After the frustrations of the first and second Lebanon wars, and the failures of various attempts in the interim to bring peace through negotiation and compromise, something changed about Israel’s ethos, writes Matti Friedman. (Excerpted from his recent book, Pumpkinflowers.)
People in Israel didn’t despair, as our enemies hoped. Instead they stopped paying attention. What would we gain from looking to our neighbors? Only heartbreak, and a slow descent after them into the pit. No, we would turn our back on them and look elsewhere, to the film festivals of Berlin and Copenhagen or the tech parks of California. Our happiness would no longer depend on the moods of people who wish us ill, and their happiness wouldn’t concern us more than ours concerns them.
Something important in the mind of the country—an old utopian optimism—was laid to rest. At the same time we were liberated, most of us, from the curse of existing as characters in a mythic drama, from the hallucination that our lives are enactments of the great moral problems of humanity, that people in Israel are anything other than people, hauling their biology from home to work and trying to eke out the usual human pleasures in an unfortunate region and an abnormal history. . . .
When Hizballah attacked a border patrol inside Israel in the summer of 2006, triggering a month of fighting, my parents’ town was hit by several hundred rockets and was nearly deserted. I reported the war and remember the sinister sight of traffic lights blinking yellow along a main street devoid of pedestrians or traffic. The day after the shooting stopped, the town filled with people as if nothing had happened. Less than a year later I counted eight new cafes and restaurants on the same street.
Making do in this way is perhaps a fundamental national ability, something Jews have done throughout the centuries no matter how inhospitable the soil.