There are stories that can be told in pictures, while other stories need words. This story will have both. Two evenings ago, after a long day, I went out onto my mirpeset (terrace/porch used in apartment housing in Israel) to breathe. It was late in the day, and I decided to take a picture of the beautiful sunset to post to the Facebook group “view from my mirpeset,” where we share beautiful pictures of our land. As I took the picture, the irony of the view at this time struck me. So I took another picture of the back and side views. Why?
We are blessed to live in an area called Gush Etzion. Sometimes when I visit family in the US, I feel a bit closed in, because one thing missing in the pretty suburbs there is the wide-open view of the “rolling hills of Judea” (thanks, Ari). We have cities here too, and plenty of areas not on a mountain top, but we like where we live, with vistas of fields and towns across the highway on the other hills of Judea. As you can see, our view to the west includes the Jewish town across the highway, which overlooks the same Arab fields that we do. To the east, there are the newer buildings behind us, with the background of the neighboring Arab village-their mosque is that tall building with the round green top in the middle. Yes, as I said last week, I can get to the Arab village next door quicker than I can get to the other end of our town. In the last picture, our park stretches away to the rest of our neighborhood, and the background of the picture is the huge Arab city of Bethlehem practically on top of us.
That evening, I was sitting outside listening to the sad quiet of no children playing in the park on a lovely evening, as it has been for the last week and a half. I knew that not very far away, friends and colleagues and extended family were probably sitting in their shelters under a barrage of blaring sirens and rocket fire. Their nerves are stretched thin, but most can’t leave their homes and go elsewhere, despite the offers from strangers to open their homes to those who couldn’t handle one more night of waking their babies and running to the shelters, or just giving up and sleeping in their safe rooms. In truth, we are not really strangers, just family we haven’t met yet. And as family, we worry about each other and think about what we can do to help.
Last Friday I was amazed to see proof of the sheer amount of love pouring out from this area. Yes, we know what it is to live under attack also, albeit a different kind of attack. In Judea, we know the feeling of apprehension as we wonder, “Can I leave home, go to work, go food shopping and get home safely, without getting stabbed or rammed with a car?” (On purpose, not just because of the way people drive here!) But we get up and go out anyway every day, because if we stopped, we might never start again. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I offered to be one of many people who drove carloads of cakes and goodies to Lod last week. Lod one of our “mixed” (Arab and Jewish) cities that last week was suddenly suffering car attacks and riots by the Arabs with whom they had lived side by side for years. As the family that collected all the baked goods loaded up my backseat and trunk and we saw that there was still at least one more carload that needed to get there, I was overwhelmed by the love of the people here, but I should not really have been surprised; because when we feel most helpless, we need to do something, and the Jewish way of showing love is, of course, to send food. I also shouldn’t have been surprised that my teenage daughter wanted to go with me, but as she mentioned offhandedly on our way how she was upset by the celebrities she followed tweeting against Israel, I realized that maybe she needed to do something positive also. And I shouldn’t have been surprised when my husband said he was worried, but he wasn’t going to tell me not to go. After all, he lives here too and understands, and he lived through the last Gaza war in 2014 by himself as we were in the US with my sick mother. At that time, he basically slept in our mamad (safe room). The drive was surprisingly quiet, and most of Lod was quiet too, although when we were in Lod we did see a car flying the Israeli flag high as they drove through town, showing that even while they were putting out car fires and starting to plan how to rebuild the synagogues burned down last week, even that couldn’t dampen the Jewish spirit. The gifts were received with love, as the residents seemed overwhelmed with gratitude towards their fellow Jewish communities.
What also shouldn’t surprise me, although it does, and it hurts a lot, is the reaction of other celebrities whom, until now, I have respected. I think enough has been said or written about Trevor Noah’s and John Oliver’s “takes” on the “situation”, but I want to add the two things that stick in my mind. Yes, Trevor, we do have enough firepower to ‘flatten Gaza in three minutes’- but we don’t. How does that not speak volumes to you? And yes, the Arabs are suffering- but as Tom Aharon put it in a very funny (for the situation) response to John Oliver, we are not in charge of Gaza—we can’t even get our own government to work! Also, since the world doesn’t seem to remember, we left Gaza in 2006—and look how well that worked out for us! If we wanted more land, if we wanted Gaza, why did we leave? We wanted peace. There is a video going around in Hebrew about a father explaining to his kids what all of these IDF operations are — as he tells his girls, this one was to show Hamas that they can’t mess with Israel…and then he goes on to say the exact same thing about each of them, including the current one…as they look more and more confused and concerned. He ends by naming two other operations—which haven’t happened yet. But, as today we had a cease-fire once more, sadly, they likely will. Because as we have seen, we cease and they fire. There was a very powerful blog written in 2006 about how, even when one person starts, if the other defends themselves but is so strong that they start winning, they are the one who is told to stop. This leaves the one who started thinking that they won, because they got to fight and hurt the other, but never had to admit defeat. So the world keeps stopping us, sending the message that it’s okay to do this to Jews, because they shouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves. I, too, am fed up, as Blake Ezra explained so well. The real truth is, if the world cared more about the people in Gaza than they do about demonizing Israel, they would go into Gaza and look into why they are spending the charity funds on terror instead of people. In the end, terror only brings pain and suffering.
