Jerusalem – This is my third war in Jerusalem. As a teenager, my brothers and I arrived here in August 1973 with my parents, who had decided to take a sabbatical year in Israel. Three months later, the Yom Kippur War broke out.
Kids like me helped filled sandbags to protect hospitals, and I remember having to tape all the windows and paint the headlights of cars as precautions in case Egyptian or Syrian aircraft reached Jerusalem.
The second war, after I had moved to Israel some years ago, doesn’t have a name, but we could call it Arafat’s War. It started after Israel offered the Palestinians a state at Camp David in 2000 and, two months later, Yasser Arafat decided to respond with a campaign of suicide bombings like this country had never seen.
By this time I was married with children, whom we would bring to kindergartens with armed guards at the entrance, like those at almost every café, movie theater, or store.
Jerusalem was on the front lines of this war. Once as I was writing an editorial for the Jerusalem Post from our apartment, I heard a huge explosion and the windows shook. It was the bombing at Café Hillel, about a mile away, that killed seven people, including Dr. David Applebaum and his daughter, who was to be married the next day.
What is strange about viewing the current war from Jerusalem is that this city is not at the center of it. The hotels, which were already bursting with tourists, have been flooded with more visitors fleeing the bombardments in the north. Like the Gulf War, when Iraqi Scud missiles were hitting Tel Aviv, Jerusalem has suddenly become the safest place to be.
Nothing, though, is far away in Israel. Haifa, which has born the brunt of the Hezbollah-Iranian missile attacks, is Israel’s third-largest city with a mixed population known as a model for Arab-Israeli coexistence. It’s a two-hour drive from here, and the Lebanese border is an even shorter hop from there.
Moreover, just so we here in the capital wouldn’t feel left out, today a Palestinian with a large bomb in his bag was caught by alert police near the Old City walls. He had been asking passersby for directions to Jaffa Road, the main street through the city center. The police dismantled his bomb, their alertness saving many lives.
This war is like Arafat’s War, in that it is not between armies, but is a terror war in which missiles are being shot directly against undefended cities in an attempt to maximize civilian casualties.
Yet it feels more similar to the 1973 war than the war than to Arafat’s War, which Hamas has been trying to rekindle. Like 33 years ago, it has distinct fronts, in the south and north, rather than bombers blowing themselves up in on the streets and in the buses of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. It is also more like ’73 in that there is a feeling of unity and justice of our cause born of fighting for our existence.
Arafat’s War also had a unifying effect on Israelis, but the previous decade’s schism over the Oslo Accords, which many believed brought the war and many others continued to defend, left a residue of division.
This time, the war came in the wake of the consensus behind Ariel Sharon’s grim unilateralism which, though bitterly opposed by those wrenched out of their homes in the Gaza Strip a year ago, was widely seen as a necessary step toward defining our borders absent a partner for peace.
Now our sense of purpose is palpable. There is wall-to-wall agreement in our dovish government, led by Kadima, which wants to continue unilateral withdrawals; and Labor, which flirts with the notion that a Palestinian partner still exists. Now the parties are of a single mind that Hezbollah must be utterly destroyed, regardless of what the international community thinks.
Not a single mayor, or even a man-on-the-street can be found, even in the bomb shelters of our bombarded cities, who wants this war to stop a moment before the IDF has finished the job, and the threat from the north is permanently erased.
Once again, like Americans after 9/11, the terrorists and tyrants have “misunderestimated” the moral fiber of average democratic citizens. More than ever, this week has made me feel that we will not crack, and we will win.
– Saul Singer is editorial-page editor of the Jerusalem Post and author of Confronting Jihad: Israel’s Struggle and the World After 9/11. Singer’s brother, Alex Singer, was killed in battle as an IDF officer in Lebanon in 1987. Click here for his story.