Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem

Who’s counting?

1 cousin killed in battle; 3 acquaintances taken captive; 36, the number of hours before the attack that I prayed with Muslims

More than 800 Israelis have been murdered and at least 2,300 others have been injured since this terrible war began.

Each one is a child or a parent or a sibling or a friend. We are counting – in horror.

One of our cousins was killed in battle. His grandparents came on Aliyah from England half a century ago, one of many families who choose to live here and allow our children to be conscripted, who count the days that their children are serving and pray that they will return safely.

One of my son’s teachers and mentors from his army days was killed defending the kibbutz on which he was born. He left behind 3 children under 6. Dozens of families are mourning loved ones. The impact on Israeli society is immeasurable. We dread hearing the daily count.

We still cannot count the number taken as captives into Gaza – and we fear what the number will be. We know that it includes the elderly and small children. For each of them, a day must feel like a year. For their families, they are counting the minutes. Each one feels like eternity. We cannot count the tears being shed.

I know 3 of them. One of them is a 75-year-old friend and activist who has devoted her life to peace-making. Her children and grandchildren are praying for her safe return, as are thousands of her friends and colleagues. A second is a young man, a member of our extended family, who just wants to enjoy life. The third is a middle-aged woman who is the preschool carer of my youngest granddaughter, believed taken along with her husband. The children she cares for are under 3 years old.

12 hours before this attack, we were dancing and singing in the Synagogue, celebrating the festival of the Rejoicing of the Law.

36 hours before this attack, I hosted Praying Together in Jerusalem, where Christians, Muslims and Jews prayed side-by-side.

3 days before this attack, I joined over 2,000 Israeli and Palestinian women, gathering for peace. The nearly 1,000 Palestinian women from the West Bank and Gaza, members of Women of the Sun, the sister movement of Women Wage Peace, took great risks being with us. No one imagined that we could be in this situation just three days later.

Israel was founded 75 years ago, with a Declaration of Independence that articulated our values, including our desire to live in peace with our neighbors. Nineteen years later, our neighbors tried to eradicate us. Their efforts led to us taking control of territory and a population that increasingly did not want to be under Israeli rule. We celebrated our access to our most holy sites but failed to take into full account the people.

The first Intifada began exactly 20 years after the Six-Day War. Palestinians were counting. We were not.

Since then, we have managed to make peace with Jordan, with Egypt and now with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. We count each of these agreements as a huge achievement but Palestinians count the years of failure to achieve statehood.

There are those who blame the failure only on us. They see it as a zero-sum game wherein our successes are their losses. On the Israeli side, too, there are those who cannot comprehend that the destinies of Palestinians and Israelis are intertwined and think instead that we have to continue to conquer and suppress in order to preserve ourselves.

Of course, it need not be. Indeed, this terrible war, which began with the most cruel and inhumane attack that we have seen in the entire 75 years, is yet more evidence that we cannot count on suppression for protection.

Those who wish to destroy the State of Israel see our weaknesses. They see social and political division and tension between the government and the military, which would make any country vulnerable. They know that our society has been damaged by losses in war and through terrorism and count on a weakening of morale. They fail to take into account our strengths; first and foremost, our deep commitment to making this State work.

This attack took place exactly 50 years after the Yom Kippur War. The media has been full of tributes to heroes who died and also of horrific memories of survivors. There has been a lot of introspection and not a small amount of blame-laying. This was a war we won at a very high price. It was a war for which we were not prepared. It was a war that has left scars on Israeli society.

This attack took place exactly 50 years after the Yom Kippur War. Hamas was counting. It is not clear why our leaders were not.

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.
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