It’s mind-boggling to comprehend how we got to where we are today in less than a week’s time. What began with a relatively normal country finally emerging from over a year of tremendous struggles with the Covid virus, with most everything opening up and returning to a familiar routine, we have suddenly found ourselves being catapulted into an all-out, full-scale war resembling something out of a Hollywood blockbuster film.
How did it all begin? A brief explanation is that in recent days, there had been a threat to evict six Palestinian families from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Although this dispute actually began in 1876, while Israel was under Turkish rule, it was during that same year that Palestinian landowners sold Sheikh Jarrah land to two Jewish different trusts. In 1948, Jordan took control of that land and built many homes there in order to accommodate housing for Palestinian refugees. However in 1967, that same plot of land, through the efforts of the Six-Day War, returned to Jewish hands while Palestinians continued to live in what was clearly now Israeli territory.
So everything that we are experiencing today is the culmination of a Jewish settler group having secretly purchased this land which was historically owned by Jews but where Palestinians continued to occupy without legal claim. As things began to turn political, the attorney general stepped in, eventually bringing the case before Israel’s Supreme Court in an attempt to determine whether or not the present Palestinian residents should be evicted from the property and caused to leave since they have no legal grounds to remain there. Such a decision would have likely led to many more disputed homes in the area and the displacement of Palestinians who, for decades, have refused to leave.
While that court determination was to have been made on Sunday, there was a decision to delay based on fears that this would set off a powder keg. Those fears were not unfounded as Palestinians began to protest daily, displaying an unprecedented amount of hatred and rage not seen before, especially in most neighboring towns and communities within the green line. This further set off a chain of events which resulted in massive arrests in these Palestinian communities, as Jewish residents began to be terrified of living in these mixed communities, which had always coexisted in peace, but which suddenly became ignited by enflamed passions and deep unrest. It’s interesting to note that most of those protests are being carried out by young people.
On Friday night Israeli police officers were forced to use stun grenades and rubber bullets on the Al Aqsa mosque compound as a result of fierce fighting which had taken place amongst Palestinians and security forces.
On Monday, events escalated all the more as rockets began to be fired from Gaza into Israel which was, in turn, met with Israeli airstrikes. It was reported that 24 people, including 9 children were killed as a result, although there is no official confirmation of those claims. Many Israeli police were also wounded in the conflict.
Needless to say, the culmination came last night, Tuesday, May 10th, when Hamas issued an ultimatum to Israel saying that if we continued to strike back, they would attack Tel Aviv at 9:00 p.m. Ten minutes before that deadline, I was standing on my 23rd floor balcony which has uninterrupted views to the port of Ashdod and suddenly noticed a barrage of lit up rockets in the dark sky which resembled fireworks, but as I looked closer, I understood that they were pointed in the direction of Tel Aviv and coming straight towards us. It was less than three seconds later that we heard the alarms go off throughout the city warning us to go into our bomb shelters. We ran and shut the metal door behind us, not knowing what was about to happen.
As we sat there, we were being pounded and pounded by the sound of falling rockets all around us. We had no idea when it would stop, but it went on for an intolerable period of time while friends and family furiously texted us wanting to know if we were okay. Many were watching the attack in real time on their own television sets in their own countries.
It seemed surreal to be sitting in a bomb shelter knowing that we were under full attack in a country where, for my nearly 30 years of having lived here, I had never witnessed anything like that ever! Yes, we had already been in bomb shelters over the past 7 or 8 years but nothing like the barrage of rockets, which I still cannot get out of my mind, ever occurred, especially in the center of the country.
It was close to midnight when we felt it was quiet enough to leave the bomb shelter, which is one of our four bedrooms, in order to try to sleep in our own room. Sometime before 3 a.m., I was awoken by a huge boom, the likes of which I hadn’t heard before, and thinking it must be an attack on Gaza by our armed forces, it occurred to me that there would likely be an immediate retaliation. Once again, it wasn’t more than a couple of seconds before the city-wide alarm went off, causing us to flee to our bomb shelter/office which we’d prepared with a mattress in the event we were forced to sleep there. Sure enough, we spent the rest of the night inside, not feeling confident enough to return to our room.
What is, perhaps, most frightening, is the way our Arab neighbors have turned against Israel. Communities like Jaffa which is walking distance from us and where we always shopped for meat and fish have also become inflamed to the point where Jewish Israelis are now fearful to enter. Lod, not far from our main airport, and a place where I once taught some 50 students privately has become, possibly, the most violent of all, to the point where three synagogues have been torched.
These two cities, along with many others within Israel’s green line, have been home to a large Arab population who have peaceably lived side by side with Jews, and who have enjoyed a very high standard of living along with full civil rights, have viciously turned against the nation which has, in large part, accepted them as equal partners in the Jewish state. The shocking display of rage and hatred has caused Jewish Israelis to no longer recognize these communities which are a mere 5-10 minutes away from every other Jewish Israeli community.
At the moment, Israel’s armed forces are in full defense mode protecting us all and exacting a very heavy price for the attacks of the last few days upon the Jewish nation.
It’s interesting to hear that massive protests against Israel are taking place in NY and other geographic areas, predictably, without even knowing the full context of why this is happening or how Israel has, for many decades, put up with being second-class citizens in their own Jewish capital, all for the sake of a fake and temporary peace and the hope of avoiding the igniting the fire which has been lit over land which is rightfully ours, both historically and also through the spoils of war.
I don’t believe anyone can turn the clock back on this latest chapter. The real passions and sentiments have been let out in full force and where it leads will largely depend upon how determined each side is to accept the fact that Jews have only one homeland for which they have fought for and died during a 2,000 year old dream which they will never again relinquish.