It’s an interesting question my mother asked me.
I’ve seen media twist words before – I’m not naive. I know the way the game is played. I’ve seen instances where reporters leave out parts of a statement to make it seem so different than what was intended. Should I open myself up to having my words distorted, to allowing them to take the beauty of where I live and turn it into something wrong, ugly, even stolen?
Years ago, I took a reporter around Maale Adumim and then to the Jewish communities in Gaza. She had once worked for this very media organization now asking to interview me. I took her to the home of a woman who has two children who were injured in terror attacks. The reporter didn’t ask about how her children were coping with their injuries and their trauma…she asked how it felt to live in a house that was stolen?
No, this woman didn’t live in a house that was stolen, not even on land that was occupied. She moved here more than 20 years ago and bought an apartment. She made it a home and raised her children here. There was so much she could have spoken about, but that first question was so telling. It was phrased with cruelty and ignorance, with the reporter’s agenda clear to all.
Before we left the city, I was already regretting my decision to take her to Gaza. I wanted to show her the amazing things Israel does. In Maale Adumim, I took her to a beautiful new children’s park nearby – built in sections so that children of varying ages can play, so many safety issues addressed – soft ground under climbing equipment, things that could withstand the sun, railings and fences and benches for the parents to sit and watch. Surrounded by gardens and paths where it is pleasant to walk, it’s a gathering place all week long for so many.
She didn’t compliment the park’s planning - she asked why Palestinians can’t come there. She asked why the Palestinians don’t have similar parks in THEIR neighborhoods in a tone that made it clear she blamed us, that it was OUR responsibility to build for them the things they didn’t bother building for themselves. I told her she should ask them. The money we pay in taxes goes to building parks here – where does the money go in Palestinian areas, and what happens to the parks and schools we do build in their areas?
In Gaza, I took her to several families – to a man who lost an arm in one war and then several fingers on his remaining hand when he was attacked years later by a terrorist. He told her of the body of a young mother that he found in a car on the side of the road – and how the terrorists had sat in waiting. The dead woman was bait for whatever target came next. They relied on the goodness and caring of the next person to stop and see if she needed help. He was badly wounded, saved more by a malfunctioning grenade than the soldiers who followed and eliminated the terrorist.
I took her to the greenhouses to show her the incredible farms and produce and to meet other people and see other places. And finally, I took her to the home of a family who had lost a son in war and was about to not only lose their home but would be faced with digging up their son’s grave and having it moved rather than leaving it to be desecrated in Gaza. It was the one time I begged her not to ask anything about politics, “please, don’t do that to them – don’t ask them about stolen land and how it feels to lose their home…” She was very good, actually, and I appreciated that she simply asked them to tell her about their son.
In the middle of the night we spent there, mortars were fired at the village and we heard the explosions. There wasn’t enough time to run – not even the 15 seconds they have in Sderot. I listened to the explosions and waited for the ambulance sirens. After a few minutes of quiet, I smiled in the dark and thanked the Arabs for showing her what life was like for too many Israelis – then and now. In Hebrew, the hosts apologized in the morning and I laughed, “did you fire the mortars?” They smiled and wished me a good day. I turned to the reporter and said it was time to go.
A bit shaken, she asked me to confirm that she had been awakened by the firing of mortars or rockets nearby. “Yup,” I answered without hesitation. “Yes, indeed.”
The time I finally lost my ability to watch her be a journalist in silence was when I was taking her through the beautiful zoo in Neve Dekalim, past the animals and the green lush gardens there. I had let the people speak for themselves but realized there was no one to speak for that place, the animals, the young children who had taken the time to paint such beautiful murals on the walls, for Shauli the Camel, and so much more.
As she took pictures and interviewed the zoo keepers to ask what would happen to the animals, I remained quiet, feeling the anger growing inside and finally I asked her if I could speak. We walked quietly and as we did, I began.
“What harm does this zoo do to anyone?” I asked. “If it wasn’t here, do you think there would be peace?”
“Why can’t the Arabs come to the zoo? Why don’t they have one?” she asked me.
“Because,” I answered in anger, “when they come into this community, they come with weapons. They come to kill and so no, they cannot come to see animals when in coming, some would use it as a chance to murder people. If they made peace, they could come to the zoo but if all they want to do is kill us, then no, we can’t safely let them in.”
