For visitors, it's the most enduring impression: Guns are omnipresent, tucked inside belts, slung over soldiers’ backs, clutched chest-high at checkpoints. From cafes in Tel Aviv to settlements on rocky hillsides in Judea and Samaria, Jews carry the guns.
Israel as pistol nation literally obsesses the rest of the world. It has nothing to do with the myth-soaked heroism familiar to Europeans from the propaganda of fascism and Stalinism. It’s the admirable construction of the homo israelianus: equal but combative.
In Israel, war and democracy have made an unusual marriage to create a Jew fit to survive in continuous sacrifice. It is not about gargantuan deeds by superhuman champions; it is family-and home-oriented, and rather intimate in tone.
The militarization of the Jew, which is the burden and the salvation at the same time, has been the most dramatic psychological transformation of the Zionist revolution. Where once Jews were mocked for being “cowards” and “parasites,” today they are condemned by the world for being “aggressors.”
The guns made possible Israel’s miracle: Israeli citizens live an average of 80 years, just like in the placid Norway; no other industrialized country does it better, especially for a nation that doesn’t have natural resources and has a population roughly half of Belgium’s.
Israel is one of the leading countries with companies listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange; it has the highest production of scientific publications per capita in the world, more museums per capita and the highest proportion of university graduates and PhDs in the world.
Great intimacy with death
Even Israeli humanistic preachers of “normality” and of being a “nation like all other nations” know that the Jewish oasis in the desert was made possible by the fact that Israel was “armed to the teeth,” as anti-Israel literary critic George Steiner once said. Even Diaspora Jews, from London’s Golders Green to Toronto’s Forest Hill, can enjoy quiet nights because they know that every Israeli fence is guarded by armed Jews and that Israel’s sky is sealed by its Air Force and by the Dimona nuclear plant.
Israel is the only nation deprived by the United Nations of its legal right to defend itself, the only UN member surrounded by neighbors willing to kill themselves to destroy the Jews, and the only democracy that in the last 40 years had to dig trenches in public parks as potential mass graves.
As the number of firearms proves, no Western society lives in greater intimacy with death than Israel. During the Second Intifada, the most effective protection against terrorism in the cafés and shopping malls, aside from IDF incursions into Palestinian cities, was a kind of spontaneous form of Jewish civil defense, the only thing that worked even when terrorists from Jenin and Nablus showed up at a café in Tel Aviv or a gas station in the settlement of Ariel.
That’s the Jewish revolution, which the West can’t accept, the most admirable Israeli phenomenon: A people still able to defend itself against the forces of evil.
Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book "A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism"