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Israel’s Emotional Scars

I believe in listening to two sides to a story. Even as a supporter of Israel, I am always curious to hear and try to understand those who oppose it. I can feel for the Palestinian people and understand the horror of those seeing such terrible images and reflexively demanding a ceasefire. I know that no situation is simple and every dispute has complexity and nuance. One argument from the other side, however, I find a difficult nut to crack.

I have heard some of Israel’s opponents correctly and sensitively condemn what Hamas did as genocidal, racist, brutal and wrong. However, they claim that we cannot look at the actions in a vacuum. We must also look at what caused the Palestinians to cling to such a violent and morally bankrupt ideology. If we want to prevent Hamas or Hamas-like behavior, we must prevent the underlying cause – the emotional scars from Israel’s persecution of the Palestinian people. There are constant overreactions by Israel to seemingly small threats and actions. Besides the blockade, many of the military seem to be downright racist in their brutal treatment of the Palestinians. In a sense, what happened is evil, but unavoidable and excusable.

I can understand that premise. Yes, I will admit that emotional scars make victims lash out in ways that they can almost not control. And perhaps those who are suffering need more sympathy and understanding. However, why is that not being applied to Israel as well?

Could it be that those who sympathize with the horrible pictures coming out of Gaza, don’t even understand what living in Israel is like? Could it be they do not know of the children across Israel who haven’t been able to sleep, scared of another alert or rocket attack? Could it be that they don’t realize that, even before Oct. 7, regular rocket attacks were commonplace in border towns like Sderot, where many of the children suffer from PTSD? Perhaps they don’t realize that one goes through tougher security getting on a bus in Israel than we do getting on a plane in the US. Perhaps they don’t realize that most Israelis, who just want to go about living their lives, tire from the constant threats and need for security. If emotional scars excuse behavior, why doesn’t Israel’s constant state of alert excuse its alleged atrocities?

I realize that people have a short memory and cannot comprehend something they have not lived with. Many younger than me cannot remember what the news was like before Gaza was given back and actions in the West Bank to prevent terrorism became commonplace. Growing up in the ’90s, I remember the constant reports of yet another terrorist attack. I remember the year that Purim evening celebrations were canceled due to the massacre of Jewish children in their costumes on the eve of the holiday. I remember my mother warning me not to read an article describing how they tortured Nachshon Wacshman, not realizing I had already read it. I remember maps in the Jewish Press showing the firing range of missiles from Gaza and the West Bank if Israel relinquished control. At the time it was just a map, not a reality, but the image haunts me now. How prophetic those graphics were and how scary it is to think of the short-sightedness of those who did not heed such warnings. They said, as they say again now, not to worry about what could happen and take risks. Just give them a chance to live in freedom and dignity (as they had in Gaza for two years before they voted in Hamas!) and there will be peace.

I studied in Israel during the Intifada. A few weeks before I came, a bus was blown up two blocks away from my yeshiva. I remember visiting the site, still seeing the burns in the road, the makeshift memorial and the angry graffiti on the wall. Was the graffiti warranted? Perhaps not. But it probably came from yet another person in pain losing another loved one due to terror. Why is this “emotional scar” less excusable than those of the Hamas terrorist?

My personal 9/11 was not October 7, but the Har Nof Massacre. It was traumatic for me not only because one of my beloved former teachers was murdered in cold blood but because Har Nof was considered a “safe” neighborhood. This was someplace where these things didn’t happen. After the massacre, I remember reading an article from a resident of Har Nof mourning how her psyche has changed as the attack was perpetrated by local workers. For years, she lived in peace, harmony and trust with Arabs in the neighborhood, but now she must be cautious. Such sorrow eats at your soul and challenges your ability to be sensitive to the opposing side.

Is there racism in Israel? Yes. When I hear about alleged atrocities by soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza, I can believe that a portion of the soldiers are racist and insensitive to the Arab population and as an outsider in Israel, I heard remarks about Arabs and saw graffiti that made my sensitive American soul shudder. But I also know why. These remarks came from people who were sick and tired of living their daily lives in fear. They came from people who were tired of their costly olive branches being ignored for larger demands. They came from people whose humanitarian efforts, no matter how large and self-sacrificing they may be, are ignored by the world and any minor step out of line is considered ample reason for them to be blamed for their own suffering. And so they have given up.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I personally think there is a difference between a reason and an excuse. Emotional scars may be the reason for rage, but they do not excuse it. For there to be peace or for anyone to move forward from trauma, all sides must move beyond the emotional toll of their journey and embrace a new, more hopeful and trusting reality. However, if “emotional scars” are to be an excuse given to Gaza and Hamas to continue their violence, it must also be extended to Israel’s misdeeds as well. We can either judge both or judge neither, but we must be fair to both sides.

About the Author
Yehoshua Goldfinger is a Yeshiva educated Software Engineer, having spent 10 years in 3 different Yeshivos post-high school and spending the last decade working in defense, logistics and now finance. He loves bouncing the ideas he sees in both worlds off each other. He lives in the Orthodox Jewish community of Baltimore, MD with his wonderful wife and five terrific kids.
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