‘We are here, we love you’

At the time of writing, it is still too early to evaluate the long-term results and consequences of the "Protective Edge" operation that Israel undertook in order to rid the Gaza Strip of Hamas' rockets and attack tunnels. It is too early to know whether Israel managed to restore its deterrence and whether the operation ended up enhancing Israelis' sense of security. We may know that in months or even years. 

One outcome, however, is clear even without the benefit of long-term hindsight: this latest armed conflict brought more unity to Israelis than previous conflicts in our region. It has also brought us closer to our brethren in the diaspora-something we do not take for granted.

One important reason for our newfound sense of unity and community is the fact that the vast majority of Israelis understand that this was a war of "no choice," a skirmish inflicted on us completely unprovoked, commencing with a vicious barrage of rockets covering almost the entire Israeli territory. While past wars and operations were sometimes a matter for debate among civilians, this time there was almost no dissension-there was a consensus agreement that Hamas had absolutely no reason to launch an attack against Israel and we had no choice but to defend ourselves. 

One opinion poll put the percentage of Israelis who considered it a "just war" at over 85 percent. This is a staggering number for a country usually known for the fact that for every two citizens there are (at least) three opinions. 

Another reason for our unity was that there was a shared sense of threat. The Iraq war saw Tel Aviv as the epicenter of Saddam Hussein's Scud missile attack. The Second Lebanon War involved only the northern part of the country. And past operations in Gaza followed massive rocket attacks on Israel's southern region. But July's rocket attacks covered all of Israel, all the way north to Haifa. Five out of eight million Israelis were within range of Hamas rockets and found themselves running for shelter when
the sirens blared. 

In Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beer Sheba, Ashkelon and Ashdod, in small towns and large ones, nobody was exempt from the indiscriminate attacks. For the first time in recent history, there was nowhere to run. Tel Aviv and Sderot were experiencing the exact same panic. Suddenly, the residents of Herzliya and Rishon Le-Zion really understood what the citizens of the south had been living with, for the past eight years. 

The solidarity among Israelis took many shapes and forms. We saw unity in the huge numbers of people who came to Sderot to buy the local produce and prop up the small businesses in the south. We saw unity in the torrential amounts of cakes, sweets and care packages which were sent to wounded soldiers in hospitals. And we saw unity when 30,000 Israelis showed up at two funerals for "lone soldiers" who were killed in action-young olim (immigrants) who came to Israel on their own at age 18 to take part in our burden of defending the people of Israel. For a moment, Israelis managed to set aside their differences and enlist wholeheartedly to support the weak and help each other in the face of a shared threat.

The conflict also brought us even closer to our brothers and sisters in the Jewish Communities of the world. JUF's Israel Emergency Campaign enabled us to stock hundreds of shelters and to send thousands of kids to respite activities away from the sirens and the rockets. Our community made a difference in improving the lives of thousands of Israelis. Not to mention the Solidarity Missions that came, one by one, to show us first hand that American Jews were standing with Israelis, shoulder to shoulder, in our hour of need. 

JUF/Federation Board Chair David T. Brown headed a national solidarity mission. Chair-elect Bill Silverstein came on the second Solidarity Mission organized by the Jewish Federations of North America. And then came our very own JUF Nachshon Solidarity Mission with almost 20 lay leaders led by past JUF/JF Chair Skip Schrayer (see p. 24). They dropped everything and came to Israel for less than three days. Enough time to come, visit our wounded soldiers, talk to regular Israelis, feed combat soldiers, tour the south and say "we are here, we are with you, we love you." 

This kind of personal and very tangible gesture goes a long way towards letting Israelis know that, indeed, we are not alone. Everywhere these solidarity missions went, they were greeted by smiling faces of Israelis thankful for the fact that our American mishpuche (family) took the time and made the effort to come and be with us in a difficult hour. It is in these difficult moments, when we bury dozens of our best soldiers, when Israeli children are scared, that the true face of Jewish values comes
shining through. 

This is when we discover that we are one-all Israelis sharing a destiny, all Jews sharing a future. In this, too, JUF/JF assumed the leadership role and showed the way to all others.     

Ofer Bavly is the director general of the JUF Israel Office.

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