Monday, July 31, 2006

A Letter to B.

This very first post was originally written to an American friend who wrote me a postcard wishing to cheer me up and sending some good thoughts given the circumstances. I felt that I had to write back and illuminate the situation from my very own subjective perspective – something coming from my heart into another person's heart – nothing less and nothing more than a one woman's voice to another. Here is the letter I wrote to her:

Dear B.,
Thank you so much for your warm wishes-it really moved me. As I am writing things are not that great. As you probably heard on the news today, the Israeli Air Force is accused for a terrible tragedy in a Lebanese town (Qana) in which about 30 people were killed including many children. The horrible pictures were all over the global news media and Israel was immediately held responsible– this is a terrible thing and my heart goes out to them. Frankly, I am a bit confused right now – up until now I was confident that Israel had no choice but to go after Nassaralla and his terrorist organization. This terrorist organization, Hezbollah, has been terrorizing Israeli citizens in the north of the country for many years shooting missiles towards their homes, sabotaging their daily routine and trying to kidnap Israeli soldiers (and succeeding twice in the last years-one took place in the beginning of July which was the cause for the beginning of this war).

In the first 2 weeks of this war I found myself "glued" to the television as I could do nothing else. As the global media focused on the casualties and destruction in Lebanon, the situation in Israel has not been much better. I was saddened by the sights of Israelis living in the north of the country running (literally) for their lives. As more than 1000* missiles and rockets falling on the northern area of Israel, sent from Lebanon, my heart went out for about 1 million Israelis being forced to leave their homes to safer areas in the country as refugees. Many, who couldn't leave, had to stay in bomb shelters day and night; Shelters that some are not eligible for the presence of a human being (no air conditioners, filled with rats).

About one million people had to stop working and their whole daily routine was stopped at once. Sick people, old people, people with disabilities, children and pregnant women- were all forced to put their lives on hold for an unknown period of time – no one prepared them for what was going on and no one prepared them for the paralyzing sense of fear once a rocket hit close to their homes. I remember that Tel-Aviv area was attacked by Saddam Hussein during the Gulf war (in 1991). I will never forget how frightened I was as the many sirens went on alerting us about the upcoming missile attacks – those were a few moments that felt like eternity as one was waiting for the unknown. It felt as if no one was breathing around you. As everyone was silencing and praying for the best, even the birds stopped singing. This is an experience that makes a person older at once.

Undoubtedly, that was the scariest feeling I have ever experienced in my entire life and I do not wish to go through this again. But many Israelis have been experiencing it 10-30 times a day in the last 2 weeks. I know that Tel-Aviv may be the next target very soon and I dread it. This is so terrible for all parties and I feel sad that this is the reality around us. I feel that our lives are managed in between wars and conflicts and it makes me sad. It's amazing how people manage to go to universities, get married, raise kids, have successful careers and basically lead a "normal" life in a midst of that constant not-normal fighting atmosphere.

This is an insanity that we have to face in our lives in Israel – when will it stop? Who is right? Who is wrong? Does that really matter? Maybe it does matter to politicians, to the news media who search for "evil versus good" narratives, and maybe it matters to people who do not have to live here and face this reality. But this doesn't matter to me and my friends and I am allowing myself to assume that it doesn't really matter to the citizens of Lebanon – all we want is to resume normality that was long ago taken away from us.

Your friend,

* By Aug. 5th the number rose to more than 2500 rockets falling in Israel

Qana: Trust No One

This is not the way I wanted to open this blog, but this must be the first thing I should address if anyone ought to listen to whatever I say in later posts. Because this is the only thing people in the world have to say to us today, so it seems. I must admit my mind went blank when I've seen yesterday's morning headlines. It seemed like the newspaper from 10 years ago, my first thought was: who's that stupid to do the same mistake, fall into the same trap?

But can I really know what happened there exactly? Is there a more "objective" news channel, a truer narrative, a way to frame this, that all of us will agree on, in the age of the digital image? Some will say it doesn't matter, that there's only silence when children die. But I think freeing any action of the need to fit into or answer to context, is dangerous and twisted. The problem is none of us knows the full picture of the context, all we have are stories. "Truth" for me is a complex puzzle I construct out of bits and pieces of personal narratives. so here's my truth today.

I look at the picture of this dad holding his dead baby, crying his heart out, and my eyes fill with tears. I'm thinking: my God, even if you're a Hezbollah terrorist, this is horrible, nobody deserves this. I find in myself this place above our differences in which I feel this kind of suffering could and should be omitted from human experience. But let's get back to reality. In reality, you and your friends dance in the streets when such babies die on this side of the border. What set of stories, which belief systems stand between us, between you and your basic humanity? Why can some people hold and contain this paradox and some see everything in extreme black and white terms that put an artificial line between "our" babies and "their" babies?

But maybe you're not Hezbollah at all, anonymous dad. Maybe you're one of these misfortunate people that Hezbollah hides behind. I read in a Lebanese blog a comment of a Lebanese guy saying that his family wanted to leave south of Lebanon and Hezbollah people turned their car upside down and told them they're not going anywhere. Israeli journalists saw on army briefings pictures of Hezbollah people shooting rockets and than running into civilian houses. Maybe they don't care about individual lives because in their meta-narrative the real reward is in some pan-Islamic heaven and this story is bigger than individual life. As Stalin put it "in order to make an omelet you got to break some eggs".

What Hezbollah knows and maybe world media is less willing to acknowledge is that Israeli culture and army don’t see things that way. The sacredness of individual life happens to be part of "our story", the bible (smart move, God). We have our own religious extremists that didn't interpret it that way, but luckily they're outnumbered, unlike our neighbor countries, where people with humanist views have to maintain a low profile to survive. Hezbollah people know all of this and are very smart; they know how to put us between the rock and the hard place. And this country is such a hard place. Throw a pacifist philosopher in a Zulu jungle with cannibal tribes for a couple of years, what do you think will happen to him? It's very hard to be left wing in this country since it's almost surreal.

I try to be a practical person; I know the difference between my core values and the actions I must take when I face pure evil. Sitting in your coffee shops in Oslo or Toronto you might debate this as a philosophical question: if you could end Islamic terrorism with one bomb but 40 children will die, would you have done it? Unfortunately this becomes a pragmatic question when you find yourself at war (setting aside the kinder garden "they started" accusation style for a moment). I'm not trying to justify anything. This whole historical dispute is unjustified, I don’t see why people hate each other for slightly different (and both twisted, I believe) interpretations of the same God. I think it's just a poor excuse for needing an "other" to blame for all your problems. But hey, nobody's ready to give up the stories that run their lives, otherwise who will we be? I guess we'll just BE here. I live here. Now I have to deal with it… It's my 34th birthday today. Mine and Harry Potter's. Boy, do we need some magic here….