No place is safe, not Jerusalem, or the coffee houses of Tel Aviv or the port city of Haifa. Distance is no longer a factor. The rockets go everywhere, undirected, carelessly, to fall on hospitals, nursery schools, summer camps. Miraculously, they are diverted and destroyed, again and again and again.
Three faces. They could be my sons, or yours. They peer out at us wherever we go. There are special prayer sessions at the synagogue, reminding me of those days when we prayed for the safe return of Nachshon Wachsman, my friend and neighbor’s boy.
We wake up each morning, and nothing is new, nothing is known, until, at a wedding by the sea for the son of good friends, caressed by warm sea breezes, beside a flower-bedecked table, Esther Wachsman leans over and whispers in my ear: “They found their bodies. They are all dead.” She and her husband leave. And for me, I am back in October 14, 1994, a Friday night in Ramot. Nachshon Wachsman and Nir Poraz, the soldier who came to free him, have just been killed by terrorist bullets.
Once again, we mourn our unanswered prayers, filled with a grief that I know time will blunt, but never heal.
In the midst of our mourning, there is news that a Palestinian boy, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, has been kidnapped and burned alive. Revenge? It cannot be. We Jews are not like them. We don’t murder innocent people, children. Never. He was gay. He was murdered by his own family.
It’s an honor killing. This is what we want to believe. We are incensed that the media have jumped to conclusions.
And then they are picked up, the murderers, and they are Jews. And they did it for revenge, as if taking an innocent life was an answer, instead of a tragedy; as if it could be justified, be a comfort instead of adding yet another layer of grief to our collective mourning, this time for ourselves, that there are those among us who are no different from our enemies.
But then the truth emerges. Yosef Chaim Ben-David, the ringleader, is a mental patient who once tried to strangle his own baby daughter. Our rabbi dedicates a Torah class to the soul of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. Some are enraged, others, myself, comforted. We are not like them, our enemies.
Again, there is no time to mourn. The “Color Red” warning sirens scream out danger, and the rockets from Gaza begin to fall. Again and again and again. No place is safe, not Jerusalem, or the coffee houses of Tel Aviv or the port city of Haifa. Distance is no longer a factor. The rockets go everywhere, undirected, carelessly, to fall on hospitals, nursery schools, summer camps. Miraculously, they are diverted and destroyed, again and again and again.
Iron Dome is like God’s hand sheltering us, technology, Jewish genius and God’s providence combined.
Summer vacation is suddenly canceled.
My grandchildren are taken from their late night beds to their bomb shelter, used in the light of day as a pantry. There is a supply of chocolate, nuts, candies. That, hopefully, will be what the grandchildren remember, the way their father, my son, remembers when we huddled in the sealed room with gas masks to protect ourselves from Saddam Hussein’s potential poison gas missile attacks. He only remembers the sweets I gave him there. His son, my four-year-old grandson, says: “We’ll always win, like on Hanukka and Purim, with Mordechai and also the Holocaust. Jews also died because there were rockets, but now we have the golden dome, and the Romans are forbidden to touch it.”
A surfeit of Jewish history.
How long? We ask ourselves as the rockets rain down, hundreds, soon thousands. We learn that they are manufacturing rockets in Gaza themselves.
They’ve set up a factory for rockets on the land we gave them, land in which there were little red-roofed houses, and hot-houses growing lettuce and cherry tomatoes. We sent in our army to force out the Jews of Gush Katif, so we could hand it over to Gazans who claimed they wanted autonomy, a chance for a better life, an end to the occupation.
My friends the Schneids, who lived in Gush Katif, told me before the disengagement: “Why aren’t the people of Ashdod and Ashkelon protesting? Don’t they know once we are gone the rockets that fell on us will fall on them?” They didn’t know then, but they do now.
In former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s office, weeks before the disengagement, Mr. Olmert tells me: “The disengagement is a wonderful thing. If it saves the life of just one soldier, it is worth it.”
Now, he is going to jail and our soldiers are dying in the dozens to take back the land we handed over to terrorists bent on our destruction. What a horrible mistake.
And who will take responsibility? Apparently no one.
They announce a cease-fire. Cease-fire? What? To what end? Leave them with their rockets intact? Their launchers intact? It is the old story, Israel leaving before the job is done because of international pressure, the lies of the international pro-terrorist press, the CNN Arabic corporate money- maker press.
It doesn’t happen. It is Hamas that doesn’t want a cease-fire! Has God hardened their hearts to punish them? Like Pharaoh? Our tanks roll in. Relieved, terrified.
Our sons, like the boys on the posters, the good boys, their shining young faces, blackened with camouflage, sent into this snake pit, where rocket launchers hide behind children, and rockets are stored in ambulances, hospitals, UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) schools and beneath apartment buildings. We have sent down leaflets, warned civilians to leave, set up a hospital for our enemies at the border.
We are not like our enemies. We don’t want civilian deaths. We don’t lob bombs indiscriminately; we check our targets. We abort when we can if there are civilians.
But sometimes, you can’t abort. Sometimes, it’s us or them.
Why is Hamas behaving this way? Why did they start this conflict? What do they hope to gain? It is incomprehensible to anyone who loves life. They don’t.
They are not like us. Death to them is honor, glory, victory, 70 black-eyed virgins.
But their leaders don’t want to die. They hide in five-star hotels in Qatar. Khaled Mashaal is building his own shopping center there with American and European money given to help the Gazans. In a secure underground bunker in Gaza, Muhammad Deif – responsible for the kidnapping and murder of Nachshon Wachsman – is in charge. He is the one giving out orders.
He has nine lives. The IDF targeted him, and once it was a direct hit. He survived, but had a brain injury. A brain-injured Hamas fanatic murderer has the lives of the Arabs of Gaza in his hands. Only that explains their actions.
We wanted our army to go into Gaza.
To take it back, cleanse it of terrorism and weapons of destruction. We didn’t want our army to go into Gaza, to expose our children, our 18-, 20-, 21-year-olds to Hamas barbarians, or to take 30-something commanders from their wives and children. We prayed for a miracle, a war without a single military casualty on our side, a single civilian casualty on theirs.
We wake up to reality. Five soldiers killed. Twelve soldiers killed. Twenty-five soldiers killed. And more each day, each one a gut-wrenching, inconsolable tragedy. Hundreds of Gazans who did not leave, who did not heed warnings, killed.
And then we learn about the tunnels. The plan, perhaps disrupted by a freelance kidnapping, to send thousands of terrorists through them to Israel where they would slaughter and kidnap us before we in Israel even understood what was happening.
All these years, from the last war against Hamas in Gaza, to this war, they have been digging tunnels beneath homes, hospitals, mosques. They are 25 meters below ground, stockpiled with weapons, uniforms, drugs. One comes up directly into the dining hall of Kibbutz Kissufim.
We didn’t know this. In our mind’s eye we envision it, the barbaric hordes rushing into our country. The death, the destruction. As much as they like to parade their own women and children and cry crocodile tears for them when as human shields they are killed, they would take no pity on our Jewish women and children. They never have. They cut the throats of babies in their cribs.
They are not like us. We are not like them. And, cease-fire or no cease-fire, this war will only truly end when they are reeducated and stop hating: us, life, women, children. Ours and their own.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post on 25 July 2014.