I had the television news on this afternoon, but only for a little while. With my face buried in my computer screen and my ears picking up bits and pieces of the ongoing live reporting as I typed, every time I heard a siren, I jumped a little, momentarily startled and wondering for just a sliver of a second if it was coming from outside instead of the news report. We live far away from the rockets and missiles being fired at the south and now the center of the country, but in Israel, “far” is merely a relative term. Tel Aviv is just under an hour away by car, and Kiryat Malachi, the town where three people were killed by rocket fire on Thursday (and also the town where my husband is from and one of his brothers still lives), is just over an hour away if we take the Trans-Israel highway (known locally as Road 6), the country’s only toll road.
It’s sadly amazing to me how we always manage to seamlessly slip back into the jargon of war. My Facebook feed is filling up with words like rockets/missiles, sirens and booms, and people in “safer” parts of the country are letting friends and family know that they’ve got room for guests if anyone feels the need to get away. The “situation”, as times like these are always referred to, is discussed over cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at a bat-mitzvah in a resigned, almost casual manner, simply because over the years, we have grown so used to periodically doing so.by Liza Rosenberg
Once upon a time, there was a region called the Middle East. It was a very complicated little corner of the world, as the people who lived there were often at odds with one another. Most of the people couldn’t agree on anything – they had different ideas about the past, and they could not manage to find common ground regarding the present or future. Why, they couldn’t even agree about hummus! In fact, one of the only issues that bound so many of the peoples together was their blinding hatred for one little country in their midst. This country was called Israel. While the more pragmatic among them had accepted the fact that Israel was indeed here to stay, there were still many who believed that in time, the little country could be destroyed.
The little country called Israel tried to proclaim to all who would listen that it was interested in peace, but actions usually speak louder than words, and most of the peoples of the region and other parts of the world had trouble believing the message that Israel kept trying to broadcast. It didn’t help, of course, that so many other nations and international bodies were always trying to focus on Israel, virtually ignoring the human rights abuses being committed in so many other places, like China, Iran and Turkey, to name a few. Our little country was far from innocent, but it was certainly no worse than many others. (more…)by Liza Rosenberg
What follows below is the text for my final daily diary entry for the BBC World Service radio show “The World Today“. The audio link for this show can be found here, and includes a response from one of my counterparts in Gaza, Mr. Omar Sha’ban, an economist and father who lives in central Gaza.
This is Liza Rosenberg, keeping an audio diary for the World Today. When I tell Israelis that I’ve been keeping this daily diary for a BBC World Service radio show, I’m often met with a pleading response to “explain that Israel had to do this. Explain to everyone how we didn’t have a choice.” While I would be lying if I didn’t say that there are definitely some Israelis who are celebrating what’s been happening in Gaza, most of the people who I’ve spoken to do not feel that way, feeling instead that Israel did not have a choice.
As we entered this conflict, many Israelis were genuinely puzzled by the fact that no one else seemed to understand why we felt this way. Part of me has felt this way also, which I imagine you may have gathered from the diary entries I’ve shared with you since early last week. I’ve been having these terrible feelings of frustration as this conflict has dragged on, being tugged back and forth by events that have happened – Hamas’ cynical use of its civilian population, questioning Israel’s ethics when it fired on a school. I’ve had feelings of sadness as I dealt with a loss of innocence of sorts, as my four year-old son learned that there are bad people who shoot rockets at schools, and his belief that if I were to buy him a sword, he would be able to defeat the bad guys.
There have been times that I felt were incredibly important, times when I had an opportunity to shape my son’s thoughts and wanted so badly to ensure that he understood. When he told me that his teacher explained that there are good Arabs and bad Arabs, I responded by reminding him that there are good people and bad people, and that it doesn’t matter where they’re from or if they’re somehow different from us. I tell him that in Gaza, there are little boys just like him, little girls, mommies and daddies, that they are good people, and that they are probably very scared right now.
As this will probably be my last daily diary entry, I was asked by my editors if I would be willing to conduct a joint interview with my counterparts in Gaza. I thought about it, but felt that I couldn’t go through with it. What could I possibly say that wouldn’t sound hollow and completely ridiculous in light of the fact that my country is destroying his? To say sorry would be so hopelessly inadequate in this situation, I think. I would feel ashamed, embarrassed, helpless. And they might take their anger out on me, which, though misplaced, would be understandable. Or perhaps they would be gracious, and that would be even more unbearable, because I would feel so horribly, horribly guilty. After all, as I sit here in Israel with all of these thoughts, all of these worries about what my son is understanding, these gentlemen are worrying about whether their families will survive another night in Gaza. I’m not personally responsible for anything that’s been happening down there, and I believe Hamas has to realize that there will be consequences to its actions. I want more than anything for there to be peace and quiet for my fellow Israelis in the south. Ideally, I want the same thing for the Palestinians in Gaza as well. As I formulate my words, news networks are reporting that Hamas has agreed to a one-year, renewable ceasefire, if Israel is prepared to meet certain conditions. And I wonder how we’ll ever find our way out of this mess that we Israelis and Palestinians have managed to create.
