In 2008-2009, Adira and I were living in Israel. That winter, tensions with Hamas in Gaza erupted into war. Here is what I wrote to our family then, on January 4, 2009. I believe I could, more than likely, have written it today. As Faulkner wrote, “The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.”
As we all continue to watch the events unfold in Gaza, I thought I would drop a note to reassure you of our safety here in Jerusalem and also to share some of my thoughts. First and foremost, Adira and I want you all to know that we are doing everything we can to be as safe as possible. Thankfully, Gaza is far away from Jerusalem (by Israel standards, at least), and we are well out of range of rocket fire coming from the Strip. We do not intend on traveling anywhere near Gaza until there is calm. We also are avoiding visiting places with large crowds, unless they are protected by an armed guard. We will also be avoiding Arab neighborhoods and villages within Israel proper, if at all possible. If it weren’t for the fact that everyone here seems to be concerned with what will be the outcome of this conflict, living in Jerusalem one would never know there is a war raging only 100km away. So, we wanted to reassure you of our safety here.
Emotionally, however, the conflict leaves us torn. On the one hand, our heart aches for our Israeli brothers and sisters who have endured so much in recent years. It is simply unthinkable that any country should allow its civilian populations to be under constant threat of rocket attacks. Yet over the past few years, Southern Israeli towns like Sderot have been bombarded constantly and continuously by Palestinian rocket fire. Most of these rockets are crude hunks of metal and are only deadly if they hit you directly or destroy a building that consequently topples on you (making the likelihood very rare), but the attacks, given their frequency, are certainly enough to keep a population constantly terrified. It is hard to advocate any position that doesn’t demand the cessation of Palestinian rocket fire into southern Israel. Israel must defend its citizens, plain and simple.
And yet, we also feel for Palestine. It is true that the international news media, in its desire to skew toward the sensational, reports more about the carnage wrought by the Israeli army than a nuanced understanding of why both sides are doing what they are doing. Yet it is hard to ignore the fact that, amidst the targeted assaults on Hamas militants and its leadership, many civilians are dying. We recognize that this is at least partially due to the fact that Hamas hides their military infrastructure in its civilian population, thus making innocent men, women, and children human shields. But when mothers are losing children, and children are losing parents, it is hard to qualify their pain in that way. We also recognize that the cause of this most current conflict was not only Palestinian rocket fire into southern Israel but also the crippling Israeli blockade of Gaza since its evacuation of the strip in 2005. Even after its evacuation, Israel has controlled all major roads, waterways, and airspace surrounding Gaza, and has kept tight control of everything coming in and out. Since then, and especially since Hamas’ ascendency to power there, Gazans have endured terrible living conditions, being denied even the most basic of necessities. It is hard to imagine how any population can endure such hardship without eventually trying, even forcefully, to better their situation. Israel is right to want to punish Hamas. They are terrorists. But collective punishment of the Palestinian people seems counter-productive; it just adds fuel to Hamas’ propaganda about Israel, and helps Hamas recruit more and more anti-Israel militants.
We, like many Israelis who we’ve spoken with, feel a sense of despair and futility right now. Do we really think a military operation in Gaza, no matter how big, will solve the problems on either side? Will this war really end the rocket fire? Will this conflict really bring a Palestinian state into fruition? How many people have to die before one side or the other can claim victory? Is there still hope for peace? For two states to live side by side? I think many Israelis echo the sentiments of one of my teachers who said that there may never be peace – just ongoing war with brief interludes of quiet.
We are, however, hopeful for 2009. Maybe it’s because in November we watched how hope can triumph over fear and hate, and we are excited to see what fresh American leadership might be able to accomplish. But we really believe that peace can be possible here. In the meantime, we will continue to watch, like you, and hope and pray for the best.