I was asked by a number of people to write something about the situation in Israel this week.
Something that can explain what is happening here.
Something that cannot be understood overseas by simply watching the news.
Something that will shine a light on some dark, unseen corner; something that will say what has yet to be said.
You’re an American, they said, but you’re an Israeli, too. You know both worlds well. You can explain it.
You were in wars, they said, you didn’t discuss the conflict while sitting in an armchair, you lived it.
You lived in Gaza, they said, you had friends there, both Israeli and Palestinian.
You have chosen a path in the State of Israel, they said, but you seem to be a passionate person (as if that is supposed to clash…), who generally cares about people, cares about the sanctity of human life, no matter what one’s ideology, religion, gender choice, eating habits, sexual orientation, or political persuasion.
Well, thank you for asking, but I cannot write the article that perhaps you want me to write. Slicha. I am sorry. But I refuse.
It reminds me of a friend of mine who once confided in me: “I am going out with the most amazing girl. I’m going to marry her. Only – she doesn’t know it. In fact, she doesn’t even want to get married! But you just wait – I’ll convince her!” And quoting Paul Simon he said, eyes full of energy: “I’m gonna GET that girl!”
And he planned a plan, and strategized a strategy, and he played his play, and argued his arguments, and he spoke his speeches, and he wined her and he dined her, and he Daniel Webstered this woman into saying “yes” when he proposed his proposal. And they wed. And then they broke up.
And I thought: now why in the world would someone want to *convince* another person to marry them? What kind of a relationship is that going to foster? Shouldn’t you want the other person to want you *on their own*, without any *convincing*? There are some words that don’t jive with the word “convince.” Love…Soulmate…Marriage…are just a few. No?
So, likewise, I refuse to write an article that will *convince* people that the State of Israel is good, is right, is ethical. Of course, Israel makes mistakes, too. Huge ones. Like any state. Like any body. And yet.
If people cannot understand the basic difference between good and evil, why should I try to convince them? If people cannot understand the basic difference between a baby murdered and a baby killed by mistake, why should I try to change their minds?
If they don’t get it, then they don’t get it. It is they who have lost out. Let them throw the dice of moral relativism, and be as a blindfolded woman holding a scale with dead people on both sides, clicking her tongue and saying: “Bad boys, both of you! Be ashamed of yourselves, both of you!” If someone wants to understand complex issues with a blindfold around their eyes, why should I try to convince them otherwise?
I got a letter from a friend of mine in my reserve unit (we were not called up). “I don’t know what you’re doing right now. But as someone who is in touch with many people outside of Israel, I sure hope you are writing and telling them what’s really happening. Please, please, you owe it to this country. Just tell them about Amit.”
But I refuse to do so. Why should I use Amit as a shovel to dig out a convincing argument? Who am I to tell the world about this tall, lanky accountant who was our unit’s best sharpshooter? Is it my fault that he was called up when the Second War in Lebanon started in 2006? That he came, even though his wife was in her ninth month of pregnancy with their first child? Yes, he grunted whenever we kneeled down to rest during those long night marches in the hills of southern Lebanon, and he grunted again when we got up to march again; he was not only carrying his own gun like everybody else, he was also carrying his special sharpshooter’s rifle and ammunition. And when we were hiding in a house and we got the word that our friends in Company B were being attacked, it was Amit who found the Hizbollah men and their commander coming out from under a mosque and running down the hill towards our buddies. It was Amit who made a face of disbelief when he saw that the Hizbollah commander wasn’t leading his men, but staying behind and motioning with his hands to the men to storm down the hill and attack. Amit reported, was given the green light, breathed very slowly, and shot the commander in the chest, and the man fell back into a chair. At that very moment, his men stopped running down the hill and shooting, and at that very moment the attack on our friends stopped. Any normal person would be happy, right? Someone’s trying to kill a lot of your friends, and you prevent that. Yay!…You’re a hero, right? Well, no, not really. But most people wouldn’t see it that way…from an armchair.
Amit walked around like a ghost. I asked him: “Amit, you did an amazing thing today! You saved a lot of people’s lives. What’s wrong?”
And with tears streaming down his face, he said: My wife.
“My wife. My wife and I are about to have a child, our first. We are about to bring a new life into the world. And here…here…I killed someone, I took a life *away* from this world. How could I?”
And he collapsed in a corner and cried. And when the war was over, and his wife gave birth to a bouncing baby boy, he gave back his uniform to the army and wasn’t a soldier anymore. He said he couldn’t. He’d had enough. He couldn’t do it any more. And everybody understood, and everybody was proud to serve with such a man, and people thought the world of him.
