Last Thursday I went out for pizza. There haven’t been any siren warnings in my home town, and so I’ve gotten a bit cavalier about sticking close to a bomb shelter. In fact, I’ve eaten out a few times in these past few weeks. Most restaurants are open with the advantage that the ones you usually can’t get into now don’t have any waiting lines.
On Thursday, I chose a new pizza place in Zichron Yaakov that just opened, La Pizza Verace, which has a taboun oven, which I love. The place had families with kids sitting outside, and a few couples. Not packed, just comfortable. The man behind the counter making the pizza wore a skullcap and had his tzitzits hanging out in the manner of the ultra Orthodox. His wife smiled and took our order. They were Russians, I sensed from the accent. Perhaps fairly new immigrants? In any case, the pizza was great, just how I like it. I thanked them and wished them well on their new business. My reward was a lovely, kind smile.
That was Thursday night. So I thought I’d go back on Monday. But to my surprise, the place was closed. On the door was a death notice with the photo of a soldier that looked so familiar; Sgt.-Maj. Gil Pishitz, 39, from Harish, a tank driver in the 9th Battalion, 401st Brigade. The funeral had been on Friday, the notice said and family was sitting shiva in Harish, a town not far from Zichron.
I hurried to a store next door and asked if they knew how this soldier was related to the pizza store owner. The girl in the bookstore didn’t know, but the man in the optometrist’s store next door told me Gil was the owner’s younger brother. I went back and looked at the photo once more. Yes, I could see it now, the same large brown eyes, the handsome square jawed face. And then I remembered that a volunteer group I belong to had sent me a WhatsApp about Gil, asking for people to make a shiva call because he didn’t have a lot of family in Israel and they seemed grateful for visitors.
So a day or two later, we got into the car and drove to Harish. This is what people do in Israel when you hear that a soldier has died and he doesn’t have a lot of family. Israelis go. To the funerals, to the shiva. Complete strangers. But when we found the third story apartment in a high-rise, we were glad to see it was full of visitors. Mostly I heard Russian.
What does one say? “Your son saved us all,” I told Gil’s father, sincerely. And then I saw the man from behind the counter in the pizza store. He was sitting on a low stool, his shirt ripped as is the custom. I told him who we were, how we’d just been to his new story. I told him how sorry I was, and how grateful I was for his brother’s sacrifice, that our soldiers make it possible for us to live here. And then I added that when he reopened, I would tell all my friends to come. Even as said it, it felt wrong, stupid. He was kind about it, though, smiling and shaking his head slowly. “Thank you But none of that matters now.”
Soon after more people came, and we got up to give them a place to sit and said our goodbyes.
On the way back, I thought about the Pishitz family, the new Russian immigrants, and their brave son and brother Gil who had given his life so that I could keep living in Israel. I thought about his parents, who would never now dance at his wedding, or attend the circumcision ceremony for his son. I thought about the owner of the pizza parlor, with the kind smile who would never see his little brother again. I thought about how he’d probably taken on some debt to open this new business, and now he had been forced to close down for a week, and how none of it mattered.
“Did you hear when he was killed?” I asked my husband. “Thursday night,” he answered me. “They sent his brother a note. He probably got it soon after we left.”
My stomach did a somersault.
Suddenly, it all seemed so monstrous to me. The intransigent blood-thirsty barbarians on our borders. All our many attempts to appease them with agreements, concessions, land, prisoner releases, economic incentives, water, electricity, jobs, free medical treatment. And still, they hated us with a demented, sickening, unrelenting hatred which was never going to end as long as we both lived.
For the fifty or so years I had lived in Israel, every peace agreement had only made things worse. Oslo almost got me and my family blown up in the Park Hotel Seder night. The Disengagement had brought about the October 7th atrocities.
We have never really understood our enemies. I think we are incapable of it, because they are so profoundly different from us. When they lose a son, they rejoice, they give out candy. Their prayers have been answered, their child has become a shahid! This is what they want for their children. And they do the same when they kill our women and children. They sing, they clap, they give out candy. They celebrate our deaths.
We, on the other hand, are devastated each time we lose a single soldier. And I mean all of us, not just the soldier’s family. Everyone in Israel mourns. And we never rejoice at the death a woman or child even if they were our enemies and wanted us to die.
Our enemies know this about us; our deep love of life is our Achilles heel. And they take full advantage of it. For example, our willingness to trade 1,027 Hamas prisoners, among them the person responsible for October 7th atrocities, Yahya Sinwar, for one soldier, Gilad Shalit.
Those released were responsible for the death of 587 Israelis. And after they were released, they were responsible for the death of hundreds, no, thousands, more.
And probably Sgt.-Maj. Gil Pishitz as well.
We Israelis tried so hard to make friends out of our enemies. Tried so hard and so long and so naively to transfer some of our decency, our love of life, our success, to our neighbors. I am proud that I belong to such a people. And sad that all that will now come to an end. For it is not us that have influenced them, but they who have finally, tragically influenced us, showing us what we must do to survive in this region. It is a lesson they will be very, very sorry they made us learn.
Already 25,000 are dead, mostly Hamas, buried under the rubble of the high-rises, mosques, and scout centers where Hamas keep their rocket launchers. Many, many more will die before this is over, unless they release our hostages and surrender. We will find them and kill them all, especially Yahya Sinwar , now cowering in a bunker somewhere, too cowardly to take cyanide. We will find him, blow up the hospital he has turned into his command bunker, weapons depot, and hiding place for the October 7th barbarians. Find them and him and kill them all without mercy, just as they’ve taught us.