In light of the article that was published yesterday, I would like to share my experiences as a Jewish and pro-Israel student who has experienced Israel for what it truly is.
Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. When I traveled to Israel, I had the chance to see Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs live side-by-side in peace. One of the places I visited was a small Arab village called Jisr Az-Zarqa, located in Northern Israel. During my visit to this village, we had the chance to sit and talk with Arabs my age about their experiences living in Israel, the place they consider their home.
Despite popular misconceptions, Israeli-Arabs have equal citizenship and full rights to vote in Israeli elections and run for office in the Israeli Government. In fact, this past election cycle, there were two Arab parties elected into the Knesset out of fourteen total. Recent years have elicited some “of the highest levels of Arab representation on Israel’s history,” according to the Washington Institute.
During my time in Haifa, I saw for myself how Muslims and Jews coexist. Since Israel was established, all faiths have been granted the right to freely practice their religions. Israel’s democracy and commitment to upholding religious rights is unique to the region: no where else in the Middle East is this freedom possible.
Yesterday’s article exemplifies a wide belief that Israel is an oppressive force and a constant threat to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The media does not accurately portray how often Israelis are the ones who are victims of terror. Hamas, the governing body of Gaza and a group that the United States has declared as a terrorist organization, is responsible for targeting Israel with an endless stream of rockets. On my phone, I have an app called Red Alert that sends out a notification every time a rocket is launched into Israel. It is all too often that hundreds of bone-chilling sirens blare on my phone, alerting me of yet another terrorizing rocket attack, reminding me of this reality.
Recalling my time in Israel, I visited the community of Sderot, located less than 8 miles from the Gaza border. One of the most impactful parts of this visit was seeing the Sderot Playground. When a rocket is launched in their direction, the people of Sderot have approximately 15 seconds to find shelter before it hits the ground. I had the opportunity to visit one shelter that stood out to me: the Sderot Indoor Recreation Center. This indoor playground was built so that children can play and preserve their innocence, while also staying safe in their environment which has become a target for violence. The very fact that they need this bomb shelter in their community made me realize how drastically different the civilians of Sderot live their lives. The Jerusalem Post cited that 40% of children in Sderot suffer from PTSD and anxiety at a rate of 3-4 times greater than the rest of the country.
On this trip, I was lucky enough to get to know five soldiers who serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. The IDF prides itself on being one of the most moral and humane militaries in the world. British Military Colonel Richard Kemp said that Israel does more to “safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.” There are steps that every gun-carrying soldier must take before firing their weapon. One of the IDF soldiers I became close with described the steps taken: shouting a warning in Arabic, cocking your gun, firing your weapon first in the air, then at their feet. If the encounter is still a threat, then, and only then, is a soldier allowed to fire at the target.
In 2005, Israel withdrew from Gaza on its own volition, hoping that it would create a dialogue that would result in peace. Instead, what followed was murderous suicide bombings that targeted innocent Israeli civilians. Hamas has used tactics such as stabbings, car rammings, shootings and burning kites. It is a well-known fact that Hamas uses innocent civilians as human shields and hides rockets in Mosques, schools and hospitals, knowing that the IDF will not risk innocent casualties. Yet, Israel continues to supply Gaza with humanitarian aid such as food, water, electricity, medical supplies and even construction materials. Ironically, Hamas, the terrorist organization which rules the government that controls Gaza, uses these materials to build tunnels to infiltrate Israel.
It is offensive to me as a Jewish person to hear the words ‘genocide,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ or even ‘apartheid’ to speak about this issue. The terms that were used in the article are minimizing the impacts of the Holocaust, Jim Crow America and Apartheid South Africa. It is unfair to compare these incidents of systematic cleansing of people to the Israeli Government who, in its founding principles, only wants to “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.”
There are 22 Arab States in the world while there is only 1 Jewish State. The Israeli state was not established because of the Holocaust; the Holocaust happened because there was no Jewish State. We want to live in peace with our neighbors, but we need to ensure we have a safe state with a Jewish majority that upholds our values. The Jewish people are entitled to their own state and yesterday's article misleads the UConn community about the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, which will only incite more division between these communities.