In 2014, after having moved to the States from Israel, my wife, Sharon, and I took our sons, Gahl and Neev, 14 and 10 at the time, to Israel for a visit. We were in a park in Kfar Saba having a picnic and playing soccer with friends. Suddenly, a siren went off and time froze. My boys looked at me with fear in their young eyes. We had been living in Las Vegas. Sirens and air attacks weren’t something they had ever experienced and something my wife and I no longer needed to think about daily.
We didn’t know the area and had no idea where to find a shelter. My own heart was beating wildly in terror. Trying to protect my family, I grabbed my boys and my wife, and took whatever shelter we could find by a nearby wall. Our friends did the same as the Iranians shot a Fajr-5 rocket from the Gaza Strip. Luckily it was intercepted by one of Israel’s Iron Domes but it was the day my sons’ innocence was forever shattered.
It is such instances that help explain why we have made it our vocation to share Israel’s history and struggles with those who live here in the United States. It is a rich history filled with tradition and terror that, in part, goes back 3,000 years to when King David made Jerusalem Israel’s capital. It is something that is important others understand about this sovereign nation.
I sat and watched in horror and despair over the continuing unrest on the Gaza Strip border last month — the Hamas-inspired Palestinian protests during their annual Yawm an-Nakba (Day of Catastrophe), the commemoration of the displacement that preceded and followed the five Arab countries’ attack on the new State of Israel in 1948. These violent demonstrations seemed to become even more intense due to the timing of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
It’s even more upsetting to turn on various news channels and hear self-proclaimed experts of the region expressing their belief that all of the death and destruction lies at the hands of Israeli soldiers and their disregard for the lives of so-called innocent Palestinians.
It is true that 61 Palestinians were killed during these violent outbreaks but it is difficult to think that many of the 40,000 people, some of them attempting to breach Israel’s border, were simply innocent bystanders. A Hamas operative said on television that out of the 61 killed, 50 were Hamas operatives. Islamic Jihad stated that 80 percent who were killed were members of terror organizations. Objective videos show that one side attacks and the other defends. One tries to get people injured and killed; the other makes every attempt to prevent it. It was painful to see the hate-filled faces of many of these demonstrators as they fired their rifles, used improvised explosive devices, burned Israeli flags, flew swastika-adorned fire kites with Molotov cocktails that destroy large swaths of field, and threw rocks from slingshots. It was even more horrifying to see the faces of women and children in those crowds — Palestinian children who likely did not even understand what they were fighting for or why they were a target of defensive tactics by Israeli soldiers protecting their border. This is a border that’s barely two miles from the homes of Israeli citizens!
Is Israel a perfect country? No. However, what other country has been surrounded by Arab nations, many of whom have radical factions that have been trying to destroy it for decades? What other country has seen as many purported “peace agreements” broken before the ink has dried?
Israelis even exited the Gaza Strip in 2005. Sadly, that still wasn’t enough for those who believe only in hate, want what another has and are willing to sacrifice their women and, yes, their children, rather than strive for peace that will serve all people of the region. Until that day arrives, Israel has the right to defend its people even when yearning for peace.
Amir Eden is the director of Tucson’s Weintraub Israel Center. He can be reached at [email protected].