Lasting peace seems too elusive


By Rena Neiger

Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Only a few weeks ago, hundreds of rockets from Gaza were flying into cities throughout Israel every day, many of them intercepted by what has turned out to be the miraculous Iron Dome system. To date, Hamas has breached eight ceasefires and counting.

We are disheartened and frustrated that the conflict continues, albeit on a lower flame; sporadic news of sirens, rocket and mortar fire on Israel’s southern communities continues — especially the barrages we can count on Hamas to send us just before another ceasefire takes effect.

The radio provides endless stories about the ongoing trauma suffered by citizens of the south, young and old, who have endured the terror of rocket fire for the past 14 years and counting. We dread to see the effects of this on their psyches in years to come.

Newscasts are still punctuated by an occasional red alert siren as we hold our collective breath, listen for news of progress in the on-again, off-again talks in Egypt, brokered by dubious friends we’re asked to trust.

Rena Neiger
Rena Neiger

I’ll never forget the surreal experience of coming to a dead stop on the Ayalon Highway that cuts through Tel Aviv, jumping out of the car, huddling against the center cement barricade and watching the Iron Dome intercept the rocket high above us, hearing the muffled boom on contact and seeing the puff of white smoke.

One can’t help being proud of this Israeli technology that has, for the most part, turned Hamas rockets into children’s toys. Should we feel guilty that our government invests in the safety of its citizens while Hamas sacrifices theirs? The UN high commissioner for civil rights, Navi Pillay, thinks so, and the world at large seems to agree. The UN and its cynically-named Human Rights Council have gone from absurd to ridiculous.

We are thankful every day that our sons and son-in-law, all members of various paratrooper units, have not yet been called to duty. We joined in collective mourning of the fallen soldiers who could have been our own. We learned their names and were allowed to peek into their shortened lives, meeting their mourning family on the nightly news broadcasts of their funerals.

We continue to be stirred by the country’s embrace of the “lone soldiers” who come to Israel from all over the world to serve in the IDF and make their lives in Israel. Some made the ultimate sacrifice, like Sean Carmeli and Max Steinberg. Their stories have become legends, their funerals attended by tens of thousands.

They came to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and their stories have moved often-cynical veteran Israelis. Last night I attended the annual Garin Tzabar graduation, along with 1,000 others. Sean and Max were both part of Garin Tzabar, a program to absorb “lone soldiers” and provide them with a framework.

Sean’s girlfriend, Eden, herself a lone soldier from California, spoke with eloquence and remarkable poise, relating their two-year story that began with love at first sight, learning to be soldiers, seeing each other sporadically, and then his unit’s entrance into Gaza two weeks ago that ended in his death by a Hamas terrorist’s grenade. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Hamas holds a knife to Israel’s throat, inexplicably supported by remarkable numbers in the West and so far refusing to accept conditions that include disarmament.

We are astounded that most of the Western world does not recognize that these are Islamic fundamentalist terrorists, not different from ISIS, Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda. This is the same Hamas that claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings in Israeli shopping malls, outdoor markets and buses since its founding in 1987, claiming hundreds of Jewish and Israeli lives. The world has a very short memory.

Hamas’ declared mandate is to destroy Israel, and they don’t deny or hide it, yet they demand open borders and free access to Israel, and open air and sea ports. Israel is being pushed by the world to accept these conditions. We have been down this road before, with cement and steel shipments into Gaza intended for infrastructure and homes turned by Hamas into rockets and terror tunnels under Israeli communities, as the ordinary people of Gaza remain impoverished and without hope.

I wonder if the outside world knows or cares about the fact that every day since Israel exited Gaza in 2005, Israel sends truckloads of humanitarian goods into Gaza, and supplies Gaza with most of its electricity, even while the militants shoot rockets at us.

Or that Israel set up a field hospital some weeks ago to treat Gazan victims and Hamas refused to allow access to the injured. Or that a handful of brave Gazans protested against Hamas early on in this operation and were summarily shot.

Even as proof emerges of Hamas’ sacrifice of its own citizenry — their firing of rockets from crowded urban streets, mosques and schools, thus drawing Israel’s return fire to those sites while their leadership directs operations from a bunker deep beneath a hospital packed with injured — the West appears intent on appeasement. Pacification and political positioning are the order of the day in Europe. We watch in dismay as hordes of demonstrators jump on the bandwagon, rallying against Israel in Paris, Berlin, London, in Ireland and Australia, waving anti-Israel and antisemitic placards that viciously liken us to Nazis: the ultimate insult intended to cut deep.

Ordinary Gazans are indeed victims. But they are not victims of us. Their leaders have sacrificed them to the propaganda gods, and the foreign press is complicit, out of fear, ignorance or both. Any other explanation defies Western logic.

I hope many of those protesting are ignorant of the complexity and background of this conflict, only dropping in to take a stand for the perceived underdog, satisfying a need to identify as sympathizers with the weak. Israelis know we can’t afford to be paralyzed into inaction by the condemnation being so vociferously voiced around the world. We can’t afford to let down our guard or appear weak in the eyes of the Arab world.

And yet, amazingly, life goes on here. We continue our daily routines, albeit somewhat altered by this new reality: more listening to the news, suffering from conflict fatigue and yet not able to stop ourselves from reading and listening to endless accounts of events and the ensuring analysis and opinions.

Remarkably, we’re seeing the arrival of more new immigrants than ever, both singles (some are young adults who volunteer to serve in the IDF) and families, and especially those who come from Europe to make their homes here, even during all of the midst of all this. As the director of an international school in a private university in Herzliya, six miles north of Tel Aviv, I’ve processed dozens of requests in the past several weeks from French parents anxious to get their children out of France and into an academic framework here, where, ironically, they feel their children will be safer.

We hope, wait, and pray for a resumption of quiet. Lasting peace seems too elusive to expect.

Rena Neiger lived in Dayton from 2002 to 2007.

To read the complete September 2014 Dayton Jewish Observer, click here.

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