1) Two weeks ago, my lifelong disinterest in collecting evidence about media bias against Israel was pretty solid. Perhaps (it seemed to me), perhaps the reason that media institutions reported that Israel did bad things was because Israel did them. Asking newspapers not to report the worst is a lot more duplicitous than asking Israel not to do the worst.
And then, one morning in the war, a rocket fell on a hospital in Gaza. Let’s leave aside the tragedy of that for one single second (if we can) and just concentrate on some other facts.
Within a few minutes of the blast, Gaza reported 500 dead, and then reports came of possibly 1,000. A picture circulated of a collapsed building, and I saw one of what appeared to be a dust-and-rubble covered grandma, crying, alongside a limp child.
A hospital??? A hospital?! A swift and brutal condemnation of Israel followed, targeting civilians is a war crime. My stomach turned in disbelief— it seemed impossible Israel would have done this.
The IDF, the Israeli army, promptly denied that the bomb was theirs.
This is all notable and salient because at the very moment that all of this was happening, President Biden was boarding Air Force One to fly to Israel to both stand with Israel, meet with Jordanian leaders, and try desperately to quell the passions that were hurtling the region towards war. But this hospital bombing was like throwing a Molotov cocktail on a pile of dry hay, it might already be a done deal, the only question of how long it would take for the whole thing to go up ablaze.
Israel continued its denial, and Biden’s plane remained on the tarmac. When I picture what President Biden was doing on that plane at that moment, one image I have is of him fuming, pacing, furious at being dragged into a space where there was no longer any good he could do. Jordan canceled its meeting with him. And yet, if he didn’t go to Israel, nothing was going to argue for more restraint.
The other picture I have is of him putting his head in his hands, understanding the finality of this moment, that there was nothing to be done anymore.
Media outlets interviewed doctors and the international Red Cross about the complete disaster. Already overloaded hospitals now asked to do even more, and doctors dying in their workplace when they were trying to help the humanitarian disaster. Media outlets reported Israel bombing a civilian target.
The IDF continued: they had evidence it was a misfired rocket. Gaza had been trying to bomb Israel and had instead bombed their own hospital.
And then I entertained a most unwelcome thought— maybe it was on purpose? If Hamas didn’t want President Biden to come, this was the very best way they possibly could have scuttled it. Frame Israel? Blame Israel?
Later, a satellite picture would reveal that the main hospital building wasn’t bombed; the rocket had fallen on part of a parking lot nearby. The images I had seen of destruction were an older image of another building, not at all near the hospital. Meanwhile, the IDF shared their evidence with the United States, including an intercepted recording of Hamas operatives talking to each other, saying it was one of their rockets.
The United States accepted that version, the plane took off from D.C. en route to Tel Aviv. Or maybe that wasn’t quite the order, but both of those things happened.
Eventually the media outlets changed their reporting. They now say “reports of who is responsible cannot be independently verified.” And opinion pieces say something like, “who cares who is responsible, the whole point is that Gaza is suffering.”
And I feel ill at ease. It mattered a great deal who was responsible when it was thought to be Israel. Is condemning war only fun when there’s a villain to hate?
Also, there’s a hospital in Ashkelon, Israel, which has been bombed multiple times by Hamas rockets fired from Gaza, some of the 7,000 rockets they have fired at Israeli targets. War crime, anyone? Anyone?
2) I used to dismiss the claims that Israel bore no responsibility for the situation in Gaza, even writing about the electricity crisis in the summer of 2017. Someone would be like, “but Israel withdrew in 2005!” as though that were a hard reset, as though Israel had given over choice land instead of what amounted to a Native American reservation (Hadn’t the residents been forced there? I assumed so.). Fenced and bordered and policed, and sometimes Palestinians who got too close to the fence shot by Israeli soldiers.
“Withdrew? It’s an open-air prison!” I would say.
Before the withdrawal, Gazans used to be able to move around in Israel, find work there. Handing it over meant also sealing them in. I thought that Israel was keeping people in poverty by keeping people inside.
Now I think, well, what were they supposed to do? Put up welcome signs for the terrorists as they marched into Israel to murder Jews?
3) One of my Israeli friends keeps posting videos of Israelis promising to obliterate the Arabs. Just to be clear: her view of what it will take to bring peace seems to mean destroying not only the political machinery of Hamas, but all of the people who share an ethnicity with it.
I remember “talking politics” with her only twice while we lived there. Once wasn’t really political; in our little moms’ group of four, two of the women were talking about the farmers’ market in one of the local Arab villages, the freshness and good prices of the food. She had said she was scared to go there. The other two women had reassured her: no, it’s safe, it’s easy, it’s delicious!
