By the time you read this, maybe it won’t make sense anymore.
I am writing the day after hundreds of Gazans with guns, grenades and handheld rockets rampaged through 20 nearby towns and farming settlements, murdering and kidnapping hundreds of people, the youngest not yet 2 and the oldest almost 90; all this while thousands of missiles were fired on cities as far north as Tel Aviv, where I live.
For most of us, today is oddly quiet. The cafes are mostly closed, because who’d want to sit in them? The stores are mostly closed, because who’d want to shop? School is canceled, because who’d want to be far away from their kids? And meetings are mostly canceled, because who can pay attention?
Most of us are scrolling through our social feeds while listening to the radio and trying to take in the stories we’re reading and hearing: the guy being interviewed on the news, Yoni Asher, describing how he learned from his wife’s “Find My iPhone” app that she and their two girls, 4 and 2, were kidnapped to Gaza; the woman, Adva Adar, who posted to Facebook a picture she found in the news, of an old woman in a jeep, surrounded by young men with guns, and wrote, “This is my grandmother, Yafe Adar, 85 years old, kidnapped with no resistance to Gaza”; the people describing phone conversations with sons, sisters, daughters, mothers, moments before they were murdered; people posting pictures of people with instructions of who to call if you know their whereabouts or what became of them.
The rockets have mostly stopped coming (there have been a few in the south) and the Gazans with guns have mostly left or been driven out of the towns and settlements they attacked, or killed there, the politicians and the generals are sequestered in their bunkers planning the counter-attack on Gaza that is sure to come, and most of us are dumb from the shock of it all, and the horror. It is a moment of strange and awkward quiet.
Soon it will pass.
There will be a counter-attack on Gaza that will produce its own tragedies, and there will be fights here and abroad about how much counter-attack is too much, or too little. The great rift in Israeli society that has been all we’ve talked about since January will reappear, grafting itself onto current events. Some will say (a few already have) that Hamas attacked us because the protesters created the impression that Israel is weak and the IDF is weak.
Some will say (some already have) that Hamas attacked us because Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is bumbling and incompetent, concerned with two things only, keeping Netanyahu out of jail and making the Talmud the law of the land.
Before all that starts, it’s maybe worth taking note of three things we’ve seen so far, through this tragedy. The first, that whatever we say, we most of us live our day-to-day lives believing that the institutions of the state can and will protect us. One of the terrible shocks of this thing is that we weren’t protected: How could they have let this happen? How did the intelligence people not see it? How did the army not meet it head-on? How did the government not plan for something like this?
It is equally true that — like the Yom Kippur War — what happened yesterday will corrode our belief in the state, because, after all, the intelligence people did not see it, the army did not meet it head on, the government did not plan for it, and didn’t seem to have a clue about what to do, as it was happening. But who knew how deep our faith was, for us to be so shocked at the failures of our institutions?
A second thing we’ve seen is how deeply we are connected, not just with the people who believe the things that we believe or vote the way that we vote. The grief over Yoni Asher’s wife and kids, or Adva Adar’s grandmother, this is not a sectorial thing. I first heard Yoni Asher on the ultra-Orthodox news site, Be-Hadrei Haredim, where the man’s politics or religion could not have mattered less. He was one of us, and we felt for him. We have spent a lot of the past year worrying about the divisions between us, with good reason, but it is worth noticing the limits of these divisions. We share more than we can see, save for at moments like this.
The third thing worth taking note of follows the second, and it is that — much more than the things we normally think of, like high-tech or soldiering — Israel’s national genius is for affinity, for compassion. Speak to most anyone on the street today. In the awful quiet of this moment, we are all Yoni Asher, wrecked with worry. We are all Adva Adar. It is a terrible thing, and it is a beautiful thing.
Soon, maybe already by the time you read this, the quiet will be gone, the fighting will have started, in Gaza and among ourselves. But for a brief moment, at least, we can see these things now, as the gifts that they are. PJC
Noah Efron hosts TLV1’s “The Promised Podcast.” He teaches history and philosophy of science at Bar Ilan University and has served on the City Council of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. This first appeared on The Times of Israel.