Israel, A Story of Survival
By Eric Gartman
In the summer of 1997 I had the good fortune to study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. One day between classes several students rushed out spreading the news that a terror bombing had hit the city. Sixteen people were killed and a hundred wounded by two suicide bomb attacks at Mahane Yehuda, a popular fruit and vegetable market.
I was horrified.
But to my surprise, our teachers took the news in stride, saying in effect, life must go on. We returned to our studies.
A couple days later I rode the bus past Mahane Yehuda. The market had been cleared of debris and was packed once again. I expressed my surprise to a young Israeli woman sitting next to me. “This is how it needs to be,” she told me. “Life needs to go on, we have to prove to the terrorists that they can’t beat us.”
I was impressed by her fortitude. A few minutes later I got off at Jerusalem's central bus station. Another bus pulled up and its passengers disembarked. With the two busses emptied, the station platform was densely packed. I suddenly realized that it would be the perfect opportunity for a suicide bomber to attack. If there were two suicide attacks like at the fruit market, the damage would be enormous. I panicked as I realized that my life might be in jeopardy. When I regained my composure, it occurred to me that this was the fear that Israelis lived with every day.
It was a lesson I never forgot. I never experienced fear like that in America, even after the September 11 attacks.
Unfortunately, this is hardly an unusual story. It is a mere microcosm for what life is like for Israelis. They have to contend with fear and violence on a daily basis. Yet they survive. Indeed, at its heart, the story of Israel is a story of survival.
Throughout its first decades of existence, the Jewish state faced numerous attempts at its destruction. The wars of 1948, 1967, and 1973 all brought Israel to the brink of annihilation. Surrounded by more numerous Arab states, Israel’s survival seemed very unlikely to contemporary observers during these decades. And yet, the Jewish state survived and prospered.
How it survived in the face of steep odds is the topic of my new book, Return to Zion. It is a story that needs to be told, for the courage and perseverance of those pioneers is a tale for the ages. And while there is no lack of books on Israel’s history, most of those books do not give any idea of what it was like for the people who experienced these momentous events.
These were the questions I wanted to know about. And since no books addressed these issues, I collected eyewitness accounts of all the major events in the history of modern Israel in order to give the reader a sense of what it was like to live through those momentous times. I also wanted to explain that history in easy non-academic language. It is my hope through my book young people and non-specialists will learn the history of Israel’s survival in an engaging and entertaining manner and gain a new appreciation for all that they endured, and continue to endure to this day.
Thankfully, the richness of our story is a balm that soothes the pain. From the biblical times of Abraham declaring there is one G-d, to Moses leading the Jewish people out of slavery and into the land G-d promised them, to Bar Kokhba fighting the Romans and deadly exile of the people, fast forwarding to Theodore Herzl calling for the rebirth of a Jewish nation two thousand years later, to David Ben Gurion declaring it so. We must recognize that the leaders make the history books but it is the everyday people like you and me who dream and build along with them.
Eric Gartman is an intelligence analyst for the United States Department of Defense who has lived and studied in Israel and traveled extensively throughout the Middle East. Gartman is the author Return to Zion: The History of Modern Israel.