I can still feel the adrenaline from rushing my kids down to the safe room in response to today’s rocket sirens in Jerusalem for the first time since 2014. Given the ongoing sounds of police sirens, helicopters, and various explosions in the distance, it’s hard to calm down.
Until tonight, I could somewhat protect my kids, even as I tried to share with them the anguish, fury, and shame I feel about what our government and our fellow Israelis are perpetrating in Sheikh Jarrah, at a level they can understand. But after the sirens, and the big booms they heard moments later from Iron Dome interceptions, I can’t protect them anymore. Fear and terror have once again entered the sacred space of our home. We’re back to the frantic questioning that I remember vividly from the most recent Gaza war: “But what do we do if there’s a siren while we’re in a car? What if there’s a siren when we’re walking on the street? What if there’s a siren while we’re sleeping and we don’t wake up? How do you know the rockets won’t hit us?”
As I listen to these questions that no child should ever have to ask, I am profoundly aware of how painfully infuriating this feeling is in its familiarity. The growing tension on the streets in response to ongoing indignity and injustice, provocations by ethnonationalists, outbursts of violence escalating and spreading like wildfire, the heavy, militarized crackdown by the army and border police, Hamas joining in the fray and moving the conflict to the skies, running with my children to safe rooms, waiting to hear of bombings and outsized death toll in Gaza, endless childish finger-pointing over who started it — it all feels like a well-rehearsed scene in which every actor knows their part. We’ve been here before, far too often. And it is our innocent children who continue to pay the price on both sides of the Green Line.
As we return to the familiar script, as I anticipate once again hearing the justifications — “what else can you possibly expect Israel to do when Hamas is firing rockets on our civilians???” — I am absolutely furious that we are back here again. The focus on tiny victories — postponing immoral evictions, preventing provocations on the Temple Mount, rerouting the horrific Jerusalem Day flag march — is important in order to retain a sense of hope and accomplishment, but ultimately these are all just putting out fires, which will crop up again very soon in a different form.
And in the meantime, our government has abdicated any responsibility for ensuring that my kids, our kids, Israeli Jewish and Palestinian children alike, will not have to grow up in this violent and unjust reality. Across nearly every political party, they have explicitly or tacitly accepted the assumption that we will live by the sword forever, that recurring violence and death are our predetermined fate.
But what is even more painful and infuriating is that we, Israeli and American Jews who profess to care deeply about the future of the Jewish people in this land, are just as bad. In the spaces between intifadas and wars, spaces ripe with possibility if only we would make a concerted and collective effort, we bury our heads in the sand, avert our eyes from the four million stateless human beings living under Israel’s control, as if by looking away we can make this irritating problem disappear. We don’t hold our government, the government that claims to speak on behalf of the entire Jewish people, accountable for treating every human being under its control with dignity, equality, and justice. And then we are surprised when things yet again spin out of control, and we resort to: “What else can Israel do? Our hands are tied.”
Many friends have checked in tonight to see how we’re doing and to share their hopes for peace in this Land. And I appreciate the outpouring of love and solidarity. But deep down what I really want to say is, as heartsick as I am that my 11-year-old has come in three times while I’ve been writing this to say he can’t fall asleep because he’s worried there will be another siren — we are honestly doing just fine. And while a de-escalation of violence would be great, it will solve none of the underlying problems and we will be right back where we are now in just a few years.
It may not be fair, but I want more. Not calls for a return to quiet and “peace,” but calls for accountability, for vision, for proactive diplomacy, for a government who will recognize that doing everything in their power to achieve a just and durable resolution to what we call the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” is the most important responsibility of our generation. Every one of us who cares about our future here should be loudly demanding this, every day, not only when there are rocket sirens blaring, not only when the frustration and despair finally overflow enough to make headlines, but also during the “quiet” times when there are actual windows of opportunity to make progress. Otherwise, these words of comfort are no better than thoughts and prayers.