Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

There’s a hole in our freedom

Iranian Qadar missile. Credit: Wikimedia commons
Iranian Qadar missile. Credit: Wikimedia commons

Was Sunday morning’s fireworks display over parts of Israel – sponsored by our friends in Iran – a narrow miss, a dire warning, or sideshow? Do we really have the all-clear to go back to “normal”?

The commentators tell us we should think of the missiles, bombs and drones in terms of messages passed back and forth between Jerusalem and Teheran, like third-graders throwing spit balls in class and handing slips of paper under the desks. For now, we’ve kept those messages just short enough. The teacher stopped by our desks, read the notes and made us promise to stop with the bad language. For now.

If we listen to Bibi, we can pat ourselves on the back. We avoided a new war, appeased the Americans and managed to get approval for our excursion into Rafiah. For the Israeli right pressing for battle, we have tales of derring-do in our retaliation deep in Iran; for the left – we let everyone know, not-too-subtly, that we had plans for a much bigger attack and scaled it down.

We’re told there’s a plan for the next phase of the present war: It’s presented to us as a case of logistics. It will take six weeks to move everyone out and destroy Rafiah in the same way we’ve destroyed Gaza City and Khan Younis.

If I listen to the silence between the lines, I hear the sound of six further weeks in which the hostages will remain in captivity, their families wavering between despair and thin hope.

I see a further month and a half or more that missiles will fire at Israel’s north from Lebanon, further weeks in which the playground scuffle with Iran will threaten to erupt into a deadly war. It will be six weeks in which soldiers who have fought for months in and out of Gaza and the northern border will once again kiss their families goodbye and go back to fighting.

An empty chair, draped in yellow, sat accusingly, a constant silent reminder, a dark ragged hole in our celebration of freedom

And no one is promising: Even if our army marches all the way to the far border, we might not be able to declare the war over. We can’t acknowledge the impasse that is currently preventing a hostage deal: We’ve promised to wipe out Hamas; they can only survive, at this point, by holding on to hostages. That’s not playground insults, it’s elementary geometry. When the war ends, at least one side will be left holding the short end of the triangle.

In more confusing news stories, if at the beginning of the war we were treated to scenes of devastation, we are now being told everything’s fine in Gaza. Plenty of food is getting in. Look, they’re even going to the beach.

Ok, I tell myself, in the silence between news segments, we’re talking about people who live within walking distance of the beach. It’s the one thing they have left. I did not see anyone eating ice cream in the videos they showed on the evening news. Going back to a semblance of normal – is that not what we all want? That is not a sign that we didn’t really destroy a third of Gaza; it’s a sign of our common humanity. Resilient people on both sides of the border are still trying to make the best of what they have left.

Speaking of what we have left: In our Pesach seder, as in many others around the country, an empty chair, draped in yellow, sat accusingly, a constant silent reminder, a dark ragged hole in our celebration of freedom.

Seven weeks from now, while we could still be “mopping up,” still refusing to end the Gaza war, we’ll be celebrating another holiday – one sacred to the kibbutzim. On Shavout, as we celebrate the Spring harvest; the farmers in the South and far North will face the wretched hole of empty fields and abandoned farms.

The countdown – the Omer – has begun. Between then and now, we have remembrance days and our Independence Day, already marred by fights over prizes and torch-lightings. Our days of mourning will be, this year, days of dealing with open wounds. But the happier celebrations will tear into those wounds even more than the sad ones. For each one, we’ll be painfully reminded of what we’ve lost, who we’re missing.

If we can see ourselves as being freed from Egypt, we must also, this year, see ourselves as hostages

For each, we’ll be reminded that our freedom may have been granted, but it is conditional, arbitrary. The seder Pesach reminded us not only to be thankful for the freedom we have, but to remember it can be taken away at any minute. We are enjoined to see ourselves as having personally been freed – in the past. There are no promises going forward. If we can see ourselves as being freed from Egypt, we must also, this year, see ourselves as hostages. Any freedom we possess is ours to safeguard and maintain. That means refusing to put trust in politicians. It means refusing to put freedom – mine and that of others – in second place, below “winning” a war, national politicians’ aims or global politics. And it means remembering that we have a part to play in guaranteeing the freedom of those innocent Gazans who are being forced to move, once again, from their place of bare refuge.

Today, each time I scatter crumbs from my bread of affliction, I’ll be reminded of empty wheat fields near the Gaza border, of hostages who do not even have the freedom to eat matzah on this day. And I’ll vow to put their freedom first.




About the Author
Judy Halper is a member of a kibbutz in the center of the country. She has worked as a dairywoman, plumber and veggie cook, and as a science writer. Today she volunteers in Na'am Arab Women in the Center and works part time for Wahat al-Salam/Neve Shalom.
Related Topics
Related Posts