I am a mother. I would die for my children. I raise them to be loving, caring, compassionate human beings. I would not want to see my child go to war, even though I enlisted. I would not want my child to kill another human being, in any context. I won’t even let them wear camouflage clothing, as I do not believe in either glamorizing war or militarizing children.
I am a Canadian-Israeli. I am the proud daughter of the first deserter from Vietnam allowed into Canada. I have been to peace protests. I have known soldiers from several countries who have seen battle. I have seen the tragedy of PTSD and what it does to the individuals who suffer from it and their families. I had the privilege of growing up in Canada, a country virtually untouched by war within its borders during my lifetime, where there has never been a suicide bomber, where no rockets or missiles have been aimed or fired at any of our towns and cities, where I am not required to serve in the military, where there are no air raid sirens, where l have no fear of raising my three Jewish children, who play with my Arab neighbours’ kids.
I had the privilege of receiving a scholarship to study in Israel in my second year of university, which introduced me to its beauty, history and complexity. I was not raised a Jew; I arrived in Israel at 18, ignorant of the Arab-Israeli conflict and Intifada, ignorant of how Israel was born from the ashes of Hitler’s crematoria in 1948. I had no preconceptions; my best friend in Canada was an Arab. I went to experience the kibbutz movement, as a budding young socialism-curious idealist.
It was the very land itself which I fell in love with. I have since travelled the world, but nowhere I have seen rivals the beauty of Israel. And the people welcomed me, and showed me a way of life I had only dreamed of in Canada—where crime and homeless rates are much lower and employment higher. Where neighbours help neighbours; where families seemed to me closer than those I knew in Canada; where marriage and children are blessings and divorce is less common; where healthy debate and intellectual curiosity are the values embraced by the very Jewish religious tradition they often criticize. It was the first place I ever felt accepted and at home. I converted to Judaism from atheism at age 20 and moved to Israel.
There are things one doesn’t necessarily know about Israelis if one has not lived among them. Most are secular, and not religious fanatics. Most want peace, compromise; an end to the tyranny of bus bombings and sirens and rockets. An end to the deaths of young men and women who serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. What mother willingly sends her son off to war in a tank headed for Gaza? To die in the defense of Israel is a martyr’s death, but unlike some of Israel’s neighbours, it is not one children grow up aspiring to. I hear no Jewish children saying “I want to be a martyr for G-d when I grow up, and kill my neighbours.” Nowhere in the Israeli Constitution or Jewish religious literature does it say, “Death to infidels.”
While living in Israel, I received letters from friends suffering nightmares while serving on the borders. We were kids. We were 19, 20, 21. I served as a medic in the IDF, swearing an oath to treat all people of any nationality, ethnicity or religion. During my 18 months of service, I spent time on five different military bases all over Israel. Every single one of the bus stops I travelled to get to these bases were bombed by terrorists; some more than once. I have watched suspicious packages be blown up by robots while waitressing in a town square. I got used to the military planes and helicopters flying overhead. I survived an attempted terrorist attack on the beaches of Tel Aviv. I left unscathed.
When the first Gulf War broke out, I was just back from Israel and in school. I wanted to fly back immediately, to help somehow. An English woman I knew well who had lived in Israel at that time for over 20 years, raising two Israeli children, said to me with a tremble of fear in her voice, “Stay where you are safe.” I felt sure she would have preferred to take her children and leave, but she did not, could not. I felt the same way after 9/11: I wanted to get in my car and drive to New York and help, do something, anything. Instead I volunteered at the shelters set up in Halifax, where hundreds were stranded with the no-fly ban in effect. I acted as a Hebrew translator for a group of Orthodox Israeli Jews who no one else could understand.
Just as I would not want to be judged or held accountable for the decisions of political leaders and a government in Canada that I did not personally vote for and do not always agree with, neither should every Israeli be condemned for the decisions of their leaders and generals. It would be like blaming every American individually for Abu Graib. Or Vietnam. Or even Obamacare.
There is nothing new I can write about how Israel is treated in the media. How often stock footage is presented as current news portraying events as worse than they are. How often the media cameras are on standby as Israelis are under attack but are ready to roll as soon as they defend themselves, as if they were the instigators and aggressors. About how Israel is judged by a different set of standards than perhaps any other nation. What nation on earth would stand for thousands upon thousands of rockets being fired at its civilians and not fight back? Wherever you may be reading this, truly imagine for a moment a rocket has just landed metres from your home, or your children’s school, with thousands more on the way, aimed at you. Would you not expect your government and military to protect you?
I have always feared that there is never going to be a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But I do have a suggestion that would drastically reduce the number of civilian casualties in Gaza: open the southern border with Egypt and set up UN refugee camps there. It will take miracles and decades to reach a true and lasting peace in Gaza. The anti-Israel propaganda is so pervasive among a vulnerable population, Hamas has been able to win the hearts and minds of the residents of Gaza just as the Taliban was able to take control of Swat in Afganistan. To which I say, when your heroes wear masks, you have no heroes. And when children are taught hate instead of love, that war is the solution instead of peace, there is little hope for the next generation. Hamas is committing war crimes and child abuse, not only by using children as human shields, not only by mobilizing child soldiers, but by the very indoctrination and education they provide even when there is relative peace. This is how Hitler indoctrinated a nation to believe homosexuals, Gypsies and Jews were sub-human. Under Hamas, Palestinians believe the Israelis are out to poison their wells, as if we were living in the superstition-ridden Middle Ages.
The sad truth is no one wants Gaza. Gaza and its people are a political hot-button issue for the leaders and pundits to argue over. Underdogs to be brought out as evidence of cold-hearted Israeli war-mongering when it is the rhetoric from the likes of Ahmadinejad and Hamas that are inciting the war. Their Arab neighbours do not offer them asylum, yet they continue to send arms. Israel doesn’t want Gaza. There is no desire among Israelis to occupy Gaza. There is only a desire to stop and contain the terror. And in what other country would that not seem reasonable? If Canada rained thousands of missiles on Detroit, would we not be subject to air strikes of disproportionate magnitude from the US? Would only adult male militants be killed? But this is too far-fetched to even contemplate. And that is why, if you have not lived in the Middle East, perhaps you should be more careful before condemning the actions of its inhabitants. —Jennifer Raven is a freelance writer and photographer living in Queensland, NS. She is also the founder and director of the Mommy Fund, a charity helping mothers with breast cancer.