Expecting Israeli governments to do the right thing by choice is as useless as expecting most governments to do the right thing by choice. The choice is rarely theirs. It is forced on them by a recognition that all their compromises are futile, that their way has utterly failed, and that a black wall stands before them. Either life or death. Either war or suicide.
That was the choice that Israel faced in 1967. Its war was the War of No Choice, Milhemet Ein Breira. Prime Ministers and Generals crack in the face of such a wall. Their voice breaks, as the voice of Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, probably the most decent man to ever hold the office, did. Or their mind does, as the mind of one of the nation’s most celebrated generals did. But where the leaders falter, the nation fights because ordinary men do not live with the illusion of control over external events. That is the fatal delusion of leaders. The ordinary man only knows that he must fight to save his people.
The truly great heroic acts of Israel’s wars were often individual acts of astounding courage. They are almost incomprehensible to people who have not seen war come to their cities, who have not lived with the understanding that there are a few miles between them and armies whose sole purpose is to wipe them and their families off the face of the earth. And that those miles must be guarded by them and men like them, ordinary people who are nothing special, who are not heroes, who are waiting to go back home to their families and their jobs, who like all men, have easily apparent faults.
This reality, like the reality of ordinary pervasive bigotry, has almost passed out of the memory of men in the modern world. It has passed out of the reality of some of the posher parts of Israel, where the electorate of left-wing parties believes that this was a myth perpetuated by warmongers for the benefit of the defense industry. But it is still the reality in Israel. It is a reality that will never go away. That can never go away because humanity does not change, it abides in its follies and evils, and then dresses them up in the sophisticated rhetoric of its chattering classes. It can be defeated in battles, but the only war that can be won against it, is the war of survival.
Survival is more than life. The genes of every people that have ever lived pollinate the human race. It is surviving with the knowledge of who you are and what you represent. It is not merely the survival of some disparate strands of DNA, but the survival of a people, a nation, and of their spirit.
The world was created in six days and on the seventh day we rest. But there is no rest for Israel. Not before the war and not after. Not after the treaties that were supposed to end the grievances of war. No victory or peace treaty can begin or end history, they can only change the difficulty of survival, the conditions under which the ordinary heroism of the everyday life is expressed by going on despite the will of those who want to kill us that we should not. Survival is the final victory.