Onnie Schiffmiller

Yes, We Worry

Last night I participated in a discussion about the “matzav” (the situation). Aren’t euphemisms wonderful? They help us avoid the undeniable truth. In this case, matzav refers to war. Yes, in previous years, when it came to Gaza, we were involved in “mivtzaim”, (actions) but now we are regrettably at war.  We hate to even say the word, but we are in a war.

Our group included Jews and non-Jews, religiously observant and secular, Americans, Israelis and Europeans. While our approaches and thoughts were not unified, we enjoyed a multitude of opinions and respected the reality that we are all experiencing this war differently. One woman bravely reminded us that there are innocents in Gaza as well as terrorists. They were also suffering. I say bravely because everyone in the discussion would define themselves as Zionists. Some to a greater or lesser extent, but the legitimacy of the modern State of Israel was something we all agreed upon. Raising concern about the plight of “the other” was not necessarily an obvious concern to state in this group.

Israel needs to extract the 200+ Israeli hostages in Gaza safely, but they are not the only lives we are trying to protect. I know that rescuing all the hostages and destroying Hamas are the two paramount goals of this war. I know that there are also decent people in Gaza. I know that Hamas does not equal Gazan and that Gazan doesn’t equal Hamas. I know that they are separate entities, but the challenge is how to eradicate the enemy without killing innocent Gazans. Yes, there are innocent Gazans. I know it.  So, what’s the challenge?

Before I answer this, I want to update you on what life is like in Israel right now. I’m interrupting myself, but the temporary diversion is necessary.

The ability of Israeli children to go to daycare or school right now depends very much on a community’s proximity from Gaza in the south and Hezbollah positions in Lebanon in the north. Rocket attacks have been so constant in some communities that they can’t even think about education right now. Many are in temporary locations – they either can’t go back home because it’s not safe or they have no home to which they can return.  Children in safer communities have school days interrupted by air raid sirens. Even three-year-olds know exactly how to walk safely to the nearest shelter. Air raid drills come before letter recognition and after finger painting. It’s part of their routine. With over 300,000 reservists serving in various border positions, hundreds of thousands have become single parents overnight juggling work, childcare and cooking with very little sleep. We’ve learned how to stock our safe rooms and when we’re not caring for children or meeting work deadlines, we’re out picking avocados, cucumbers, tomatoes, and oranges so that farmers’ incomes are not destroyed and so that people have access to healthy food.

Did you notice how many times I used the word “safe” in the last paragraph. While I can still hear my high school English teacher, Mrs. Reade, urging me to look for synonyms, this word repetition was deliberate. We are a small country, but we won’t use that as an excuse. We want to protect our citizens and “collateral damage” is anathema to us. I wish I could say to the same of Hamas. Their command center is directly below Shifa Hospital in Gaza. While suspected by Israelis, this fact was confirmed by captured Hamas terrorists. Al Shifa hospital’s underground space is a hideout and major base of operations. Israel is teaching little children how to reach safety while Hamas is running operations underneath a hospital, a place for some of the most vulnerable in Gazan society. You want to talk about “disproportionate force”? You want to argue disproportionate casualty counts? Then ask yourself why Hamas is setting up command centers in population centers. Why haven’t they heeded warnings to move civilians away from the major fighting to the southern area of the Gaza Strip? Why is Hamas actively blocking roads that would allow citizens to escape to the southern, less populated part of Gaza?

I’m a mother, a grandmother and a human being. I want to eradicate my enemy while preserving the lives of innocent civilians.  I want to live in a land where human life is valued, not sacrificed to win in some sadomasochistic numbers game of who can prove that they suffered more. I don’t hate all Palestinians, but I’ll never understand a government that aims to put their civilians in harm’s way. This is the type of enemy that Israel must now confront. Yes, we worry.

About the Author
Onnie Schiffmiller is a tour guide and the owner of Israel with Love. She made aliyah with her family from New York in 2003.
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