It is a truism (that most of us only reluctantly admit) that there are some experiences in life that we cannot actually feel or understand -- ever -- until they happen to us, personally. Parenthood. Aging. Grief. War.
About 45 miles from where I live, a ground invasion is happening in Gaza. It's a hot July day, about 95F or so. While I am debating whether or not to use air conditioning, thousands of people are suffering -- no -- millions -- all around me.
I decide to lie down and to try rest out the midday heat. My stomach clinches; my bedroom window faces the south and we haven't had a rocket fired since yesterday, when we had three separate barrages. Will one happen now? As I am lying prone?
[Live update, nap abandoned, mid writing, five rockets did indeed arrive ingloriously, with house shuddering volume.]
How can I think such thoughts -- it is obscene to be afraid myself when the people in Gaza are amidst rubble, and constant bombings and death. But I am afraid. Afraid and overwhelmed. Not for my personal safety -- these cringes, this lurching stomach, these panic attacks are just my nervous system reacting to several shocks a day. It builds up and cascades into a rushing river coursing over saturated ground -- it has nowhere left to go.
But I know the Iron Dome will protect me and I feel relieved and terribly guilty about that. Because the Palestinians don't have an Iron Dome.
What I really feel is despair, I think. Existential despair that in the 21st century, war and violence are still actual methods of -- no -- I can't finish that thought -- it's too precious and obvious. Of course war and violence are still the primary way we humans deal with conflict. I am not surprised at all. Are you?
I am despairing of the vitriolic level of public discourse about Israel's conflict with Hamas. I am disappointed by the "fact"-flinging and soap boxes that seem to get pulled out of the garage and stood upon when the subject of Israel comes up. I am mystified that so many all over the world are obsessed with Israel but remain veritably silent when it comes to events in other places. Places like Syria, which, with a modest accounting of 170,000 dead in three years, has had more deaths than in all of every war, battle, or skirmish in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of 65+ years combined.
Ever the intrepid autodidact, I read as much as I can get my hands on. I realize that because I am a human being, I am prone to bias. I am an American living in Israel. I am an Israeli citizen. I am a Jew. I am a woman, a mother, a writer, a Californian, a Democrat, a righty, a redhead.
I have whiplash from reading this article and that -- in support of Israel, condemning Israel, condemning Hamas, condemning Palestinians, condemning Israelis. I have read long, academic books and articles about the Middle East, Israel, Islam, strategy, fundamentalists and Zionism. About opinions and politics and media bias. About "moral" wars and "moral" armies. About the alluring belief in any kind of moral equivalency. Here's a thing: war is immoral. Here's another thing: it happens anyway.
Like anybody who hears thundering helicopters overhead and dull explosions and sirens on a daily basis for almost two weeks (with who knows how many weeks to come), I am having trouble sleeping. I am having trouble processing that this is real. I have a welter of unruly emotions ranging from guilt and shame that I should be so undeservedly frightened when I am not suffering in the same reality as the Gazans only miles away, to despair and anger to mystification and numbness. Shampoo, rinse, repeat.
I imagine some hardened soldier who looks like Christopher Walken glaring at me with narrowed eyes. You know nothing of WAR, he says with contempt before grinding his cigarette out under his boot. And he's mostly right. But I know something of war now. Unfortunately.
I can imagine a tiny fraction of what Gazans are feeling. And what Israelis living just outside Gaza are feeling and going through. But only a paltry fraction. How DARE I complain, lo these many 45 miles away, of stress, fear or existential angst? I have no right. And yet these feelings are undeniably real for me, where I am. Just ask what remains of my nervous system.
Because of the cumulative mix of intense, unruly emotions and reactions within me, plus having 98% more adrenaline in my system than is medically okay at all times, I am sensitive to Facebook updates and comments from Americans and Europeans who weigh in on this conflict. Not necessarily friends of mine -- I spend too much time on damnable Facebook, as I strive to understand -- to connect.
How can you possibly comment -- how can you possibly have an opinion when you have never lived the reality of this, I find myself thinking. SHUT UP SHUT UP you nice, neat, clean not-terrified person, I want to scream! It's more complicated in the living of it than anything you can imagine. Anything.
Do YOU flinch every time you hear what sounds remotely like a boom or thud? Do you spring to your feet every time the whine of a motorcycle hits exactly the same pitch and tone of an air raid siren? Then shut your pie hole and go get a Starbucks!
I do not like this feeling. It's not like me. It's the stress, I'm pretty sure. True to my current state of emotional whiplash, I can see the value in outside opinions from those who are not currently shaking like a leaf but also the hypocrisy of same.
In particular, Americans -- bless us -- have an extraordinary ability to remain at arms length from the dirtiness of this world, the tragedy. We send drones into countries thousands of miles away and for us, "collateral damage" is an intellectual idea, not a horrible reality. America is big -- so big -- and we don't know several people with brothers, cousins and friends in the fighting right this moment, as I do here in Israel. 99 percent of Americans, if not more, do not know what I am feeling right now -- nowhere close. But is that their fault? Of course not. Hard is hard said someone somewhere about something.
The problem with going through an extraordinary experience is that it automatically limits the number of people you can relate to about it. My world just got smaller.