Israel and Gaza show us that humanity and compassion are among the casualties of war Hadar Rubin The Skeptic

I’m about as left-wing as they get. I object to the Israeli occupation, to the settlements. I consistently vote for Arab parties in elections. I have decided, quite a while ago, that I need to leave the country in which I was born due to moral reasons.

I was born in Jerusalem on the last day of 1987, during the first Intifada. Of course, I don’t remember that, but some of my earliest memories are from the Gulf War. I remember sitting inside a special protective bubble designed to protect young children from chemical weapon attacks, with a specific children’s book, a bottle of ice-cold water, and bittersweet chocolate. I remember the windows of my bedroom taped and sealed against those chemical attacks. I remember throwing up in a bucket inside the room when we couldn’t get out – I don’t remember why I had to throw up, but I remember having eaten an avocado. I remember thinking how lucky we are because the toilet is so close to the sealed room every family had to set up. I remember people going everywhere with gas masks kits. I was way too young when I learned what Atropine is.

In the summer on 1995 we left Jerusalem to live in the northern part of Israel, about 8 km south of the Lebanon border. My parents wanted to leave the big city, and fell in love with the area. It is, indeed, beautiful. Moving so far away (three and a half hours in a car is a long time for a young child) from everything and everyone one knows is never easy, and we hardly got settled in before Operation Grapes of Wrath began. We spent days in and around the tiny shelter, until my parents decided to send me and my younger brother to our grandparents in Jerusalem, which was safe. I went back to my old school for a while.

Back up north, the English classroom was inside the shelter, so if we happened to be in class when missile sirens went off we felt lucky – we didn’t have to run there. I can’t remember how many times we had to sit there and wait for the buses to take us home in the middle of the day, because Hezbollah were firing rockets. They always played a movie for us while we waited – usually, The NeverEnding Story. I hate that movie, but that’s mostly because I love the book dearly, and by comparison the movie is terrible. I had strong opinions about it even as a 10-year-old: it pissed me off so much that I never actually watched it all the way through, and instead tried to read a book in the dark.

Not very long before my Bat-Mitzvah celebration (celebrated secularly), the IDF left the south of Lebanon. The party was to take place on my parents’ porch – a north-facing porch. Some of the food for the party was prepared by my mother, and some by the owner and staff of a beloved Lebanese restaurant run by Arab-Israelis. We didn’t know if anyone would show up, or what might happen. The restaurant was located south enough to be out of range of the usual rockets that were fired from Lebanon, and we were invited to move everything there, in a moment’s notice, if need be. The need didn’t arise, and our guests did show up.

Later that year, children of soldiers and officers from the SLA (South Lebanon Army, which collapsed upon the Israeli withdrawal) joined our classrooms. Some of them had family members, usually fathers, who stayed and were in mortal danger. Some stayed in Israel; some later left to Europe or the USA.

I hate that this was normal to me. I hate the fact that my experience isn’t unique – I share it with thousands of other children.

One of those children was Gilad Shalit, who was my classmate. We both grew up in Mitzpe Hila, and shared a home-room class. My dad was a teacher at our school, and on the morning of June 25th 2006, he received a phone call from one of his former students who served in an Operations Room. That’s how I learned that something happened to my classmate before it was reported in the news; to begin with, we thought he had been killed, but we later found out that he had been captured.

Every 18-year-old is basically stupid. I don’t know if adult me would have done the same things I did then. I don’t know if I would have stood by traffic lights, giving away yellow ribbons (a sign that one is waiting for a missing loved one away on military duty). I don’t know if I would have tried to get out of mandatory military service for moral reasons (I did, and was denied). Those things did happen, though.

And then another war started. My parents were very glad that my boyfriend at the time lived in the central part of Israel, near Tel Aviv. One less worry for them if I was there. I did go back, though, one weekend, and attended the funeral of my friend’s mother –my English teacher from primary school, the same school where I was forced to watch The NeverEnding Story. She died after a stroke at a very young age; I don’t wish a funeral under missile fire upon anyone.

Many people left their homes to stay with family or friends somewhere further from the fighting. A lot of them left their pets behind. My parents spent quite some time feeding and caring for other people’s pets. They were exhausted, and decided to take a few days away – in Turkey, which then still had relatively positive feelings towards Israel. They just had to take a break. It was a horrible “vacation”.

When we got back to Israel, I went back to my boyfriend’s; by the end of the war, I had a job in Tel Aviv. I never again lived in Mitzpe Hila – I would go there on weekends during my military service. My military service was boring and redundant. I didn’t want to be there, I didn’t want any of this military service. But I decided that I had to do it, and hated pretty much every second of it. As soon as I was discharged, I left Mitzpe Hila for good. I always wanted to leave – everybody wants to live in Tel Aviv – but I didn’t leave on my own terms; the 2006 war chased me away.

