Judy Halper
Left is not a dirty word

Whose lives are forfeit?

Wikimedia commons, 2014
Wikimedia commons, 2014

We leave the TV on, sound muted, just to check for the flipping orange rectangles, each with the name of a region where sirens are blaring. Rockets falling on kibbutzim that are empty of everyone but milkers and guards. They are shot down over Ashkelon, where people are sticking close to their safe rooms. Once a day, they are aimed at random sites in our area.

Yesterday evening, the sirens were loud, but not quite heart-thumping volume. I stepped outside, wondering if my neighbors were home, their safe room open. “The siren is at the cement plant,” said my neighbors. As I stepped back inside my own doorway, counting seconds until the booms, I saw the clouds light up orange.

My first thought: Fine with me if they destroy the cement plant that poisons our air. My second thought: I’m going to need their product, assuming I survive this war and Haga (civil defense) gets around to approving our plans. It’s now one “operation” and one war since we’ve put in our modest request. They saw nothing urgent our desire for a safe room. Is it negligence or that they simply don’t care if we live or die?

We read the news sites compulsively, occasionally turn up the sound on the 24-7 news reports. We see large pro-Palestinian demonstrations. To those in Europe and the US taking to the streets in support of Palestine, nimbly sidestepping the issue of thousands of innocent civilians slaughtered in their homes inside the borders of their country: You are telling me my own life is forfeit. Sorry, I can’t stand with you there.

Those of you in power telling us to stay strong, be ready for the long haul: You are well aware this is a war in which citizens on both sides are targets. The front is everywhere. If, in the extremely unlikely event a rocket hits me as I’m walking to my neighbors’ safe room, you’ll just add my name to the growing list.

The civilian population of Gaza were told to move south. With that, we, are told, we’ve fulfilled our humanitarian duties in war time. We are not compelled to ensure the refugees have food, water or shelter. Many complied with our directive and others, we are told, listened to the Hamas and stayed where they were. Not our problem, we announced to the world. Their lives are forfeit.

We have no idea whether the 150 or so hostages being held somewhere in Gaza are dead or alive. Some of our leaders have said out loud that the hostages are our third priority, after winning the war and securing our borders. Others are spouting convoluted explanations as to why a prolonged offensive on Gazan soil is the best way to free the hostages. The media is quick to remind us that Ali Qadhi, the Hamas commander killed yesterday who was partly responsible for the attack on the border towns, had been released in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in 2011. Subtext: Don’t expect a similar deal for the current hostages.

In the meantime, dozens of Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank by settlers since the beginning of the war. What would have been headline news is now barely reported. The army that normally comes between settlers and Palestinians is off preparing at other borders and the settlers, already armed, are being plied with extra weapons. What did we expect? It seems those Palestinians are just casualties of “the situation.”

This morning, a rocket from the Lebanon border hit an Israeli agricultural moshav and wounded four civilians, killing one.

Whose lives are forfeit? Apparently every one of ours.

Can we stop “being strong” for a minute, shed tears for the dead, give voice to our fears and insist that if we must fight a war, the ultimate aim will be not to kill, but to preserve life?

This morning rain fell. A hard, though short, downpour. The rockets have already started again in the South. The planes are still flying overhead, on their way to rain more destruction on Gaza. It’s the ninth day of the war.

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.
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