checkpoints are boring."
There is, of course, always the concern that a local sympathizer will go haywire and engage in a psychotic jihadist killing spree, as during the Merkaz HaRav massacre or the two bulldozer attacks a few months ago, so security is much tighter. In fact, there was a multiple-stabbing attack in Modiin and riots in majority-Arab East Jerusalem, but thank god no fatalities so far. As I'm writing this, I'm in a car driving up north with some coworkers for a project meeting. There was a brief debate on whether to take the Wadi Ara highway, a short-cut valley through the hills of Carmel which is lined on both sides by Arab villages and sometimes subject to flying rocks when the locals are particularly seething, or to take the hour-long detour. We decided to go for it. The rainy weather which has stifled Arab attempts to set fire to the Jerusalem forest and slowed Israel's air force for the day has probably silenced their stone artillery as well.
The matzav is just something you have to deal with to live in the holy land. Our neighbors in Gaza are raised from birth to revel in the glory of gore and death. Hamas' children's shows look like grade-B horror flicks, with children barley out of diapers brandishing knives and singing of the honor of drenching the land with their blood. Every generation of teenagers is brainwashed with heroic music videos of their older brothers from the previous wars throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli border guards or blowing up Israeli school buses. There's no way to modify such a society, either with carrots or sticks. The only authentic long-term solution is to ask them, as humanely as possible but with full firmness, to please pack up their bags and seek life elsewhere. The modern post-Judaism ruling class of Israel, with its moralistic preening and vanity, is incapable of doing so for fear of losing an international popularity contest they actually lost long ago, and so we must be prepared to bear this matzav for at least another generation.
In reality, this is merely another barbarian containment operation, the sort of thing that must be gotten over with every few years. The situation at the end will likely look the same as it did a few months before it began, but we dare not stand idle. Like India, Indonesia, the Phillipines, or any other state unfortunate enough to be located on the bleeding fringes of the Islamic world, Israel is again being probed and challenged. The question the fanatics of Hamas are asking is whether Israel is ripe for fatach, for conquest through jihad. We must again risk our lives to answer, "No."