Like so many of you, I have been watching the headlines and images coming out of the Middle East with a mix of sadness, fear and dread. Sadness at seeing millions of innocent lives put in harm’s way. Fear at knowing our homeland is once again under attack and tensions are ratcheting up in an already volatile region. Dread at anticipating the harsh judgment Israel will receive in the court of public opinion for doing what any nation must: secure its borders and protect the lives of its citizens.
No nation, after all, can be expected to tolerate more than half of its population—an estimated 4.5 million people—living under constant threat of rocket fire. Air raid sirens have twice sounded throughout Jerusalem as rockets have landed within range of the capital city, Israel continues to intercept rockets over Tel Aviv and residents of Israel’s south are spending their days and nights in bomb shelters.
It is a reality of life in Israel, but it is the story the headlines don’t often tell. And as we go about our work week, our Israeli brothers and sisters prepare for the possibility of sending their loved ones to war once again.
At this time of great distress, we may think there is little we can do, but there is actually something extraordinarily powerful we can contribute: our voices.
We can tell the people of Israel that we stand with them, that their fate is our fate, that we care, we are thinking of them and are mourning with them. So many of us have had the great opportunity to visit Israel and meet Israelis, both Jewish and Arab. Imagine how powerful it would be right now if we reached out, both personally and en masse, with words of encouragement and support.
We can also use our voices to send a message to the world that we support Israelis’ right to live within safe and secure borders. We can use the light of better facts to counter the darkness of lies, distortions and misinformation. We can remind the world that Israelis too are a people under attack. That they would much rather be going to work than to war. That they care profoundly about peace.
As history shows and opinion polls consistently bear out, a huge majority of Israelis want peace, are prepared to sacrifice for peace and have integrated a language of peace into their daily lives—it forms a part of their national identity.
I was reminded once again of the privilege and responsibility we have to give voice to this truth over the summer, as I sat in the lobby of a hotel in Jerusalem with a Birthright group. They were reflecting on the experience they had just shared before returning home the next day. Midway through, one of the young Israelis who had joined the group as part of the Mifgash program, raised his hand.
“What means the most to me,” he said, “is now you guys can go home and tell your friends about us. You can tell them that you have met Israelis, and we are people just like you. You can be our ambassadors to the rest of the world.”
Before he finished speaking, he was crying and so was I. At just 19 years old, he needed to ask his new friends to remind the world of his humanity. Often times we forget that caught between the bombs and the bombast, the vilifying and the vitriol, are real people.
When you see the images of young Israeli soldiers, remember that they are just like us. They have hopes and dreams and fears about the future. Only they have to put that future on hold to go to the front lines to protect their country, our homeland and freedom and democracy across the world.
Let’s use our voices to remind them we care, and they do not stand alone.