When I made the decision to live in New York after spending much of my life in Israel, there was an accompanying emotion that most people didn't know about, and even fewer would have sympathized with. This emotion is best described as a voice that would enter my head every time I saw a new and terrible news headline. That voice would hiss, Where are you? and Why aren't you there?
Where are you, while buses on Jaffa Road are being blown to bits, the people inside them becoming ground meat on the pavement? Where are you, while your younger sisters are taking buses and your younger brother is being groomed for the army? Where the hell are you and why aren't you here?
I was safe in New York. I didn't have to worry about blowing up as I had lunch in a restaurant, and certainly didn't think twice about taking the bus to the Forest Hills station. And I was there to work in a dead-end office job and get a degree in English Literature, something I could easily have accomplished in Jerusalem. The utter lack of idealism in such a gesture could scarcely be believed by the people who knew me.
What they didn't know was that the guilt of not being here was a constant ache. It led me to write short stories about grief and death in my creative writing class at college, which my classmates derided as unrealistic. I tried to hide tears on the subway on the way home from work, after reading the latest outpouring of hatred against Israel on the internet. Dreams about deaths in the family were a regular occurrence.
I wouldn't be surprised if these symptoms, or something similar, would be familiar to other Israelis who left home for calmer shores. What I know is that such a life is not by American standards a "normal" life, and that although I was safe, I have never felt more alone.
Yet although I am in Jerusalem now, yesterday I felt a brush with that familiar shadow. Yesterday it was all over the news here, that the talks to free Gilad Shalit had fallen through, whatever that even means. And every time I think of that boy being kept in unspeakable conditions for the crime of being an Israeli soldier, I wonder at our ability to go on with our lives--meeting deadlines, going to the gym, meeting friends for coffee--while very close by such an atrocity is taking place. How can I go to bed at night knowing that Gilad probably has no bed?In September, Hamas deputy politburo chief Mousaa Abu Marzouk, in an interview with the London-based Arabic-language newspaper al-Hayat, responded to allegations that Shalit is injured:
[Shalit] may be injured and he may be healthy. This question is of no interest to us anymore...We are not interested in his wellbeing at all, and we are not giving him any special guard since he is as good as a cat or less.For Hamas' 21st anniversary, this is how they celebrated:
Hamas paraded a mock-captive Israeli soldier before thousands of supporters during a rally Sunday to celebrate the militant group's 21st anniversary. The mock-soldier was dressed in an Israel Defense Forces soldier uniform and stood before the crowd begging in Hebrew to be returned home."I miss my Mom and Dad," said a Hamas loyalist, in a clear reference to captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
Where are we? And why are we not there, with him?