A few days ago I opened Facebook to find that friends in Israel had taken cover in a bomb shelter. Hamas rockets had been fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, and while the Iron Dome intercepted some, the others landed outside the cities. Fortunately, no injuries had been reported. However, it seems that the violence had only just begun.
It started last month, just a few days after I left Israel behind and returned to the States. Three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank were kidnapped and murdered, causing the hatred for Palestinians to escalate to extreme levels. At the teenagers’ funerals, hundreds started chanting. The words: “Death to Arabs.” Then there’s the Palestinian teenager who was found in the woods, beaten and burned to death, who is believed to be the victim of a revenge attack for the deaths of the three Israeli teenagers.
As a result, Hamas has increased violence against Israel. They specifically target Israeli civilians in the hopes of creating pressure from within, thereby forcing Israel to reconcile. In response, Israel has targeted strategic locations in the Gaza Strip, many of which are located in, near, or underneath schools, medical centers, and densely-populated other places. While Israel tries to warn the area before an attack, many Palestinian civilians have been killed.
I’m deeply saddened by the violence, especially after an incredible two weeks in Israel. It’s hard to think that a month ago, I was exploring Jerusalem’s Old City, haggling in Tel Aviv’s shuq, and camping near the Sea of Galilee, and now, the country has been thrown into chaos. The same people who so warmly welcomed me into their family — our family — could be recruited for reserves.
But I can’t say I’m surprised. When I was over there, I witnessed an enormous amount of hatred: comments that the call to prayer is like nails on chalkboard, that Muslims are stupid and disease-ridden, that Arabs are inherently rapists. Millions of people, generalized into a single, negative stereotype. And it was the same for the other side, as well: Jews are wicked, ugly thieves, and so on and so forth. At times, the amount of prejudice I saw drove me to tears.
Of course, not all people are like that. In fact, most of them aren’t, and it’s those ones I want to remember during this period of answering violence with more violence.
Uri Hershkovitz, a student in Haifa, puts it well: “I hope, for the sake of a peaceful future for my children and theirs, that we can find a way to stop the circle of violence and find ground (if tentative) for understanding and co-existence. But it’s not an easy road to travel, and both sides have extremists pulling us down, even if the majority wants nothing to do with it.”
Unfortunately, it’s the extremists who speak the loudest. They’re the ones who make their voices heard via hundreds of projectiles and signs that read, “Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values.”
But, as Uri said, most don’t want it to be this way.
I went camping with Uri and his sister, Tamar, both of whom had recently finished serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. As we were hiking, we could hear gunshots and explosions from a nearby training base. It reminded Tamar of her own training: “The first time I shot a gun, I was on a shooting range with dozens of girls. And everyone was crying.”
I was confused. “Crying?”
Uri nodded. “It’s a powerful thing, holding a gun for the first time. It changes you.”
Every Israeli citizen has to serve in the IDF: boys for a minimum of three years, and girls for two. While they all learn to shoot a gun, most hope that they’ll never have to use it.
When Uri was in the IDF, he was sent to a small town near Palestinian territory. He was put on guard duty, stationed outside the town, and given orders to shoot anyone who tried to climb up the hill. Sometime during the night, a car stopped and two men, dressed in traditional Muslim clothing, got out. They went around to the trunk and began to remove large objects, but it was dark and Uri was too far away to make out what they were.
“I was standing there, praying, ‘Please don’t come up the hill. Please don’t. Please, dear God, get back in the car. Please.’”
It was one of the most terrifying experiences of his life: not that the town might be attacked, but that he might have to pull the trigger.
Fortunately, the men got back in the car and drove away. Turned out they were only dumping garbage.
I don’t think the conflict will end anytime soon. There will be more killing, and more hate, but there is compassion, too. That’s a side that the media — at least American media — doesn’t show too often: That, despite everything, pulling the trigger is hard.