By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
As much as I try to tell myself that Israel and the United States will make sure that Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons won’t reach Hezbollah or any other terrorist organization and thus threaten Israel, nevertheless last Sunday I went to pick up our gas masks from the last remaining depot in the city.
Judging by the stares I got when I travelled home with them on the train and on the bus I realize that I wasn’t the only one who had ignored the many calls in recent months to pick them up and have them ready should they be needed. A couple of people actually accosted me and asked how and where I got them.
Life is so full, and for many so comfortable, in Israel that it’s difficult to imagine that it could be otherwise. The many hardships of the early days of the state and the wars its citizens endured are deeply ingrained in the collective memory of its citizens, but they don’t seem to have dampened the spirit of individuals living in the here and now.
Yes, we listen to the prime minister’s warnings about Iran and its stooges, but we don’t heed them. Instead, we like to tell ourselves that that’s his shtick as a way not to have to deal with Israel’s other problems. We use skepticism as a shield against reality.
Though I’m among those who often repeat the cliché that this is a marvelous country that’s unfortunately situated in a terrible neighborhood, I too tend to lull myself into believing that the neighbors live sufficiently far away (which they don’t, of course) not to have to be too worried about the threats. This belief isn’t only false; it’s dangerous.
The danger is currently ominously proclaimed in the threats of retaliation by Syria, Iran, Lebanon and even Turkey in the wake of the attack(s?) to which Israel’s outgoing minister of defense has now de facto owned up. Hence the gas masks.
But can they really save us? Or are they only placebos deployed by the government to make us believe that it cares for us? I’d rather like to think that the masks won’t have to be used because those who threaten us know that the Israel’s Arabs as well as the Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the occupied territories would be among the victims. Even the Muslim holy places would be in danger.
A more sober reflection, however, reminds me that seeing what the Syrians are doing to their own people, it’s difficult to imagine that they and their allies would spare their coreligionists elsewhere: yet another reason for getting the gas masks. I stood in line for mine with several Israeli Arabs who’ve come to pick them up for themselves and their families. It may be that one of the many things we’ve in common is fear.
What about hope that can soften the fear? Though the masks are now in our home, I still believe that we won’t have to use them, because even those in power will realize that the deployment of deadly weapons by one side will only lead to retaliation by the other. If nothing else, self-preservation should render the masks unnecessary.
Even optimists dare not think beyond the wisdom of deterrence; that’s why hawks and doves alike subscribe to the need for a strong Israel: the IDF remains the jewel in the country’s crown, even when we’re periodically reminded that it, too, is managed by fallible humans, as revealed in the latest apparent scandal in its high places.
In Jewish liturgy many prayers have the word shalom in them. In our Jerusalem congregation additional prayers for peace are added. I say them all with great fervor.