Last week, our daughter came home from guard duty during a family party, looking perfectly natural yet dressed anomalously in combat fatigues and lugging an M-16.
Dear Mr. Yisraeli,
Although we have never met, I feel close to you. All I know is that you’re an abba, the father of Liron Yisraeli, the 20-year-old soldier who was guarding the checkpoint near Rachel’s Tomb when a Bethlehem resident’s 20-year-old daughter plunged a knife into her neck. Apparently, thankfully, the wounds, while serious and excruciating, were not fatal – and your heroic daughter subdued the attacker. Nevertheless, that horrifying image of your beautiful blossom impaled with an instrument of death haunts me. I empathize especially intensely because my 20-year-old daughter has guarded that same checkpoint.
Last week, our daughter came home from guard duty during a family party, looking perfectly natural yet dressed anomalously in combat fatigues and lugging an M-16. One American guest said she had never witnessed this quintessentially Israeli pre-Shabbat scene. Wherever you stand politically, it stirs mixed feelings: pride in her quiet, gracious, generous patriotism; regret that our predicament requires serious military service; gratitude that she protects us so competently; worry about unhappy choices she might face; and dread regarding possible horrors she – and we – might suffer.
Now, as your daughter recovers, you are living one such nightmare – although the parents of Malachi Rosenfeld and Danny Gonen, two 25-year-olds recently murdered, join thousands in enduring even worse. Just one year ago, during the Gaza war, many families’ lives were ruined by Hamas’s insistence on making the Gaza Strip a launching pad for rockets and a center for repressing their own people, rather than a prosperous, peaceful, democratic Palestinian state.
I’m sure that if we met, we would bond quickly.
Beyond our common worries, we share the wonderful experience of raising our amazing daughters since 1995. Moreover, even if you did not have the wonderfully iconic name of “Mr. Israeli,” our lives are linked by four love stories.
We start with the Jewish people’s love for the land of Israel. (If you had a wounded son the story would include Beduin and Druse families, but most female Israeli soldiers are Jewish). Every Israeli represents one riff on that 3,500-year-old redemptive romance connecting us to this country.
Perhaps your family’s Israeli roots trace back to biblical times or medieval kabbalistic Safed.
Perhaps, like President Reuven Rivlin, your people arrived in 1809. Most likely, they came in one of the European Zionist waves starting in the 1880s or as part of the mass escape from Arab Lands after 1948. Or perhaps you arrived with the million- person Russian Aliya or the Ethiopian Jewish migration. Statistically, there’s a small chance that, like us, you represent the voluntary, democratic Western aliya, seeking more meaningful lives rather than fleeing oppression.
Regardless, you and your relatives fell in love with the State of Israel too, although, as with any political entity, that relationship occasionally frustrates.
The third love story is with the Jewish people and individual Jewish people. Ideologically, Israel is the great Jewish peoplehood project, but you built a family here using personal bonds too. Most Israeli also share a broader, universal love story with life, with the world. Our particular identity as Israelis and Jews enriches our lives while enhancing our humanity. Our tribal identities help us love others, defend others, and better the world – through particularist pride we can do universal good.
Admittedly, your daughter’s Palestinian attacker also loves this land, as do her people. But, call me judgmental, her ability to plunge a knife into a fellow human’s neck shows that hatred perverted her love. Miseducation narrowed her vision, twisted her heart and propelled her away from universal ideals and broader tolerances. I don’t claim Israelis are perfect. But until Palestinian culture and ideology treats stabbers-in-the-neck as criminals, not heroes, peace will be elusive.
I hope you, your family and your daughter are healing, physically and emotionally. I trust that your multiple, reinforcing loves will sustain you, providing the resilience so many other wounded families have exhibited. You are all now casualties of this insane Palestinian war – which they began a century ago when we started rebuilding this land, which they formalized seven decades ago when their leaders refused to share a partitioned land and which they renewed with evil force 15 years ago when they turned away from negotiations back toward terrorism.
If the Palestinians only wanted territory, one of the many compromises offered would have sufficed by now. If Islamist ideology had not poisoned these terrorists they would not revel in their bloodthirstiness so much.
We must not meet their hatred with more hatred. We must echo the resolve you, your family and your daughter have demonstrated, rooted in our love for our land, our state, each other, our values and for life.
Those loves teach us to fight hard: only by defending ourselves in ways that might seem disproportionate but that actually reflect modern Western military doctrine can we survive our rough neighborhood. But while fighting hard, we fight fair. We follow the IDF’s code of ethics, defending ourselves while respecting the “norms of human dignity.” We remain moral even if the biased UN Human Rights Council always blames us, criminalizing only Jewish acts of self-defense.
Similarly, we should pursue peace aggressively and creatively; our enemies’ intransigence cannot paralyze us too.
Most important, we choose life. Every wounded soldier who heals, every subsequent life cycle event she celebrates, every family started, every child born, every house built, every day lived fully, all represent Israel’s most powerful, eloquent, lasting answer to terrorism. Our enemies can stew in their poisons; we celebrate life.
I wish you and your heroic daughter not just a speedy recovery but a speedy return to life’s reassuringly normal, delightfully boring, routines, which every day prove what she has proved so courageously: “Am Yisrael Chai,” the Jewish people live, and the people of Israel thrive.
Gil, Another Army Abbai