Stuck in the United States where I’m a citizen while my country is going up in flames and my friend is experiencing the worst moments of her life

The “Swords of Iron” war caught me in the US, while on a visit for a long awaited family wedding. On Saturday morning I woke up to a million messages on my phone telling me that I don’t understand what’s going on in Israel and that I shouldn’t return. The words disgrace, shame, total shock, and uncertainty, were prevalent throughout all those messages. Immediately, I went on the Israeli news websites to find out what the hell they were talking about. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Still in shock, I contact friends from all over Israel to ask how they are doing. I contacted a friend who is married to an army high officer, with whom I hadn’t been in touch for a year because of political disagreements, and asked after her and her husband, an incredible couple, loved, with an amazing family around them.

I go down to breakfast with my mom, my sister, and my niece, and we’re all trying to keep our cool next to Amelia, who is two and a half, so that she won’t notice anything. The extent of the horrors become clear little by little, even though this was Saturday morning in the US and nothing we know now was known then. I ask myself how will I be able to go to my dear cousin’s wedding to his partner of 11 years. We drive to the guest house where the rest of my family was staying and I went into my cousin’s bedroom. During all of this I realize the breadth of the catastrophe and my heartbeat quickens. I recognize that I’m really, really worried. That there’s nothing for me to do from here and that I’m deathly afraid to find out that I know people among those who were killed. Mostly I’m afraid for my former friend’s husband, who is a senior officer in the IDF. I’m afraid to receive bitter news.

My American family doen’t really understand the depth of this calamity. My mother and sister do. We try to project a positive attitude, or at least neutral, so as not to disappoint the soon to be newlyweds and their families. I start to sob out of worry and dread and leave the bedroom. My sweet niece sees the tears that I can’t stop, running down my face.

Israel at War

In the evening I go to the wedding

I’m dressed really nice and look great, and every few minutes I cry hard and smear all my makeup. I try to avoid talking about it so that I don’t ruin the wedding. My eyes are burning from all the tears. We go back to the hotel. I go to sleep. I drank a little at the wedding and I always wake up after 4-5 hours if I’ve been drinking. I wake up at 4AM Michigan time and went on my phone. There were innumerable messages waiting for me. One message from a colleague who wrote that she can’t stop crying since she saw N’s message. Another friend from the same group wrote me privately, “Awake?”. I understood something happened. I go into our group, a group of fertility and reproduction researchers, and see that my friend N’ wrote that her husband was killed in combat and that her world has ended. I jump out of bed and call one of the friends. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.” I completely forgot that N’ was married to a military man who served in the elite Shaldag unit. I was so worried for my other friend that I completely forgot. I couldn't believe that it happened. I texted her immediately. I called her friend to find out how she was doing and I tried to figure out how I could take an earlier flight back home so that I could go to the funeral and shiva. Needless to say, all of the flights to Israel had been canceled and I didn’t really have a way to get home. I found myself a privileged refugee, stuck in the United States, where I’m a citizen, while my country is going up in flames and my friend is going through the worst moments of her life.

I couldn’t go back to sleep. I went down to the hotel lobby barefoot and in my pajamas and talked to many friends on the phone. I logged into a Politically Corret Zoom meeting. I video called another friend. And I stayed awake until the following evening. Because who can sleep as this is going on. I was scrolling my feed all day, going on all of the news websites and turned on CNN on the hotel TV. I still had a post-wedding brunch to go to, arriving with red eyes and weeping in front of anyone who asked how I was doing, telling them about my friend, N’. At this point I realized that more of my friends and acquaintances had lost their loved ones or that they were among the hostages in Gaza. Our CEO Maya’s cousin had apparently been kidnapped to Gaza, and a friend’s husband’s uncle and aunt had also been taken. The Givatayim Deputy Mayor’s son had been killed (I had worked with her on the city council a couple of terms ago), and a producer that I’m currently advising on a documentary lost her nephew as well. The heart can’t take this much and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My family didn’t understand how bad things are. They thought it was just another operation, like the others. That it’ll end in a few days after we hit the Gazans hard and everything will go back to ‘normal’. I tried to explain that it isn’t the same this time. That it’s different than anything else they’ve ever seen or heard. Mainly, the phrase I kept using was THIS IS NAZI SHIT.

In the meantime, the Politically Corret groups are gushing. Information is coming in from everywhere. Civilian initiatives, donation links, and videos. Oh, the videos. I try not to open them. I succeed in not opening some, and I open others and regret it. I refuse to watch the video of young Shani, because it’s sheer desecration of humanity. I’m not like them, I repeat to myself, and that fact is very hard to hold onto with all of the other feelings that are rising up within me. I spend the rest of the day elsewhere with my mom and her friend. I have a hard time concentrating, and I certainly can’t sleep. I write to N’, telling her how much I love her and that I’m trying to come home. At first I’m successful in changing my flight, but it’s canceled after a few minutes and I’m stuck here. The helplessness is overwhelming. You don’t have anything to do from here. You can’t help. You can’t console N’ from here. And I can’t stop crying.

"הגיהינום התפרץ לתוך גן העדן"

Revenge and compassion are warring within me: which one will win?

