The wailing siren jolted me out of bed. I grabbed my sneakers, looked at my friend I was staying with in Tel Aviv, and rushed to the community shelter. An elderly man’s hand shook nervously. A big golden retriever panted, noticing our heightened sense of danger. What struck me, however, was the family of four standing next to me. They nervously embraced each other and, in that moment, their instinctual love and care for one another kicked in and their solely concern was each other’s safety. About a minute later we heard a successful Iron Dome interception and boom above.

I had seen the images of war on TV before, but this was markedly different. I remember the grotesque images of the Second Intifada and being deeply troubled, but I was living worlds away in Dallas, Texas.  I’ll never forget where I was on September 11, 2011, but even then, this was miles away in New York City. And then came the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Our country was in the midst of a nasty civil war in Iraq, but this was thousands of miles away and fought by an army I had little personal connection with.

The Tel Avivian family noted above, however, epitomized the personal nature of this conflict. They were firing at this family, and they were firing at me. While I had never experienced this feeling before, I was relatively safe compared to millions of Israel’s southern citizens who have been living in fear from thousands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets for years. Israel has every right to defend herself from terrorism and no country would accept a constant bombardment of deadly rockets on a daily basis.

This country’s fight against terrorism also touched me in a much more personal way than in the United States. Among the tens of thousands of Israel Defense Forces reservists that were called up for duty, I had family, friends, and co-workers who were sent to the front lines of Gaza. They awaited the governments’ orders knowing that they could be imminently sent into a dangerous combat zone. I got the sense that these soldiers felt the collective responsibility to protect their fellow citizens from terrorism. I can’t imagine, however, the feeling of a mother and father who send their children off to war not by choice but out of necessity. It is tragic that the prospects of peace are slim and that generations to come will likely also need to send their children to war.

Despite the threats faced from Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and others, Israeli society is incredibly dynamic and resilient. I was surprised by my co-workers response to the bus bomb in Tel Aviv. They were clearly shocked, proceeded to debate politics for a couple of hours, and then got back to work. Many Israelis said to me, “What choice do we have? We have to move on and live our lives.” Maybe this is what happens when you grow up with a conflict every few years. Some have said to me, “In a certain sense, we get used to it.” Others say, “If we don’t continue living our lives, they win.”

As I watched the war unfold on CNN and on other western news networks, I was disappointed by their lack of understanding for what a “just war” is and their seemingly endless perception of this conflict through the guise of numbers. An equal number of deaths on each side does not make war more or less just. Why should Israel be blamed for protecting their population so effectively? Iron Dome and the IDF’s operation to take out Iranian provided Fajr-5 long range rockets prevented countless Israeli deaths. Had Israel not done this, hundreds of civilians could have been killed.

What happened and what is unfolding in Gaza is truly tragic. It does not please me to see innocent children being killed because their Islamic fundamentalist quasi-government celebrates death and places rockets and munitions depots in civilian areas. Hamas is committing a double war crime by targeting Israeli civilians and using their own civilians as human shields. In fact, Israel has taken great lengths to prevent civilian casualties time and time again despite Hamas’ tactics. Israel has the responsibility to protect their citizens and so does Hamas in Gaza, who consistently have shown an utter disregard for life. Despite this tragic situation for Gazans, the West must realize that it is not a “cycle of violence” that perpetuates this conflict, but a vile ideology propagated in Gaza that indoctrinates youth to love death, martyrdom, anti-Semitism, and most importantly, the destruction of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian entity from the Jordan river to the Mediterranean sea. As Golda Meir said, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”

Lastly, during this latest round of violence, I have really realized the importance of Israel advocacy and pro-Israel politics at home in the United States. For example, Iron Dome was partially funded by the United States and has saved countless lives. The USA is Israel’s best friend, and we cannot take this support for granted. Being involved counts, even if it is something small. Educating and discussing Israeli politics, culture, society, and security issues within our communities and with our government representatives has an impact.  I urge you to get involved with an organization that speaks to you, even if you only give a little of your time!

Thanks for reading and I hope to cover a topic that is not related to the conflict in the very near future. Daniel Gordis has pointed out that 85% of the time our conversation about Israel is about the conflict and not about why the Jewish people need a state. A durable and lasting Zionist commitment cannot solely be built upon the Shoah (Holocaust) and Anti-semitism – Israel needs to stand for something. I look forward to covering this in the future!