It was on June 12th of last summer that I drew my last full breath. The tight choking fear, the black gnawing sorrow, the empty hopelessness of those dark days of war have yet to subside. Something died inside of me last summer. It has not yet come back to life. I know what it was that is now lost to me – hope.
Under fire, at first the failed attempts of Hamas’ rockets were the subject of ridicule. Clever memes, safe room selfies and Hamas ringtones stopped being even mildly entertaining the day the nation’s children laced their boots. A summer of funerals. A summer of blue skies marred by billowing smoke. A summer of shrapnel littering the beach like so many shells.
We tossed in our beds, waiting for sirens. We did not let our children roam far – one never knew when they would need to run for shelter. Better to keep them close. Throats constricted, hearts ripped open, we watched and listened and cried. A heavy tense anger came over our country, as if our unbreakable unity in the face of war needed to be paid for with patience. In the grocery stores and parking lots, people snapping like brittle twigs, throwing their pain at one another in desperation. And then embracing, leaning on one another to keep from collapsing. Another siren. Another funeral.
In the months since we have weathered many storms. Stabbings and shootings and car attacks. More funerals. More tears. And still that death grip around my throat. Still the pain constricting my ribs, crushing my heart. There are moments that I feel I must open my mouth wide, until my jaw unhinges and my lips curl, in order to draw in air. I still can’t breathe. I know I’m not alone.
I landed in our homeland at the sweltering height of another awful summer, when sirens rang from ambulances instead of loudspeakers and buses became the battleground. Coffee shops and farmers markets and nightclubs turned to minefields, and we waited to hear how many this time. We paused to listen for the sirens – more than three and we knew it was a bad one. And yet somehow those very dark days did not kill the part of me that believed we might yet find a way to live — not in peace, but just to LIVE. Now I know better.
We might never actually live. We might just spend the rest of our lives waiting for the next summer war, the next terror attack. Because we are so hated. We are hated in a way that can only be described as supernatural. A deep mythical hatred that transcends common sense and human decency. We are Nazis, apartheid, racists, colonialists. We are not allowed to defend ourselves or live in security or have a state. We will be eternally responsible for millions of Palestinians: we must provide them with free water, free electricity, construction materials, medical aid… forever. We cannot check to make sure they are not strapped with explosives when they cross border checkpoints to make a living in Israel – that is dehumanizing. Better to let bombers roam free. After all, it is justifiable resistance. They are freedom fighters. We are the real terrorists.
Even though their own governments receive billions in aid that are never invested in commerce or infrastructure or education. Even though they still refuse to acknowledge our right to exist. Even though they murder and disenfranchise and oppress their own people. Even though they deny the Holocaust. We are expected to compromise, to withdraw, to broker unilateral agreements with no guarantees and existential risks. Even though we know nothing short of total annihilation will satisfy them – nothing. This is what the hateful world refuses to acknowledge: only a Palestinian state over the entire territory of Israel will suffice. We could, of course, stay on in dhimmitude. If we behave. And pay a Jew-tax.
As Jews the world over suffer outrageous attacks in the name of Palestinian liberation, as global consensus blames this small country the size of Rhode Island for every conflict on earth, as the UN and the BDS movement single out and isolate a country built from ashes and tears and sand and muck, we in Israel know that no matter what we offer, no matter what we do, there is no hope.
At the same time, we condemn the deplorable standard of living in Gaza. We abhor the destruction and violence that take so many innocent lives. We acknowledge our role in this people’s suffering. Yet we know it was the Palestinians’ own government that orchestrated the high casualties by placing civilians deliberately under fire. By firing at us, daily, for years on end, while tunneling under our homes in order to kill us. We know they falsified names and numbers. We know they stage scenes for the world media to circulate uncritically and unquestioningly. We know Iran is gunning for us. As is ISIS. As is Hezbollah. And no one will protect us, no one will take our side. We are alone. We are not permitted to live freely and safely. We never will.
Since the summer, hatred against Jews has grown frenzied and rabid and loud. Pretending that hating Israel does not inherently entail Jew hatred is just plain obfuscation – we are hated. A lot. And not because of settlement expansion. And not because our missile defense system makes us less vulnerable than our enemies. And not because we mourn our fallen children even as we send them off to defend us. And not because of borders, or fences, or any other reason. We are hated for being here.
One week before the elections, the politicians bicker, but one thing is glaringly clear – no one really believes there is hope. No one really talks about peace anymore. No one really talks about the conflict much at all anymore, focusing instead on domestic strife. The Left may not even make it to the Knesset this time. We know that we will never be able to really live. We could withdraw from Judea and Samaria, give over East Jerusalem, absorb millions of artificial refugees — it will never be enough. Only extinction will be enough. So we are left with no choice. Live with constant conflict or stop living. Attrition warfare or death.
And yet, to be frank, I still prefer this fatalism, this hopelessness, this constant shadow of war, to living in (a)broad daylight unafraid and complacent and not Israeli. It is still better to love this land and lose hope, to struggle and fail, to breathe each breath as if through a narrow straw of pain and fear, than to breathe easy and not know how incredible this tiny doomed country is. I love this land, with a deep aching love that only grows stronger and more hopeless. And so, although I know we will never truly be safe, I could never not-live anywhere else.