Last night, after a visit to the Kotel with a friend, I sat alongside a street in the Arab market with three men, a shopkeeper and two of his friends. Business is not so good these days, they say, what with the war and Ramadan. My friend sat on the floor of the shop, laughing with the shopkeeper’s son. He’s getting a bicycle for his 12th birthday, the boy told her. We did not know that ground forces were entering Gaza at that very hour. “He’s a good boy,” the shopkeeper said.
The sounds of sirens – followed by explosions in the sky – seem so much less frightening than the tense and eerie silence of this beautiful Jerusalem morning. War is less than 80 kilometers away. And more people will certainly die.
Last night I watched a 12-year-old Arab child beam with joy talking about his bicycle and his father’s shop. And I watched a father of five swell with pride over that boy.
Last night I could not sleep, worried about the young Israeli men and women I know — and those I don’t — who have gone into battle. I prayed for them and their families. I prayed for two young women whose fiances are in the melee.
Our sons and daughters have gone into the fray and I am waging my own war, a battle of cognitive dissonance. Part of me wants the terror infrastructure in Gaza to be crushed out of existence. And part of me sees the futility of this war, knowing that this is not a true path to a lasting peace, only a path to more death.
Part of me loves that little boy who is so excited about a bicycle, just because he’s a boy with a smile of gold. And part of me loves — even more — the young Israeli men and women who are putting their lives on the line for my safety and the safety of our people.
Part of me would like to hear a few more sirens in Jerusalem, believing that the Iron Dome will keep me safe, wanting to somehow feel closer to the suffering of my nation. Part of me would like to disappear into the beautiful landscapes of this amazing land, fantasizing that war, bloodshed and terror cannot reach me.
I hate this war. I hate it because it’s ugly and I see something in myself that’s ugly. The war seems inevitable, so why not do it right? Make peace, do it now, or squash the terrorists for good. No middle of the road. Crush them. When I think these thoughts, my eyes ache and I cannot look at myself in the mirror.
No death is trivial. None. There is no holiness in war. And there is no glory in the choice to harden my heart. It’s a choice, after all. I choose to soften my heart. I choose to soften it for all little boys and girls with their smiles and their bikes. I choose to pray for healing for all people. I pray for the safe return of our soldiers and a speedy end to this war. And, simply to stay sane, I hope — against all evidence from previous engagements on the Gaza border — that a lasting peace will come from this mess.
Now, I wonder: did that shopkeeper already know about the invasion when he offered me a cigarette? What was he thinking as he watched his son and my friend sit on the floor and laugh?
“You have a beautiful wife,” he said. I said, “No, we’re just friends. My wife died.” He said he was sorry. Then he smiled, titled his head toward my friend and said: “You should marry her.”
In a small corner of the Old City last night, three Arab men sat briefly, in companionship, with a Jewish man. The war marched on. A Jewish woman laughed on the floor with one Arab son. I hope it made a difference for them. It made a difference for me.
“Ramadan Kareem,” I said as we departed.
The father smiled, hesitated and then said: “For you, too. Ramadan Kareem.”