Tuesday, November 20, 2012

.דער מענטש טראַכט און גאָט לאַכט (Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht.)

    I had a plan. I had a plan to come to Israel, to work at the Jerusalem Zoo. To learn Hebrew. To get back in touch with my Jewish roots. To meet new people. To have a life changing experience. I had a plan, but the title of this post is a yiddish proverb: Man plans, and God laughs.

    I had also planned to do two posts in the past week, one focusing on my latest project at the Jerusalem Zoo, and another focusing on a recent trip to the Negev. These will be shortly forthcoming, but instead I decided to start with a post about the current tumult in this country...

    You wouldn't know it from watching the news in most of the countries on this planet, but from January 1, 2012 until November 13, 2012 close to 800 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza. Since November 14, 2012 until today, over 660 rockets were aimed at the Jewish state. I do not wish to use this blog as a platform for my political opinions, I aim instead to present facts and raise important questions.

    Do you think Israel has the right to defend it's citizens after hundreds of rockets were fired into their borders? Do you think America or any other country would show restraint after such violence aimed at it's civilians, and even entertain the idea of peace with such a government, let alone attempt to reach a ceasefire agreement? Do you think it is right that the media has portrayed the course of events as though Israel has attacked Gaza unprovoked?

    Last Friday I found myself in Jerusalem, in a city I (and all the people of Israel) thought was safe from this violence, when the first air-rade siren rang in over 40 years. I ran to my housemates' bedroom which doubles as a bomb shelter, closed the reinforced window and lead door, and waited. My hands shook, and my mind raced. Safe in the shelter, I was less worried about my own safety, and more worried for the friends and family at home, watching or hearing who knows what news. Lo and behold, my father called me in a right state, hearing that there were rockets falling "all around Jerusalem." This was not the case, as only one rocket came our way, and fell short. I feel safe, but for two days following this experience I found myself preoccupied with thoughts of where I would run if I heard a siren, nightmares with explosions, and flinching every time I heard a loud tonal sound, in fear it might be another siren.

    I have received lots of pressure from friends and family to do the easy thing, the safe thing, and come back to America. I have instead decided to stay. The animals in the Zoo, the people I have grown close to, they need support now more than ever. What's more, I have made plans to come to Israel, to do great things, knowing well of the upheaval here. Until I feel as though my life is in jeopardy, I see no reason to leave. As much as the media has favored Gaza in it's coverage, it has also made things look much worse here than it actually is.

    There have only been 3 casualties in Israel, to Gaza's 100, but this is not due to increased Israeli violence in relation to that on the side of Gaza, it is instead due to the fact that Gaza fires their rockets and stages their headquarters in hospitals and family homes, hiding behind their own citizens, whereas Israel, their Iron Dome, and the IDF are constantly vigilant to destroy safety threats before they become a fatal reality.

    I do not tell this story to scare those of you at home - again, I feel safe. However I do not want to sugar-coat what life is like here. I have been fortunate enough to spend the first half of my stay here in security, but everyone who really lives here is constantly aware of a threat of violence - unprovoked violence. If I were currently living in Be'er Sheva, I would hear a siren at least once a day. I would hear boom after boom and wonder from my shelter, was that my house? Was that my school? I have come to realize that nearly every Israeli citizen has some form of PTSD and are conditioned from an early age to respond to sirens and be constantly aware of their own mortality. Is this right? Whether or not you think Israel has to right to exist as a Jewish state, it does, and there are close to 8 million people who call this land home. I believe that all people have the right to live a peaceful, terror-free life. Unfortunately Israelis have not yet had that chance. But we can all hope, and depending on your religious persuasion, pray.

    I want to leave you with two images from the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv - one of the cities which is currently under a large amount of rocket fire, and also one of the cities that we thought would never be reached by violence from Gaza:

    Please look for #wearehereIsrael on Twitter or through any other social media, or follow me @blairsmenagerie. Hopefully this will all be over soon and all nations involved will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. שלומ (shalom) is used here for hello and goodbye, but literally means peace. So more than ever, I mean it when I say Shalom.