Since this current round of fighting began, I’ve been overwhelmed by the concern shown in emails, messages and chats – friends, relatives and acquaintances checking in to see how we’re doing, voicing their love and support (both for us personally and for Israel as a whole) and reminding us to “stay safe”. And yet, no matter how many times I tell friends and loved ones abroad that we don’t live within missile range, it continues to sound like one of the most surreal statements I’ve ever written. Even after living here for more than twenty years, it’s still jarring to have to talk about one’s life in such terms, especially when our usual state of normal isn’t much different from the way my peers are living abroad.
There’s something very unnerving about day-to-day life under these conditions. On the one hand, a large portion of the southern part of the country is essentially under siege, being hit with barrage after barrage of missiles. Friends in the central part of the country have gotten a small – some would say very small – taste of what that’s like too, as Hamas tries to flex its muscles and show off its capabilities by periodically firing rockets in the direction of the greater Tel Aviv area and even towards Jerusalem. Yet here in the relative north, aside from noting the absence of colleagues and friends who’ve been called up for duty and a difference in the traffic on the roads, life continues as usual. It’s been so “normal”, in fact, that I haven’t felt the need to actually explain to my eight-year-old son what’s going on, instead preferring to follow his lead and address his questions as they arise.by Liza Rosenberg
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
When I see the world around me
It sometimes brings me down
Wars and devastation
Green that’s turned to brown
I try to right some wrongs
Effect the change I can
We all need to do our bit to save the world from man
Some people say that I’m naïve
That I can’t go changing minds
But if we do what we always do
No changes will we find
So think about this world we have
The only one we’ve got
And think about what you can do to save this world from rot
You don’t make peace with friends
What’s the point in that
We have to walk that road to peace even though it won’t be flat
We have to find a way
To make it all work out
’cause what we’re doing now
Has riddled me with doubt
Some people think I’m stupid
That I’ve clearly lost the plot
But I just want to save this world
The only one we’ve got
I know I’m just one person
My influence is small
And in the worldly scheme of things
I don’t matter much at all
I just want a world
Where I’m not afraid to live
We humans are amazing
We have so much to give
If we put aside our differences
And righted all the wrongs
Perhaps we’d have a world
Where everyone belongs
I’m smart enough to know
It’s not as easy as it seems
And when I’m feeling jaded
I’m afraid to even dream
We’ve got to work together
To find a better way
And ask ourselves what we can do to save the world today
The Hebrew calendar is not usually the calendar I use – indeed, I would be hard-pressed to name the months, and listing them in the proper order is simply beyond the scope of my abilities. That being said, however, I can tell you that, according to the Hebrew calendar, 14 years ago today (or rather, tomorrow, if we are going to get technical about it), I was at the Safari in Ramat Gan. With my parents. I had a stomach ache. And that evening, after we dropped my parents off at the airport for their return flight to the United States, the parking lot attendant handed us our change and told us that he’d heard a rumor that Yitzchak Rabin had been shot.
He didn’t know for sure, and for the duration of our drive home, I flipped between the radio stations, hoping to find even a sliver of information that would confirm what we’d heard moments earlier. Not a word. We jumped out of the car as soon as we pulled into our driveway less than twenty minutes later, unlocked the front door and turned on the television. By then, of course, the story had been confirmed. Following a demonstration for peace in what was then known as Malchei Yisrael Square in the center of Tel Aviv, someone had managed to get close enough to shoot the prime minister.
Just as I will never forget what I did that day, I will also never forget the numbness I suddenly felt when his death was announced, the feeling that suddenly, everything had changed.
In those days, I was not a big fan of his beliefs – that only came later. I was mourning the act, mourning the loss of my innocence, in a way. I simply did not want to believe that someone could hate so much, that someone could be so at odds with the path of another individual, to the point where murdering them seemed like the only option. Most of all, I hadn’t wanted to believe that something like this could or would happen in Israel, despite the passion with which we argue, and despite the fierceness with which we hold our ideals and beliefs. I hadn’t wanted to believe that such an act could be carried out by one of our own.
And what a tumultuous 14 years we’ve had since that night. Always wavering on the brink between peace and war, sliding back and forth between hope and hopelessness. These days, I’m closer to the latter. Governments on all sides seem to be competing for the title of most outrageous (and as if to prove my point, the president of Lebanon has apparently claimed that Israel arranged for a Katyusha rocket to be fired from Lebanon into northern Israel on Tuesday in order to keep tensions running high), and the terms “peace” and “quiet” are hardly synonymous. The Turks are snuggling up to Iran and Syria, and thanks to our current foreign minister (who is clearly the biggest governmental mistake since the appointment of our current defense minister), we are snuggling up to no one.
According to a recent, in-depth study known as the Global Peace Index, Israel is ranked 141st out of 144 countries in terms of how peaceful it is. Only Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq are worse off. The numbers are disturbing, to put it mildly, and my initial reaction was that the study was somehow skewed. To be honest, I still have trouble accepting the picture presented in the study, though now, two days after a heated argument with a good friend, I can say that the scores awarded to Israel in different categories are probably more accurate than I was willing to admit when I initially saw them. Whether or not you are prepared to accept the results of the study at face value is not really the issue, though. We are clearly in bad shape. Our lives are relatively quiet, but these days, peace seems more elusive than ever. I am not looking to point fingers; I’m not going to fault one party over another, for I truly believe that the blame can be shouldered quite equally.
Earlier this week, my five year-old son asked whether he would serve in the army, and I knew in my heart that I could not give him the answer that I wanted him to hear, for at this moment in time, I truly believed that to say no would be to tell him a lie. At this moment in time, I do not believe that we are even close to being on the road to peace.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