What Living Under Fire Showed Me About the Asymmetries of this War

I had just gotten on the train at the HaHaganah station in South Tel Aviv when the alarm went off. The train, which had just started to move, stopped. An announcement came on over the speaker system: “there is a code red alarm in the city of Tel Aviv. Please close the blinds and get on the floor.” In a flutter of panicked arms the people on the train reached for the blinds. No one dropped to the floor except for the people who had been standing in the aisles. We waited, I can’t remember for how long, until the train began to move again. Cell-phone service was down- too many people were frantically trying to call friends and families in the area. I managed to get through to my friends who remained in our apartment in the Shapira neighborhood of South Tel Aviv. They said the explosion could be heard from our apartment.

In the news in Israel, during times of conflict, there’s always talk of the trauma suffered by pepole living within range of the rockets. The newspapers show pictures of women and children in shelters and helmeted first responders rushing to the aid of people in the South. Hamas has inflicted tremendous pain, deliberately, against thousands of innocent people. But the chaos in Israel is of a minuscule magnitude when compared to the carnage in Gaza, where people retrieve the buried-alive and the mangled limbs of their family and friends from houses reduced to rubble by the Israeli Air Force. Well-meaning liberals continue to argue that both sides are suffering, which is defensible and understandable. But they are wrong when they claim that conditions in Israel and conditions in Gaza are equivalent. In Tel Aviv, where rockets have fallen three times in as many days, the city’s inhabitants go back to the normal routine of life once the sirens stop. In Gaza, the bombing is continuous. Drones buzz incessantly overhead. Here, the rockets fall only intermittently, landing in seemingly random places and often crashing into open space. The explosions are loud but rare, and end in a few seconds. In Tel Aviv, while the falling rockets are frightening, they are less dangerous than they are scary.

The incongruities of this conflict extend beyond the nature of the falling bombs. On one side of the conflict is an elite military, with high-powered weaponry supplied by the United States and highly-skilled soldiers. On the other is a non-state actor with a rag-tag group militants attempting to fire poorly made rockets. On one side of the conflict is a Westernized, developing nation with functional capitalist economy. On the other side is a tiny slice of territory where people live under a daily blockade that prevents even the even the most basic essentials for daily life from getting through. Israel is a sovereign state. Gaza is an open-air prison, with conditions reminiscent of a different kind of occupation – a place where on any given day at any given moment, as demonstrated by the Jabari assassination, the Israeli Army can drop a bomb in the middle of a population center. The people of southern Israel live under daily and near-continual bombardments, but neither Ashkelon, nor Ashdod, nor Be’er Sheva, nor even Kiryat Malachi or Sderot, is Gaza. And to attempt to compare them is to ignore the realities of this conflict.

I stand with the innocent people of Gaza just as I do with the people suffering in the South. With every bomb that explodes in Gaza, and every rocket that falls in Israel, I want to scream with every ounce of strength I have at the leaders of the Israeli government and Hamas to stop the senseless killing. The answer to pain and violence should never be more pain and violence. The Israeli bombardment needs to stop. The Hamas barrage needs to stop. The blockade needs to be lifted. And serious negotiations need to start. Despite their differences and unequal circumstances (or perhaps because of them), the people on both sides of the conflict are hurting too much for this continue. But as the Israeli war machine begins to turn it’s gears faster and faster, I cannot help but worry that the end will not be soon.

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.” – Mario Savio, on the Sproul Hall Steps, December 2, 1964.

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