Given that very little media attention has been given to what’s been going on in Israel proper during the current violence, I thought I’d reprint (with permission) the thoughts of Jaime Grinberg, a professor at Montclair State University, who is spending the Summer in Israel. I originally came across this on a list for Jewish faculty run by Hillel.
I am also in Israel for the summer. I have been teaching a summer class at Kibbutzim College. I have a few comments of my own from a slightly different perspective as any military action is the extension of politics and any gains on the ground, as gigantic as they can be, will not necessarily bring political gains.
I arrived to Israel just when the murder of the three youths were confirmed. It was a tragic and traumatic event executed by an organized gang of terrorists who were certainly trained by Hamas and were provided the infrastructure of support by Hamas, regardless of direct orders from the leadership or not. And when the riots in Jerusalem and other parts erupted because of the barbaric revenge on the Arab youth executed by primitive souls, Hamas understood that this could be an opportunity to regain its political weight, get out of its isolation within the Arab world, get resources and funds which they were needing as they lost legitimacy and the Muslim Brotherhood lost power, and engage Israel one more time. They started to bomb systematically the South of Israel again.
I am renting a place in the center of the country and by public transportation I get to the College. I lost track of the number of times I had to run downstairs to the shelter, day and night. I also had to run for cover when I was shopping a couple of times. For instance, last Friday, the day of shopping and preparation for the Shabbat evening, I was caught by three different sirens while I was in the supermarket. Very unpleasant to run with mothers and their children, young moms with babies in strollers and in their arms with faces that expressed a combination of panic and strength, elders unable to run being helped by employees.
Three times, I didn’t make it to the shelters! I was lucky that Israeli technology developed anti-missile systems that are reasonable effective. The booms were extremely loud this time because they were very very close to us in the sky. A young teenager showed me a picture he took of the explosion in the air as he was filming the sky with his smart phone when he realized he wasn’t going to make it to the safe room.
In my building where I rent there are numerous young families. Through the days I noticed that for two of these families the fathers were not around and the wives told me they were called to reserve duty. When we gather in the small shelter, children cry and we all try to help the young mothers and play with the young children, who sometimes just woke up in the middle of the night to be taken of their beds and run downstairs. Many elders in the building are helped by other neighbors. Some do not make it and stay inside the building hallways because they are more protected and there aren’t windows. Moms tell me how each time that a neighbor slams a door and the children hear the noise they think it is another bomb and they start screaming “I am scared” and often cry. So in a way Hamas could be satisfied that they are causing emotional damage, heavy at times.
Let me make it very clear, Hamas is bombing and continues to bomb any place possible with missiles aimed at the centers of cities with the intention of causing heavy damage, possibly killing as many civilians as they can. They argue that no civilian in Israel is innocent and that any Israeli is fair target, including babies, elders, incapacitated people, you name it. By the way for those who understand Arabic, they are not using just the term Zionists to refer to Israelis, they are using now very often the term ‘yahudi’ which as in Hebrew “yehudi” it means Jewish (any Jewish, if they are in Israel as tourists too, are legitimate targets). This is at the same time that Mashal tell Charlie Rose that he is OK with the Jewish people (I guess he meant in as far as Jewish means being a dhimi — a second class subaltern).
The occupation is not the problem for them, it is the very same existence of Israel. Lets understand also that different from other movements of national liberation, Hamas intention is to impose an Islamic state in the whole middle east ruled by a fundamentalist intolerable regime far from anything democratic.
Riding the buses and going shopping I speak with people in Hebrew, in which I am fluent, and in spite of the bombings and the lost of too many young soldiers that are tremendously painful, the spirits are very high, very high! Solidarity is tremendous and in spite that many people do not sound supportive of the prime minister and his government, they see this operation (or war) as necessary. Keep in mind that I was describing the center of the country, where large cities such as Rishon, Rehovot, Ramat Gan, or Tel Aviv are located. I cannot even start to describe what these days it is like to live in Beer-Sheva, Ofakim, Netivot, Ashkelon, or any of the kibbutzim in the south, where besides bombings they have to deal with terrorist incursions.
In class we had to run to the shelter many times. My Arab students tell me that also in many of their towns they have to run for shelter and that thankfully they have them. Maybe they are not telling me about all of their feelings and thoughts, but my Arab students are very very very angry with Hamas. They do not want to be sacrificed for their cause and they do not want to be randomly bombed. They want to study, have a profession, make a living, build a family, and be accomplished at whatever they do. Needles to say my Jewish students are very dedicated too and in spite that siblings, relatives, and/or friends are in the front, they want to keep going with their lives as normally as possible under these circumstances.
In fact, yesterday I went for a meal to a restaurant many of them suggested in the port of Tel-Aviv. This was a weeknight. Restaurants and coffee shops were functioning at full steam. Plenty of people out. Many families and too many strollers at what I would consider a late time to have babies out where enjoying the calm evening, the carrousel was with a long line of young children waiting for their turn to ride and ice-cream parlors were serving scoops at record speeds. There I met a couple of local colleagues with whom we are planning a research project. The son of one of them is a pilot in the Israeli air force. I was told that this young pilot aborted four times his missions, yes four times!, because there were too many civilians next to the targets.
Regretfully, Hamas has used the resources they obtained, including building materials form Israel, not to build schools or even shelters for their population, but for tunnels with the intention of attacking Israel, including of course civilians because all Israelis are legit targets for them. Thus, their population not only is used as human shields, but was intentionally left without protection when they could have invested in protecting them (they had the resources, the technology, the know how, and the well-trained laborers). So much for caring for their own people… And as you know, any protests on part of the Gazans against Hamas is repressed not only with force, but also with firing squads in public places to send the message.
I know that people in Gaza are also suffering too much. But frankly, when you are being bombed by Hamas with missiles coming out of Gaza, I really can feel their pain, but my pain goes first. If someone comes to kill me I shoot first honestly. And keep in mind that what is legal or not is the result of ideological, philosophical, and political decisions. Ethics informs law, not the other way around. And, ethics are not necessarily neutral, but I will stop here as I do not want to get into a post-structural analysis of the law in this contextuality (which it deserves to be made at another time). So Pirkei Abbot can help us here with the traditional “if I am not for myself…,” and then once I take care of myself I can take care of others, as it continues “but if I am only for myself… and if not now, when?” I wholeheartedly without hesitation support the right of Israel to defend itself.
How this will end? I am not sure, I am not a political scientist, but many Israelis want an end to this only when all the capacities of Hamas are destroyed. In other words, my perceptions form my encounters with Israelis is that they are expecting nothing but a white flag from Hamas. Right or misguided, Kerry’s intentions are noble and there should be negotiations for an end of the conflict.
As I stated at the beginning, a military triumph is not a political triumph. A savvy government in this situation should translate military victories into important political gains and what is negotiated behind closed doors might not be made public because too much is at stake.