The title of this stimulating intellectual essay is meant to evoke Israelis' ambivalence about their current struggle with the Palestinians. If they were engaged in a war of survival, they would not hesitate to use real bullets to defend themselves; if they were acting as police officers to maintain order within their own borders, bullets would be excessive. The compromise, in reality, has been to use rubber-coated steel bullets against Palestinian stone-throwers, intended to wound although sometimes lethal. The broader point that Ezrahi is trying to make is that Israel is a society torn between two impulses, the old communal, pre-state vision of collective sacrifice and struggle, embodied in the myth of the Kibbutz, and a more recent emphasis on individualism, free thinking, resistance to group conformity, and readiness to compromise for the sake of peace. The communal ethic extols military service and discourages questioning the policies and purposes of the state. The individualistic ethic insists that it is proper and moral to question policies such as the Israeli occupation and the use of force against Palestinian youth during the intifada, and indeed many of the founding myths of the state. Ezrahi is squarely in the individualist-peace camp, but this book is much more than a personal manifesto. He reflects at length on the limits of both visions but concludes that Israelis increasingly need to respect individualistic, nonconformist strands in their culture as they become a modern, prosperous society. At a time when many Americans are urging a return to communitarian values, this is a revealing affirmation of the virtues of individualism from one who has seen the darker side of communal norms. At times repetitious, the book is nonetheless thought- provoking from beginning to end.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.