Dear Baroness Warsi,
As a former Mahal volunteer to the IDF who grew up in Britain, I read about your latest comments with great interest. Seeing as I speak from first-hand experience, perhaps you might be interested in hearing what motivated my decision to serve.
First, a brief explanation of why Israel is, and has always been, a massive part of my life. Although I grew up in London, almost all my extended family live in Israel. My grandfather, a Jewish refugee from Iraq, started the trend in the 50s, and although he left for a number of years, eventually he, my grandmother, and all their children apart from my mother ended up making Israel their home. Yes, I may have grown up in London, but my family is Israeli. More generally, I speak as Jew. Jerusalem is my people’s spiritual home. Jews are indigenous to Israel; the Holy Land is our ancestral home and developments there have always been important to us.
In the early 2000s, I flew to Israel almost every summer as a mixed family visit/religious pilgrimage. My parents wanted our family to remain close, but many of my friends were scared away by the threat of suicide bombers and Molotov cocktails. Those were the bloody Intifada years. At its peak, bombs exploded daily, sometimes killing dozens of people at a time. Over a thousand Israelis were murdered in those years. There were too many tragedies to recount.
Just last week marked the 15th anniversary of one of the most shocking murders in the conflict – the shooting of Shalhevet Pass, a ten-month old baby who was shot dead in her pram by a Palestinian sniper in Hebron on 26 March 2002. Events such as this were seared my consciousness, and I realised that although I might live in the relative safety of London, my cousins, some of them babies, were at risk of being callously murdered by terrorists.
I also realised that the extremists were targeting all Jews. Further attacks on Jews around the world such as the abduction, brutal torture and barbaric murder of Ilan Halimi in Paris in 2006 only served to underline my resolve that us Jews still cannot depend on anyone to guarantee our own safety. In more recent years, the 2008 bombing of a Jewish centre in India, the 2012 shooting of Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse, and the gruesome murder and dismembering of an elderly Jewish couple in Morocco last year have profoundly affected myself and many other Jews. We know that while Israel may not be perfect, we are being targeted because of our identity, not because of our actions.
Meanwhile in Britain, the Jewish community saw the BDS movement gathering steam. We witnessed anti-Israel protesters gathering outside Marks & Spencer calling for Israel to be ethnically cleansed of Jews (“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”) while the police looked on, probably unaware of the meaning of the slogan. We saw the UN passing resolutions condemning Israel for defending itself in the face of murderous terrorism but ignoring the lethal acts which compelled it to respond, and we heard students describe Israel’s actions as “Nazi-like”, but who had no words to condemn the vicious, deliberate murder of innocent Israelis by Palestinian extremists.
And somewhere in the middle of all this, I decided to serve in the Israeli army. I resolved to defend my family from this murderous terrorism. I vowed not to remain apathetic in the face of such evil. You might seek to portray Mahal volunteers as taking part in some kind of killing machine, but just the opposite is true: I joined the IDF in the hope of becoming a soldier for peace.
I arrived in Israel in the summer of 2005. That summer, two incidents profoundly impacted the way I see the world. First, Islamic terrorism came to my hometown of London when four Muslim extremists let off bombs, killing 52 people and injuring 700 more. It was at this moment that I realised that, no matter what people may say, the battle against Islamic extremism had come to British shores. The murderous terrorism known all-too-well by Israelis was now a very real threat to Londoners.
The second major event occurred a month later, when Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in the vain hope that showing some goodwill would help foster the right conditions for peace. Israel made no demands and asked for nothing in return – but its benevolence was met by a barrage of rockets which have only got deadlier and more intense. In total, over 15,000 missile have been fired at Israeli cities in the twelve years since the last Israeli family crossed the Gaza border. Instead of the peace Israelis desperately hope for, millions of Israeli citizens now live in the crosshairs of Hamas. Were it not for the life-saving, wondrous Iron Dome missile interception system, thousands of people would surely have been killed by Hamas’ deadly rockets.
Jews around the world see all this and cannot remain passive. We remain committed to the values of democracy, universal human rights and believe that Christians, Jews and Muslims, all have a right to live in peace and prosperity. And so when we see Jews being targeted mercilessly by a cynical enemy, some of us have made the decision to defend those rights. If only the world had acted to stop such terrorism, then we would never have needed to come out here in the first place.
In your 2014 resignation letter, you wrote that the government’s “approach and language during the current crisis in Gaza is morally indefensible” and “not consistent with the rule of law and our long support for international justice”. Noble words indeed. But do you apply those standards equally? Do you, and others like you, stop to consider that Jews worldwide are increasingly alienated by people ignoring or even justifying the slaughter of Jews and Israelis, and then slamming Israel when it attempts to restore safety to its citizens? Your words about international justice would carry far more conviction if you displayed an iota of care for the Israelis whose lives were snatched by bloodthirsty terrorists.
If you want to sue me for defending myself and my people, come right at me. We’ve had enough of seeing innocent people being killed and refuse to stand by and just let it happen.
Jerusalem, formerly of London