It is usually around this time of year that I write a piece summing up the year in Israel, filled with highs and lows, the difficulties and the triumphs.
As I reflect on 2014, it feels different, and it is hard to point my finger on the reason why. Israel has fought challenging wars in the past, has looked terror right in the eyes before. Israelis have faced adversity, the Jewish world has endured tough times. So what is different about 2014?
Maybe that’s the problem. Everything changes and everything stays the same.
In mid-June, three young Israeli boys, Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frankel, were kidnapped and subsequently murdered.
In early July, we saw an ugly element within Israeli society when Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khadier, was also kidnapped and brutally murdered by Jewish nationalists seeking revenge. The point of difference? The killers were condemned from all sides of Israeli politics, whereas the Palestinian killers were praised and encouraged not only where Hamas reigns in Gaza but in the areas controlled by the Palestine Authority. Initially, it was even denied that Hamas had anything to do with the kidnapping. It took until August for Hamas to admit they were involved much to the dismay of many in the media who were reluctant to concede any Hamas involvement and then subsequently were happy to suggest that Israel used it as a pretence for its attack on Hamas in Gaza.
In July, Israel faced a tough battle on the ground against Hamas when it was decided that the increase in rocket attacks were enough and Israel sought to bring an end to them. Operation Protective Edge was launched by air on 8 July and on the ground on 17 July after intricate tunnels and an elaborate plan to carry out a mass-casualty attack was discovered. While there was enough evidence mounting to suggest that Hamas was committing a double war crime – firing from heavily populated civilian areas at Israeli civilians and using their people as human shields to boot much of the world, spurred on by a blinkered and biased media, turned on Israel.
It was a difficult time for Israelis. The country stood in solidarity with the residents of the south, who have suffered 14 years of rocket attacks and were bearing the brunt of this war too. But the centre of Israel was not immune as rockets were fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and sirens were heard as far north as Hadera. These were not the pithy home-made rockets Hamas and their supporters would have the world believe they were firing.
In total, around 3,360 rockets were fired but the low number of casualties should say nothing about Hamas’ intention to kill as many Israelis as possible. The iron dome stopped this, but the maths is not hard. If even one person was killed by every rocket fired, at least 3,360 Israelis would have been killed.
The usually calm Israelis that I know were terrified. My mother-in-law sat at home without a shelter as a rocket fell just one block from her house. My sister-in-law recalled a story where she was in an open air carpark with her two sons (aged 3 and 1) when a siren went off. Without a stroller she had to find a way to get both boys to safety as quick as possible, without scaring them either. A kind stranger picked up the older son and ran with her to a shelter. As they waited in the shelter the time required after a siren, she tried to sing songs and keep them calm as if it were all just a game, while crying on the inside.
My husband’s best friend from the army lives on a Kibbutz just 2 km from Gaza. Early in the war he and his wife were bathing their young daughter when a siren went off. Living as close as they do to Gaza means that the 15 seconds is more like 7 seconds, if that. Their daughter screamed so loudly as they took her out and ran that it was enough for them to pack their bags and leave for family in Netanya the very next day. They didn’t return until after the ceasefire. Only 20% of the Kibbutz remained in their houses for the duration of the war.
But life goes on. In October, we visited Israel for the first time since Protective Edge. Our very first weekend was spent with our friends in the South. We arrived on the kibbutz to the wonderful aroma of laffa and labane being cooked up by local Bedouins, to the sound of festive music and an atmosphere of celebration. The kibbutz was celebrating 65 years, and with the majority of residents back in their homes and joining in on the celebrations it was hard for me to imagine that just a few months earlier the place had been deserted.
Were they scared? Life goes on, they said, and we need to move forward too.
The same went for my family living in the Centre. One day I walked by the house that had been hit, the only direct hit on a house in the centre of Israel. From the street I could barely make out the construction that was taking place behind the fence. Across the road, children played in the yard of a religious school. The town is situated only 5 minutes from the airport and as the story goes the Iron Dome wasn’t activated in that instance because of the close proximity to the airport at a time where a plane was either taking off or landing.
Walking through the streets, it was hard for me to imagine this sleepy town facing sirens. It was hard to imagine my nephews being pulled out of bed or being hauled across the street by a stranger to make it to safety.
Life goes on.
In the four weeks we were there, a number of frightening terror incidents took place including stabbings, Palestinians running over groups of Israelis waiting for public transport, and the horrific and barbaric attack on Har Nof. The randomness of these attacks means that no one feels safe. On the way home from Tel Aviv on the day after an Israeli soldier was stabbed there, I saw Israelis waiting for a bus near the train station, and the majority of them were standing further back from the curb so as not to be open targets.
But life goes on.
Tourism continues (including around 400 youths from our own community in the coming few months!) and the streets are full.
This resilient mentality of Israelis to continue forward permeates through the streets.
And life doesn’t just go on, but the country continues to thrive.
Israelis continue to be at the forefront of innovation, of medical research, of science and technology. No matter how many misguided individuals and groups try to boycott Israel, their contribution to the world is undeniable.
Who knows what the next year will hold. The country may have a New Prime Minister, or at least the coalition will look different to how it did at the start of this year. Hamas is still hell-bent on Israel’s destruction and the PA, Israel’s supposed peace partner is not doing much better.
But life goes on.
The media as always, is never on Israel’s side, most recently evident here in Australia after Ruth Pollard and John Lyons collected Walkley Awards for their ”work” in the region. We’ve seen some of the most vile forms of anti-Semitism as well with journalist Mike Carlton and cartoonist Glen Le Leivre producing the double whammy in Fairfax. What I find disturbing about the trend that continues in the media is that those who consider themselves as “left” and/or “liberal” are giving succour to a creed that can only be described at best as extreme right wing. The reaction in the streets of many so-called modern, progressive societies were filled by those, encouraged by misleading, distorted coverage in their news media has been horrifying in some instances with Jews and their property physically attacked and thugs carrying Islamic State and Hamas flags screaming that “Hitler was right”.
But life goes on. Israel will not stop defending itself because Fairfax and its award giving supporters think courage comes from being a mouthpiece for Hamas propaganda, or because journalists think that by selectively covering a story they can change the reality on the ground.
Life goes on.
And Israelis will continue to persevere, and prosper.
And there still much for us to be thankful for.
This will be my last update for 2014. Thank you for taking to the time read and respond over the past year and I look forward to hearing from you in 2015!
Media & Advocacy Director
Zionist Federation of Australia