I am putting together research on communities in southern Israel right now and there is one image that just does not want to get out of my head any more: The moment a mother confessed to being a little worried sometimes by her son attending a high school in Sderot. “There are the kassamim, you know.”, she told me, “If it is really bad they even close the school.”Can you imagine that? Can you imagine sending your child to school knowing that at any time, with only fifteen seconds worth of warning, a rocket might strike their school bus on the open road? Maybe if we stopped seeing Israel as a faraway backwards country but as the western society – just like our countries – we could start to grasp the meaning. These are people like you and I. These are teenage children like all the noisy ones you meet on the bus every day. Smart, sometimes withdrawn but good kids. They have dreams and they have plans for the future.
And they live with that knowledge deep in their head that in just a few years’ time they will be soldiers.
Can you imagine that? Can you imagine raising your children with all the love in your heart, keeping them as close and secure as you can only to see them become part of a tide of soldiers. While you and I went to university, founded a home and started a family these young people spent years armed waiting for what seems to be the unavoidable conflict that strikes generation after generation. They are young adults like all the ones you find swarming the bars and the parks. They do not want to go to war, to see these things. They want to get going with their lives; to travel, to study and to move in with their boyfriend. They are into fashion and the latest hair styles, they are into sports and technology and music – not into guns.
Don’t get me wrong. The situation in Gaza is so disgraceful I am out of decent words to describe it. It is almost surreal to imagine that boarder, on the one side a cruel dictatorship, unimaginable povery and an infrastructure that most closely resembles that of some godsforsaken African tribal lands fifty years ago. On the other side a high-tech civilisation with one of the highest overall levels of education and technology utilisation in the world. How can the two of them possibly even exist on the same planet, let alone only a stone’s throw away? But nonetheless it is reality.
But what the Frigg is Israel to do? It is not the shut border crossing, that is the problem. The problem is Hamas, a terrorist regime almost as bad as the Islamic State next door. Opening those borders won’t change a thing for Gaza residents but it will allow more weapons to be built, more deaths, more warfare. Have you ever thought about it, why it is Egypt that has completely shut down their border crossing at Rafah and is on a crusade against smuggler tunnels right now? Why they are going as far as bulldozing their own city of Rafah? Those are their Muslim brothers after all, Egypt has no motive for cutting off Gaza other than the safety of its own territory and population.
If it was your country, would you tolerate your children driving to school under rocket fire or not being able to go to school at all? Think of European countries in turmoil, of brutal regimes taking over strips of land adjacent to your own border. Use your fantasy. What would you want your government to do?
Think about it. Think about what the US Americans did to Afghanistan and Iraq, on the other side of the world, after a single terror attack. Think about military intervention in Syria and Iraq against Islamic State just because governments are worried of future terror attacks on their own soil. Think about what our governments are doing to other countries without any proven danger to their civilian populations whatsoever.
Think about that and think about the boy riding the bus to Sderot every day before you demonise Israel.