Life during wartime: A visitor’s view of the Gaza conflict

Life during wartime: A visitor’s view of the Gaza conflict

When missiles are coming out of Gaza, my pain comes first

I am in Israel for the summer. I have been teaching a summer class at Kibbutzim College. I arrived in Israel just when the murders of the three Jewish youths were confirmed. It was a tragic and traumatic event executed by an organized gang of terrorists who were certainly trained by Hamas and were provided the infrastructure of support by Hamas, regardless of direct orders from the leadership or not. And when the riots in Jerusalem and other parts erupted because of the barbaric revenge on the Arab youth executed by primitive souls, Hamas understood that this could be an opportunity to regain its political weight, get out of its isolation within the Arab world, get resources and funds they needed as they lost legitimacy and the Muslim Brotherhood lost power, and engage Israel one more time. They started to bomb systematically the south of Israel again.

I am renting a place in the center of the country and get to the college by public transportation. I lost track of the number of times I had to run downstairs to the shelter, day and night. I also had to run for cover when I was shopping. For instance, last Friday, the day of shopping and preparation for Shabbat, I was caught by three different sirens while I was in the supermarket. Very unpleasant to run with mothers and their children, young moms with babies in strollers and in their arms with faces that expressed a combination of panic and strength, while elders unable to run were being helped by employees.  

Three times, I didn’t make it to the shelters. I was lucky that Israel developed anti-missile systems that are reasonable effective. The booms were extremely loud this time because they were very, very close to us in the sky. A young teenager showed me a picture he took of the explosion in the air. He filmed the interception with his smart phone after he realized he wasn’t going to make it to the safe room.

In the building where I rent an apartment there are numerous young families. I noticed that for two of these families, the fathers were not around. The wives told me they were called to reserve duty. When we gather in the small shelter, children cry and we all try to help the young mothers and play with the young children, who sometimes were taken from their beds in the middle of the night. Many elders in the building are helped by other neighbors. Some do not make it and stay inside the building hallways because they are more protected and there aren’t windows. Moms tell me how each time that a neighbor slams a door and the children hear the noise they think it is another bomb and they start screaming “I am scared” and often cry. So in a way Hamas could be satisfied that they are causing emotional damage, heavy at times.

Let me make it very clear, Hamas is bombing and continues to bomb any place possible with missiles aimed at the centers of cities, with the intention of causing heavy damage, possibly killing as many civilians as they can. They argue that no civilian in Israel is innocent and that any Israeli is a fair target, including babies, elders, incapacitated people, you name it. They are not using just the term “Zionists” or “Israelis” to refer to Israelis, they are often using the term “yahudi,” which means Jewish (any Jews, if they are in Israel as tourists too, are legitimate targets). This is at the same time that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal telsl Charlie Rose that he is OK with the Jewish people (I guess he meant in as far as Jewish means being a dhimmi — a second class subaltern).

The occupation is not the problem for them, it is the very existence of Israel. Let’s understand also that different from other movements of national liberation, Hamas’s intention is to impose an Islamic state in the whole Middle East ruled by a fundamentalist, intolerant regime far from anything democratic.

Riding the buses and going shopping I speak with people in Hebrew, in which I am fluent, and in spite of the bombings and the loss of too many young soldiers, their spirits are very, very high. Solidarity is tremendous, and while many people do not sound supportive of the prime minister and his government, they see this operation as necessary. Keep in mind that I am describing the center of the country, where large cities such as Rishon Letzion, Rehovot, Ramat Gan, or Tel Aviv are located. I cannot even start to describe what it is like to live in Beer-Sheva, Ofakim, Netivot, Ashkelon, or any of the kibbutzim in the south, where besides bombings they have to deal with terrorist incursions.

In class we had to run to the shelter many times. My Arab students tell me they do the same in many of their towns and are thankful for the protection. Maybe they are not telling me all of their feelings and thoughts, but my Arab students are extremely angry with Hamas. They do not want to be sacrificed for its cause and they do not want to be randomly bombed. They want to study, have a profession, make a living, build a family, and be accomplished at whatever they do. Needless to say my Jewish students are very dedicated, too, and despite siblings, relatives, and/or friends serving in the front, they want to keep their lives as normal as possible under these circumstances.

I recently went to a restaurant many of them suggested in the port of Tel Aviv. This was a weeknight. Restaurants and coffee shops were functioning at full steam. Many families and too many strollers at what I would consider an unreasonable hour for babies to be out were enjoying the calm evening. A long line of young children waited their turn to ride the carousel. Ice cream parlors were serving scoops at record speeds. There I met a couple of local colleagues with whom we are planning a research project. The son of one of them is a pilot in the Israeli air force. I was told that this young pilot aborted his missions four times – four times — because there were too many civilians next to the targets.

Regretfully, Hamas has used the resources they obtained, including building materials from Israel, not to build schools or even shelters for their population, but for tunnels with the intention of attacking Israel. Thus, their population not only is used as human shields, but was intentionally left without protection (they had the resources, the technology, the knowhow, and the well-trained laborers). So much for caring for their own people… And as you know, any protests by Gazans against Hamas are repressed not only with force, but also with firing squads in public places to send the message.

I know that people in Gaza are also suffering. I really can feel their pain, but frankly, when missiles are coming out of Gaza, my pain comes first. If someone comes to kill me I shoot first. And keep in mind that what is legal or not is the result of ideological, philosophical, and political decisions. Ethics informs law, not the other way around. And ethics are not necessarily neutral. I wholeheartedly without hesitation support the right of Israel to defend itself.

How will this end? I am not a political scientist, but many Israelis want all the military capacities of Hamas destroyed. They are expecting nothing but a white flag from Hamas. Right or misguided, Kerry’s intentions are noble and there should be negotiations for an end of the conflict.

Any military action is the extension of politics and any gains on the ground, as gigantic as they can be, will not necessarily bring political gains. A military triumph is not a political triumph. A savvy government in this situation should translate military victories into important political gains and what is negotiated behind closed doors need not be made public because too much is at stake.

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