As I write this, the speakers over the mosque in my backyard are going, someone giving a “drasha” (sermon) before prayer. Since it’s been enough of a challenge to master Hebrew, I don’t know exactly what they are saying. But there certainly have been weeks where the tone of voice was enough to convey the feeling that they’re not happy. The only Arabic I know is what the wonderful, friendly, smiling workers in the local Rami Levy supermarket have taught me: Hi, how are you, good thank god, what’s your name, thank you. When our oldest went into the army and had to serve protection duty on base the language was quite different: Stop! Who goes there? Stop or I’ll shoot! Horribly, awfully different.
Speaking of supermarkets, one of the “views from my mirpeset” pictures, which probably sparked these thoughts also, was actually a picture of the person’s local supermarket—with all manner of Jews and Arabs shopping together, standing on line together, helping each other as usual. The picture was from this week. One thing from the last two weeks that does stick in my mind is the weather. We can tell what is going on in Israel from a few of the following events: Can we go to our local garage? My husband asked me nit to last Thursday (although he let me go to Lod on Friday, but I understand). We had the actual Hebrew news channels on, because who wants CNN or the BBC to tell us what is happening in our own country? And our kids were among those told no, even though it’s quiet here, we don’t want you going out. So the weather has been cloudy with a chance of rockets once more.
I don’t know what to say to the Jews in Lod or Haifa who found that their neighbors suddenly turned on them. I don’t know what to say to my friend and colleague in Ashquelon who said she would be able to come to work on Thursday if it stopped raining rockets long enough for the bus lines in her town to resume service — it didn’t. I really don’t have anything more to say to celebrities who criticize us from thousands of miles away, without actually looking at the picture. They don’t see the pictures of Israeli soldiers who went into Gaza last week to deliver aid, and got attacked. They don’t see the picture of my friend’s son who was smiling, yet the circles under his eyes tell a different story. They call for a two-state solution but don’t see the picture from my mirpeset — where exactly are we putting the dividing line? It’s like when kids fight and yet have to share the same bedroom — how do you manage that? You make them figure out how to get along. They don’t see all the money sent to aid the people in Gaza instead being used to build rockets and tunnels — to achieve death, not life.
Last night at ten pm I heard a different sound — there were screams coming from outside in the park. I went out on the mirpeset to see what was going on. It was, astonishingly, children playing in the park again. In the past (at midnight or so), I have personally gone outside to send kids home (teacher superpower). But last night, I muted the TV and sat and listened with tears in my eyes at life continuing. Not very far away, until 2 in the morning, others in our tiny country were not so fortunate. They had one more night of bombs bursting in air, even while our flags were still there. Today it is quiet for them also, but what price will we pay? Already the Arabs are celebrating a “victory”, so what have we shown them? That they can keep starting with us but the ‘world’ will keep saying that there aren’t enough dead Jews to justify protecting ourselves. Not so long ago, 6 million was the number of dead Jews we needed to finally be able to stop running, to stop being murdered, to be able to finally go home en mass and join the Jews who have been here for the last few thousand years to our country that we were exiled from so long ago. And now we have “one of the strongest militaries in the world”, and we put money into protecting our people but that’s not okay, because it’s not “proportionate”.
I care about the hurt and displaced Arabs, I do. But if you ask me to feel responsible for them when their own leadership doesn’t seem to care, if you ask me to value their lives and well-being over that of my family near and far, I won’t. We should be allowed to defend ourselves until the bully stops.
Golda Meir said many things about Israel and this everlasting fight. One that comes to mind is: We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.” The one that sticks in my head right now was also used later by our current Prime Minister: “If the Arabs put down their [weapons] there would be no more fighting. If the Israelis put down theirs there would be no more Israel.” To the Jews worldwide who are among those saying how awful we are in Israel, and that Jew doesn’t =Israeli so they can separate themselves, remember this: Before we returned to Israel, Jew was a dirty word. A Jew was a person who might not be able to get up in the morning and go on, because maybe they had been murdered in a pogrom the night before. A Jew had to run and run and could only stop and breathe depending on the generosity of their host nation. Remember that, no, we are not perfect, we have had to do terrible things to defend our lives, but yes, our living here keeps you alive there, whether you like it or not.
Praying that this cease-fire will last and last and last, that we will have sunny days in Israel and in our whole region, and that we can take the masking tape off the bedroom floor and figure out how to live together, because that’s what we are doing whether we like it or not. I still have (maybe naive, but let me) hope that we will find a way to communicate that does not include violence. Then maybe we can all enjoy the view of our beautiful country.