Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Personal joy, national tragedy

This is the summer of my personal joy, one of the happiest most wonderful times I can remember ever.

My family, so long devoid of little children, finally, finally has a future, a little, tiny ball of energy, the first new generation in decades.

She spends much of her time snuggled up to me, nursing for all she is worth, frenetically working on growing. She is only just over a month old, but she is alert much of the time, and between nursing and the rare occasions when she sleeps her eyes are wide open, absorbing the world with such hunger and curiosity that it takes my breath away to see in one so young.

Yes this is the summer of my joy, my motherhood, my family's new start.

But sitting here propped against my comfy cushions as my little girl marathon nurses, I'm witnessing the summer of destruction for the 10,000 Israeli residents of Gaza. My breath catches in my throat, the tears flow down my cheeks, and it isn't post-natal hormonal weepiness (I'm not usually the weepy type), it's the heartache of watching my army, my air force, destroy my fellow citizens communities by governmental decree.

It really does feel surreal, sitting here in my cosy room with its warm colours, my newborn in my arms, all so homey and heimish, and there, on my TV screen similar cosy homes which are slated for destruction, the families who live in them, families just like mine, begging our own soldiers decked out in our own uniforms complete with Star of David adorned flag, our own people, getting ready to evict our own people. The mind simply refuses to comprehend.

And no, I shouldn't say families just like mine, because we've been living in our sleepy dormitory town, which thank God, was pretty much quiet through the Oslo War. These familes, these Israeli residents of Gaza, they have consistently been on the front lines, have absorbed constant barrages of mortars and rockets, have run the gauntlet of some of the most dangerous roads in the country just to get to and from their homes. These people are heroes, brave people who have put their lives where their beliefs are and gone to live in a front line area to protect the rest of us, to farm and create peaceful, beautiful communities which are a model of Israel's pioneering spirit.

This is how such patriotic citizens are being treated, given a few paltry months in which to uproot their lives, their entire communities and start again. Whether you think Israel should pull out of Gaza or not, treating these people like miscreants, like deviants, like garbage to be thrown out brings shame on our country, certainly on our government.

As if decades of successful community building, of thriving agriculture, of top educational institutions are nothing, are so easy to achieve that no one really needs to bother thinking how to rescue it, just uproot the people and plonk them down anywhere, who cares.

It makes my blood boil, and what have I done about it? Well, last summer I demonstrated, yes, I did. It's been quite a while since I've actually demonstrated, but I did, along with thousands of others. Then I was pregnant and not up for demonstrating (though I know many pregnant ladies who did). So it's been arm chair spectating for me.

Thousands and thousands of other people have been demonstrating though. Peacefully, sadly, hopefully. And how did the government react? By demonising and delegitimising the entire opposition, portraying all those who opposed the Gaza pullout as a bunch of violent, dangerous nutters.

That made my blood boil even more, because I, and many of those I know who demonstrated, can see the reasons for a pull out, can understand the motivation for a pull out, we aren't just reacting from the gut, we've tried to see the government's side here and come to the conclusion that despite possibly valid reasons, the Gaza evacuation policy does not make sense.

Yes, Gaza has always been a stronghold for Palestinian terror and fedayeen groups. Yes, Gaza has less spiritual, national significance to the Jewish people than Judea and Samaria. Yes, the terror war has been the hardest there. Yes, there is international pressure for this government to make some kind of move on the negotiation front. Yes, it might help Israel's diplomatic standing to make a grand good will gesture to the Palestinians. Yes, the costs of defending Gaza are huge. Yes, there is more consensus on letting go of Gaza than any other part of the disputed territory.

I've had endless discussions about this with so many friends and so many find themselves agonising over what side to take on the issue of Gaza. I'm talking about people on both the "right" and "left", none of whom are taking this move for granted.

We've just spent the last few years fighting a painful war against the onslaught of terrorism from our Palestinian peace partners. Much of that terror has eminated from Gaza. The precise aim of that terror was the belief that if Israel suffered enough, Israel would surrender, Israelis would flee, Israelis would fear for their lives so much that they would give-up.

Withdrawing from Gaza right now seems like granting victory to those bombers and snipers, a victory to Palestinian terrorism, and more importantly, a disincentive for peaceful negotiation. Many Israelis believe that such a huge gesture should only be part of a negotiated settlement, not a one-sided move.

After fighting so hard to defend ourselves from Palestinian terror it seems counterproductive, to say the least, that the government should embark on a policy that will likely encourage more. It sends the message that fire enough rockets and mortars at us and we'll up sticks and leave. Pulling out from Gaza implies that the Palestinian militias should start the same tactics elsewhere to bring about the end of Israel.

