Every night, just across the road from my apartment on the northeastern edge of Jerusalem, fireworks from the neighboring Palestinian village of Anata light the sky. When there have been large numbers of Israeli casualties from Katyusha rocket attacks in the Galilee, the fireworks, along with the booms of firecrackers, can go on for hours. It doesn’t seem to matter that the dead and wounded include Arab citizens of Israel. Instead, what matters is that Israel is being hit and humiliated, its deterrence undermined, and that Hezbollah’s supposed victory is being celebrated.

The other night I went to an Israeli celebration: a bat mitzvah party, in a Jerusalem restaurant, for the daughter of friends who had immigrated to Israel from the United States. Despite the dancing and feasting, no one tried to pretend the war wasn’t happening. One woman, in black evening dress and pearls, stood on line for the buffet holding her cellphone: She had a son serving in Lebanon, and wouldn’t leave the phone at her table even for a moment, just in case he called. “I guess this phone is now a permanent part of me,” she said.

Like my neighbors in Anata, the guests were preoccupied with Hezbollah’s success. After a month of Israeli bombing of Hezbollah targets, northern Israel remains helpless against Katyusha attacks, almost every red line of Israeli deterrence has been violated, and we still haven’t broken Hezbollah’s will and operational capabilities. Can a society that celebrates life, asked a veteran of Israel’s first Lebanon war in the 1980’s, win against people who celebrate death?

Despite Hezbollah threats to strike Tel Aviv, so far Katyushas have reached only as far as the town of Hadera, near Haifa. And so there are now two Israels: The Israel north of Hadera, where hundreds of thousands live in air raid shelters and from where hundreds of thousands more have fled; and the Israel south of Hadera, where restaurants are full and celebrants dance at bat mitzvahs. Is the ability of the Israel south of Hadera to maintain some sense of normal life an affirmation of Israeli vitality, precisely what has allowed the Tel Aviv stock exchange to continue attracting foreign investors despite the missile war? Or are we refusing to fully mobilize against an enemy that has declared our existence a religious affront?

During the four years of suicide bombings that began in October 2000, the answer was clear. By clinging to the pretense of daily life, we were affirming the promise of Zionism to create a normal life for Jews in their own state. We reinhabited the bombed cafes and restaurants, refusing to turn the places of our normalcy into memorials to atrocity. As a result, Israel learned, as few societies have, how to withstand daily, sometimes even hourly, terror assaults.

But with the missile attacks against northern Israel, the jihadist war that began against our homefront six years ago has taken a new turn. And Israelis are beginning to debate whether the feigned normalcy that helped us defeat the suicide bombers in the first round of that war is useful now, in a battle initiated by Iranian and Syrian proxies.

The bat mitzvah girl’s grandfather, Fima, a dapper Red Army veteran with long white hair and a pale blue suit, explained to me how Russia won World War II. “There was no choice but to keep going until we reached Berlin,” he said. “I was wounded and spent seven months in a hospital. I thought I would be sent home afterward, because my body was still full of shrapnel. But they sent me back to my unit at the front. If you want to win, that’s how you fight.”

A young woman juggled burning sticks. She grabbed the bat mitzvah girl, Ariella, and created a circle of fire around her. Ariella watched, wide-eyed with horror and fascination. It was her coming of age ceremony as an Israeli, her induction into a nation of fire jugglers.

We stood on the terrace, overlooking the Judean Desert and the West Bank village of Abu Deis. In the distance, the West Bank security wall, gray and winding, was clearly visible. I pointed it out, without apology, to several American guests who had come for the bat mitzvah. Once, I might have felt embarrassed celebrating in view of the wall. But the suicide bombings — the Palestinian leaderships response to Israel’s offer six years ago to create a Palestinian state and to share Jerusalem — have destroyed the Israeli guilty conscience.

This, then, has become the Israeli-Palestinian relationship: We ignore their suffering, while they, in their nightly fireworks ritual, celebrate ours.

One of the guests told me the latest news: A missile had hit a building in Haifa, and there were dozens of wounded. We spoke quietly, to keep the news from our hosts. But the news had clearly reached residents in Abu Deis: Just beyond the wall, the sky filled with fireworks. For a moment, watching the night explode in delight, it seemed to me as if we were celebrating together.

– Yossi Klein Halevi


Yossi Klien Halevi

Yossi Klein Halevi, the author of "At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land," is a senior fellow at The Shalem Center, an academic research institute in Jerusalem, and a correspondent for The New Republic.