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The Day my view on Gaza changed...

I remember the day that something changed about how I saw Gaza. I had been out of the military for a few years by then and I was already in my late 20s. I went through phases of calling myself a pacifist, an anarchist, a supporter of non violent resistance. I had started looking down the rabbit hole of the story of the Palestinian people. I learned about the Nakba for the first time. Maybe I had heard the word before but it never stayed with me. I didn’t understand that my Independence Day was the catastrophe for millions of people. I started to look back at my time spent in the military serving in the West Bank and I started to think more deeply about what life is like for all the Palestinians who live under military occupation. I had seen it first hand during my service, but while I was there as a soldier, I was never really able to see them. They were invisible, millions of people who were colored by a simplistic story of good guys and bad guys. And of course we, the Israeli Jews, were the good guys.

 

And so on this day, a few years ago, while scrolling on social media, I read a post written in Hebrew by someone inside Gaza. It was a page called ‘we on the other side of the fence’. The post was written in Hebrew, trying to get other Israelis like me to read in our native language the stories of humans just like us who shared their experiences of living in Gaza. As crazy as it sounds, I had never thought about those people on the other side of the fence. They were invisible too and unlike the Palestinians in the West Bank, I had no reference to what their lives looked like. 

 

I was a bit in shock and also full of curiosity and I started surfing the web trying to get more information about what’s going on in Gaza. I stumbled upon a video on YouTube of Gazan healthcare workers sharing about Israeli snipers who shot at an ambulance and killed the medics that were there trying to rescue injured people near the fence. 

I don’t remember all the details of what happened, but this video on YouTube brought up an immediate thought in my mind. They are lying!

 

My mind had been so used to looking at any information coming from the other side as misinformation and propaganda that I couldn’t grasp the possibility that the Israeli soldiers would shoot at an ambulance. It was so hard to grasp that my mind had only one option. They must be making this up. 

 

The next feeling was shock at my initial thought. Why am I so sure they are lying? Why can’t I see what’s in front of my eyes? Has my mind been so deeply conditioned that I can only interpret reality in one way? 

I was shocked at that first thought that arose in my mind. It was a strange feeling to meet my own conditioning, slapping me right in the face. 

 

This moment changed something inside of me and I went on to continue to peel off the layers of education and conditioning that had been such a deep part of my upbringing. I had to understand more about what was happening there. The reality I knew changed more and more. I could see another story that I had not seen before. The story of displaced people, of people in exile, of people longing to return to their homes that they had lost in 1948. The story of millions of people living under military occupation, the same military that I had served in and respected so much for its morality. The story of 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza without access to water and electricity and basic freedoms that I enjoyed so much. This new story crushed me. It robbed me of a part of my Israeli identity that was very dear to me. It robbed me of the story of me being on the side of the good guys. The story that we the Jews have the right to protect ourselves at whatever cost. 

I found out that this cost was unbearable to me. My right to protect myself cannot be on behalf of all of these people’s suffering. This is not what I believed in. 

 

A few years later, in May of 2021 there was another war and attack on Gaza. My worldview at this point was becoming more clear. This is not right. We can’t be killing innocent women and children from the air. This is immoral!

 

And at the same time a strange thing happened to me. I remembered once again my own story, the story of the Jewish people. The story that I had to put aside to make room for this new story of the Palestinian people. My own story had been forgotten for a while. I could not hold both together. It was impossible for me. 

 

But as these airstrikes were happening I remembered that I knew who these pilots were. I could imagine their hearts and their attitude. I could imagine myself respecting them and seeing them as good people. Good people who do not understand that they are killing whole families of fellow humans with the press of a button. Something I couldn’t grasp at first, but I knew it to be true. Good people do horrible things. And I knew that those good men could have been me. They were me in a sense, since I was also once a soldier doing what I believed was true. And I was good! Or at least I felt I was good and believed I was good. But on the other hand I was a part of an army that occupies millions of people stealing them of their basic human rights. 

Letting this thought enter my mind was also surprising, but in some strange way it brought me a lot of peace. The Palestinian story is real and must be told. And the Israeli story is valid too and deserves to be heard too.

 

Since the war started on October 7th 2023 I am heartbroken by all the lives lost. The attack on Israeli villages and on the music festival left me shocked and devastated at the cruelty that exists in this world and is directed towards my people. 

And still, everyday since October 7th I think about the Palestinian people and can’t understand how my country and my army are able to cause so much suffering to other humans. It really feels like genocide to me. As hard as it is to make this comparison, it has brought up the stories and images of my visit to Poland when I was 17 seeing the horrors of the concentration camps and death camps that were built to exterminate the Jews. There are many similarities in my view, and I am horrified that now I belong to the country that is inflicting this kind of violence onto another people. 

 

In Israel, saying these thoughts out loud is seen as being a traitor. I have so many people close to me that would take these words and interpret them as an indication that I am someone who does not see their pain as Israelis and Jews. There is something that is hurting so much in the Israeli heart, that even mentioning the pain of the Palestinians is seen as a dagger in the back, as a horrible insensitivity to all that we’ve gone through on and since October 7th and since the beginning of our history.

 

I do not see things this way. I know that at times I can put aside my people’s suffering to focus on the suffering of those on the other side. In a way, this may come out of the love for my own people. Out of the wish that we remember who we are, and that we can find a way to stay safe and protected, without having to use tons and tons of bombs and explosives. I also know that killing others leaves a far greater toll on the mind and the soul and that the blood of innocent children on our hands is something that will not come off for many generations.

 

I wish for my people to remember the ancient texts reminding us of our love and brotherhood with the sons of Ishmael and Hagar, Abraham’s second wife.

 

I wish for my people to remember the instruction to love those who are different from us, since we too were once different as slaves in Egypt. 

 

I wish for my people to choose peace. To believe in peace. To know that there are many ways to create safety and that our true freedom will come when all those on the land between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean sea are free.

 

I wish for my people to find in their hearts to see all lives as sacred, all children as innocent, to see a home and honor those who live there, to see that the good in the world outweighs the bad and that there is hope for a better future.

 

We are a warm and loving people who have lost our way, who have been taught to believe that we must live by the sword and that we will always be persecuted by those who are different from us. 

 

But it is time that this story changes. That we create a new story that offers us a way to live side by side with our Palestinian brothers and sisters. We must tell this new story again and again until it ripples into the hearts of all those who have lost faith. 

 

May we choose peace, at every junction along this long and winding road, at every opportunity we have. Let us choose peace now.

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