Reporter's Notebook: An emotional disconnect

Responsibility for suffering in Gaza rests solely on Hamas, Israelis say.

IDF Jenin brilliant 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
IDF Jenin brilliant 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
After three weeks of driving around a country at war, one thing about this time is abundantly clear. Just about every Israeli Jew supports the IDF operation in Gaza. We already knew this from the polls, of course. A Wednesday survey by Tel Aviv University reported the support at a staggering 94 percent among Israeli Jews. But hearing this first-hand offers an insight the polls can't give: the rationale for that support despite international condemnation and images of carnage out of Gaza. Over the past three weeks, as evidence of civilian suffering in Gaza flooded media outlets worldwide, I asked Israelis what they thought of the fighting in Gaza and the suffering of the local population. From hi-tech entrepreneurs in Ramat Gan to social workers in Sderot, taxi drivers and graduate students alike, the responses were almost as consistent as the level of support for the operation. The responsibility for the conflict, and for the suffering in Gaza, rests solely on Hamas, Israelis say. They often added that there could be no peace with an enemy who placed their own children in the line of fire. "I'm disconnected emotionally from what is happening in Gaza," said Yamit Shkolnik, a 26-year-old Jerusalemite and new mother. "It doesn't anger me or sadden me. It doesn't make me happy either." That's because "they use their dead to kill us. They shoot from inside houses, and we have to take out those houses." Eli Magen, a graduate student from Modi'in, said he is on the Left, but insists, "We've tried everything to make peace. We pulled out of 85% of the territory we conquered in 1967, and it got us missiles on our heads. Then they went and elected Hamas. What are we supposed to do with a group that thinks and acts like the Ku Klux Klan? There's nothing Israel could have done to avoid this fight." A few foreigners have noticed the detachment with which Israelis approach the Gaza conflict. According to New York Times bureau chief Ethan Bronner, "Most Israelis have written Gaza off. Even before the war, they did not focus on the human toll and suffering there. When the war started, that was pushed even farther away." Israelis feel there is little they can do to change the reality in Palestine, so they don't feel responsible for it, Bronner believes. Most people I spoke to said Hamas was the cause of Israelis' consensus. According to Aharon Rose, a researcher in Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University, Israelis generally support a withdrawal from the West Bank, but they are so disillusioned by Palestinian violence they would be hard-pressed to trust a Palestinian regime within rocket distance of Tel Aviv. "Hamas has destroyed the moral argument of the Palestinian cause" for the majority of Israelis who believed in it, Rose said, noting that "the party that won the last election [Kadima] ran on a platform of pulling out of Judea and Samaria." "At the end of the day, we understand that there won't be peace," Shkolnik said. "Hamas is talking about something else entirely. They don't hide the fact that they want to kill us and take the country. For a long time, we didn't believe they thought that. In the disengagement, we tried to do something that would bring peace, but it only brought worse suffering for us and for them. If they force me to choose between our suffering and theirs, I prefer theirs." Nadav Raz, a Chinese medicine practitioner and an urban combat trainer for the IDF, said he used to feel sympathy for the Palestinian cause. "Up until four years ago, we were conquering them as occupiers. But we left the Gaza Strip and they elected a government that has taken them to war. Right now, I don't feel anything toward them. Why can't Hamas stop shooting?" Hamas rejectionism leaves Israel with little choice, most of the interviewees said. "The Palestinians are living under a regime that decided to commit suicide," according to Dr. Vered Noam, a professor of Talmud at Tel Aviv University. "We did not want to rule over them. We even destroyed Jewish settlements to give the Arab population control over its own destiny." Noam said she feels the suffering in Gaza acutely, "and I look forward to the day when peace arrives and things are better for the Palestinians, but if they don't let us live our own lives even after we pull out, then we have no choice but to fight and defend ourselves." "You're not going to find a Jew who feels good about civilian casualties," believes Miriam Gur-Arie, a taxi driver from Modi'in who has a son in the army. "But we don't have to suffer because they've got a stupid government." "The responsibility is on Hamas. From what I see, that's the general opinion in Israel. The very fact that they built tunnels from house to house so leaders can escape and fighters can hide, but they didn't build a single shelter for their civilian population, speaks volumes. Even if we do care for their suffering, we can't be expected not to protect ourselves," Gur-Arie said. A young computer programmer from Ramat Gan, Ze'ev, was the only interviewee who wants the offensive to stop, but he insisted the civilian casualties are not Israel's fault. "I have reservations about the operation. I think that Israel should get out now with a clear, resounding victory. We should quit while we're ahead," he said. But, he added, "Hamas uses morality as a weapon, and the world's morality doesn't interest me because it's two-faced. If they call me to reserve duty, I'll go."