Thank you for listening.
This essay was written specifically for the BBC World Service.by Liza Rosenberg
What follows is the text from Sunday’s audio diary entry for the BBC World Service radio show “The World Today”. This essay was written specifically for the BBC World Service.
This is Liza Rosenberg, keeping an audio diary for the World Today. On Friday morning, I had the pleasure of participating in the birthday celebration for one of my dearest friends. There were six of us, all from similar backgrounds and all of us mothers of young children. The situation down south is never far from anyone’s mind these days, and as we sat in the cozy, popular café near the city of Modiin, passing plates of food back and forth and drinking copious amounts of coffee, conversation drifted towards our children and how they’ve been connecting with what’s happening.
In schools throughout Israel, the situation is being explained at age-appropriate levels. In the pre-school that my friend’s daughter attends, the children were asked draw pictures to send to the soldiers serving in Gaza, while the primary school students were told that the army is fighting because terrorists have been firing rockets into Israel. I asked my own son whether his teacher had spoken about it. “She told us that there are good Arabs and bad Arabs,” he said. “The bad ones are shooting rockets at schools, and some families are hosting the kids from those schools so they’ll be safe. I want us to host kids too,” he added.
On Friday, the UN Security Council called for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which both sides rejected. On Saturday, 22 rockets fell in southern Israel and the Israeli air force carried out approximately 60 attacks in Gaza, while Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal refused to accept the possibility of ceasefire until Israel stops its attacks on Gaza and opens the border crossings – something I can’t see Israel doing as long as the rocket fire into Israel continues.
Today is Sunday, and Israeli evening news reports are showing images of a school and a zoo in Gaza that were wired with explosives – all the classrooms, the grounds, the cages where animals were being kept… The top story was about a rocket that slammed into a playground adjacent to an empty preschool in the city of Ashdod, causing a great deal of damage to the preschool.
When I was in school, we had fire drills. Today, Israeli children are taught what to do in the event of a rocket attack. My friends with older children are worried about them nearing army age. I’m teaching my son about stranger danger while his teacher explains that bad people are firing rockets at schools. As my friends and I finished our coffee, we talked about shielding our children from harm. The irony wasn’t lost on me as I thought of the Hamas fighters who do the opposite, fighters who use children to shield themselves from harm.
***Update***by Liza Rosenberg
The essay below is the transcript from my January 8th audio diary entry (filed on Wednesday evening, January 7th), written specifically for the BBC World Service radio show “The World Today“. Currently, two of my three diary entries can be found online here.
This is Liza Rosenberg, keeping an audio diary for the World Today. I find it ironic that on the day we began attacking Gaza, my family and I were in the city of Jaffa, wandering through a crowded street fair whose theme was the celebration of three holidays – Chanukah, Christmas, and Eid el-Adha. I grew up in a multicultural society, and it’s very important to me that my son receives as much exposure to other cultures and religions as possible. Now I have a son who believes in Santa Claus, but that celebration of coexistence seems farther away than ever today, on the 12th day of fighting in Gaza.
Nothing in particular stands out for me today, and I still haven’t decided whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing – good, because maybe we didn’t make any crucial, tragic mistakes on the scale of yesterday’s school bombing. Bad, because maybe I’ve just gotten used to the daily dose of death and destruction that has permeated every facet of life during the past twelve days, whether it be the conversations of colleagues and friends or automatically pausing near one of the large plasma televisions mounted in the train stations, showing non-stop footage from the south.
If you were to ask me what I think of the current situation, I believe I’d say that I no longer know. On the one hand, Hamas forced us to take action, pushing and goading until we fell into the predictable trap of responding. I truly believe that this is exactly what they wanted, for us to turn on them, to cause innocent Gazans to die. On the other hand, when we act, how far should we be prepared to go? Hamas has always crossed the red lines, smashed them to pieces, in fact. Does that mean we should do the same? What does it say about us, when we fire on a building we know to be a school, even though we were fired upon from that same building first. We know that Hamas was using the school on purpose, hoping we would respond and create scenes of tragic devastation. Just because an opportunity to return fire presents itself, do we always have to seize that opportunity? Our political and military leaders have to know that there’s no amount of explanation they can provide, that they can justify yesterday’s actions until they’re blue in the face, providing proof in the guise of eyewitness reports and aerial photos… None of it will ever be able to compete against the images of death and devastation being broadcast around the world.
