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August 7, 2014 0

Reflecting on Israeli Society During the Conflict: The Best and the Worst

With Israel scal­ing down its oper­a­tions in Gaza and a cease­fire begin­ning to hold, Israeli soci­ety will now reflect on the last four weeks. Out of this fright­en­ing and tense period, one source of inspi­ra­tion and opti­mism has been the sense of sol­i­dar­ity and close­ness felt by Israelis.

Across the coun­try, peo­ple of every age and polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tion clam­ored to help and “do some­thing.” Israelis mobi­lized to show sup­port for the IDF sol­diers serv­ing on the front – peo­ple sent food, care pack­ages, sup­plies — even washed uni­forms.  Oth­ers offered to host res­i­dents of the south who left their homes for fear of the unend­ing fall of rock­ets and blare of warn­ing sirens. Thou­sands went to funer­als and shivas for the fallen sol­diers – par­tic­u­larly those of the “lone” sol­diers – whose fam­i­lies live out­side Israel. Mass prayer vig­ils were held.

Funeral of IDF Soldier Max Steinberg

Funeral of IDF Sol­dier Max Steinberg

But while we can cel­e­brate in this wide­spread feel­ing of unity and gen­eros­ity, we can­not deny that other, trou­bling ten­den­cies also emerged over these past weeks.

Some who pub­licly dis­agreed with Israel’s mil­i­tary oper­a­tion were called “trai­tors” and in some cases, even “Nazis.” Some protest­ing the con­flict were phys­i­cally attacked. Ten­sions with Israeli Arabs have grown. Many were out­raged by reports of some groups of Israeli Arabs who cel­e­brated in the killing of IDF sol­diers. This hos­til­ity inten­si­fied in both speech and action, and there were reports of iso­lated vig­i­lante attacks on Israeli Arab tar­gets. Indeed, when an East Jerusalem Pales­tin­ian attacked a Jerusalem city bus with a con­struc­tion vehi­cle, killing one, out of con­cern for their phys­i­cal safety of Arabs in the vicin­ity, police quickly moved to ensure their safety.

As we begin to think about “the day after,” Israelis must think about how to har­ness the pos­i­tive while reduc­ing the neg­a­tive. We must fig­ure out how to build on the sense of unity and gen­eros­ity while still valu­ing the exchange of dif­fer­ent view­points, and ensur­ing that respect­ful dis­course thrives.

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July 23, 2014 0

More Reflections from Israelis:  Mourning two American-Israeli soldiers 


Overflow at the July 23, 2014 funeral of Sgt. Max Steinberg

Over­flow at the funeral of Sgt. Max Steinberg

16 Days into Pro­tec­tive Edge oper­a­tion, the list of fallen sol­diers grows longer and longer. In the last 48 hours, two names of so-called “lone sol­diers” whose fam­i­lies live out­side of Israel were added to the list: two young Amer­i­cans who moved to Israel and served in the IDF – Sgt. Sean Carmeli, who grew up in South Padre, Texas, and Sgt. Max Stein­berg, from Los Angeles.

On Mon­day after­noon, when the funeral of Sgt. Sean Carmeli was announced, there was fear that not that many peo­ple would attend as he does not have imme­di­ate fam­ily Israel.  The Mac­cabi Haifa soc­cer team, of which Sgt. Carmeli was a fan, called on the pub­lic to pay their respects to the lone sol­dier.    Par­tic­i­pa­tion went far beyond all expec­ta­tions: around 20,000 peo­ple from all over Israel came together to pay their respects.

And, today, the peo­ple of Israel embraced the fam­ily of the lone sol­dier from L.A, Sgt. Max Stein­berg. As a Jewish-American orga­ni­za­tion, ADL Israel staff felt the need to attend the funeral and pay our respects to this young American-Jew who came to Israel and fought in his com­bat unit shoul­der to shoul­der with his Israeli friends.   On an extremely hot day, tens of thou­sands flocked to the ceme­tery  – esti­mates runs between 30,000–40,000 peo­ple – the vast major­ity of whom did not know Sgt. Steinberg.

