Seventeen human beings killed in Gaza, more than 1,000 wounded. By my government, my army, my people, our sons. As of yet, thank God, there are no Israeli injuries or deaths. We are very well prepared.
Yes, I know that while most of the tens of thousands of protesters upheld the principles of nonviolence, some did throw stones or Molotov cocktails, or fire guns, or run toward the fence to try to slash through it and enter Israel. And yes, Hamas still seeks the destruction of Israel and oppresses its own people. And yes, some Hamas members joined the protests and instigated acts of violence. And perhaps Gazans should be protesting them as well. There is plenty of guilt and responsibility to go around.
But here’s what I keep asking as I sit in comfort in my freely chosen home in Jerusalem, a citizen of the first sovereign Jewish state in 2,000 years:
What would I do? If I were born and grew up in Gaza, in a place where 1.8 million human beings are packed into a tiny piece of land; if I were oppressed and neglected by my own leaders, besieged on one side by Israel and the other by Egypt, cut off for the past decade from the rest of the world; if I had no access to clean water or adequate medical treatment, just a few hours of electricity a day, no prospect of employment; if I longed to overcome this miserable existence and dreamed of the stories my parents and grandparents told me about my idyllic ancestral home just a few kilometers away, which I had never seen and would likely never be permitted to see; if I had a deep respect for human life and abhorrence of killing — and an equal fury at the deaths of thousands of my family members, friends, and neighbors in three brutal wars in the past decade. What would I do? What would you do?
“בכל דור ודור חייב אדם לראות את עצמו כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים.”
“In every generation each human being is obligated to see themselves as though they themselves went out of Egypt” — went out of that narrow, oppressive place.
As I sit with my family, my children, living in freedom and prosperity in this holy land, celebrating our historical liberation story, I ask myself: What would I do if I were born into Gaza, into an unfathomably narrow, oppressive place, with nearly no prospect for escape?
I imagine I might shrink away from the enormity of it all, keep my head down, focus on that which I could control: take care of my innocent children as best as possible; find them whatever clean water I could; protect them from the temptation of the poisonous sewage-filled sea; give up my own small comforts to make their lives slightly more livable; do my best to teach them to love in the face of hate, to resist the understandable urge to fill with toxic burning anger even in a situation that often begged for it.
But I hope I would have the courage, too, to protest, to resist, to take action for a vision of hope and life rather than sinking into the passivity of desperation and despair. To stand up for my rights and those of my children. To insist on justice, dignity, equality, recognition of my intrinsic worth as a unique human being — an entire, infinitely valuable, world. To demand to be seen, in the fullness of my existence.
What do we expect from those human beings who, by the whims of destiny, live in the wretchedness of Gaza? Do we expect them to simply keep their heads down and accept their fate? Is there any form of protest and resistance that we see as legitimate? Is there any way they can, en masse, express their anger, their longing, their desire for justice and a better future for their children, that we would not see as a security threat, a justified provocation to shoot, to kill?
What would I do, what would you do, if we were them?
And with all the guilt and responsibility to go around, what is ours?