Brushes With Hostility

As plans were made for a trip to Israel, there were more than a few people here in the States that expressed concerns about a trip like that, particularly in the past several months prior to the US elections, when media reports about heightened tensions became more prominent in the US media.  Not the least among those who worried were my folks.  

I brushed off those concerns as politely as possible.  Living is one constant risk, and only because of our routines are we numbed to the dangers that face us as we drive down familiar streets and walk in familiar places.  It is only because travel takes us out of the familiar that those dangers that the dangers seem higher when traveling.  Then again, sometimes travel takes us places that definitely have more prominent types of dangers than other places.  
A week before we departed, a parishioner asked me if I wasn’t worried about going to Israel.  
“No, not really.  Why would I be worried?”
“What if somebody takes a shot at you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know, what if someone tries to shoot you?”
“Well, as long as it is a clean shot, I’m not too worried.”  Long, awkward pause. 
I need to be careful about how I joke with some people, I’m learning.  My sense of humor definitely falls into the gallows category from time to time, and not everyone understands or appreciates that perspective!
But then, while we were in Israel, there were mortar exchanges in the north along the Syrian border, and terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip began firing rockets into Israel again.  Still, even though we were in Israel at the time, it seemed like a long way off.  There wasn’t much discussion of it that I could see.  Not that I had the time to really look for that kind of discussion.  I was safe within the bubble of a tour group, and there generally wasn’t much time for that sort of conversation.
But now I know where Gaza is.  The day after we left the country, for the first time in 50 years there has been a rocket attack on Jerusalem itself.  Where we just were.  The rocket didn’t hit Jerusalem, it landed in the West Bank.  Which is someplace else we just were.  Suddenly the news takes on a new tone.  These aren’t just names and places, they are streets I have walked on, where people live whom I got to meet because they drove us around for a week and a half and guided us through the sites around Israel.  
I’m not afraid of dying, but as Woody Allen joked, I’d prefer not to be there when it happens.  Death doesn’t scare me but I’m in no hurry to get there.  My thoughts and prayers are with those on both sides of this conflict for whom death has come much closer.  The political situation in Israel is complicated, to say the least.  I’ve developed a better empathy for the Arab population in that country.  I feel for them as they are exploited by the extremists of their own population as well as the Jewish rulers of the land.  They are victims daily of politics and war and borders and all the nastiness that goes with such affairs.  
Now when I see the headlines, they impact me differently.  When we bade goodbye to our driver, Sammi, he entreated us to come back to the United States and tell our friends and relatives about the time we had in Israel.  How we were guided and taken care of by friendly and professional Arab Christians and Muslims.  How Israel isn’t a place they need to be afraid of, that they should also come and see.  As I shook hands with Sammi for the final time shortly afterwards, I reminded him that he also had a job to do, with his family and friends.  That he needed to share the news that Americans were not their enemy, that we are more alike than we are different.  
Israel is likely going to take drastic measures against militants in Gaza, as they should.  It is outrageous that the world should demand that Israel take no action against those who try to kill civilians with random rocket strikes.  But the ones who are really going to suffer are the Arab civilians living in Gaza, held hostage by their own extremist element,.  unable to demand that those using their homes and apartment buildings as bases for rocket launches should stop.  Who are in no position to argue with bands of armed men who hide behind women and children and then condemn Israel for the deaths of those women and children in retaliatory strikes.  
I can support Israel’s right to self defense.  But I can’t pretend any longer that the victims and casualties that will result simply had it coming to them.  Some of them will have – the people who assume that indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilians is an acceptable way to achieve political ends.  Some of them won’t have – human shields who have no choice.  
I know a little better now.  And I pray for them.  I was able to leave when the rockets came.  They aren’t blessed with such mobility.  

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