Israel, the end of summer, 2012. We drive down Highway 6, crowded with families headed to holiday flats in the Galilee, the Jezreel Valley and the Golan Heights, station wagons filled with laughing children, bikes and pool mattresses.
Along with everyone else, we pull off midway for an ice cream or a cup of coffee and croissant at a rest stop, getting in line behind dads carrying restless two year olds, and pregnant women ordering lattes.
Only a few days before our trip, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed worshipers at Tehran University after nationwide pro-Palestinian rallies, an annual event marking Quds (Jerusalem) Day on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, saying:
“The existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to all humanity.”
Luckily, our little ones don’t read the papers.
We travel in two cars, one for the grandparents (us) and one for our son, daughter-in-law and glorious grandchildren, four of them, all under the age of eight. The little ones are jumping around, anxious to get to their holiday destination, their minds focused solely on jumping into a cool body of water. But our holiday cabins at Kibbutz Nir David near Beit She’an will only be available at 3 p.m., so we must find a way to entertain them until then.
Our first stop is Beit She’arim. The magnificent necropolis of burial caves dating back to King Herod is a dark and cool place for restless children to explore. The walls are covered with Jewish symbols: a seven-branched menorah, an ark of the covenant, an etrog and lulav, all thrilling reminders of the flourishing Jewish life of the lower Galilee six centuries before the Arab conquest.
Most famous is the grave of Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, head of the Sanhedrin, who moved that great judicial body to Beit She’arim. More recently, the statue of Alexander Zaid on horseback overlooking the Jezreel Valley reminds us of the never-ending struggles and sacrifice to rebuild our homeland on this ancient ground.
Zaid, a veteran of the Jewish defense organization Bar Giora, which later became Hashomer, settled here in 1926 with his wife Zipporah and their four children, serving as a guard on behalf of the Jewish National Fund. Twelve years later he was murdered close to his home by a local Bedouin. His killer was apprehended and killed by the Palmach.
It is a story we will revisit again and again on our brief summer vacation. For after splashing in the cool spring waters of Gan Hashlosha National Park, we visit a museum which is an exact reconstruction of the courtyard of Tel Amal, the first of the tower and stockade settlements set up overnight in the pre-state period to forestall Arab attack and British attempts to freeze immigration and settlement from 1936 to 1939.
The plan, conceived by Moti Gur, a member of Kibbutz Nir David, was to build a wooden tower crowned by a searchlight for observation and signaling, surrounded by a few huts, and then to enclose the entire area with a high wall built of two wooden fences made bullet-proof by an infill of gravel. Within less than three years, 55 communities were established in this way, from Kibbutz Dan in the north to Kibbutz Negba in the south, many of them in areas where there had been no Jewish life for over a thousand years.
It was a hard life for the hardy pioneers. Our children peek into the bare bedrooms and rough kitchen.
They don the blue aprons and head scarves of pioneers, hoisting hoes and gathering stones. They carry pails to a spring, filling them with water which they empty into a bucket with a washboard so they can practice clothes-washing pioneer-style.
I look at them, these little sabras, born into a free, peace-loving country of natives and survivors, immigrants fleeing the worst nightmare of persecution that mankind has yet to invent and impose on their fellow men. They are full of joy as they pretend to cook dinner and hoe gravel. Climbing the watchtower, we enjoy the magnificent view of the green oasis and its sparkling waters. I think of the chain of history that has brought them, their parents and myself to this place and time in the history of the Jews.
The news broadcasts quote Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the filthy little proxy warlord terrorist tied to Iran, who announces his group will transform the lives of millions of Israelis into “hell.” Considering that the last Lebanese war ended prematurely, thanks to the genius of Tsipi Livni and Ehud Olmert, allowing Hezbollah to completely rearm, I take him seriously.
NIR DAVID is a lush green carpet with a river of spring water flowing gently through it. Beneath the still blanket of summer heat, our children play in the shadows of enormous palm trees, feed the ever hungry ducks and fish day-old bread, and put on their water wings to dive into the Olympic pool at the modern athletic center. The sound of horses whinnying in the stables, the riot of birds, the squeak of bicycle wheels are the only ones that punctuate the calm.
On Sunday, August 19, when we were all back home, parents getting the children’s clothes and school supplies ready for the start of the new school year, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy told Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh that “Egypt and Palestine are one entity.”
And so the storm gathers. Turkey, once a friend, ally and popular vacation spot, has been transformed into an Islamic republic which has slammed its door in our faces. Egypt, our peace partner, has been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood. Syria is overwhelmed by savage forces, none of them reasonable or less hate-filled toward us than the other. Lebanon’s Hezbollah is an Iranian puppet. And Iran and Iraq, once enemies, now cooperate to overcome the Western boycott that is naively attempting to slow down the production of a nuclear bomb to fulfill the Iranian mullahs’ insane vision of messianic days – Muslim fanatic style – i.e. a map with no Israel.
We and our children and grandchildren, the remnant of the great nation of Israel of biblical times, sit in the middle of a maelstrom as the evil forces of the world gather around our hard-won, industrious, beautiful little country and its wonderful, creative, beautiful people. Some have faith in our army. Some in our government. Some in God. Some, like myself, in all three.
But wherever we put that faith, it is increasingly clear that we can no longer put it in any of our fellow human beings in America or Europe. For it is clear that President Barack Obama, unlike his predecessor, is not ready for a war against a nation with weapons of mass destruction simply because of the human threat they pose to mankind. He is focused on exposing Mr. Romney’s tax returns.
His head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, has made it clear that America’s timetable and Israel’s differ. We are facing utter annihilation; America is not. Still, in a final ringing slap in the face, he nevertheless urges Israel to do nothing as he feels we lack the capability to defend ourselves. How helpful.
As for Europe, instead of calling Iran a global genocidal enemy of all Europe and all humanity, and Ahmadinejad the spiritual heir to Hitler and the Nazis, they came out with the “strongly worded statement” that “Israel has a right to exist.”
Thank you so much. What would we do without you Europeans? The words “never again” ring hollow these days, as the storm clouds gather and the peaceful days of summer come to an end, and we wait, patiently, filled with fear and courage and hope for what is to come.
But our enemies, however numerous, would do well to remember this: They are not facing the unarmed Jews of Europe 70 years ago. This time, they will be at the center of any hell they unleash.
This article was originally published in the Jerusalem Post on 24 August 2012.