And then I asked her, “but why don’t you ask the Arabs why THEY don’t build a zoo? Why they spend money on rockets instead of playgrounds and zoos and hospitals? Why do they find it acceptable to shoot rockets at us? And what do you expect us to do? Not only do you not want us to shoot back, you think we should open our homes up despite the security threat! You think it is okay for them to shoot at us, but not okay that our zoo is closed?”
And more, I told her in the anger that was boiling inside me, “okay, so we’ll destroy this zoo; we’ll move the animals to other zoos all over Israel and we’ll ruin the beautiful communities these people have built…will THAT bring peace? We’ll evacuate all the Jews from Gaza – and what will happen? Do you think the Arabs will be happy and use their money to build zoos and parks? Will the poor Palestinian children across the road who don’t have a playground like this, suddenly get one?”
Instead, I told her, what was most likely to happen is exactly what did happened a few weeks ago and has been happening for most of the 7 plus years since we left Gaza: rockets on Askhelon, Ashdod, Beersheva and even Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
And now I have a choice – I can talk to this international media organization and answer their questions. I can show them E1 and ask them how building up the mountain would cut off a four lane super highway that offers both Jews and Arabs free movement to points north and south, east and west. I can show them my beautiful city and I can point to the barren mountains that surround it on all sides and say – THAT is what these hills looked like before we built here. No one lost anything; nothing was stolen.
I could tell them they were talking to the wrong side. We are the ones building the parks and the zoos and the schools. We built the bowling center, the gardening shops, the furniture stores, the fire station and the ambulance squad that covers a huge region treating Arabs and Jews equally.
No, don’t ask us why we build parks and schools, I could say…ask the Arabs why they don’t. Ask them why they need to come to OUR health centers for real emergencies and why their ambulances have to be stopped and searched and don’t accept any answer other than the truth – when you put weapons on an ambulance – you force Israel to search them.
Ask them why my sons who regularly volunteer for the local ambulance squad have to wait for an army escort to go into the Arab villages to help injured or sick Arabs who need medical treatment. Ask them why they oppose our building on barren hills. If their claim to having lived here for generations were true – why didn’t they build?
And if they oppose our building – what gives them the right to build? Ask them how it is possible that Isawiya has almost doubled in size in the last few years and ask them why we had to build the bypass road because they were stoning cars – and the bypass to the bypass road because the attacks had escalated and they were shooting, attacking with rocks and even throwing washing machines and couches down on the cars below.
Ask them why they opened fire and killed a monk from near Jericho on his way to Jerusalem…and ask them why they sent a suicide bomber up the road. We were lucky that time – a brave police officer paid the ultimate price when he suspected the car and driver and pulled it over. The driver blew himself up, killing the Bedouin policeman on the side of the road – I heard the explosion and just knew it was a bomb. I heard the sirens – and it was Israel that built a memorial site near where he was murdered.
What would I say to this news agency? This is my home – we have made the desert bloom, as we were promised. From a barren hill, we have created such beauty. Don’t ask me why the Palestinians don’t have playgrounds like we do – ask them. And if they claim poverty – look at the cars they are driving…the BMWs, the Volvos, the large cars and buildings and more.
And if you come into my city, take a moment to look in the mall – see how many Arabs DO come into the city every day, to work, to shop. And ask the Arabs why it isn’t safe for me to go into their neighborhoods as they come into mine. Ask them about my neighbor who was lynched and his body partially burned.
Ask them why they never have to worry about being lynched in Maale Adumim.
Ask them why in the last few months, Arabs have come and stabbed a security guard at the gates of our city and another came up and said he was going to attack. Ask them why they don’t feel they have to build a security fence around their neighborhoods and hire full-time guards at the gates to protect them.
And ask them why, if we are the aggressors, why it is OUR homes that have bomb shelters and not theirs.
So many questions, so many thoughts – but maybe I’m not the right person for this. I can only show what we have built, the gardens and flowers. I can show them the lake in the desert that we built – silly and charming at the same time but I can never answer why the Arabs haven’t channeled their resources into similar things for them and I can never answer why our enjoying the fruits of our hard work is wrong.
If I talk to them…what would I say? This is my home, my land. By God, by right, by history, perhaps by might, but most of all, by love, this is my home.
About the Author: Visit Paula Stern's blog, A Soldier's Mother.
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