We get on a domestic flight on Monday morning, and along with getting updates about the magnitude of the atrocity that occurred in the border towns in Israel and the peace party, I start to follow what’s going on in Gaza through a non mainstream Palestinian media profile on Instagram. I see the scope of destruction going on there. As we get on the plane I turn to my mother and tell her: “Mom, they’re going to flatten Gaza. There are hundreds of thousands of children there”, and I start to cry. I walk through the plane to my seat, weeping, as most of the other passengers stare at me, uncomprehending. I weep because I feel opposite forces warring within me. Forces that are screaming for revenge and want to hurt the terrorists as much as possible, and opposite forces, speaking to me internally and telling me: “No, Sharon. There are kids, women, families, innocents. They’re not responsible for these vile terrorists’ actions. Not all of them support them. You’re not like them.” These forces pull at me, each in their own direction, and I just try to breathe. At some point I stop crying and calm down. The flight goes smoothly and we arrive in Washington, D.C. I just want to go back to Israel, but I understand that it’s impossible right now.

I write to Shany Granot, one of the organizers of the protest movement against the judicial overhaul in New York, and tell her: “Put me to work. I’m here. What can I do?”. She refers me to the group working on outreach to explain what’s happening in Israel to the world, and I join the group. I never would have thought that I would join such a group. Me, an integral part of the deep left, who some would say is out of touch, go into a group whose main objective is to explain Israel to the world. NEVER IN A MILLION YEARS. But it’s not a million years. It’s an unimaginable, colossal catastrophe. I leave the group after two days because I feel like they don’t speak my language and that they’re being swayed to use the same old terminology, driven by the need to repay the terrorists for what they’ve done, and I just can’t. I also see that there are support rallies for Israel being planned in different cities in the US. I want to go so that I can feel like I’m a part of something, to be with others who are in the same situation, and simply to do something for my friends who lost everything dear to them. But I doubt that I can be there for more than a few minutes. I’ve resisted the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories all of my life and fought it with all that was in me. Joining such a demonstration would be a huge challenge for me. But these aren’t normal times. As I’ve already written, this is a colossal catastrophe. War crimes. And there’s nothing between that and ending the occupation. 

During the day I message a close friend and express the shock and anguish that I live in. He asked me, “Have you become a Zionist all of the sudden?”, and I replied, “I’m human. The scene is horrifying and everything that’s happening is awful. These are my friends. My family. My home. This is the embodiment of humanity.” I felt his doubt of me and my beliefs and I didn’t want it to shake me. On the other hand I felt like I have no words. I’m mute.

As I was discovering the horrors that were done, ostensibly in the name of the fight to end the occupation, I started recognizing that my truths are beginning to come apart at the seams. That everything I held onto is in danger, and that my humaneness, my love of human kind, my belief in the goodness of people, taking responsibility for immoral acts that my country performs, everything is crumbling down. The sadness and anger begin to take over and I need to actively prevent them from taking any good part of me. It’s like I need to actively practice an inner mantra that says, “Sharon, compassion and empathy does not make you love your country less. Morality and humanity aren’t signs of weakness or disloyalty. They are your strengths.” And it’s hard. Very hard. I won’t let hate take me over, but it’s so present. It’s ready and willing to integrate into my life and I don’t want it. I so don’t want it.

After three days some of my friends in the deep left began to speak and write. They gave me words to understand what I’m feeling, and the power to understand that I’m not alone in the dissonance that has taken me over. It started with a post by Sahar Vardi saying that our strength is to hold both sides together. To cry, to be angry, and to feel the pain about the horrors done to the citizens of my country and people, and to cry for the death and destruction that we’re about to unleash on innocents on the other side. That it’s not a double loyalty, but one loyalty to morality and justice, to the love of humankind and the understanding that all humans were created in God's image. That we are not like them. It continued with a post by Ortal Ben Dayan, who demanded that the Israeli Human Rights organizations and radical left political parties raise a clear and decisive voice against the war crimes that Hamas enacted on innocents. Every time we stood with them in the fight to end the occupation and work towards a just peace between the two peoples that are between the Jordan and the Sea, they never said a word. Where are you? Where are you?

הכוח הכחול

Then came the article that we posted here by Rajaa Natur where she says clearly and without fear that this is not the way of the Palestinian resistance movement to free her people and end the occupation. That Hamas isn’t the face of the resistance and that the stuttering of Palestinian leadership in Israel doesn’t go hand in hand with the aspiration for human rights, equality, and justice for all.

We, the Palestinians, have shed this blood

Finally there came Orly Noy’s column in Sicha Mekomit that made sense of a lot of things. It gave me words and a feeling that I belong. The understanding that my truths might be shaken right now, but that doesn’t mean they will stay shaken, and that I can overcome the feelings of hate and revenge welling up in me that make me blind on and off to what’s happening in Gaza. That not only is the ability to have compassion and empathy at this time not traitorous and anti-patriotic, they are the epitome of patriotism and the only thing that can keep me sane and keep my humanity and my moral compass. It’s what separates me from the people who committed the most appalling war crimes imaginable. We are not them.

To be an Israeli abroad at this time is to experience helplessness. To be far away from friends drowning in sadness, pain, loss and bereavement, is incomprehensible. To be part of the deep left politics, small as it already is, has left me without words for a few days. It’s fighting with yourself every minute, and knowing that the only way that something like this won’t happen again is to end the cycle of violence. And that seems so far away right now. And all that you want is for them to be punished to the fullest severity possible. And then you remind yourself that a five year old boy living in Israel near the Gaza border and in the city of Gaza, doesn’t have anything to do with the horrors being done in his name. You remind yourself that here, and there, there are whole families who were erased in the last five days, and that everyone’s life has value. So all I have left is to write. 


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