I had been living in Israel for about nine months before I went back to visit the U.S. for the first time. We had just had a 10-day war with Hamas and it was the first time Tel Aviv had been fired upon since the Gulf War. It was frightening and surreal.
Two weeks later at a trendy bistro on Sunset Boulevard in LA, I swirled my cocktail and regaled my friends with the terror, the horror, the exoticness of having seen war -- real war.
I look back now with chagrin. What I had witnessed was but a blip.
In the summer of 2014, Hamas and Israel waged war against each other that lasted just short of two months. Every time the siren went off, which was three to five times daily, warning us to take cover, my mind and body went numb. This thing, this war thing that you see on television -- it was happening. Now.
Daily I could feel the stricken ghosts rise up off the beaches, houses and fields and evaporate into nothingness. Every death felt personal. So did every missile. Israelis, generally by way of coping, are blasé about war, but they weren't this time. This war kept escalating each day.
I wasn't prepared for that experience. Even now, the mere recorded sound of the siren makes my heart race and my palms sweat. Still, now, when I cross a large, open space, I look for the best opportunities to take cover, last minute. It changed me, that war. It changed my DNA.
The feeling I remember most keenly, more than personal danger, which one could try to calm down and realize was statistically very unlikely, was the feeling of utter despair. As if the air had been sucked out of not only my lungs but everybody on both sides, near and far.
War charges the ions in the air with a kind of bleakness.
After a few weeks, one starts to assimilate the fact of war into one's day to day. You marvel at the fact that you are making this normal even as you are doing it. There is no other choice.
What I was really unprepared for though, was the backlash online, against Israel. On Facebook, people that I knew to post memes and pictures of their kids began posting cartoons of Israel raining missiles down on Gaza. They posted pictures of mangled dead children and fiery rhetoric blaming Israel as child killers. When the pictures were later found to be from Syria, as part of Hamas' online manipulation of facts, previous posters were silent. Hate rained down on Israel and it was hard not to take it personally.
Anti-Israel posts came from every direction, with friends posting and reposting media reports that were false, doctored or completely biased.
But these were people who had no idea about this situation, that was what got me. They didn't need to know anything!, they said. Israel is killing Palestinians! Right and left! Israel is a war mongering, killer state!
"I don't want you to be pro Israeli. I don't want you to be pro Palestinian. I want you to be pro resolution" (Ali Abu Awaad)
So many who profess to be pro-Palestinian have no idea about, involvement with or investment in real Palestinian concerns on a day-to-day basis. The Palestinians, for so many living very removed from this situation, are a convenient way to feel moral outrage without any information or involvement. In fact, much of the support for the Palestinians was outright racist, treating the Palestinians as if they have no agency, no ability to take responsibility for the actions taken by extremists and corrupt politicians and no ability to speak for themselves.
Why were people falling for this? Why were people posting and reposting blind support without any context at all? We are pawns in something larger than ourselves and we aren't even stopping to think about it.
I am an Israeli citizen, I am Jewish, and I am deeply sorrowful about the conflict here. I am not an apologist for Israel. The settlements, to me, are a cancer, as Rabin said. The right-wing government, which peddles fear and more fear by the spoonful to Israelis while allowing settlers to continue to grab disputed land, month by month, further preventing Palestinian autonomy and peace makes my head want to explode.
I am deeply committed to the peace process even though I know things will not get better in my lifetime. I have participated in peace/dialogue trips to the West Bank to get to know the ordinary Palestinians and what their lives are like. I am a part of a US-sponsored program designed to bring entrepreneurs together, on both sides of the green line. I weep for our collective shitty situation.
I am pro-Palestinian. I am pro-Israeli. I am pro-peace. The West Bank is indeed occupied. The barrier wall is a heart-wrenching tragedy. But suicide bombings went down 85% after the wall was put up. And the PA (Palestinian Authority) has not had an election in over ten years with no elections upcoming. Palestinians, for the most part, live in either poverty or just above. Meanwhile Abbas plans a 13-million-dollar villa in the West Bank.
...between 1993 and 2003 the West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinians received the highest amount of international aid of any recipient in the world since the Second World War.
Read this article about the complexities of aid that goes to Palestine and how it is used.
There is only one winner in this never-ending conflict...
While war wages either in the media or on the ground, the PA is happily ensconced in villas, the war got Netanyahu neatly re-elected, and contractors pocket millions in contracts and aid money on both sides. There is no reason for it to end. Not really. This conflict is very profitable.
Context is everything and the reality is worse than you think. To take one side or the other is a ploy to keep you busy waving a flag while under our noses, the conflict is perpetuated by the flow of arms, money and building materials.
It is much more satisfying to hate Israel or Palestinians. What warmongers! What terrorists! Okay. But believe me when I say these sentiments are a gross injustice to your intellect, either way.
I think it evidentially true that most "pro-Palestinians," judging from their total lack of involvement or presence with the less exciting but pressing Palestinian causes and needs are actually simply anti-Israel. That's the truth of it. Else why no outcry over the lack of elections for a decade? For the conditions in Yarmouk? For the way Jordan blocks entry of Palestinians? For the fact that in Lebanon and Egypt, Palestinians are not allowed even basic human rights? Where is the outrage over those things?
The greatest tragedy for the Palestinians is simply this: they are pawns used by Arab nations and tokens of liberal guilt for others. Nobody actually cares about the Palestinians at all.
Free Palestine indeed. Truly. From corruption, from occupation, from illiteracy and poverty. Free Israel from an endless cycle of war and right wing fear mongering. Let us all live in peace.
The only thing I could think to do in the face of the 2014 media tsunami against Israel was to start a Facebook page called Truth & Beauty in Wartime: Israel, Palestine & Peace.
I go on "relationship building trips" and events in the West Bank, to festivals in Jenin, to events sponsored by the State Department. I am working on an initiative to bring solar power to Palestinian businesses in Ramallah. I read about this conflict -- I live this conflict. I have been accused of "what-aboutism", of downplaying Palestinian casualities, of being a traitor to Israel for doing work for Amnesty International.
On the Facebook page, I post news items from either "side", I post the good news of cooperation and progress, and I post the bad news too. I try to post from a wide perspective although I am sure I fall short, being a human being, as it were. It is my small attempt to shout into the void -- when war is NOT happening here -- many other things are. The things that lead to the next conflict. The things that mitigate it. The ugly things, the beautiful things. The complicated truth of it as I experience it. Some people follow the page. They read the articles -- some of them anyway. I think that my idea of providing context to mitigate the uninformed outrage when the war starts again next time will not be all that successful. But I try. I don't know what else to do. Haters gonna hate. But it doesn't help.
Even knowing this situation is far, far more complex than you can imagine doesn't help. It feels like despair. But I do believe that thinking with more context and complexity, which though perhaps lacking in immediate solutions or gratifying feelings, is the way forward.