Setting the world straight (and keeping my friends)

Friends and family are posting all sorts of stories about operation Pillar of Defense

I have become my grandmother. I suppose it was inevitable, but who knew it would happen so soon? She spent most of her advanced years yelling at the anchormen (they were almost all men then), on her TV set, inevitably setting the facts straight and trying to give their reports historical context. She was over 80 when she started, and only picked up steam as she moved into her nineties. All attempts to explain to her that they couldn’t actually respond as they couldn’t hear her fell on deaf ears.

But now I find myself doing the same thing, only on Facebook. Friends and family are posting all sorts of stories about operation Pillar of Defense – the current escalation of fighting between Israel and Hamas – and I, like my grandmother, am busy trying to set the whole world straight.

And though I keep telling myself that this is a futile exercise, likely to cost me friends and possibly even my professional reputation, I can’t seem to stop. Yesterday I realized it would be better for me to go do errands in Beersheva – a city that has been under continuous missile attack for the past five days – than stay home and work on my computer. Grad missiles are terrifying, but once the alarm and booms are over, you can go back to pretending that everything is fine. But lifelong friendships, destroyed online in the heat of the moment, are gone forever.

The world is a big place. The immediacy of social media is supposed to close these distances, bringing people together. But like so many people over the age of 15, my online world is really an amalgamation of my many different identities – idealistic college student, new/old immigrant to Israel, journalist, neighbor and more.

Online, these worlds collide in strange ways as friends from here or there comment on different chains that develop in unexpected ways. And this is where things get messy. Maybe it is because Israel and the IDF have called upon its supporters around the world to defend it actions online, or because so many of my friends are journalists, or because they are simply trapped in their safe rooms with computers in hand, the intensity of online posting has felt like an extension of the actual campaign. The volleys of point and counterpoint have taken on a life of their own. And as generous as I try to be – allowing for the fact that the world functions in one minute sound bites – I have lost my patience with the general ignorance about what is really going on in the Middle East.

So rather than end up in a needless argument online, I would like to make a few points:

The Arab world can be a nasty place. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Syrians are being killed daily, but the world can’t make easy sense of what is in many ways an ethnic – almost tribal – dispute so they prefer to stay out of it.

Hamas, and the Palestinian people are not synonyms. Hamas is a brutal organization that has killed off its Arab dissenters in a vicious civil war and has repeatedly declared its intention to destroy Israel.

Israel did not “start” this recent escalation with the assassination Ahmed Jabari, who, as documented by an excellent piece in the New York Times is behind the transformation of Hamas into a highly armed and professionally trained military force.

And last but not least – if Hamas was really worried about the well-being of the Palestinian people, it could have used its advanced engineering skills and extensive resources to build public bomb shelters in the center of heavily populated areas, instead of complicated munitions tunnels and underground missile launchers.

Had that happened, my neighbors and I would be able to live safely, without the threat of missile fire or the fear of being pulled into a long painful ground offensive in Gaza. And, as every Israeli will tell you, it is sure to be painful – for both sides. Almost no one in Israel believes that is a good idea or that it will bring peace. If we did,Israel would have done it long ago.

So dear friends, please understand that all these alarms have made me jumpy. My only release is to yell out to a world that is no more responsive than those anchormen on TV.

About the Author
Faye Bittker is the director of the department of publications and media relations at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She lives outside Beersheva.