18 Israeli soldiers have been killed since the offensive in Gaza began.
It is clear to me that Israeli soldiers should not be in Gaza, and that, by being there, they are part of a horrific system of violence and domination in which over 500 Palestinians have been killed in the last two weeks, including entire families, children, women, elderly, disabled, and massive destruction done to civilian property and infrastructure. I have commented on the horror of that in various ways here and here and here.
I also believe that when soldiers or fighters are killed, it is not the same as when civilians are killed, especially when those soldiers are an invading army leaving a trail of death and destruction in its wake.
But none of this changed my reaction upon seeing the list of names of the Israeli soldiers killed yesterday. I scanned each name and city of origin with my breath held, praying that it wasn’t someone I know, a young man or woman whose counselor I had been when s/he was a teenager, someone I had listened to music and cracked jokes with as I drove him/her to the peace center in Jerusalem where I worked from 2000-2004.
Most of the young Israeli men and women who I knew and grew to love as teenagers served in the Israeli military. (A very courageous few became conscientious objectors and refused to serve.) Many still serve, some in combat units. I know at least one who is in Gaza right now. I am still connected to dozens of soldiers or former soldiers via Facebook or email. Several I count among my friends. All of them I care for.
Yes, they should not be in Gaza. I cannot–with any moral honesty–condemn the killing of soldiers as I would condemn the killing of civilians. I am not trying to make any claims of symmetry here–such claims would be blatantly false. My heart literally feels like it is bleeding for the people of Gaza right now.
And yet, I do hold my breath as I scan the names, praying the name does not belong to someone I know and care for. And, of course, even as I let out the breathe with a bit of relief when I find I recognize none of the names, I know that the names belong to people that others care, deeply, for, and my grief, concern and fear extends to them.
I hope the Israeli young men/women I know who are soldiers in Gaza right now emerge unharmed. Equally, I wish (for their sake and for the sake of people in Gaza) that they play no role in harming civilians. Yet I know even before I write this that it is too late for that. Whether or not they pull a particular trigger that launches a particular shell or bullet or missile–just by being there, they are part of a system of overwhelming devestation and death.
What I wish more than anything is that the soldiers whose names I was scanning, the soldiers I know personally, and those I do not, were not in Gaza (or the West Bank) at all. I wish this for their sake, their families’ sake, and I wish it for the sake of the Palestinians who are suffering under this brutal assault. I wish they were in their university right now, or at their jobs, or at the beach, or on vacation. And that Palestinians had equal opportunities for education, work, recreation and travel.
I wish that the Israeli government (and the Hamas government and the PA as well) cared for the well-being, safety and security of their citizens/people more than they care for whatever political gain they think they will attain by continuing this assault, and turning human lives into political pawns.
As I write this, my email inbox pinged with the names of 11 fresh deaths of Palestinians who lived in a residential tower that was the latest target of an Israeli airstrike. I am nauseated by the news, quite literally.
And now I go to scan those names, feeling sicker by the moment.