I hadn’t said anything because I was scared too; not so much because it was an Arab village, but because I was getting my bearings and everything felt scary those days, roaming beyond the little circle I had mastered around my house. Once I had gone afar and missed a confusing highway exit coming home, just a few minutes before my daughter had to be picked up from preschool and I had been cutting it close. I wanted to turn around, but there was no place to get off the highway and soon I was almost in Tel Aviv. I pulled off at the first exit I could, but it turned out to be an army base, and I was scared, both of the army base I hadn’t meant to stumble onto (because you’re not allowed to do that) and also because who would care for my daughter if I couldn’t arrive in time to pick her up?
The other time we talked politics was when one of the other women was, timidly, suggesting that maybe it was time for a new Prime Minister, someone else to try making peace with the Arabs besides Netanyahu. Just try, maybe, even though she didn’t especially believe it could be done. My friend had shaken her head; no, we need someone strong, she said.
Now, all day long, she posts videos of the wreckage left by the Hamas terror attacks, and she posts Israelis vowing revenge. She posted one of a Jewish Israeli student at Tel Aviv University harassing and shouting at some Arab students at the University to “go back to Jenin” and she said she wished she could personally thank him.
I try to hear all of this as her fear, and the betrayal that happens when you think that your goodwill has been spit upon, and now there is no use of ever extending the benefit of the doubt ever again.
One young woman, whose parents were murdered on their kibbutz, vows that she will not be deterred from reclaiming the space that belonged to her family. Her grandparents helped found that kibbutz; her mother grew up there. She will, she promises, return to that kibbutz, and this time, she will have an oceanside view.
At the moment, in between her family’s home and the ocean lies Gaza.
4) A few months ago, on Instagram, I stumbled across a video of a guy with a microphone in New York who went around interviewing Jews on the street about the weekly parsha, or Jewish holidays. He would ask their name and where they’re from, and then ask a question (sometimes stage a friendly competition). It’s in the style of those late night talk shows, except this isn’t to embarrass anyone, it’s to celebrate Torah and it’s a little fun indulgence to meet New York Jews acing easy questions and smiling and scoring t-shirts.
In the wake of this disaster, he has decided that the best thing Jews can do is to do mitzvahs, that’s the way out, or at least the way forward.
In celebration of this particular point of view, he posted a video of a college campus where, at a small table in the center of one of those campus quads, a young man stands learning to put on tefillin. The camera is pulled back a little, you see him wrapping himself, and presumably learning to say the blessings but you can’t really hear because, behind him, comes a huge parade.
Carrying Palestinian flags, shouting, a large group of college students walks right by him, shouting, “From the River to the Sea! Palestine will be Free!”
I watch for a few minutes. I recognize on their faces the zealous certainty of crusading for justice, for standing with the underdog, students smiling and shouting, wanting the world to pay attention to this plight.
Do those marchers think they are supporting and justifying terrorists and murderers? I do.
I read a report that among the other acts of terror, one kidnapped girl was forced to call her mother and tell her she was about to be raped and murdered, and then she was. Another report says that eight children were tied up and burned alive. Another says that some of the terrorists scooped out the eyeballs of their victims. Why?
5) An old homeschooling acquaintance of mine, someone who teaches meditation and who primarily uses her Facebook account to post pictures of her with her daughters hiking and at the beach, has now started posting pictures of Palestinian freedom marches, and reposting statistics on the harm to Gazans.
She is Irish. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t know any Palestinians or Israelis.
Then she reposts this,
“Hey algorithm, connect me with people who are able to hold nuance, who understand that life is always full of paradox, who weep at violence no matter the optics, who move slowly enough to let context inform their choices, who don’t try to make things unnecessarily complex to avoid an uncomfortable truth, who also don’t make things implausibly simple to fit a narrative. Connect me with people who are willing to feel the grief of centuries, and who are still, somehow, able to love the world.”
This quotation is attributed to someone named Abigail Rose Clarke. The other friend who posts the same meme follows it up with an Israeli flag and a statement of “Am Israel Chai,” which means “the nation of Israel endures.”
6) I’m pretty sure all of this is going to make me lose my mind. There’s a song in Hebrew that says, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to be afraid.” It’s one of the anthems of American Jewry, and I have sung it all my life, but never have I been so precariously poised on a narrow bridge.
If there are a couple of guardrails on this bridge, I’m trying to hold onto them for dear life. One of them is this:
I have a right to be safe as a Jew.
The other of them is this:
Power is not distributed equally on the globe. People who have less of it need the concern and care of people who have more of it.
It doesn’t seem like I can hold on too well to both of these handrails at the same time. But maybe I can grasp one when I start veering off one way, and the other when I start to veer off the other way.
But I’m going to be honest: I am really, really afraid.