And where does all of this leave me? Alone with my thoughts, fears and frustrations, hoping that a solution to this horrific nightmare will be found soon, hoping that next year, I will be able to take my little Jewish Israeli son to Jaffa to see Santa Claus once again.by Liza Rosenberg
There is something you need to understand. I, along with many other Israelis, am disturbed by the loss of so many innocent Palestinian lives. The situation is not a simple one, and the rules of war are not so easy to follow when one side purposely chooses to endanger its own population. In an ideal war, if one can say such a thing, armies would battle other armies, and do their utmost to ensure that civilians are not in harm’s way. Israel now finds itself in the unenviable, untenable situation of not only having its own citizens targeted, but also having an enemy (and by enemy I mean Hamas and the other terror groups in Gaza, not the Palestinian civilians) that has actively and shamelessly chosen to fight from a position of using its entire civilian population as human shields. Despite Israel’s actions, it would not be unreasonable to say that Israel cared more about the Palestinian civilian population than the Hamas leadership does. That being said, because Hamas fights dirty, does that mean that Israel should not fight at all? What would be considered an acceptable amount of time for Israel to be held hostage by the whims and fantasies of a band of well-armed terrorists who are prepared to fight to the death – the unrealistic death of Israel and the death of their own civilian population?
It should be obvious by now that whenever Hamas wants something, whether it be something from Israel or the international community, or whether they are simply trying to find a cause around which to rally and unite their own people, the method they always opt for is to escalate the violence against Israel. They goad and push until Israel feels it can no longer exercise restraint. The scenario that unfolds is predictable and painful, inevitably more so for the weaker side. Sanctions haven’t worked, nor have ceasefires. Hamas will not recognize Israel and they have repeatedly stated their desire to continue the current fighting. They seem to be under the misconception that they can “win”, and unless their idea of winning is watching Israel turn Gaza into a mass grave for innocent Palestinian civilians, they surely must understand that a victory over Israel is not going to happen. Their vows to continue this dangerous folly and not give in clearly prove how they have utterly abandoned their own people.
And when you ask whether the Israeli government has hesitated about sending in ground troops because of the losses that would be incurred, the answer is yes. Obviously, it’s not the only reason, but it’s certainly a factor. Unlike the Hamas leadership, the Israeli leadership feels a responsibility toward its own citizens, whether they be soldiers or civilians. It is horribly, horribly unfortunate that Hamas does not feel the same responsibility. Or rather, perhaps they do, but only when the dead Palestinian in question is a high-ranking member of Hamas. Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed, and the only death that has raised the ire of the Hamas leadership is that of senior Hamas official Nizar Ghayan, assassinated in a pinpoint attack by Israeli forces yesterday.
So, where does that leave Israel? Everyone is full of suggestions for what Israel should not be doing right now, but no one seems to be able to come up with any ideas for what we should be doing. We are condemned for applying sanctions, we are condemned for closing border crossings. We are asked to show restraint when Hamas decides it is no longer interested in a ceasefire (and may I remind you that during this ceasefire, the odd rocket was occasionally fired into Israel), demonstrating their resolve by firing more than 100 rockets into Sderot and other southern communities in the days leading up to the ceasefire’s expiration date and the immediate days that followed. How would you expect your government to act if rockets were raining down on your town?
With regard to citizens remaining in these communities under fire, while many have left, others simply cannot afford to go. Their whole lives are there – homes, family, jobs. Many of them do not have jobs. Unemployment in these peripheral areas is high and money is tight. Even in good times, the economy in Israel’s periphery was never thriving, so try to imagine how much worse it must be now. And there is another issue that must be factored in. Should the government be setting a precedent of emptying entire towns? Hamas has shown that they are capable of reaching locations that are farther and farther away from Gaza. Should those towns be emptied as well? Do we just bow to the will of Hamas and allow them to dictate where in sovereign Israel we can and cannot live? To do so would be outrageous.
