On Saturday, July 12 at 8 p.m., Hamas informed Israel that in one hour they would rain down hell on central Israel. They were late. It started at 9:07 p.m. But what Hamas lacked in punctuality they made up for in the number and capabilities of the missiles fired.
I was on a safe room floor with seven other Israelis. Suffice to say my Hebrew is not good enough to understand the panicked chatter as the building shook and sirens wailed.
When I emerged and naturally gravitated straight to Facebook to update my friends all over the world, I noticed a private message had come in. It was from an acquaintance that I have never met in person. The woman apologized for just having to get some things off her chest. She just had to. I read her long, inflammatory, angry rant about how awful Israel is while picking safe room dust out of my hair and listening carefully for more sirens. I couldn't wait to check the news to see what was going on. I was (and am) ill knowing that Israel would most certainly strike back powerfully after such a provocative and heavy attack.
I was appalled, of course, to receive such a message at such a time and also to be the target of an emotional rant that has nothing to do with me personally. Unless I am in charge of political/military decisions in Israel -- and if I am, I would have appreciated some notice and at least a few sick days.
The next morning, I received a heartfelt apology via email.
I see this as a teachable moment -- a chance for dialogue and not anger, a moment that I could try, at least, to wring some understanding out of. Be the change you want to see in the world. That kind of thing.
This is what I said:
First, thank you for your apology, that is very nice of you. I know this is a heated topic, for all of us. Especially those of us actually living through it.
Strong feelings don't bother me at all - it is natural to have them over such an emotional topic.
But one-sided arguments and intellectual dishonesty or laziness does bother me very much. I don't mean you personally - although your argument was intellectually lazy. You are parroting things you have read or heard without questioning them and poking around the edges to look for agendas or bias. This is something that many of us do. We pick a narrative that fits our fears and preconceptions perfectly. It's the Arabs! They are terrorists! It's the Israelis! They are bullies! That's the truth!
Americans have a complicated and emotional relationship with the idea of bullies and underdogs both. Bullies pop up on the internet, they have their own shows on Fox. We hate them. We are them. I don't think this is only an American proclivity, this underdog/bully dynamic. And it certainly isn't only an American knee-jerk to hold a powerful belief without knowing - or examining - why. All humans share that tendency. I understand.
Here's a truth: there is no one truth about this or any situation. It's much more complicated. There are no good guys or bad guys except the gutless, self-interested leaders on both sides. All of the people suffer as our fears and paranoia of "other" gets fanned.
We are all human beings in this part of the world, and in Israel, there is a bitter dispute not so much over land (as it would appear) but over who really owns the narrative of this land. It is an argument that can never be won but this argument is exploited by political leaders and terrorist groups to maintain power and control. We are all victims in it.
Do not conflate Israelis with our right wing government and our poor leaders. Do not conflate Palestinians with Hamas. Examine the news with more intellectual vigor. Just whose "news" is this? Questioning what you believe and why is painful but necessary.
I don't have an easy answer. Wrongs have been committed on both sides. Terrible wrongs. We should stop electing leaders out of fear or coercion. Not just here - all over the world. What is causing ISIS to come into such power so quickly? Fear, inequity, greed, poverty, a power vacuum. It was ever thus.
What can we do as humans? How do we control this flood of information instructing us as to who or what is right or wrong? We have to exercise our cold intellects, we have to information gather from many sources, we have to examine what we believe and why, and much more difficult, we have to accept ambiguities. Which are very hard to live with. That's why we crave popular entertainment, action movies and the like. Because that's where ambiguity goes to die. In the third act. With a great soundtrack.
What Hamas is doing is wrong - very, very wrong. The Israeli response is heavy handed but born of huge frustration and fear. Also wrong. There has to be a better way. But that way is not to belch forth one's own fears and frustrations on a person who just got up off a safe room floor, who is dealing with this ambiguity much more than you are. Because there's nothing ambiguous about a long range missile almost striking your house and there's nothing ambiguous about the 100+ Palestinian civilians who have died in this.
I wish I could send a team of negotiators to both sides to wave a magic wand and hand out cold drinks, medical aid and stern, down to earth advice. I wish we could all get along. I wish we could lock the leaders on all sides into a big room together where they could work it out themselves and leave all of us alone while they do. Maybe it would be a little bit more pressing if their own lives were at risk - not everybody else's.
And if wishes were fishes the sea would be full.
I have to live with the ambiguity of this and so do you. Let's not fight. Let's be the change we'd like to see in this world.