March 23, 2020 — Jerusalem, Israel
This piece originally appeared in The Algemeiner.
The world is currently dealing with a micro-sized enemy. It’s a type of enemy rarely seen before. It already has sent millions of humans into isolation in their homes, and thousands to the hospitals. Thousands all over the world, without distinction of gender or religion, have been killed, and the death toll is expected to rise.
Israel too has been directly affected by this phenomenon.
The number of Israelis infected by coronavirus multiplies by the day. The duration of the pandemic is unclear, heightening concern among the general population as well as our government.
One may say that Israel has been through so much over the decades: wars, military operations, thousands of rocket attacks from near and far. Surely, Israel can overcome a temporary health crisis.
But is that really the case now, when millions are confined in their homes, connected only by digital platforms?
The situation today is very different from rocket attacks on Israeli civilians.
First, Israel developed various solutions for intercepting the rockets. The Iron Dome defense system, for example, gives nearly 90% protection, enabling Israelis to almost carry on with their daily lives. Additionally, Israel had invested tremendous efforts in building its intelligence capabilities, enabling it always to be one step ahead of its enemies, time after time. Moreover, air superiority is a basic rule of thumb among the Israeli security establishment.
But with the coronavirus, we cannot even see our enemy. We don’t have enough intelligence on its capabilities and its priorities. We certainly don’t have an effective solution yet. This enemy has the advantage of an element of surprise over all of us.
While the main target of the virus, just like the targets of the many terror attacks courtesy of Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, PIJ, and others, are Israeli civilians, there’s another similarity. During all times of crisis, be it rocket attacks or virus attacks, we have Israeli camaraderie. Consistently, when a crisis emerges, the Israeli people come together and support the civil society in numerous efforts.
I’ve been flooded by examples of Israelis helping to buy tons of flowers from private farmers that would otherwise get dumped in the garbage. I’ve seen Israelis support small businesses from pet stores to herb stores, to help them from collapsing financially.
I’ve seen teenagers and students deliver groceries and medicine to senior citizens homes, right to their doors. NGOs have established ‘hot lines’ for emotional support, and privately owned Israeli businesses have donated laptops and computers to impoverished children.
And I’ve also witnessed Israeli families “adopt” Holocaust survivors, ensuring they have everything they need.
This deep sense of Israeli solidarity is heavily integrated into the current crisis as well as other life-threatening scenarios. It is who we are as people. It is based on the values our country was founded upon. It is something we will always cherish and pass on to our children.
And there’s another resemblance between the coronavirus crisis and terror attacks on Israeli soil. In both cases, we have a strong army. It is not only an army of jets, tanks, and submarines. It’s an army that first and foremost is based on brilliant minds, devoted spirits, who work around the clock to ensure the safety of Israel. It’s an army of researchers who spend long hours at scientific labs, searching for the best vaccine for the virus.
It’s an army of innovative minds who develop apps and sites for the individuals and families locked in communities, making information more accessible for them. It’s an army of teachers who keep our kids studying with long distance technologies, who don’t forget they are educators before anything else.
The best thing? These minds are an asset for the world. Israel is working closely with other countries to promote required solutions, not only on a vaccine for coronavirus, but on many aspects of daily life affected by this new enemy.
Today more than ever, please recognize that Israel is a strong power, not only militarily, but even more importantly, in the capacity of its people and the values they represent.
It’s time to look at Israel in a different way.
Lt Col (res.) Avital Leibovich is Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) office in Jerusalem.