I hate that, despite all of this, I thought that I still turned out “fine”. I never had a fear of loud, sudden sounds; I didn’t freeze every time I heard a car or a motorcycle accelerate with a Doppler-effect screech. When missiles were fired at Tel Aviv for the first time in a forever, I was almost cavalier – definitely the calmest person around. When I was no longer a resident of Tel Aviv itself (but still in its metropolitan area) and before I had dogs, when sirens went off I didn’t even bother going down to the shelter. I stayed in the (second-floor) apartment with the cats. Now that I have dogs I go down immediately – for their sake and safety. But this is not “turning out fine”. That’s just a different brand of crazy, of damaged.

And this time, I’m afraid. I truly am. If that is because I’m now married and have dependents or not, if it’s just growing as a person and realising new things about myself or not, I don’t know. I’m in a relatively safe place, though we have had to go down to the shelter a few times. My loved ones are relatively safe as well. My nuclear family doesn’t live in Israel anymore; my parents left a few years ago, and my brother left recently. I have decided, long ago, that I must leave too – and a large part of the decision was on moral grounds. At some point, one must realise that staying is endorsing, and there’s all manner of things that happen here that I cannot endorse. But so far, unfortunately, I’m still here. And I’m hurting.

This thing I always knew – that this is not normal – is now impossible to ignore. I hate that I didn’t leave sooner, and that I haven’t left yet. I hate the boom sounds I hear from afar even while writing this. I hate that my parents are worried about me. I hate that when my brother was visiting just before he left and we had to go down to the shelter we joked about how this “brings back childhood memories” and “oh, it’s been a while since we spent time in the shelter together”.

I hate that I can tell the difference between hits and interceptions. I hate that now, for what is maybe the first time in my life, my heart misses a beat when I hear a sudden noise or a louder-than-usual car exhaust. I used to love thunderstorms.

I hate that I have so many tips to give to others, and I hate the realisation that some of them are based on things that I remember as a child – and didn’t even know that I know. I hate that the fifth day is easier than the third, that the sixth is easier than the fourth. The same can go for weeks – the second was easier than the first, the third is easier than the second. I hate the speed in which I get used to this kind of a situation. But this isn’t “easy”. It’s just easier. And condemnable.

But most of all, I hate that I feel like I’ve lost something that was always dear to me, an integral part of me: my humanity. The Hammas took away my ability to feel empathy towards “the other side”, my empathy to the people they claim to represent. I hate that, for the first time, my initial reaction was to feel no sympathy for the hurt and pain in Gaza. I hate that it even crossed my mind, for a longer than I’m comfortable admitting, that maybe the solution really was to flatten Gaza to all hell. I hate that, for the first time in my life, I felt animosity towards regular Joes and Janes in Gaza – not just towards the Hammas. I hate that, for the first time in my life, it made me feel like Hammas really does speak for, and acts on behalf of, all Palestinians.

I hate it, because I know there’s no way that’s 100% true – look at me, I exist! People like me are always somewhere. But knowing aside, right now I’m feeling. And I hate my own emotions.

And this is a part, or maybe all, of the frustration. The difference between “knowing” or “thinking”, and “feeling” or “believing” is known and understood by most of us. By now, a few weeks have passed since the first draft of this article; nothing is “better”, but the human capacity for adaptation is, indeed, incredible. So far, the circumstances of my life had never managed to wear down my compassion, my humanistic opinions, or my basic humanity. October 7th changed that in a very extreme way. I am happy – truly happy – that the pendulum has swung back again, and my feelings are back to a place I am more consciously content with – but things will never be the same.

No, I do not now support the Israeli government’s actions (or motivations. Or existence in its current form). I still – and will continue to – denounce the Israeli occupation, the building of settlements, and the directing of funds toward right-wing, religious goals; the erosion of democracy, the corruption. None of these have changed, and a day of reckoning will (have to) come. This time, hopefully, not just from “the left” but from anyone and everyone who calls themselves “human”.

This isn’t a political text, though. If it was, it would have contained current facts, statistics, things that might change people’s minds, or my own personal opinion regarding what is happening and what should be done. This isn’t the point. The point is that all aspects of the current situation are horrible, and that many of the aspects of “normal” life here are awful even when it’s under the surface, or when consequences take decades to manifest.

The point is that physical and mental health and well-being aren’t the only casualties of war; concepts are, too. The point is that cruelty can lead to ugliness in every direction, and that it’s important to not forget basic humanity, even in the face of atrocities.

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Growing up amidst conflict and turmoil, it is easy to normalise living under threat – but we should guard against dehumanising the other side
The post Israel and Gaza show us that humanity and compassion are among the casualties of war appeared first on The Skeptic.