Friday, August 1, 2014

August 1

Tel Aviv


Day 16 of the war

As we travel around Israel, going about a mostly normal if worried life, we see huge signs strung up on highways, buildings, stores, and restaurants thanking soldiers. No matter the color, with every banner I see red. I am angry. 

I don't want to stand on the shoulders of 18 to 20-somethings. I'm the parent; they should be standing on mine. I'm powerless to stop their deaths, 61 now, and I don't like it. 

Every joke is half truth, and these are addressed to the women here. Life for Tel Aviv women will never be the same now that men know they can leave the house in a minute and a half. (So southern Israeli women who have 15 seconds must be cowboys and sleep with their shoes on.) Donations from moms to soldiers have been disallowed, the soldiers no longer fit in tunnels. Jokes showing basically how powerless we are to stop this. 

Mothers in Gaza are in the same boat. Is this war just to them? Worth the price? Or did Hamas hijack their kids? My Israeli friends reminded me of what I'd read but forgotten. Hamas was elected as a legislative group to work with Fatah. Elected, the party ran - all the way to the Fatah offices in the Gaza Strip and threw Fatah coworkers out, by force. Via the windows. A few stories down. Thus began Hamas rule. Most countries begin with violence. The US did. Israelis are frustrated that their narrative stays so blurry. Because today is clear. They live alongside Arabs. In a free country. With equal rights, it could be a beacon to its neighbors in the region, especially the women.

The prism here is never clear. One Israeli Member of Knesset is a woman and an Arab. Her name is Zoabi. She is anti-Israel. She votes. She speaks her view out loud. In public. When she oversteps and treads on treason, she is temporarily banned from sitting in sessions. She is not fired.  Messy and loud, here is a look at freedom in Israel.

Israel's controversial female, Arab Member of Knesset, Mrs. Zoabi, has a 17-year-old nephew named Mohammed Zoabi. He, his aunt, his whole family are Israelis from near Haifa. This is their home. He's comfortable here. He's got Jewish and Arab friends. He's a normal kid. He's against terrorism, and taped himself on youtube, in 3 languages (my kind of kid) to ask in English/Hebrew/Arabic for the 3 yeshiva students to be released. Immediately! Rather than protect him, Aunt Zoabi denounced her nephew. His own father and grandmother threatened to whisk him off to the West Bank to be harmed. Israeli police intervened. Israeli law protected him. So did his mother, who publicly defended her boy's right to speak his mind. He's only 17, she said! In Gaza he'd be dead. So would his mother. His aunt, a minority woman, would not figure in any government run by Hamas. Life here is rich and full of irony. No wonder women here have iron rich blood. 

Israel is free in the only way a Middle East democracy can be. Messy. There are far-flung orthodox groups here which could be better integrated. Straight lines form with difficulty among people with deep beliefs, and indeed Israelis don't stand in straight lines. They crowd. They push. They don't conform. Yet at every Red Alert siren they immediately, as instructed by homeland security, do the Israeli war version of 'stop, drop and roll' and wait for the all clear before they move on. The younger they are, the more they comply. This death threat penetrates their superman psyche. Three civilians died from rockets. 17 Israeli soldiers died in Israel, most from rockets. Some fired during cease fires. It's been quiet for the first two hours of this new 72-hour one...cancel that... rockets were just fired ... Hamas keeps cease fires like it allows free press. In Gaza reporters are pressured if they write what they see. Lack of free press works for Hamas. It makes Israel looks like Goliath; like it's fighting no one. Although alliances are bending with the times, Israel can feel more like David, surrounded on all sides by terrorists. But there are zero pictures in newspapers of Hamas terrorists. They're not allowed. An Italian journalist tweeted that Gaza hit its own hospital while patients were in it, and destroyed its own Shati refugee camp filled with kids, the first moment he'd passed through Erez Crossing into Israel. Free at last. Most journalists are held in Gaza. Unable to leave. Why did they agree to be there? If they can't report, they distort. We know the UN said Israel hit a second school. Sad. IDF, as with the first school, said it returned fire but details aren't firm yet. We do know now that Hamas bombs killed those kids at the first UN school, just as in the Shati refugee camp. And Gaza hit its own hospital. Hard to avoid if they are, as we know from the IDF, shooting at Israelis near schools, from mosques, and inside its hospital, using the ill as human shields. 

So Israel does need its young men to wear protective gear and march into Gaza to dismantle rocket launchers hidden inside tunnels in civilian buildings. We do need to stand on these soldiers' shoulders. Hamas is weakened. I hate it. 

How did the greatest generation feel about sending their siblings and children off to WW2? Did they think the cause was worth all means? Did our leaders feel justified when they bombed Dresden? Hiroshima? Should Israel not 'pinpoint' as Kerry mocked, and save it's soldiers by dropping full ton bombs from the air? Surely there should be room made for a democracy in this region. Especially one taking in refugees who are fleeing Europe. French Jews streaming to Israel are not coming here for the croissants. If France and Germany still hate, was WW2 well won? Or will that war be, like this one, another in a series of wars fought and refought over the same conflicts?

I pray this war ends at the end of this 72-hour ceasefire, when the terror tunnels will have been plugged. Enough harm to soldiers. Enough violence from Gaza. If Gazan woman could vote, would they keep Hamas?

Inside Israel sporadic riots, near Jerusalem, flame up and are quickly contained. Many Muslim Israelis are tired of conflict. Some Arabs like young Zoabi prefer Israel to Hamas. Christians Arabs in Iraq are given a choice to convert, leave or die, but in Israel Christian Arabs wear a special badge; they are the best educated group in Israel. Something for Jewish mothers to admire! 

Israel's Muslims, Jews and Christians, there is a good reason to follow the path laid clear in North America: Diversity is a strength. 

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