War Crimes: How Israeli Soldiers Kill and Civilians Grow Numb
J and I met in middle school. He was a thin guy passionate about music; I was a raging teen who smoked way too much pot. We both went through our parents' divorces at the same time. We celebrated our birthdays in the same week. We were good friends- best friends at times. We graduated from high school and served in the army. I married, had a family and moved to the United States. He stayed, not only in Israel but also in the military, eventually becoming a high-ranking intelligence officer. We managed to keep our friendship for twenty years now.
When I visited Israel this summer we spent some time together, cruising the streets of Tel Aviv where the best lattes in the world are served in sunny, stylish sidewalk cafÃƒÂ©s. We talked about love, family and yoga. J, who had just returned from a month long retreat in India, shared his experiences and photos. We discussed old friends, music and art. There's nothing like hanging out with a childhood friend.
Then the war started. The way I saw it Israel was showering Lebanon with bombs, spraying it with artillery. My friend J said Hezbollah had too much ammunition. We had to destroy it sooner or later, this is as good a time as any, he said. Fine, I argued, I could see the need to destroy weapons that are aimed at civilian targets inside Israel, but why bomb Beirut? Why bomb civilians? Everyone does that, said J, the trick is to kill them three by three, not in big numbers. That way the world doesn't even notice.
Israel's summer adventures in Lebanon left the region with more grief, vengeance and hate. I flew back to California, inspired by my friend J to take up yoga.
Israel is still killing its neighbors three by three and as my friend pointed out, the world doesn't seem to notice. When 17 civilians, mostly women and children were killed in their sleep in the northern part of Gaza strip, there was some discussion about it in the UN. But Israel is killing civilians every day claiming it to be a war against those who are launching rockets at the southern Israeli towns of Shderot and Ashkelon.
In the winter of our senior year of high schools J and I would climb on the roof of his Jerusalem apartment building. Those were the days of the Gulf War and schools were closed. We would climb up there when the sirens sounded and cheer the scud missiles on their way to Tel Aviv. Our friends from the coast were terrified; a fact we found to be amusing. Only weeks before, they refused to visit us claiming that Jerusalem was too dangerous because of the riots and stabbings. And yes, it was dangerous, and we were afraid to walk to school. But now we knew that the Iraqis wouldn't aim at Jerusalem. Enjoying the unexpected school break, the fear of our friends in Tel Aviv felt surreal. The fact that it was they who were now in greater danger was a comic relief.
It's so easy to lose your capacity for empathy when you are scared.
A preschool teacher was killed in Gaza this past November while riding a bus with her students on their way to school. Well, there might have been someone driving on that same road that was planning to launch a missile, an Israeli would say to herself. She won't be thinking what it would be like for her own daughter to see her preschool teacher falling to the floor of the bus in a pool of blood.
Of course she can't be thinking of that, this Israeli mother who could have been me. That kind of thought is too terrifying. For an Israeli mother this situation is so real that when it happens to others it might actually be relieving. For her and other Israelis, who have been subject to attacks on civilians for as long as they can remember, it might not be possible to see the suffering of others. They're too scared.
But their government, generals and intelligence officers have no right to be scared. They are abusing their people's fear, their inability to empathize. They're killing and wounding Palestinian civilians one by one, two by two, three by three every day in the name of this fear.
Israeli society is worn, torn and terrified. It's led by an irresponsible government that is making them all into criminals of war. Because what Israel is doing in Gaza these past months is a war crime by any standard.
My friend J is very dear to me. I know he thinks his service in the Israeli Intelligence saved lives. Perhaps it did. Still I think nothing can justify civilian killings- neither mass killings nor killings that are done one by one. For those families it really doesn't matter if their children were all killed on the same day or during a course of a whole month.
Those of us who are lucky not to be living in fear, those of us who know this kind of life is possible, are obligated to stand up against war crimes that are committed in the name of fear and in abuse of peoples inability to see their neighbors' pain.