“Never again” is the “battle” cry for Israelis. Israel sprung from a 1948 British mandate and has lived in the shadow of those bent on its destruction ever since. ישראל or Israel happens to be also the name given to Jacob as he encountered the Angel of God. El is an abbreviation of Elohim or God in Hebrew. The name is significant because it encompasses more than biblical nuances; it defines the country and its people. In a ten-day whirlwind journey through Israel, I discovered that the people of Israel are one with their name, land, history, Biblical traditions, and Elohim.
The journey cross-referenced biblical text with archeological findings that substantiated claims on land and sites. This trip was significant because it swiftly turned fact into myth, and dispensed with the stereotypical political spins that we have grown so accustomed to in recent years. Travelling from Haifa to Bethlehem, I learned that Israel has been the brunt of inaccurate journalism (to put it mildly) and blatant journalistic distortion to satisfy a global political agenda, comfortable only to those who hide behind the “peace” mantra, but for reasons far more insidious.
My perspective of strife got a “reality check” in Haifa on a seamlessly harmless walk down the side of a hill toward Elijah’s cave. In the 9th century and during the reign of King Ahab, Elijah the prophet was said to have lived on Mt. Carmel in a cave situated on a hillside overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean port city of Haifa.. A simple cave cut into the hill almost at street level across which is a beach dotted with restaurants, museums, and port authorities. The cave is now a synagogue by virtue of its significance to the Israeli Jew and every Jew in the world. A cable car on the beach side takes tourists or those too tired to walk back up the hill to an observatory site, the church of Mt. Carmel, and restaurants. Our good friend and “guide” is a long time resident of Haifa who soon found herself compelled to give a personal insight into the lives of Israelis and Israel. As we drove through Haifa, she pointed to the gentle sloping hills of Lebanon on the opposite side of Haifa; without missing a beat her hands “traced” the path that missiles took from those hills toward her town and her neighborhood during the many skirmishes in the past few years. This was not an effort to “shake” us or impress us but to explain how Jews, especially Israelis, take on the concept of danger on a daily basis. To “bring it home”, she pointed to a beautiful restaurant on the beach and slowly related an unbelievable event. Not long ago, an Arab woman went in for a meal and after she paid her bill calmly proceeded to blow herself and everyone else in the restaurant. I was dumbfounded because I could not recall any such incident on any major network. Well, it seems that I and everyone else in the western world has been missing a lot of real news from Israel on major networks! We have been drinking the proverbial Kool Aid. But I digress. A memorial etched with the names of those murdered stands outside the restaurant side by side to the daily menu. A testimonial to the evil Israel and Israelites are accustomed to. Similar memorials stand outside schools, office buildings, restaurants, churches, and temples: each terrorist attack invoking the cry of “never again.” “Never again” is a hitorical sign of defiance and tenacity against a world that seems to care more for the assassins than the victims. Everything is put in perspective as we walk back up a steep Haifa hill to our friend’s apartment with a breath-taking bird’s eye view of the port and the beach. As we looked down at the beautiful Mediterranean and the hazy hills across the way, it was hard to understand the terror that our friend, her family, and her country must have gone through. It seems that in Israel one takes on terrorism as one takes on a bad meal at a restaurant: you take your chances but still go out to eat. That is the defiance that uplifts this nation of eight million people. Three events define “never again” for the Israel Jew.
Masada: King Herod’s fort situated on a high plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. In Hebrew, Masada means a fortress. Climbing Masada is like climbing the side of a pyramid. Sheer cliffs cut through the rocks on all sides, making Masada almost impregnable. Masada was an ambitious project by King Herod who at every opportunity attempted to demonstrate his “greatness” and wealth. Unfortunately for him, Masada was taken from the Romans and occupied by 960 renegade Jews nicknamed the “zealots”. In 65CE these “zealots” were fleeing Jerusalem during the Judea Roman wars. For close to nine years they lived and thrived defying Roman authority; until the Romans got a flea under their collar and wanted Masada back: more from prestige than from necessity. An army led by then Governor of Judea Flavius Silva surrounded the fort and took it back but not without a fight and a long costly siege. According to Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, the Jews held out until the very end. In desperation and to spare the women and children from slavery and fate worse than death; the “zealots “decided to kill the women and children; thenthrough a methodical countdown they would kill each other until the last man fell on his sword. Masada became an oath of faith that “never again” would Jews have to chose between slavery and death. Even today, military recruits or those reenlisting, are taken on Masada to hear “the story” and take their oath of allegiance to their country; reiterating the cry of defiance: never again!
