Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | January 17, 2009

In Gaza, there are little boys just like him…

What follows below is the text for my final daily diary entry for the BBC World Service radio show “The World Today“. The audio link for this show can be found here, and includes a response from one of my counterparts in Gaza, Mr. Omar Sha’ban, an economist and father who lives in central Gaza.

**************

This is Liza Rosenberg, keeping an audio diary for the World Today. When I tell Israelis that I’ve been keeping this daily diary for a BBC World Service radio show, I’m often met with a pleading response to “explain that Israel had to do this. Explain to everyone how we didn’t have a choice.” While I would be lying if I didn’t say that there are definitely some Israelis who are celebrating what’s been happening in Gaza, most of the people who I’ve spoken to do not feel that way, feeling instead that Israel did not have a choice.

As we entered this conflict, many Israelis were genuinely puzzled by the fact that no one else seemed to understand why we felt this way. Part of me has felt this way also, which I imagine you may have gathered from the diary entries I’ve shared with you since early last week. I’ve been having these terrible feelings of frustration as this conflict has dragged on, being tugged back and forth by events that have happened – Hamas’ cynical use of its civilian population, questioning Israel’s ethics when it fired on a school. I’ve had feelings of sadness as I dealt with a loss of innocence of sorts, as my four year-old son learned that there are bad people who shoot rockets at schools, and his belief that if I were to buy him a sword, he would be able to defeat the bad guys.

There have been times that I felt were incredibly important, times when I had an opportunity to shape my son’s thoughts and wanted so badly to ensure that he understood. When he told me that his teacher explained that there are good Arabs and bad Arabs, I responded by reminding him that there are good people and bad people, and that it doesn’t matter where they’re from or if they’re somehow different from us. I tell him that in Gaza, there are little boys just like him, little girls, mommies and daddies, that they are good people, and that they are probably very scared right now.

As this will probably be my last daily diary entry, I was asked by my editors if I would be willing to conduct a joint interview with my counterparts in Gaza. I thought about it, but felt that I couldn’t go through with it. What could I possibly say that wouldn’t sound hollow and completely ridiculous in light of the fact that my country is destroying his? To say sorry would be so hopelessly inadequate in this situation, I think. I would feel ashamed, embarrassed, helpless. And they might take their anger out on me, which, though misplaced, would be understandable. Or perhaps they would be gracious, and that would be even more unbearable, because I would feel so horribly, horribly guilty. After all, as I sit here in Israel with all of these thoughts, all of these worries about what my son is understanding, these gentlemen are worrying about whether their families will survive another night in Gaza. I’m not personally responsible for anything that’s been happening down there, and I believe Hamas has to realize that there will be consequences to its actions. I want more than anything for there to be peace and quiet for my fellow Israelis in the south. Ideally, I want the same thing for the Palestinians in Gaza as well. As I formulate my words, news networks are reporting that Hamas has agreed to a one-year, renewable ceasefire, if Israel is prepared to meet certain conditions. And I wonder how we’ll ever find our way out of this mess that we Israelis and Palestinians have managed to create.

Thank you for listening.

***********

This essay was written specifically for the BBC World Service.

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Responses

  1. That’s something quite special, thanks for sharing. It’s amazing how close it is becoming to us, thanks to technology. I hope that means an end is in sight.

  2. Thank you for saying what was in my heart.

    My son, who is nearly eight, keeps asking why we can’t just *talk* it out, and why someone had to invent guns in the first place.

    I wish I had an answer for him.

  3. “When he told me that his teacher explained that there are good Arabs and bad Arabs…” My mind reels with the thought how quickly a Palestinian teacher would be shot for expressing an opinion such as this about Israelis in the classroom.

    I’ve written and rewritten a response to your post about a half-dozen times and decided to stop at the above because for me it says what the Palestinians themselves have to overcome.

