“When the night lies so still
Oh before I go to sleep
I come by, I come by
Oh just to look at you
In the dim light I say
That in my own small way
I will try, I will try
To help you through.”
(Fields of Gray, Bruce Hornsby, 1993).
Ultimately, it’s about the children. Israelis, Palestinians…
Our trip was to include a visit to the Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon, a city on the Mediterranean Sea, halfway between Tel Aviv and the Gaza Strip. Wounded soldiers are treated there. Last night, we were asked politely not to come because so many visitors had inundated patients.
But my godson, Daniel Reichenbach, the son of NFTY’s Paul Reichenbach, is there. Dan is 23, a “brother” to my sons and daughter. He made aliyah, joining sisters Sara and Joey. And he entered the Israel Defense Forces, finishing basic training this year. His unit was called into Gaza three weeks ago.
I can’t imagine how his parents manage this, especially long distance.
Here’s an excerpt from another father. Rabbi Nir Barkan co-leads our sister congregation Kehillat Yozma in Modin. His son is in the IDF. He writes:
“Omri is a combat soldier in one of Israel’s elite units and is fighting on the front in Gaza. We haven’t heard from him in six days and the worry and anxiety are eating away at our souls. For most of the day, we manage to avoid the nightmares, but the nights….the nights. But I’ll return to the nights later.
“The weekend newspapers lay strewn around us in piles, as in homes everywhere – here in Israel and abroad. This weekend everything – the news items, endless interpretations, assessments, speculations of ‘what if’ and ‘maybe,’ opinion columns and feature articles – deals with Operation Protective Edge which began 19 days ago and shows no signs of ending.
“I think to myself, ‘I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.’ I don’t share my thoughts with Anat who is trying to pass these difficult and suspenseful hours by flipping back and forth between TV news channels and internet sites. She has created a Whatsapp group for the parents of Omri’s unit – a collective therapy support group of parents equally as helpless as we are.
“The exposure of the threatening Hamas tunnels, the discovery of huge stores of ammunition directed at Israeli settlements as well as the continued firing of rockets at Israeli targets all leave me with the feeling that this is a just and unavoidable war – even given all the evil and horror that war general – and this one in particular – brings.
“I choke when I hear the phrases ‘a war for our home’ and ‘a unavoidable war’ – not because I have the slightest doubt that these statements are true, but because this is the first war in which Anat and I are parents of a combat soldier at the front. We have been fighting daily for our very survival for more years than we have had a State. A war for our home. An unavoidable war. Truly there is no other option. Those who study history know this to be true. A hand extended in peace (and mine is extended despite everything) is no substitute for a watchful eye and eternal caution. Any peaceful solution or resolution will be greeted by me with wary caution. I am suspicious of international friendships – not surprising given the complicated and conflicted neighborhood in which I was raised.
“It’s one thing for Anat and I to have been in a lifelong, continuous struggle to maintain our sanity – as children, adolescents and adults in this country. It’s quite another to have a son fighting at the front…
“We somehow get through the days… but the nights. The nightmares cross decades of traumas. They leave us with black circles under our eyes, with a perpetual feeling that it’s difficult to breathe and with a terrible fear – a fear of an unexpected knock on the door, of a Red Alert siren, of a telephone call notifying us that…..
“We are so impatient to hear the phone ringing with the special ringtone we’ve set for Omri’s calls. So impatient to hear his beloved voice in real time saying “Hi Abba….I’m okay” – tired and battered but whole in body and soul. We are so impatient to learn that the traumas of war that have accompanied us have not been imprinted on his flesh.”
How grateful and relieved to learn this morning that Omri was safe. I can’t imagine.
So Dan Reichenbach has been serving in Gaza, too. And then Sunday, he came down with a virus; he was removed from combat and sent to Barzilai Hospital. Wonderful news!
I had to visit, to hug and shower him with kisses. Our group agreed, and this morning, we drove down to Ashkelon.
Two days ago, Israel learned that Hamas’ vast network of tunnels stretched out to beneath the kibbutzim and moshavim in central southern Israel. Hamas planned to attack on Rosh Hashanah, kidnapping for ransom and murdering men, women and children. Each tunnel is burrowed over 70 feet underground. The underground landscape of the Gaza Strip has been transformed with concrete and electricity – an untold sum of money and supplies smuggled in from Quatar and Iran, and supplies “reallocated” from the Palestinians themselves. All those Israeli fears about cement not being used to build the schools and hospitals and residences: justified.
And 160 Palestinian children have died in forced labor.
Yesterday I saw photos and videos from Reuters showing Hamas terrorists using children as shields. Ambulances filling with terrorists, old men with grenades strapped around their bellies walking into Israeli hospitals. (Israel has set up a field hospital for Palestinians at the northern border of Gaza, and welcomes ill Palestinians into hospitals such as Barzilai). One film showed a wounded terrorist on a stretcher, then a man hiding his machine gun and people beginning to wail – only the scene of the wailing for an “innocent victim” made global news.
How often does the news report that Israel broke the newest cease-fire? Or announce loudly “Israel resumed fighting” and then as an afterthought “because Hamas began rocketing?”
Two days ago in Sederot overlooking Gaza – and I heard Hamas break the morning cease-fire with rocket launches. And then, I saw the Iron Dome response, it’s white laser trail streaking the sky.
There is no doubt, friends: Hamas rockets are buried under schools, hospitals, mosques. Under homes, in parks where children play.
Life is as precious to Palestinians as it is to Israelis. Children are precious to all
But not precious to Hamas.
It’s hard to believe that evil is real. Even with the horrific impact of gun violence in our nation, we’ve not associated this with people deliberately out to kill us. Our murderers are insane with access to weapons.
Evil people are sociopaths. They care not for the value of a life. The worst are those who engage others in their quest to destroy.
We Jews should know better. Survivors of the Holocaust and their families understand this.
On July 11, in a phone call with Ari Shavit (author of My Promised Land, a difficult and troubling expose about Israel’s formation by this Haaretz journalist – a must read), Ari offered this moral context in the analysis of the Hamas-Israeli conflict. “We are facing an evil force. I feel for the people of Gaza; they’re suffering and they’re impoverished. This is their life experience. But Hamas – so called government and leadership – is truly a religious fascist regime. It’s not only evil because of the way it wants to destroy Israel, but because it oppresses its own population (and mistreats minorities). The human shield is immoral.”
I entered Barzilai Hospital and found my way to Dan’s room. I was so happy to see him — and him to see me. Three army buddies were visiting, and it was wonderful to meet them. It was very hard to leave. I took pictures and texted his family.
Walking out of the hospital was heavy and sad.
I took a deep breath and returned to our bus.
Our children are precious to us.