The Holocaust is very complicated for Israelis. It is a chapter of Jewish history that remains controversial especially for those born after WWII. Some wonder why their grandfathers, fathers, mothers, and relatives did not fight the Nazi regime but meekly submitted to kneeling on the edge of a mass grave for execution. The Holocaust elevates the second element to “never again ” to a totally different aspect. The Holocaust is the 20th century Masada; it took “never again” to new levels. Young Israelis visit the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem; they walk expressionless and seemingly removed among exhibits of sounds and horrors that unfold with every step they take. As I walked beside them I wondered what they were thinking. I was told that survivors hardly ever talk about the Holocaust. It is a scar imbedded so deep in one’s psyche that any attempt to resurrect is met with cold refusals. Yad Vashem is the name of the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Yad Vashem means a “memorial and a name” as found in Isaiah 56:5. Throughout the exhibits and pictures of victims, one word is repeated over and over again: murdered. No excuses. Not “killed” which is bad enough, but “murdered”. Stark and “in your face” description of how over 6,000,000 European Jews were systematically and willfully murdered in a premeditaed method just because of who they were: Jews. As young Israeli soldiers are guided through the halls of Yad Vashem, they learn and become aware of the reasons they wear the uniform and the reason they must always be ready to protect their country. They look at pictures and deep down is the cry: “never again” must Jews be subjected to a Holocaust.
Since 1948 the State of Israel has had to fight for survival. Although in recent years some Arab neighbors have been somewhat tamed and are more neighborly than others; others are still bent on destroying Israel. One cannot blame them for wanting what the Chosen People have. Israel managed to turn the “wilderness” (so aptly described in the New Testament) to a state-of-the-art agricultural Mecca of the Middle East. The scientific ingenuity is hard to miss. Everywhere are fields growing produce that requires water. However, after the 1967 six-day war, Israel did become complacent and almost cost its obliteration. Yom Kippur 1973: and all the surrounding Arab countries banded together in one swooping attack on Israel; hoping to take back what was lost in 1967. This could have been a General Custer moment, because the Arabs saw this as their ultimate chance to also gain momentum in the region. But God’s Chosen People prevailed again. Elohim was looking out for them. “Never again” must have pumped into every soldier’s and airman’s vein, because they not only held fast but also pushed the Arabs back into their territories; keeping their land and their promise: “never again”.
To understand Israel one must understand the Israeli Jew. The Israeli Jew loves his country from the moment he opens his eyes in the morning until he closes them at night. The Israeli Jew seems to be one with the land because the land is the “chosen” land. There is no doubt in his mind that his land is rightfully his and he will fight till death to protect it. The Israeli Jew has the Word of God on his side. Biblical references to the Dead Sea (Genesis 14:3) and Jerusalem (Genesis 14:18) puts the Israeli Jew in the land of Abraham: a land now being “discussed” by world organizations as an option for Middle East peace. That is like telling New Yorkers that the Statue of Liberty is not in New York City because the Port Authority in New Jersey has maritine control. How many people plan a trip to New Jersey to visit “the lady”? Why is the world not on Israel’s side? Why is pressure put on Israel and the Israelites to compromise, but those who try to kill them are given a free pass? Why would a country give back land that was won fairly and without provocation? Why is the world so blinded by political rhetoric that misses the historical chronological truths that give Israel the right to exist? These are not my questions. These are Israel’s questions. I ought to know: they were asked of me.