December 27-January 18: Thousands Dead, Thousands More Suffering

By Ariel Tirosh

Israel began its military offensive against Hamas December 27, and the war ended January 18, 2009 with what is being called an unilateral ceasefire. I was in Israel for a large part of the conflict. During that period, both sides claimed the moral high ground. There have been countless arguments about whether Hamas is a terrorist group, whether Israel’s response to the rocket fire was disproportionate, if Israel was and is oppressive and who is really at fault.

I was there to visit family. On the news, pundit-talk about the war never ceased. I heard their voices, and watched the videos and their live feeds from Gaza. On the Israeli version of YouTube, at least one of the featured videos would be about the latest action.

Walking down streets, I could hear any number of conversations about the offensive. In Tel Aviv, where I stayed, life went on. People went to work, parents went grocery shopping, and their children went to school or played in the parks. And the city harbored refugees who had fled from the widening range of cities that were under Hamas rocket fire. My aunt harbored her sister’s family who lived in Ashkelon, and the day after they arrived in Tel Aviv, a rocket hit their house, destroying the daughters’ bedroom. Many who had fled also found shelter in Haifa.

Over 1,000 rockets hit Israel in the past six months alone. The arms Hamas had been receiving were becoming more sophisticated, their range extending. Currently, almost 800,000 Israelis live in range of the Qassam.

This is not my way of saying that Israelis are suffering more than the Palestinians. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Palestinians live in very close quarters, and fighting has broken out on the streets of Gaza more than once since Hamas took power in June, 2007. Thousands have died or have been injured in the three-week war. While the full numbers are in dispute, there is no question that many of the casualties were civilians.

A week before the conflict, a French news crew got a rare chance to film conditions in Gaza. They taped a class where the children were being taught to hate and kill Israelis. The children were made to march with guns and shout anti-Israel slogans. The crew also filmed arms being stored in civilian houses, schools, mosques and public buildings. Indeed, the live feed of bombs being dropped on buildings in Gaza showed secondary explosions that clearly demonstrated that buildings were being used to store explosives and other munitions.

On the January 15, I went to a bar in Tel Aviv. I met two men who had just gotten back from Gaza that morning. When I asked one, Lior, what it was like in Gaza, his face grew dark and his eyes became a little wild. He moved his hands around his head in rapid, random motions and said that it was crazy, and he was now crazy.

He saw things he had never wanted to see, and killed people whom he had never before met. He described the pain and the suffering of the people of Gaza as well as that of him and his friends. He expressed a deep regret for the actions that he had taken, but he also said that if he had to do it again, he would not do it differently. Israel is his country, he told me, and Israelis deserve as much of a right to live a peaceful life as anybody else. Rockets had been fired from Gaza every day for a long time.

Like many Israelis, Lior did not want to fight in this war. He did not want to go into Gaza and kill people. He did not fully agree with his government’s actions, nor did he really support the current administration. But he like many other Israelis stood in solidarity, not with his government but with his country and his people. He believed in the need for an offensive because the lives of men, women and children were in danger and he wanted to protect them.

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