As for Israel’s borders being secure, I believe most Israelis would say that our borders are only as secure as the strength of our military or the resolve of our neighbors. Hezbullah’s rocket fire and subsequent incursion and abduction of soldiers in the summer of 2006 triggered a war. Gilad Shalit was serving on a base within Israel when he was kidnapped and taken to Gaza. And border fences can only go so high. The repeated firing of rockets over the border from Gaza is what led to the Israel’s decision to fight back on more than one occasion.
I wish that innocent Gazans did not have to die, and I wish that their leaders felt as much compassion for these deaths as many Israelis do. I wish there was another way, but sadly, I don’t think there is, not now. As an Israeli, I am not prepared to sacrifice my own life, the life of my child, my family, my friends or my fellow citizens in order to keep the population of Gaza safe. Sometimes, it is simply not enough to want peace and quiet, to want to believe that we can achieve these goals. We cannot live in peace as long as Hamas holds us all hostage, leaving us no room to compromise and no choice but to fight.by Liza Rosenberg
As far as I’m concerned, they can all go to hell, those bleeding-heart armchair warriors abroad who are far too busy to condemn Hamas when Israel shows restraint in the face of thousands of rockets and missiles, yet don’t hesitate to cry foul when Israel dares to defend itself and protect its citizens. Hypocrites the lot, as you conveniently ignore the truly one-sided atrocities of the world, preferring to save your venom solely for Israel. What of the ongoing tragic situation in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe is literally allowing his own people to starve to death? Where were your raucous demonstrations against the Russians when they invaded Georgia, or against the Turks when they attack the Kurds? Where is the mad dash for the podium at the UN, the queue of ambassadors patiently awaiting their turns to condemn the leaders of these rogue nations, in the voice that you have seemingly reserved for your blindingly one-sided condemnations of Israel?
Hundreds of Palestinians killed is indeed a tragedy. You condemn the asymmetry with regard to the numbers of casualties, but it is certainly not for lack of trying. Perhaps you would be happier with a more proportionate response; perhaps you’d prefer if the citizens of Sderot and the South had responded by firing rockets into Gazan cities, but I suspect not. After all, you must think, what are a few rockets that wreak more havoc and anxiety than physical pain and death? Surely, you say, these rockets are merely an inconvenience because they rarely kill. Suffice it to say that I would not wish it upon your towns and cities to have your lives defined by the whims of a few rocket-launchers, dictating your every thought, your every movement. I would not wish it upon you to feel the mind-numbing fear of the parents who do not know exactly where there children are when the alarm is sounded, when the missiles scream overhead before slamming into the ground in deafening, bone-chilling explosion. I would not wish it upon you to explain to your children why they spend their childhood in sealed rooms and reinforced buildings, living in a town where two-thirds of the young people are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of growing up in the shadow of rocket fire, rockets which seemingly have a penchant for falling precisely at the hour when children are making their way to school.
And lest you forget, these rockets have been falling for more than eight years – more than 8,000 of them (and counting). I’m guessing that you can’t even imagine what that must be like, nor have you even tried. It is more convenient to ignore the rockets, to place the blame for the current situation squarely on Israel’s shoulders, as though Israel woke up one day and decided to have an unprovoked go at the neighbors. The selective memory of the world is mind-blowing, in one fell swoop utterly obliterating any responsibility on the part of the Palestinians for the devastating situation in which they find themselves. It is not the Israelis’ fault that the Hamas leadership cares more about making the Israelis suffer than about the ongoing suffering of its own people. It is not the Israelis’ fault that Hamas is more than willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent Palestinians while aspiring to a goal that they will never be able to achieve – the destruction of Israel. Yet, you continue to excuse their actions, time and time again. You prefer us to remain quiet and contrite, licking our wounds in silence, expecting us to accept this and all punishments in the name of the occupation, as though our citizens in the south should be amenable to having their daily lives destroyed as some outrageous form of collective repentance.
The events of the past few days have been unfortunately predictable, and while it is certainly a shame that there are innocent civilians among the casualties, I simply do not have it in me to summon up a great deal of sorrow for this avoidable loss of life, avoidable, because the Hamas leadership purposely chose to impose this situation on its own people by opting to ignore the hints and warnings that were repeatedly issued by the Israeli government. It was Hamas who chose to destroy the ceasefire and gamble with the lives of its citizens by escalating the rocket fire into Israel, knowing full well that if they continued to do so, Israel would retaliate and many Gazans would probably die. Sadly, they have, and unless Hamas decides that saving their people is a more important goal than trying to kill ours, these numbers will continue to rise. The blood will be on the hands of Hamas, who knowingly and repeatedly chose to sacrifice their own.by Liza Rosenberg