This war is killing us. I'm in a state of constant agitation. I can't sleep; I stare at my kids as if they're someone else's. I envy my American friends' bubble of daily life. "How are you feeling about Israel?" How do I explain that I seem to have lost my identity as an individual, that I have become a cog in the wheel of Israeli collective consciousness? (I was born in the U.S., but spent most of my school years, army service, and early adulthood in Israel, raised by Israeli parents.) The Arab-Israeli conflict has been there my whole life, but this latest war has been more destabilizing than any other, disrupting any effort to manufacture the illusion of individuality, the illusion that we are not only subjects of history and nationhood.
None of us can speak about the ways we each fall apart every day watching the news. How do you face being accountable for the death of children? In my family we talk about the Iron Dome.
Mom: Orna, so good to hear from you (she too sounds desperate). Give us some good news.
O: Not sure what to tell you, its all the same here. It's very difficult to be away. How are things going?
Dad: Well, today the siren caught me during my morning shower. (He sounds amused.)
O: Did you make it to the shelter?
D: Yeah sure. You have exactly 1.5 minutes before the first boom. My shirt was a bit wet, but no problem.
O: What do you mean 1.5 minutes?
My father is an aerospace engineer. He loves getting fixated on the high tech capabilities of the Iron Dome.
D: The Iron Dome system has the whole country mapped on a grid. The moment a rocket is launched, it detects it and calculates exactly where it's heading, by its angle and velocity. It can then decide whether to intercept it based on whether it'll land in a populated area, or an area deemed unimportant.
O: Wow, that's amazing.
D: Yes, it's a technology that was developed here, in the aeronautics industry.
M: Two interceptors head out, not just one! (My mom, the modern art curator, is equally enthralled with technology these days.)
D: Just in case the first one, 'oops', doesn't quite get it...
M: You hear a very loud boom, and soon after the second one.
D: Ba-boom! And then you just hope the debris doesn't land on your roof. Its not some tiny pieces you know, these are huge pieces of metal.
They both sound in awe. I too find myself preferring to be lulled into wonder at the almighty Israeli industrial military complex, rather than panic at the thought of my elderly parents running to the shelter. It's not simply the region's fundamentalism that is suffocating the left. The people of Israel are under the spell of an utter, infantilizing dependency on this abstract, sci-fi-like system that keeps them alive. Some of my friends occasionally engage in the extreme sport of gazing at the sky to marvel at the rockets being destroyed. Apparently, I learn, my parents sometimes do as well.
D: You can see the interceptor leave its launching pad, not far from here, and then suddenly, mid-flight, it hones in on the exact location of the rocket and changes its angle of flight, Tzzzzt...
M: Yeah (sigh; she sounds deflated all of a sudden), it's so depressing. There's no end to this.
D: But the world thinks we should just sit here and take it, right? (His tone is suddenly angry.)
I want to say, "Yeah, I guess the Palestinians should just sit there and take it, too, huh Dad?", but I know it will lead to a bitter argument between us, and worse, between my parents, because they have different political views. It's the last thing they need now. They're both devastated. Their entire lives have been wrapped up in their own parents' recovery from the Holocaust, the birth of Israel, and an ongoing passionate hope that we will get to live in peace.
I hang up the phone heavy-hearted, having offered my parents little comfort, and fold back into my displaced reality here in New York. Most of my American friends seem helpless in the face of my situation, yet some are provoked in ways that are mysterious to me.