Where were you during winter break? Were you spending some quiet time with family? Catching up with some old friends? Maybe you went to the mall or to the beach at some exotic location. Just like you, I looked forward to a nice peaceful winter break with my family at home.
It is Tuesday evening, I am sitting in the living room with my sister, brother-in-law and one year old niece. It is about 8:30 in the evening, a normal evening by all accounts. We hear a siren. We all look at each other a little puzzled; it takes us a few seconds to realize exactly what is going on. We quickly grab my niece and run to the bomb shelter room. We go in, close the door and wait. The scary silence is broken by the sound of an explosion. A missile hits. The explosion does not seem to be very far, a bit to the east of us.
I grew up in Israel. I lived through the first Lebanese War, the first Intifada, the Gulf War, the second Intifada, the second Lebanese War, the war against Hamas and many other military operations. Two of three former boyfriends back home lost brothers to terrorist attacks. My best friend’s sister was on a bus that blew up in downtown Jerusalem. A high school friend of mine lost an aunt in a suicide bombing attack. I go visit my cousin once a year at Har Hertzel — the main military cemetery in Israel.
Welcome to Israeli reality.
Back to the bomb shelter room. We wait a few minutes just because we are not sure what to do. We find out a bit later that the missile fell on a kindergarten about a mile away. The following morning, I speak with my 11-year-old brother on the phone when we hear the siren. A few minutes later I talk to him again. A missile fell a hundred feet from his room; they can see the hit from the window. Another generation grows up knowing that there are people a few miles away who hate us.
In the past eight years about 5000 missiles were launched at Israel by Hamas from the Gaza strip with the sole intension of hitting civilian populated targets. These missiles were specifically directed at civilian centers. The missiles might not be very accurate, but I don’t think anyone would volunteer for this game of “Hamas Roulette.” Do you want to be the one in four who gets hit? The siren goes off again. We grab my niece and run to the shelter. This one sounds really close. It hits a high school less than a half mile away. Thank God, the mayor of my city decided to cancel school the night before.
When people ask me about the disproportional death count on both sides, I am speechless at what they are suggesting: Do hundreds of Israelis need to die for the world to allow us to defend ourselves?
The fact that fewer of us die is not due to lack of effort on the part of Hamas. Hamas specifically targets civilians. Israel’s building regulations require the building of a bomb shelter room in every building built after the first Gulf War in 1991. Can you imagine having to have bomb shelter rooms in your house?
During eight years of missiles launched from Gaza to Israel, most of the missiles were launched around 7:45 a.m., the time when people are out on the way to work, when kids are in the streets going to school. Eight-year-old kids in this area do not know of a life without a missile threat. Life stopped for a million Israeli citizens who live in the missile range. No one went to school, and hardly anyone went to work. The reason fewer of us were killed is because unlike Hamas, who built bunkers for themselves and used their citizens as human shields, our government took care of us.
So you want proportionality, you want to see Israelis dead (it is easier to get more CNN time that way) and you want us to build homemade missiles, shoot them from our backyards or hospitals and try to hit their schools and hospitals? That would be proportional? You want us to send our kids with bomb belts to blow themselves up in their supermarkets and you want the Israel Defense Forces soldiers to carry little kids with them as human shields?
The ironic thing is that it is only Hamas and the Israelis who know that Israel will do everything and anything to avoid killing or hurting innocent people. Do you know of another country and military that actually calls people in a building to tell them to leave before being attacked? A country that drops flyers in an area before a strike? We would all agree that this destroys the element of surprise, but it is the price Israel pays to try and avoid killing and hurting innocent people. This is why Hamas travels in U.N. ambulances, hides in people’s homes and stores ammunition and launches missiles from mosques, schools and hospitals.
My heart really and truly goes out to the civilians in Gaza. Though they elected Hamas to lead them, I am sure this is not the life they wanted and hoped for. Many are held hostage by their leaders, who do not care about their lives. Their leaders hate Israelis more than they love their kids and families.
Since I have been back in New Haven I have been asked by many people what it was like to be home during that time. I mostly avoided talking about it. The reason I am taking the time to write this now is because I read a column in the Yale Daily News by Syed Salah Ahmed (“Call out oppression,” Jan. 23) that forced me to break my silence.
Israel left the Gaza Strip entirely in the summer of 2005. There was not one Israeli citizen or soldier who stayed. The Palestinians got full control over it. Here was the chance to make Gaza the beautiful prosperous city it could be. Instead Hamas took over Fatah, slaughtered them and is now oppressing their own people.
Hamas uses their power to destroy and kill, creating a horrible humanitarian crisis in Gaza while they themselves live a very comfortable life. They were given their right to rule, and look what they did with it. Just imagine what Gaza could have looked like if all the money they put into building bunkers and buying ammunition was instead used for building factories and creating work for the Palestinians living there. If instead of taking apart the greenhouses left by the Israelis to use the metals for missiles, they actually used the greenhouse to grow food.
Ahmed’s column talked about Israeli oppression. Yet Israel left Gaza three years ago. Instead, Hamas is oppressing their own people. The column talked about the destruction of people’s homes, but it failed to mention that these are homes of people who were directly involved in terrorist acts. Israel doesn’t randomly bulldoze homes; it has better things to do with its resources.
Gaza is a prison, I agree. It is a prison Hamas has created for its own people. Every time Israel opens the border for supplies or so people can work in Israel, Hamas literally tries to blow something up. Would you open the doors to your home knowing that someone would throw a bomb into it?
Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. It is an absolute lie to say that Israel does not recognize the Palestinians’ right to exist. Israel has tried numerous times to achieve peace with the Palestinians. One needs to recognize the difference between Hamas and Palestinians. Ahmed’s column failed to do so. Israel is not at war with the Palestinian people, it is at war with a Palestinian terrorist organization. There is a huge difference, and I am sorry for anyone who doesn’t see it.
This is a very complicated situation. I am not arguing that Israel does no wrong, but if we are going to think about the situation let’s try to see from Israel’s side too. Nowhere in Ahmed’s column was there a sentence, a word or even a hint that it is not acceptable to kill Israeli citizens, that shooting missiles from Gaza to civilian targets in Israel is not acceptable. I do not know anyone in Israel who was happy about being at war. War is ugly, destructive and creates more hatred than good.
What do you think you would do if every day between 1 and 80 missiles fell in New Haven and its surroundings? Sometimes they kill someone, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you hear them and sometimes you don’t. They can fall in your room when you are sleeping. They can fall when you are in class, in line for coffee, waiting for a friend or out on a date. The only thing you know for sure is that they are targeted to kill you.
How far can you run in 15 seconds? That is the time you have to run for shelter before a missile hits. Live like this for eight years. I would like to know what solution you would come up with.
I spent my winter break in a bomb shelter with my family. Where were you?
Shikma Zaarur is a first-year graduate student in the Department of Geology and Geophysics.