  4. I feel you should have agreed to the joint interview. You are handed an opportunity to express yourself on the BBC, which gets extremely wide coverage and has an anti-Israel bias. This is the war on the “second front”, the war for public opinion. It looks cowardly that you didn’t step up to the challenge. Sorry.

  5. Miki, I just cannot stand judgmental people who end their nasty comments with an insincere “sorry.”

    Liza is a writer; she does not enjoy live radio. That is her choice and that is something I respect.

    She really put herself out there with these revealing, sensitive and insightful radio diary posts. And instead of offering a little praise and/or support, all you can do is make a crabby little criticism. Shame.

  6. In adding a “sorry”, I was trying to be polite, not insincere. I still think Liza was handed a big opportunity, and to me, she comes across as scared to accept it.

    Very few Jews or Israelis here (in Australia)seriously mix with the non-Jewish population. They live in a social ghetto. Very different to the American Jews, who in my experience are much better integrated and accepted into the general population. By saying proudly that I am Israeli, I end up besieged by requests from my non-Jewish friends and acquaintances (I don’t live in the social ghetto) to explain any flare-up in the conflict. What I find is, the vast majority of these people know nil about the history of the conflict but still have the general Western left-wing opinion of it, which essentially equates to the BBC view. My hasbara attempts are extremely draining and depressing, and I don’t think that is due to my lack of historical knowledge or my lack of passion in explaining. Only last week I was told after an hour and a half of hasbara that the solution is for the Germans to provide the Israelis with a homeland, the capital of which should be Auschwitz. I don’t believe this was said to insult me – the person who said it is just stupid.

    What should I do: stop saying that I am Israeli so that I can stop having these exhausting, numberless conversations? Or keep having these conversations because maybe one day, something that I say will change one person’s mind just a little bit?

    I read an article in Time magazine this week entitled “Can Israel survive?” listing the many enemies and therefore challenges faced by the State. The one challenge I don’t think was mentioned was the battle for public opinion. My concern is, can Israel survive when its only friend is the US? If the answer is Yes, then I guess I can stop trying to convince people that the State of Israel has the right to exist.

  7. Miki: I think I handled it quite well, actually. What you read above is what was broadcast on the BBC World Service. You do realize that the text above was recorded (by me) and broadcast on the radio, right? I’ve been expressing myself for over a week on the BBC, on a daily basis (though not on the weekends). If you were thinking or expecting that I would go on live radio to debate a Palestinian whose life has been hell and explain how Israel was completely in the right with regard to everything it’s been doing during these past three weeks, then you’d be disappointed, because I’m not going to lie.

    In light of everything Israel’s done in Gaza during this conflict, there’s absolutely nothing I could have said to make listeners believe that Israel did the right thing when there was so much death and destruction down there. And, there was no way I was going to toe some sort of party line just because someone thinks I should.

    What I tried to do while keeping this diary for the World Service was to show a human side of Israel, to show what some regular people have been struggling with during these past few weeks. If you believe that my decision to go this route instead of wholeheartedly defending Israel was cowardly, then so be it. I’d be willing to bet, though, that I did more for the image of regular Israelis this way than I would have had I tried to defend our actions as being necessary, which most people don’t believe anyway.

  8. Miki: And what Lisa said was indeed correct. I’m a writer. I have no desire to do live radio (the joint interview mentioned above was not the only interview I’ve turned down during this conflict). Based on my writing ability, I was given an opportunity to do some writing for the BBC World Service. For me, the fact that I had to read what I’d written out loud and record it was very secondary. How I handle my career is my choice, not yours or anyone else’s. I don’t even owe you an explanation for why I made these choices, but I will not sit back quietly as you try to make me feel guilty or portray me as cowardly simply because I didn’t do what you wanted.

    As for American Jews being “accepted” into the general population, there is no need for them to be accepted. They are part of the general population. I don’t know anyone there who feels as though they’ve been “accepted” – they simply are.

