During my visit to Israel there just happened to be a war going on. I was not near Gaza. Israel has been hit by Hamas rockets for years now but, the aggressive approach Israel recently took was condemned in much of the world. A total of 1,200 Palestinians died with a recent report from Israel saying that 300 of these were civilians. The report said 580 of those killed have been identified as fighters of the Hamas Palestinian militant group. Another 320 victims have yet to be classified but they have been described as all men, two-thirds of whom were deemed likely by Israel to be terror operatives.
Of course, these results differ greatly from those of Hamas reports. Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration Chief Col. Moshe Levi told the newspaper the Hamas figures are the result of “false reporting” that have given the international community a “vastly distorted impression” of the Gaza death toll.
According to some reports, Israel’s Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog, who is coordinating Israel’s humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza, has said that “[The IDF] made 250,000 phone calls], it sent text messages and delivered leaflets by air. It [made] broadcasts on television and on radio and asked people to move away. It did whatever it could to prevent human suffering.”
Some say that Hamas deliberately forced its “own” Gazan civilians to serve as hostages and “human shields,” behind which the terrorists conducted their assault. Hamas regularly sent its troops to occupy schools, hospitals, mosques and office buildings, their grounds and adjacent streets, as well as many private Palestinian houses and business, and used them to fire at Israeli soldiers and to launch rockets against Israeli civilians. The Hamas men used mosques as weapons and ammunition storage facilities, and fired anti-aircraft guns from them. The Israelis have even filmed videos, now broadcast on YouTube, of Hamas fighters launching rockets and mortars from the courtyards of schools, or streets directly adjoining them.
In Israel, military service is mandatory and nearly all citizens – men and women – are drafted at age 18. Because Israel is such a small country, and everyone serves in the army, entire communities are affected by everything that happens along the border.
All active military personnel, whether on duty or not, must carry their weapons with them at all times. Which means, I sat next to a nice young boy sleeping with his assault rifle propped between his legs on the bus on my way to Jerusalem from the south of Israel. I should also make a side note that all these young military men are quite hot. Does that help my safety? Well, no, but they sure are nice to look at.
I was at a Sabbath dinner (the first one in my life) in Jerusalem one night and met a mother who has something in common with nearly all Israeli mothers: her children served in the military and due to Israel’s common conflicts, it is not all that rare that their children have to fight. This particular mom’s son had just returned from Gaza City.
But what I heard from her wasn’t about the war itself, but what it meant to be a soldier for Israel. Since everyone does it here… it’s something of a rite of passage. What struck me as amazing were all the phone calls this mother received from random strangers telling her that her son was alright. In other words, there is an unwritten chain of command that soldiers give their mothers’ phone numbers to random people they come in contact with during the conflict… like truck drivers or other officers, who make calls for the soldiers… or even hand the numbers on to someone else who then makes the calls.
When her son returned home, she then learned that he had really been at the front lines, something he kept from her so she would not be overcome with worry. He brought back with him a stack of letters he’d received written by school children and teachers wishing him a safe return. Without being asked, this young man sat down and called every child who had written him and left a telephone number to tell them he read their letter and to thank them. The kids on the other end of the phone line were ecstatic to hear from him.
Here is another letter that is circulating on the internet. I can not say for sure it is real, but have not found the contrary.
An Open Letter to A citizen Of Gaza: I Am the Soldier Who Slept In Your Home
I Am the Soldier Who Slept In Your Home
By: Yishai G (reserve soldier)
[Originally published in Hebrew in Maariv]
While the world watches the ruins in Gaza, you return to your home which remains standing. However, I am sure that it is clear to you that someone was in your home while you were away.
I am that someone.
I spent long hours imagining how you would react when you walked into your home. How you would feel when you understood that IDF soldiers had slept on your mattresses and used your blankets to keep warm.
I knew that it would make you angry and sad and that you would feel this violation of the most intimate areas of your life by those defined as your enemies, with stinging humiliation. I am convinced that you hate me with unbridled hatred, and you do not have even the tiniest desire to hear what I have to say. At the same time, it is important for me to say the following in the hope that there is even the minutest chance that you will hear me.
I spent many days in your home. You and your family’s presence was felt in every corner. I saw your family portraits on the wall, and I thought of my family. I saw your wife’s perfume bottles on the bureau, and I thought of my wife. I saw your children’s toys and their English language schoolbooks. I saw your personal computer and how you set up the modem and wireless phone next to the screen, just as I do.
