Who Would I Be Behind a Blockade?
This is the second in a series of essays by feminists responding to the escalating violence in Israel and Palestine. An earlier version of this piece appeared at the Times of Israel.
I am a mother in Israel.
I am not a mother in Gaza.
I know the kind of mother I am here— a fierce one who demands the best for her children, who pushes her kids to look beyond their own horizons, to explore and discover and change the world.
I know what kind of woman I am here, too: A woman who suffers no fools, who goes where she want and says what she wants and does what she wants and has a pretty damn good time doing it.
But that’s the nature of privilege, and one I didn’t earn. That is by virtue of my own dumb luck – to be born like this with skin this color, and hair this color, and eyes the color of the sea, to be born Jewish in a world where Israel exists and is my home, to be born American, too, where that passport means that I can go almost anywhere I want to go.
I have the free and open space to make the first move toward peace, and to be generous about it because I have more than enough. I have an airport I can fly out of, I have an army that will protect me. I have a home with electricity except for the errant winter storm and even then I have vanilla scented candles. I have enough food and water and books and pretty things all around me.
It is easy for me to say “I would never put my child on the front line,” and yet, I am: like every other Israeli mother and father, I am grooming both my kids for combat boots and the weight of the gun in their hands as soon as Israel determines that they are old enough.
18. Such an arbitrary age.
Who says 18 is a grownup? I had pimples when I was 18. I was practically a virgin.
My son and daughter will always be my babies. As far as I’m concerned, they will never be “old enough” to take up arms, and yet, here I am and here they are.
It is easy for me to say that I would never support Hamas, and yet I have never been starving on the streets where Hamas provided the only assistance and support in a jagged little world.
I have struggled – there was a time when I had no where to sleep – but I had friend who took me in, and I found a job that paid enough, and I was fine eventually — shaken, rattled, but never fearing for my life.
It is easy for me to talk about peace because as a Jewish American Israeli woman, I have the luxury to think about peace. I also have the luxury to ask myself:
1. Whether I want a second cup of coffee. (Or a second shot of scotch.)
2. Whether I want lavender for my garden or purple sage.
3. Whether I want to go out with my friends, or stay home alone and catch up on Netflix.
These are my dilemmas, and for me, it is no dilemma to reach out to people in other communities and try to make peace. Again, because I have the freedom to do that.
I don’t know what kind of woman I would be if I lived behind a blockade, if I had electricity for only a few hours a day – even in winter when the wind whistles through the cinderblocks from the sea. I don’t know what I would do if my leaders dragged so-called collaborators through the streets from old dusty cars, their entrails leaking out onto the hot asphalt in the summer, steam rising from their guts. I don’t know what I would do if my house was bombed out and my daughter crippled by an Israeli reprisal for a rocket that landed in a town only a few kilometres away, a rocket that killed a child my own daughter’s age—my daughter who is now missing a leg and an arm and half her face, and yet she lives—but only a half life.
I don’t know if I could grieve for that other child across enemy lines, I don’t know if I would talk about white doves and planting flowers in tires, or if I would burn them by the fence that separates my bitterness from a flourishing country just across the hill, right over there.
I do know that I am the kind of mother who will throw my body on top of my children – I did it the entire summer of 2014 when Hamas launched rocket after rocket after rocket at Israel, and we lined up our shoes by the door night after night after night in case we had to run to the public bomb shelter through the dusty fields which we did over and over and over again.
And I will do it again now if I have to which I probably will.
I do know the wild stink of fear, and I do know that I don’t run – I fight.
I do know that when a strange man once touched my child in the middle of the street, I leapt at him with a fury I had never tasted, and the growl in my throat was both alien, and completely mine.
I do know that the Jewish women who came before me did whatever it took to kick out the British, I imagine I would have been right along side with them, fighting as hard as anyone else.
And I do know it is human nature to want better for your children, and to lash out when you feel there is no other option – and as I grieve for the woman from Rishon and the father and daughter from Lod, and the two women in Ashkelon all killed horrifically in the barrage of rockets, as I grieve for all the frightened families throughout Israel, for my daughter who spent the night before her thirteenth birthday in a bomb shelter, for my son who couldn’t sleep, for the people of Lod, for all the families who live along the Gaza border and are tragically almost used to this (which one should never be,) as I grieve for all of us who just want to sleep safely through the night, I grieve also for the mothers in Gaza who are as desperate to protect their babies as I am, as frightened as I am, and for any innocent person on any side of this horrific conflict who is watching the skies and praying for just a little more time to kiss their children goodnight and tuck them in and sleep safely through til morning.
No different then the same prayers I murmured while I waited for the next siren to pierce the night.
Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the new media editor at Times of Israel and the author of the book Jerusalem Drawn and Quartered. She likes whisky and tacos and climbing roofs and talking to strangers.