From Israel: How We Love Life

My husband and I came to Israel for a family visit in mid-November. We planned to attend a wedding of close friends and to spend a relaxing vacation in my home country. We were aware, and have been for some time, that the Gaza-based terrorist organizations, associated with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, are sending missiles targeted at Israeli civilian populations.

This has been going on for a while and the Iron Dome missile defense has helped intercept many of these rockets. Right now, though, things have escalated in the south; life is becoming unbearable for many.

Civilians in Dimona, Be’er Sheva, and other southern communities, are sleeping in bunkers; work and school is cancelled; there is fear and confusion in the news and among the people we know. Israel’s leaders executed some precision counteractions, we see on the news, targeting terrorist hideouts and rocket arsenals – hoping to slow down their attempts to kill our people.

My friends and family are angry. Today, we received news that a family of three was killed, and nineteen others were injured by a rocket that fell on the southern city Kiryat Malachi. We also see that Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters fired guns in the air celebrating the news, chanting “Allahu akbar” – God is great. Who among us wouldn’t be angry?

We act now to defend Israel’s communities, including the Palestinians living among us, from blind hatred and belligerence. Even though our actions were condemned by many Arab countries, it has also received support from some strange places – some typically less receptive to Israel’s dangerous reality.

Western European countries and UN institutions condemning Hamas and supporting Israel? This feels like a rare event that should be highlighted by the media, yet sadly feels glanced over by so many who focus more on what sound bites they can draw to support whatever agenda suits their bias.

But what good does it do to point this out? Am I not merely feeding this biased and emotionally charged subject with what it craves? I, too, am angry. The facts speak better than I can at present.

Today, a rocket approached the edges of Tel Aviv, a rarity among the rocket attacks of the past, and another approached Jerusalem – an even greater rarity considering its sensitivity to all major monotheistic religions in the region. So many of my friends living in these city centers were suddenly awakened to a reality that has felt like more of a distant dream, something that was unlikely to touch their lives personally.

Now they too run to shelters, with no more than twenty to thirty seconds warning. Is this a reality we can live in? How do we resolve this in a non-violent way?

President Barack Obama condemned these attacks and has spoken to both the Israeli and the Egyptian leaders amidst the escalating crisis. Perhaps he hopes to have open communications to continue preventing open military conflict. Perhaps. But this seems unlikely given that Egypt withdrew her Ambassador to Israel for “consultation,” and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi condemned Israel’s response to the attacks from Gaza calling them aggressive, seemingly missing the more accurate observation that should Israel wish Gaza eliminated, it merely need do so… yet she stays her hand and warns civilians on the ground of impending air strikes to minimize civilian casualties.

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Aggressive? We have a word for such talk: chutzpah.

We Israelis do our best to stay calm, intelligent, calculated, and measured in the way we deal with our neighbors. Are we naïve to hope this will continue to work indefinitely? How much longer can and must we endure this never-ending siege on our human dignity? How much longer must we be asked to act civil when those around us have utterly refused to do the same?

But here I ask questions I already know and fear the answers to. We must, and will, endure such abasement endlessly because we value life. Should we act recklessly from our passion and anger, viciously striking into the Gaza population centers where Hamas’s military forces cowardly hide? If so, this would cease to be the Israel I know and love.

Visiting my home has made me happy, welcome, and reminded me of how great this country can be. Despite the events of these past few days, I hold my head high each time I hear of the way Israelis have reacted by offering shelter, advice, and supplies to any who need it; the way our military restrains itself in its response; and the way the world of social media comes alive to begin highlighting what is happening like never before.

Israel needs to advocate for itself. We need to tell our story before it gets lost in the sea of hatred enveloping us. Get educated about this conflict before jumping to conclusions about who is to blame, I ask this of you kindly. What country would act with half our restraint were her people suffering daily rocket fire from her neighbors? Think about that.

Each day we live under a siege that has become so normal that we shrug when asked whether or not it’s safe to visit. Friends and family in the United States have called out to us, harried by fear that we won’t make it out alive. We shrug… of course we’ll make it out alive. We’ve been thriving here in the land of Israel for centuries and we will continue to do so because we love life. What can be said about those firing rockets at civilians from deep within their own civilian population centers? What do such people love?

Lilach Cohen-Holden is a Development Officer at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington in Rockville, MD. She was born and raised in Israel and served in an IDF Intelligence unit from 2001-2003 before working in sales, marketing, business development, and event management at several companies during and after her studies at Tel Aviv University. She completed a dual degree in history and art history.

  • Ada

    It is the value of and commitment to life that brings us together. That is what Israel stands for!!!