Public Comment

The View from Tel Aviv

By Heidi Basch
Wednesday January 07, 2009 - 06:26:00 PM

Last year on my birthday, Benazir Bhutto was assassinated in Pakistan. This year on my birthday, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) began bombing targets in Gaza to stop the rain of rockets falling on Southern Israel since the end of the ceasefire with Hamas on Dec. 19. I wonder what next year’s birthday will bring. 

Technically, it is arguable that the incursion into Gaza can be called a war, as it is not a conflict between two countries but rather one country and a political-military entity. In Israel, however, the media has called it as such, as have the politicians. And so I state, that, my observations in Israel during a time of war are most disheartening. 

What fails to make sense to me is: How is it that war is still considered an effective method of change? The United States got away with dropping nuclear weapons on Japan in 1945, bringing the war on that front to a stark and horrifying conclusion, but do we, as a human race ever ever want for that to happen again? Are we not more evolved, more refined, more capable in the 21st century of managing conflict in a place, by the way, where people have more in common that what they have been led to believe? 

It is understandable that the world is up at arms, marching through streets shouting slogans to end the war, to call for a ceasefire. It is unfathomable how in a week and a few days, hundreds have lost their lives, thousands have been wounded and those who survive this disaster will be left with nearly nothing to eke out an existence in the aftermath of Israel’s attempt to remove Hamas from rule in the Gaza Strip. 

However, there is more in the streets than a call for a ceasefire and a call for peace. There is a continued call for the end of Israel, and that is where the conflict intensifies and the Israel-supporting Jews and Israelis supporting the government’s decision to invade Gaza, become more hardened, more embittered and more alienated from the rest of the human population. 

The discussion, the demonstration, the debate, the tears, the anger cannot be about bringing an end to the State of Israel; it has to be a call for Israel to abide by international law and to make good on its promises. If anyone, the residents of the West Bank have greater reason to be fed up with Israel’s policies than with those in Gaza, because Abbas and Fayad are toeing the line and, still, for the Palestinians the situation under occupation has not improved. 

The violence is unforgivable on both sides. How it is that Hamas believes it will prevail with this method of rockets falling, killing, destroying, terrorizing and harassing Israelis of all walks of life, including Arab-Israelis, is incomprehensible. How an organization claiming to be for a living, developing nation could be so willing to jeopardize the lives of so many, filling them with hatred along way is also beyond my capabilities of understanding. But they have a right to resist, but they have a right to a country, but they have a right to Jerusalem, to compensation for refugees. 

This is not what Hamas wants. Hamas wants an eternal battle, they will always need an enemy, if it is not the Jews or Israel, it is Fatah. If it is not Fatah, it is the United States, it is Egypt, one day it could be their current sponsor, Iran. They play a despicable game with people’s lives, with children’s lives. Children who have no choice but to emulate what they see and experience in their environment. 

At the Tel Aviv University campus last week, Palestinian and Arab-Israeli students held a protest against the violence. Around a hundred students came out in their keffiyehs and their signs of solidarity with Gaza. They were angry and I found out, extremely sad. 

My friend Davide and I spoke to two female demonstrators to ask what they wanted to get out of this demonstration. They wanted a stop to the violence. Telling us about a mother and her four children who were killed that morning in IAF bombings. One of the young women said, “They want all of the land,” then thought again, “All of OUR land.” 

I responded to her, “It’s all of our land, there’s enough for all of us, and we have to all live here, so what do we do?” 

I continued to ask her how do we make it stop? What’s our plan? Other Jewish students were coming up to them and asking, “what about the rockets?” 

They couldn’t answer how to make the rockets stop, and neither were they justifying them. 

But I wasn’t interested in that argument. I was more concerned with the fact that none of us had a plan or a vision of what instead. 

I continued to talk to the other young woman about the situation. She continued to tell me about the brutality, the starving, the suffering. And I told her, “I know, I want it to stop too, but how?” 

We looked at each other and I asked her if I could give her a hug. I did, and when I pulled away I could feel tears forming in my eyes. When I looked up at her, she had started crying. There was no more anger in her body language, there was total sadness, defeat and helplessness. 

She said, “I am so sad I feel like crying.” 

“Me too,” I said. 


Oakland resident Heidi Basch is currently living in Israel, pursuing a master’s degree in Middle Eastern history from Tel Aviv University.