My new friend lit up her second cigarette. I’ll call her Sara. The smoke burned my throat and my eyes began to water. It didn’t bother me though. The situation is bitter, and it felt fitting to experience that bitterness physically. She exhaled, pushing the bitterness deeper into my body, and continued to explain her experience at the protest.
While the global media is recycling the same story over and over—Hamas strikes deeper into Israel; Operation Protective Edge hits terror targets; Netanyahu won’t bow to international pressure—life, messiness and untold stories of conflict continue to unfold. The stuff you don’t read on the headlines of mainstream news publications.
To be clear, I am not making a political statement here. I’m an observer, and I want to inform you of what I’m discovering.
Reports emerging from Israel and Israeli officials continue to laud Operation Protective Edge as Israel’s justified and single option in the conflict. Yet, there are Israelis who disagree. A group gathered last night who have been labeled as the “radical left.” Their demands? To end the strike against Gaza and the civilian deaths it has caused.
Sara nervously shoved her cigarette into the ashtray and then took another puff. “We were there holding signs. Some said ‘STOP THE KILLING IN GAZA,’ ‘WE ARE ALL THE SAME.’ It was a nonviolent protest, and we were promoting peace.”
I looked the signs up on twitter. Others read: “Slaughter in Gaza is not security,” “The people demand a cease fire.”
Inflammatory? Not in the least.
B’Tselem, a human rights group dedicated to tracking the conflict in the Holy Land by numbers, has released several publications since the start of Operation Protective Edge.
They relate that it is universally agreed upon that for a place to be a military target, it must make an sizable contribution to hostile military action, such as “weapon storage, military bases and communication centers used by the military.” These are targets.
According to B’Tselem, fifty two Palestinians have been killed in Gaza from their homes being bombed. Nineteen were minors and twelve were women. Under international law, it’s difficult to prove that homes are fair game, especially when those being killed just have the unfortunate reality of being related or living next door to someone involved with Hamas.
For the sake of brevity, this is where I’ll end the information about the air strikes in Gaza. If you are interested in learning more, you can read B’tselem’s findings here. http://www.btselem.org/gaza_strip/20140713_palestinians_killed_in_illegal_attacks_on_houses
If I were in Sara’s position, I may have joined a protest too. She’s a native of Tel Aviv. Israel is her home and her future. Yet she recognizes that there are other ways to solve conflict than a show of military might. We both agreed that there are times when it is necessary, but it should be a choice of last resort.
Quickly after gathering, Sara and her fellow protesters were met with fierce opposition from a group of right-wing rioters. Cloaked in Israeli flags, they began mocking the non-violent protest. The mocking wasn’t enough to satisfy their lust for violence, and soon they charged at the protesters.
There are mixed reports about the Police’s involvement. Some say they stood idly by, abetting the right-wing rioters. Some say they were busy during the sirens and couldn’t do anything.
Regardless, Sara still had the look of shock in her eyes. “It’s beginning to scare me, the fact that I can’t even share what I believe without fear of being met with violence.”
While shaken up, Sara reiterated that her decision to embrace a different road than military action has been reinforced from this experience. Sara is not a starry-eyed “half-glass-full” kind of girl either. She recognizes the cost. “I know of IDF soldiers who showed compassion upon Arabs they were sent to kill being killed themselves.” She glanced up at me and pushed the cigarette back into the ashtray for the last time.
If the tensions continue to deepen the schism between the “left” and “right,” the path of peace may cost her life.
With this kind of price-tag, many young Israeli’s may not buy into the idea that a peaceful resolution is possible, that they don’t have to exact revenge.
I hope that in their search they discover the young Jewish man who preached the way of peace in their land 2,000 years ago; who encouraged the world to offer the untouched side of their face for another beating and who gave his own life as an offering for their sin.
The cigarette was gone, but the bitterness lingered.
As I sit in the quiet of my room, I recognize this is the same here in Tel Aviv. The sirens may not be blaring; protests may not be overturning the streets; but the bitterness of conflict still hangs over us like smoke.