I recently sat with an American visitor in the breakfast room of an Eilat hotel. He expressed sentiments widespread not only among our overseas friends, but among many Israelis: how tragic that we have to endure the threat of Palestinian violence.
It is tragic, but it is not the whole story. I asked the American to look around. To our left were some 20 or 30 meters of buffet laden with more delicacies than we could possibly taste in several sittings. Outside the clean windows were two swimming pools waiting our pleasure. Beyond was a promenade stretching for a kilometer or more with stalls selling cheap imports from India, as well as classier shops with the better goods of Western Europe and North America. I urged him to think of the people in Gaza, who most likely hate us and support those who threaten us. Their living standards are so far beneath what we were enjoying in the resort, and what we have at home, as to make a detailed comparison grotesque. And if we suffer from the prospect of violence from them, they suffer from the reality of the IDF's retaliation or pre-emptive strikes.
In retrospect, this was a defining moment. It clarified the reality of Israelis' lack of peace, but also the balance of power and suffering.
Our suffering is not distributed equally. The residents of Sderot are paying the bill in this chapter of Jewish history. A few hours after my conversation with the visitor, we heard of a rocket that killed a women, and injured two other residents of that poor town. The report went on to indicate that this was the 10th death from rockets in Sderot since the first attack six years ago.
That represents ten personal tragedies of a kind none of us wants to experience among our family or acquaintances. Yet it may be a smaller incidence of death than a population the size of Sderot's suffers from traffic accidents and other calamities in places that consider themselves at peace.
Perhaps more weighty on the residents of Sderot is the constant fear that a rocket will fall, and the frequent sounds of warning sirens and explosions. People want to leave the town, but most of them are unlikely to find work readily elsewhere. And if they put their apartment on the market, it is doubtful that anyone would make an offer.
Currently we are hearing about the Russian billionaire who is making a high profile donation of a week's stay in a classy Eilat hotel for the people of Sderot. We also hear that several of the thousand or so who have made the trip are saying they will not leave the hotel when their week is up. Also, a number of children waited hours for buses that were delayed, and then did not make it through the rush to get themselves a place. Fortunately, we heard about the subsidized migration only as we were on our way home.
If the people of Sderot are suffering more than others at the present, residents of Jerusalem, Netanya, and Hadera suffered more than the average during the earlier season of suicide bombings, and the people of Haifa, Nahariya, Kiryiat Shmona, Zefat, Tiberias, and smaller Jewish and Arab settlements in the north paid their bill during the rocket attacks from Lebanon. Many of us have had a turn at the focus of Palestinian violence, even while more Palestinians are likely to have suffered more persistently from Israeli violence.
We are stuck living alongside a population that may desire peace, but lacks the mechanisms to deal with religious and political fanatics, or those who are simply mad. The IDF retaliates and pre-empts, but respects moral standards as high as those of any military engaged in anything more than parades and shining equipment. Most of us accept the limitations. We realize that we can limit Palestinian terror with our military power, but not stop it entirely, and that Palestinian politicians have shown themselves unwilling or unable to control those who would rather die violently than live peacefully.
Being fatalistic is not correct, politically or intellectually. But it is suitable in this setting.
We also pay a price of international condemnation from those who think it is all, or mostly, our fault. We can curse them as hypocrites and perhaps anti-Semites, and draw some consolation from realizing that most of them live in homes and enjoy resort hotels no more attractive than our own. We are paying the price for being Jews in a Jewish state, but also enjoying the advantages that come with a pragmatic capacity to recognize reality, and to achieve what is possible.