But I refuse to convince anybody by using Amit’s story. What, you have to hear stories in order to be convinced? If you can’t figure it out without the Amits of Israel, then forget it. Think what you want. What is this, a popularity contest? No, it’s life, it’s multifaceted, and it’s really hard to grasp from faraway.
I was going to tell the story of the Palestinian woman in the vegetable store in Gaza, but it would be a waste of time. After all, this past week has been all about Palestinians in Gaza, so it would sound manipulative to use this story. Because when we were patrolling one day years ago in the streets of Gaza, trying to prevent violence and stop certain terrorists from terrorizing, we walked by a vegetable stand outside. There was an elderly woman sitting barefoot on the floor, folding cardboard boxes to be used to hold the vegetables for display and for sale. Suddenly, we found ourselves under attack by some 20-somethings on the street above us, throwing down stones the size of grapefruits like Joel Zumaya. These stones were coming down so fast and so big, that if one would hit your head, you would die. Not be injured. Die.
We took cover and sent a group around back to surprise them from behind. But the rocks kept coming down, and not just one at a time. They could see that they weren’t hitting us. But they could also see the elderly woman sitting on the ground, too paralyzed to move or do anything, even scream. I saw with my own eyes how the stones came whizzing down, missing this old woman’s head by centimeters. It was only a matter of time before she would get hit. So we stood in front of her to protect her, even though it was a crazy thing to do. It wasn’t something we thought about and discussed and voted on and then did. The sanctity of human life…it just flows in our blood. That’s true for most people in this world, right? So we called in a nearby jeep driver, who sped in, skid to a stop and placed the jeep between the woman and the stone-throwers. She still couldn’t move. The owner of the stand came behind the jeep and took her away to safety.
The stone-throwers ran away to another target, and we went back to base. In the jeep, the driver said: “Do you realize what just happened there? Do you realize that we just saved a Palestinian from…Palestinians?” And as if he had just discovered America, he exclaimed: “I can see now that they must *hate* us more than they *love* their own people. That is sooo messed up.”
But it’s just a story. So it happened. So? It’s not going to convince anyone of anything. Stories are for entertaining, not for convincing.
There’s no way I’m going to even *mention* the story that has been told about the roadside bomb. It would seem exaggerated and too melodramatic. And besides, this was way back in 1982, in the First War in Lebanon. A group of soldiers near Tyre was driving up a road in order to diffuse a missile that was found and aimed towards Israelis. As they passed a forest, a roadside bomb went off and the entire armored vehicle flew up into the air. One soldier found himself looking at a pillar of smoke in the sky and it took a while for him to realize that he, too, was being tossed up into the air. And since that doesn’t usually happen naturally, and this is Lebanon, it must be a roadside bomb. He went uppity-up-up into the air, and as he was going downity-down-down he was able to grab his rifle and get it ready for fire, and as soon as he fell down onto the bottom of the open-air personal carrier, he jumped up, jumped out, and ran into the forest, shooting. The rest of the soldiers were injured or in shock. Only – it was too late. Whoever set off the bomb had already ran away. And the soldier, who was furious for being blown up, who was red in the face from meeting this evil act face-to-face, who was livid for being a witness at an attempt on the lives of his buddies, got a hold of himself and said, whispering slowly, to himself:
I. Refuse. To Hate.
That was me.
And I am still refusing. I refuse to hate. And just like I refuse to hate, I hereby refuse to try to convince you, that I and most of the people in this country – including soldiers in the IDF – are full of love. Yes, love. If you can’t figure that out just from meeting us, well then…go ahead and stay in the dark.
Life is not a popularity contest, and I’m not counting critics like I count vultures in Gamla. So…really, just think what you want.
But…one last thing. Today is Thanksgiving. Oy, how I miss turkey and cranberry sauce! But I’ve moved and I’ve changed and the closest thing to that, which I eat today, is Craisins. But you, you still have that beautiful gift known as the Family Thanksgiving Dinner! This is certainly one of the most inspiring ceremonies in the world. Mamash. To be thankful. To celebrate. To eat, to feast, to be with family and friends, to give to others who are less fortunate, to celebrate all the goodness and the plenty that we have in our lives. Umm…can I ask you to do me a lil’ favor? Can you please take one silent moment during your Thanksgiving Meal and be thankful for one specific something? Be thankful that your neighbors are not trying to destroy you, nor your country, your eyesight, your sense of justice, your ability to love, nor…your reputation.
May we all have lives that are full of love and warmth, without hate or violence.
But it would help if they quit trying to kill us.