Arguably it was precisely Israel's shambolic withdrawal from Lebanon, including abandonment of its SLA allies, in May 2000, that triggered the Oslo War in the first place, a display of weakness that encouraged Palestinian leaders to resort to violence rather than continue the peace process, despite Ehud Barak's unprecedented concessions at the summer 2000 Camp David talks.

Some respond that if the Palestinian leadership in Gaza respond to Israel's withdrawal with terror Israel will just march in again and fight the terrorists. Like that will be a picnic after Israel has given up its bases, its intelligence networks, so much that gives Israel's security forces the upper hand. Without the IDF presence there will be uncontrolled weapons smuggling, increased fortifications, booby traps and other measures which will make fighting in Gaza after an Israeli pullout much more difficult than it is today. Not to mention that on the diplomatic front reinvading a territory Israel has withdrawn from will be a difficult and unpopular move, never mind the just cause.

Then there is the question of who Israel will be abandoning Gaza to. The supposedly more moderate Fatah controlled Palestinian Authority is weak in Gaza. It is only nominally in control, facing stiff competition from Hamas and other Islamic nationalist groups which are extremely popular. In general, Gaza Palestinians tends to more politically and religiously radical than most residents of Judea and Samaria, and this is also where extremist pan-Islamic splinter groups affiliated with Al-Qaida have a toehold. The chances that Hamas or an alliance of these groups will try to take on the PA once Israel pulls out, or that there will be anarchy and civil war, are high. Such a situation is unlikely to help Israel's security - fighting Israel is often the one thing keeping these groups from fighting each other.

Those who find fault with the Sharon governments Gaza plan are coming from so many different angles.We may not agree with withdrawing from territory, or we may believe that the time is simply not right, oppose the principle of a one-sided move on Israel's part or just disagree with the way the government is handling the whole thing.

From doing the rounds of friends (and not a few op-eds) from across the political spectrum I can see that opposition to the government's proposed Gaza evacuation comes from people of many different political stripes and for many different reasons. But Sharon's government has tarred us all with the brush of insanity and extremism, a cruel insult to the intelligent, reasonable thinking people who oppose Sharon's plan for Gaza.

So many people have been arrested at demonstrations, some not even for actually protesting, but for looking like someone who might protest while standing near a road or other area of protest. In particular many children with protest signs have been arrested, on the grounds that they didn't have permits to protest, but then last time I checked one didn't need a permit to be one or two people with a sign standing in the street and voicing an opinion. It's as though the only way Sharon thinks he can get this done is to make opposition to the Gaza withdrawal so illegitimate that people are too embarrassed or scared to take part in the demonstrations against it.

But of course at the moment that is all academic for me anyway. A new mother with a tiny baby in the ferocious heat of midsummer I'm barely leaving home to go to my local grocery store, let alone demonstrations or sit ins near the Gaza border, or trying to infiltrate Gaza itself, where Israeli security forces have implemented a lockdown for fear that non-Gaza residents will flood the Israeli communities there and prevent the pullout. I feel impotent, helpless and kind of hypocritical, watching this all unfold on TV, or in e-mails from friends or in the newspapers or in chatter around the dinner table, but not actually doing anything to make myself heard.

Really though, I just don't have time. Even writing a letter seems to take forever, interrupted by countless nursings and of course the sheer exhaustion of new motherhood which is turning my thought process to complee mush.

So I'm staying home, me and my kid (how weird and wonderful to say that?!), and I'll have to sit this one out as an armchair spectator, no matter how strongly I feel about the enormous wrongness of it all. Be comfortable in my home as I watch families like mine lose theirs.

I guess the difficulty of this balance though is part of what makes some people find Israel a hard place to live. The intensity of life here, local politics that feels more personal, more immediate than elsewhere. Part of the challenge of being a Jew in the place where the Jewish future is being made, where so many life and death issues are being decided in the here and now.

Perhaps for now that is my consolation this summer. As things stand now it seems to me that nothing is going to stop the Israeli government from pushing forward with what to me seems a very misguided policy. Yes, if my personal circumstances were different I would be out there protesting anyway, but they aren't, so I'm not.

I'm working on my own small contribution to a Jewish future, I'm mothering a new generation native born Israeli in my home in Israel.

On the top shelf of the wardrobe in her bedroom there is a box I've put together, a time capsule I suppose, of the events of the summer of her birth. An orange bracelet and t-shirt of those who support the Israeli communities in Gaza. A slew of newspaper articles on the topic, pro and con. A disc of the summer's protest songs. God Willing when she is old enough, she'll know what happened this summer, what was lost, what might have been gained and she'll be able to make her own mind up as to whether it was the right thing to do.

How can I rejoice in my personal, private celebration when my nation faces such a wrenching tragedy?