A year in Dnepropetrovsk

An American volunteer in Ukraine

My experience while in Israel during the war

This was my first time in a country in the midst of a war.

I mean, this was my first time in a country other than my own in the midst of a war.

I wasn’t scared. I never am in Israel. I always feel surprisingly safe there. Whereas in Dnepropetrovsk and for four years in New Haven it was dangerous for a young woman to walk alone at night, even in the better neighborhoods, I am extremely comfortable wandering about Tel Aviv or Haifa on my own. There is comparatively little violent crime, or even petty theft, and although there is a chance of being killed by a Hezbollah rocket or a bomb on a bus, there’s absolutely nothing one can do to prevent that or even prepare for it. It is so entirely random, that it’s not worth worrying about, and so I feel completely safe.Additionally, even though there was a war being waged not 100 kilometers from me, Hamas’ rockets are of such short range that they posed virtually no danger to those in Tel Aviv. (Had I been in Sderot, that would have been another story entirely, although really, Hamas has been unceasingly bombing Sderot for eight years now, so even there the danger has, sadly, not increased that drastically.)

In short, there was no more danger to myself than there was any other time when I visited Israel.

Despite my relative safety, I felt the war all around me. It was on the tip of everyone’s tongues, the first topic of any conversation. Strangers in a sherut bonded over the news, as each worried for a friend or relative they knew in Gaza. Eyes and ears were glued to the radio, the television, and the newspaper, and every death was mourned.

Every death was mourned. When an Israeli soldier fell, an entire article would be written about him the next day in each newspaper. A special would be shown on the news. The radio stations would announce his name and play somber music for the rest of the day. Israelis knew his name, where he lived, what he did in the army, and who is left behind to bury him.

Every death was mourned. The Palestinian death toll was announced each day with equal solemnity. Images of women, children, and families covered the media. The overwhelming public opinion was that the Palestinians in Gaza were the tragic victims of this war, and if only there were another way to protect Israeli citizens without lamentably killing Palestinian innocents. In each and every conversation I engaged in during my almost two weeks in Israel (I am not exaggerating), the question would arise: How can Israel improve the lives of Palestinians in Gaza once the war ends? It is no secret that they have nothing, absolutely nothing, and it was oft explained to me that it would take a miracle for a Gazan to resist Hamas. The only social welfare and educational institutions are run by Hamas. I can say without any hesitation that I would send my children to a Hamas-run school, were I a Gazan. When it’s a question of survival, politics come second, if at all.

Every death was mourned.

Not for a moment in almost two weeks did I forget that there was a war and that people were dying. I had a wonderful time. I visited dear friends and places. I relived fond memories and celebrated new experiences. I laughed, quite often, but even during those most joyful moments, I was accutely aware of the horrors of war so near to me. It was exhausting to carry that weight around, never to be thrown off, even for a moment’s reprive, but I would not have it any other way. To know that all those around me bore the same burden– only far greater– to share in this collective horror was something amazing. It was terrible. It was beautiful.

I do not know that I could carry that weight for six years. Such a dreadful gift would mean that I could not turn life on and off with a remote control. I could not close my eyes and ears and lay down to calmly rest. Such a life would make me a warrior- wouldn’t it? Six years of breathing the wretched stink of war- that is the life of a warrior.

“Everyone in this country is so messed up,” my friend Noa told me. “Serving in the army does that to you. You can’t experience war and walk away untouched.” Israelis must fight their way through the scorching desert, at times delirious with fever, afflicted with an unquenchable thirst. A thirst for peace.


1 Comment»

  Blood Libel « Schmoozing with Elya & Ellie Katz wrote @

[…] Arkow, a wordpress blog, wrote about how Israelis think. It’s true. […]

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