  9. Liza: FWIW, I know of no one celebrating the loss of civilian life in Gaza. As you yourself have pointed out repeatedly over the past few weeks, support for the Israeli government’s decision to try and (finally) protect her southern citizens doesn’t constitute a celebration.

    “Resigned relief” is how I would describe the emotions and attitudes of my friends and neighbors in the daati leumi community. Relief that the safety of southern citizens of Israel at long last seems a priority; resignation at the helplessness we all feel over the inability to achieve a lasting quiet.

    Jennifer: “I’ve written and rewritten a response to your post about a half-dozen times and decided to stop at the above because for me it says what the Palestinians themselves have to overcome.” Both brilliant and tragic in your concise precision.

  10. Liza, I don’t comment much any more. Partly because my real life has become so busy, and partly just fatigue. But I did want to say that the above is beautifully written and wonderfully heartfelt.

    It takes great courage to be truly, from the heart honest, and in public no less. A very rare courage indeed.

    Kol ha kavod.

  11. It concerns me that a country such as Australia, ostensibly a US ally with friendly relations towards Israel, has a totally different dialogue running at “street” level. What people actually say here is incredibly anti-American and anti-Israeli. It makes me wonder what the rest of Asia and Europe are saying at street level. Is it similar to what I’m hearing in Australia, or even worse? (Sometimes what I hear is so hair-raisingly racist, or so hair-raisingly stupid, I wonder how much worse it could be.)

    After experiencing some anti-Semitism at university and then with my first three employers, I stopped telling people that I was Jewish and lied about the origins of my Israeli surname. I was so sick of the nasty comments. I never felt good about lying, even by omission, but I just couldn’t deal with the alternative. It didn’t help that I was extremely shy well into my 20s, and therefore not good at standing up for myself. Having cut ties with the local Jewish community, I felt I had no motivation to stick my neck out.

    The failure of Camp David in 2000 came as a real shock to me (I was so naïve I actually thought that was going to be the happy ending). Many people here did not even notice the Oslo peace process or Camp David or Taba, but the second intifada and Mohammed al Dura made all the wrong sort of headlines. The attitude towards the suicide bombings was more or less that the Israelis “brought it upon themselves”.

    So I went back to letting people know that I was Jewish, Israeli, and American and started trying to explain the Israeli position to people. Eight years later it is still draining and confronting, often hurtful, often frightening on all sorts of levels.

    It is made especially difficult by my realisation that I don’t agree with key Israeli actions, such as the unceasing development of the West Bank/East Jerusalem settlement blocs or the placement of the security wall between Israel and the West Bank (which I feel very strongly should have followed the Green Line).

    I do understand that you have a personal preference for reporting on the conflict in writing rather than verbally. Ironically (with my being so shy) I ended up in a job where I negotiate with people over the phone all day. It would probably be very hard for me to do the same sort of job if it were face-to-face. The physical distance created by the phone helps me forget about myself and concentrate on the other person.

    I think Israel is in a war (even when the actual fronts are more or less quiet) and that in a war, people push themselves beyond their comfort zones.

    The hasbara aspect of the war is not being dealt with adequately by the Israeli government. The extreme anti-Israeli remarks I keep hearing worry me. I wonder if I am watching some sort of mild repeat of the 1930s. What will the repercussions be for Israel and the Jewish people? Possibly nothing at all and I’m overreacting.

    I still see the opportunity to speak to a Palestinian on the BBC as an opening and I also wonder about how your declining the offer might be construed by the BBC and by the Palestinian commentators recruited by the BBC.

    Regarding your comment about American Jews “there is no need for them to be accepted … they simply are”. Funnily enough, this is actually part of what I’m trying to say, although I’m probably not expressing myself well enough. The two largest Jewish communities today (Israel and America) don’t have what was once the standard Jewish experience of feeling that they live in a country where they don’t really belong, where they are “other”. I wonder what effect this is going to have on Jewish history.


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