Living Near the War Zone

Several friends and family members have sent emails with words of support and empathy, and have asked about my thoughts and experiences during this time of war. 

It is harder for me this time to reflect upon my reality in a coherent and insightful manner. It is even more difficult to be optimistic and confident in sending out a certain message about what we can do in order to bring about a better reality. Lately, I am less positive that bringing peace is in our hands, that it is mostly an Israeli challenge.

Two things contribute for my new sense of pessimistic powerlessness. 

The first is the discovery of the immense system of terror tunnels leading from within Gaza to Israel. It is a shock to realize that our intelligence have missed such a huge threat. Some of the information was out there, almost obvious, yet our army has developed no strategy to face this threat. 

Beside the danger these tunnels pose to Israel, they reflect the vast investment the Hamas leadership has devoted to planning destruction.  Almost all their resources, efforts and creativity are directed to attacking Israel, rather than to helping and advancing their own people. Money and energy, which Hamas should have directed to building the infrastructure of their cities, was directed solely to attack and murder of Israelis (and in a twisted turn of their own people). 

Is there any hope to negotiate peace with this leadership? Can we ever trust them in a future compromise? I am afraid the answer to both questions is negative. 

The second is the reaction in the world to the current fighting in Gaza. The huge rallies and demonstrations all over the world, condemning Israel for “genocide” in Gaza fail to impress me as an honest expression of empathy for the Palestinians. Where were all these protesters during the 3 years of war in Syria or in Iraq? I am convinced now, that the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is but an excuse and an outlet for something bigger and deeper. 

Unfortunately, even if Israel was to withdraw tomorrow from all the territories it occupied in 67, these waves of antisemitism and hatred for the West will probably not disappear. Such withdrawal is necessary if Israel is to remain a Jewish state and a (better) democracy. However, it seems an illusion to think it will bring an end to hostility and hatred.

 

Life near the war zone

In Caesarea, we heard the sirens go off less than 10 times. It is next to nothing, really. A man from Ashkelon told me “this is what we get in one hour, on a bad day…” Still, there is a sense of insecurity wherever one goes. The last alarm went off when I had a Pool Party for a few women Rabbi friends (and their families). We collected the 10 children and toddlers from the pool and rushed to the tiny shelter in the house, trying to ease the atmosphere as much as possible. One Rabbi, who left her 11 and 14-year-old daughters at home, apologized and left immediately, because both she and her daughters suddenly felt insecure and needed to be together. The rest of us went back to the yard, but it was no longer a party.

Living in Israel at a time of war, one constantly feels the need to help, to assist, and to donate. Like many in Israel, we are giving money and buying goods for the soldiers- from snacks and underwear to Ceramic combat vests (really!). This is how I found myself sitting at the entrance to our local supermarket twice this week. Most people give 100-200 NIS. A child came and emptied her bag of coins, demanding to know exactly what we are going to do with it. Then came a woman with a check for $10,000… A second truck departed the next day from Caesarea to the troops near the Gaza Strip. 

A far more gratifying opportunity came when 150 mentally handicapped people came from Ashkelon to our local country club, for a few hours of relief.   Serving them lunch and talking to them, I felt useful for the first time in days…

However, most of the time I feel helpless and very sad. So many people have lost their lives or their health. Many soldiers and civilians will suffer from post trauma syndrome. The accumulated death toll of innocent people in Gaza is horrifying. I do blame Hamas for their fate, but grieve over the terrible loss of life.

Stubbornly, I still believe that only negotiation with the Palestinian Authority and compromise can end the cycle of war. Will this round of violence push our government to try that channel seriously?

I pray for better times.

——–

Rabbi Ayala R. Samuels is one of a growing minority of Liberal female rabbis in Israel, and leads the first Reform congregation in Caesarea. Rabbi Ayala Samuels is married with three sons.

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