Thursday evening. I have just returned from a working trip to the States. I get into my car and anxiously turn on the radio. The broadcast is interrupted repeatedly by announcements of rockets being fired from Gaza, each followed by a recitation of the towns, villages, and cities being targeted, giving those living there just moments to take cover.
I take advantage of the drive home from the airport to check in with family and friends, from Ashkelon to Ashdod, and hear the same stories from all of them. Fitful nights and harrowing days punctuated by barrages of missiles and running to shelters. The near impossibility of maintaining any semblance of normalcy. In the twelve hours it took me to fly from New York to Tel Aviv they have had to contend with more than 100 missiles, more than 300 since Hamas opened its latest offensive against Israel earlier this week.
Friday afternoon. Now it’s getting personal. Just before Shabbat I speak to one of my daughters. She was supposed to give birth to her first child a week ago, but still hasn’t. Now she tells me that her husband, the expectant father, just received an emergency call-up for reserve duty. He is an officer in an elite combat unit. I struggle to block the unimaginable from taking shape in my thoughts. If I can’t think it, it can’t happen. My daughter doesn’t want to give birth alone and I find it difficult to digest that my grandchild will be born in the midst of a war.
Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was praying that my own three children would grow up without having to go into the army? I was so certain that by the time they reached the age of 18 our neighbors would have reconciled themselves to our being here. And I was so wrong. The song that we have been singing in Israel for generations stubbornly starts playing in my head, all of its own accord:
With what shall I bless this child, asks the angel, with what shall he be blessed?
I gave him all that I could give
A song and a smile and feet for dancing
And a delicate hand and a trembling heart
With what else could I bless you?
And then the heartrending answer:
This child is now an angel
No longer shall he be blessed
God God God
If only you had blessed him with life.
These aren’t the thoughts with which any new child should be welcomed into the world.
I speak to my son in Tel Aviv. He tells me that he heard the boom of rockets shortly after the siren sounded there earlier this afternoon, the first time in more than 20 years that the skies over this city have been violated. One rocket was destroyed in mid-air. The other exploded in an open area. No damage. No casualties. But still, this city that never stops slowed down, and the specter of war appeared abruptly on its doorstep.
Candle lighting in Jerusalem. Traditionally, Shabbat is welcomed here with the sounding of an understated siren, barely heard by those not listening for it. This week it was different. Shortly after sundown, an eerie rising and falling wailing announces a missile attack against Jerusalem. My wife and I look at each other incredulously. No one had suggested that we might come under fire here as well. We have not even thought about where to take cover. By the time we figure it out, the wailing has ended and I swear that I hear a boom far in the distance. We later discover that two primitively fashioned rockets fired from Gaza had landed somewhere in the Gush Etzion region, not far south of us.
Saturday night. I find out that my son-in-law spent the day with his soldiers, but was then sent back home pending the birth of his daughter. Here I was thinking that she had delayed entering this world because she wanted me back in the country for her birth. Now I discover she had delayed things so as to keep her father out of harm’s way for another few days.
But though my daughter didn’t have her baby during Shabbat, I discover that plenty of other young women did. An Israeli television reporter interviews them in the delivery rooms of Ashkelon’s hospital. I wasn’t the only one spending the day wondering what sort of world this is that we are bringing infants into. The correspondent ends the item by remarking that it is a good thing that the newborns are not yet able to distinguish between the booms they are hearing now and the familiar heartbeat of their mothers.
At one point this afternoon, that heartbeat was a little faster than usual for my daughter. One of the warning sirens that sounded earlier today in Tel Aviv caught her visiting friends and scurrying for shelter. The last time she had to do that was when she was eleven, when Scud missiles were being fired during the Gulf War. Then she only had to worry about getting her doll and her dog to safety. Now she had an unborn child to worry about as well.
I am watching the news. CNN is carrying reports of Palestinian children killed during Israeli airstrikes. Their pictures are more powerful than ours. The number of casualties on their side is greater. And the destruction in Gaza more devastating than in Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheva combined. There is no denying that their side is suffering more than ours. But neither is there any denying that the fault and responsibility are theirs as well, as is the option of bringing the violence to an end. More than 1,500 rockets have been launched against Israel under the Hamas regime in 2012 alone.
It is impossible to blame this rocket fire on “the occupation.” We left Gaza in its entirety more than seven years ago, uprooting the lives and dreams of thousands of Israelis in the process. Indeed we maintain a partial embargo against the importation of arms, but non-military goods that cannot be put to military use pass through unimpeded. And despite the more than 1,500 rockets that have been fired at our civilian population in 2012 alone, Gaza continues to get its fuel and electricity from Israel. Ironically, there is more practical cooperation between Israel and Hamas than there is between Egypt and Hamas, though the party continues to reject Israel’s right to exist within any borders whatsoever, and persists in educating its children towards the violent overthrow of the Zionist regime, while doing everything in its power to disrupt our children’s education altogether.
As a consequence, those dwelling in Israel’s southern region have been systematically terrorized over the years, having to scramble for cover at a moment’s notice at every hour of the day and night. Israel throughout has responded with remarkable restraint. Imagine the United States, England, South Africa or any other sovereign nation not reacting to the firing of even a single missile into its territory. Then multiply that provocation by the more than three thousand unprovoked rockets that have been fired at us since 2009.
I am genuinely sorry for the suffering of innocent civilians on the other side of the border. I am absolutely convinced that my government is doing everything humanly possible to minimize it during this campaign. And I continue to hold that government responsible for doing everything humanly possible to ensure that my granddaughter-to-be will not have to grow up worrying, together with her mother, about whether or not her father will be returning safely from the front lines.
The writer is vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of The Jewish Agency Executive. The opinions expressed herein are his own.