I wanted you to know that despite the immense disorder you found in your house that was created during a search for explosives and tunnels (which were indeed found in other homes), we did our best to treat your possessions with respect. When I moved the computer table, I disconnected the cables and lay them down neatly on the floor, as I would do with my own computer. I even covered the computer from dust with a piece of cloth. I tried to put back the clothes that fell when we moved the closet although not the same as you would have done, but at least in such a way that nothing would get lost.
I know that the devastation, the bullet holes in your walls and the destruction of those homes near you place my descriptions in a ridiculous light. Still, I need you to understand me, us, and hope that you will channel your anger and criticism to the right places.
I decided to write you this letter specifically because I stayed in your home.
I can surmise that you are intelligent and educated and there are those in your household that are university students. Your children learn English, and you are connected to the Internet. You are not ignorant; you know what is going on around you.
Therefore, I am sure you know that Quassam rockets were launched from your neighborhood into Israeli towns and cities.
How could you see these weekly launches and not think that one day we would say “enough”?! Did you ever consider that it is perhaps wrong to launch rockets at innocent civilians trying to lead a normal life, much like you? How long did you think we would sit back without reacting?
I can hear you saying “it’s not me, it’s Hamas”. My intuition tells me you are not their most avid supporter. If you look closely at the sad reality in which your people live, and you do not try to deceive yourself or make excuses about “occupation”, you must certainly reach the conclusion that the Hamas is your real enemy.
The reality is so simple, even a seven year old can understand: Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, removing military bases and its citizens from Gush Katif. Nonetheless, we continued to provide you with electricity, water, and goods (and this I know very well as during my reserve duty I guarded the border crossings more than once, and witnessed hundreds of trucks full of goods entering a blockade-free Gaza every day).
Despite all this, for reasons that cannot be understood and with a lack of any rational logic, Hamas launched missiles on Israeli towns. For three years we clenched our teeth and restrained ourselves. In the end, we could not take it anymore and entered the Gaza strip, into your neighborhood, in order to remove those who want to kill us. A reality that is painful but very easy to explain.
As soon as you agree with me that Hamas is your enemy and because of them, your people are miserable, you will also understand that the change must come from within. I am acutely aware of the fact that what I say is easier to write than to do, but I do not see any other way. You, who are connected to the world and concerned about your children’s education, must lead, together with your friends, a civil uprising against Hamas.
I swear to you, that if the citizens of Gaza were busy paving roads, building schools, opening factories and cultural institutions instead of dwelling in self pity, arms smuggling and nurturing a hatred to your Israeli neighbors, your homes would not be in ruins right now. If your leaders were not corrupt and motivated by hatred, your home would not have been harmed. If someone would have stood up and shouted that there is no point in launching missiles on innocent civilians, I would not have to stand in your kitchen as a soldier.
You don’t have money, you tell me? You have more than you can imagine.
Even before Hamas took control of Gaza, during the time of Yasser Arafat, millions if not billions of dollars donated by the world community to the Palestinians was used for purchasing arms or taken directly to your leaders bank accounts. Gulf States, the emirates – your brothers, your flesh and blood, are some of the richest nations in the world. If there was even a small feeling of solidarity between Arab nations, if these nations had but the smallest interest in reconstructing the Palestinian people – your situation would be very different.
You must be familiar with Singapore. The land mass there is not much larger than the Gaza strip, it is considered the second most populated country in the world. Yet, Singapore is a successful, prospering, and well managed country. Why not the same for you?
My friend, I would like to call you by name, but I will not do so publicly. I want you to know that I am 100% at peace with what my country did, what my army did, and what I did. However, I feel your pain. I am sorry for the destruction you are finding in your neighborhood at this moment. On a personal level, I did what I could to minimize the damage to your home as much as possible.
In my opinion, we have a lot more in common than you might imagine. I am a civilian, not a soldier, and in my private life I have nothing to do with the military. However, I have an obligation to leave my home, put on a uniform, and protect my family every time we are attacked. I have no desire to be in your home wearing a uniform again and I would be more than happy to sit with you as a guest on your beautiful balcony, drinking sweet tea seasoned with the sage growing in your garden.
The only person who could make that dream a reality is you. Take responsibility for yourself, your family, your people, and start to take control of your destiny. How? I do not know. Maybe there is something to be learned from the Jewish people who rose up from the most destructive human tragedy of the 20th century, and instead of sinking into self-pity, built a flourishing and prospering country. It is possible, and it is in your hands. I am ready to be there to provide a shoulder of support and help to you.
But only you can move the wheels of history.
Yishai (Reserve Soldier)