An answer to a friend

A good friend of mine, a kind and decent woman (who happens not to be Jewish), sent me this message today:

Help me understand the Middle East, Carla. As I understand it, there are children dying on both sides of this battle. Is Israel more in the “right” because their rockets are shot over in the name of defense, even though they are landing on Palestinian families? I don’t understand. It makes me sick.

I’m so glad she asked this question, and I welcome the opportunity to try to put together a response. First, a little context: I’m an American Jew. I was raised in a secular home and I’ve only been to Israel once, in 2006. I am politically progressive, and I belong to a Reconstructionist synagogue. Thus, although I may know more than some about the situation in Israel and Gaza, I certainly know less than many. I am not politically savvy, and there is much about the history and politics of Israel that eludes me. So, please, take this for what it is: one person’s attempt to make sense of a complicated, chaotic situation.

You asked if Israel is more in the “right.” I am not unbiased, and I don’t think Israel is a perfect nation, nor do I think the Jews are a perfect people. However, I will tell you this: Israel did not launch the first rocket in this current round of violence. Hamas did. Israel did not bomb innocent families without warning; Hamas did. Israel does not set up military operations in the middle of civilian centers; Hamas does. Israel is continuing to send food and medical supplies into Gaza. I can guarantee you that if the situation were reversed, Hamas would never do the same for the Jews. There are pictures online of soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) using their bodies as human shields to protect Palestinian children. I would welcome similar pictures of Hamas protecting Israeli children, or even their own. I have yet to see them.

This brings me to the part of your question that undoubtedly resonates with mothers all over the world – the children. Yes, there are children dying, being injured, and being traumatized on both sides of this conflict. That a generation of children, both Israeli and Palestinian, are growing up in the midst of such unnecessary violence is, quite simply, inexcusable. The reasons behind the larger conflict are long and complex and not always agreeable to the rules of logic, and I believe both sides bear some culpability. But in this case, these rockets, this bus bombing, these deaths in Israel and Gaza – they are the fault of Hamas.

I am no fan of violence, and I would like to call myself a pacifist. However, I am a Jew and the memory of the Holocaust will always sit heavily upon my soul. The unbelievable reality is that there are those out there, Hamas chief among them, who quite simply hate Jews and want us dead. And that, I believe, is the fundamental difference between us and them. Hamas, and other terrorist organizations, are driven by hatred. Jews are driven by a deep and fundamental commitment to human life, in whatever form it may take. I see this in the warnings the IDF gave to the Palestinian people before shooting rockets in their own defense. I see this in the way Israel is continuing to provide food and medicine to Gaza. And I see this in the choices that Israel makes to defend itself. When a people survive centuries of anti-Semitic attacks and the worst genocide in history, they learn that sometimes you have to fight back in order to save your own lives. That, I believe, is what the Israelis have been doing.

So there you have it, friend. Yes, children are dying on both sides, and it is, as you noted, sickening. But I do believe there is a significant difference between Israel and Hamas and their motivations and responsibility for this conflict. I know this answer is relatively brief, and I’m not sure if I addressed all of your questions. But I do hope it helped. Let’s keep talking. What else do you want to know?

About the Author
Carla Naumburg, PhD, is a clinical social worker, writer, and mother. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post, among other places. She is the author of Parenting in the Present Moment: How to Stay Focused on What Really Matters (Parallax, 2014) and Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family (New Harbinger, 2015). Carla lives outside of Boston with her husband and daughters.