The funeral started with the almost sur­real announce­ment by the Home Front Com­mand instruct­ing atten­dees what to do in case a siren went off dur­ing the funeral. Even dur­ing this emo­tional and tragic moment, this reminder served to rein­force the frag­ile nature of the cur­rent Israeli reality.

The eulo­gies deliv­ered at the funeral brought to life Max’s char­ac­ter and the strong con­nec­tion he felt for the State of Israel and the IDF. His insis­tence on serv­ing in the Golani com­bat unit, and doing so with excel­lence in the var­i­ous courses dur­ing the train­ing process, reflect his spe­cial com­mit­ment and strength.

As Israelis, we felt that join­ing the impres­sive atten­dance at the funeral was our way of express­ing our sor­row at the loss and our deep­est grat­i­tude for an indi­vid­ual who was will­ing to sac­ri­fice his life in a just war, in order to pro­tect our lives. Many brought Israeli flags and waved them proudly. Max’s emo­tional father ended his remarks with a prayer for peace, and a stir­ring: ” Am Israel Chai” – the peo­ple of Israel live.

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July 22, 2014 0

More Reflections from Israelis: This is Our Home

Phyl­lis Ger­ably, Direc­tor, ADL Israel 

On Thurs­day, the day Israel expanded its oper­a­tion in Gaza to include ground forces, as I drove back to Hod HaSharon, a sub­urb of Tel Aviv, I heard over the radio that sev­eral sirens were heard all over the country.

Thurs­day evening is usu­ally a hor­ren­dous drive tak­ing close to two hours.  The ride this time was under an hour with most Israeli fam­i­lies stick­ing close to home. aliyah-nbn-2014-b-272x125

As I was dri­ving, I recalled other times that we were at war.  The clos­est to my heart, was dur­ing the Yom Kip­pur War, when my son was born.  It was amaz­ing to me at the time to see how every­one came together like one big fam­ily.  I couldn’t help but think about all the women now who are giv­ing birth and their hus­bands who are being called up to serve.  Forty-one years later and we are again in a war that no one wants but that leaves us no choice.

You have to be here to wit­ness the small sto­ries that illus­trate what Israel is all about:  a col­league today told us she was order­ing chal­lah for the Sab­bath from a bak­ery in Sderot in order to give them the busi­ness in these dif­fi­cult times.  Sev­eral fam­i­lies in the North have opened their homes to fam­i­lies from Beer­sheva and Sderot so their chil­dren won’t spend most of their sum­mer hol­i­day in shel­ters.  And the story of the first Israeli casu­alty in the con­flict:  a man who insisted on vis­it­ing IDF sol­diers and bring­ing them sweets who was killed by mor­tar fire.

Pres­i­dent Peres met with chil­dren who said, “Of course we can make peace, the Amer­i­cans are help­ing us”(Iron Dome)!   Even with the backup of the Iron Dome, it’s hard to imag­ine any kind of peace­ful set­tle­ment when Hamas con­tin­ues its attacks on Israel. Even after the Israeli gov­ern­ment agreed to a cease­fire for sev­eral hours to allow human­i­tar­ian aid to Gaza, the Hamas rock­ets fell on Israel.

430 new immi­grants arrived in Israel on Wednes­day.  The Jerusalem Post reported that one immi­grant, Eric Azizi, who came with his wife and three chil­dren said, “Our com­ing does not depend on the war, but [is] because of our chil­dren; Even if Israel is burn­ing, we will be there.”

Last Sat­ur­day, we cel­e­brated the birth­days of my two grand­sons.  About half an hour into the cel­e­bra­tions, the siren was heard.  We all ran to the safe room in their house.  Three gen­er­a­tions of our fam­ily in a small shel­ter.   The kids played on the floor on mat­tress with their toys until we heard the boom of Iron Dome doing its job.

I heard sev­eral times on Israel radio sto­ries of peo­ple who refused to leave their homes despite ongo­ing rocket attacks.  One woman said, “The ques­tion of leav­ing isn’t even an option.

This is our home.”  I guess that sums it up for all of us – this is our home.

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