When they say, life goes on here, it's not just rhetoric. From the moment we touched down, to sipping iced coffee outside at a cafe with the Mediterranean as the backdrop. People are surfing, swimming, and enjoying the beautiful summer day. When I ask about getting to the shelters in time, in true Israeli spirit they shrug and say...“We are used to this. But we don't allow them to control our lives and we will not stop LIVING.”
Now true, this is Tel Aviv, and as you can imagine, it's very different in other areas of the country.
I'm in awe of the first two people I talked to — really talked to. You should know that one of the mandates of this mission is to speak with as many average Joes on the street as we can. Shockingly, with my first three interactions, I didn't meet hardliners but rather comments like..."There are no winners and losers in this conflict" and ..."I don't hate anyone — we only want peace.”
Remarkable. I'm living in the States virtually risk free and have much stronger views and feel significantly less tolerant. What a testament to the strength, morality, and decency of Israeli society. There is no celebration when the IDF hits an important target. They just want a return to calm.
I asked Shiraz, who just served my second iced coffee, for her views. "We don't want to hurt innocent people,” she said, “but Hamas leaves us little choice. They force us to kill and I cry, especially when I see the children suffering. ‘The difference between us is simple,’ Mr. Netanyahu said. ‘We develop defensive systems against missiles in order to PROTECT our citizens and they use their civilians to protect THEIR missiles.’”
Shiraz ended by saying, “We trust the IDF. We know there is no better military in the world to protect us and we also know that America is with us.” I was happy to hear this, especially from a young lady of no more than 25.
While I have been here dozens of times, never have I been here during a conflict such as this. I truly was taken aback by what I heard as well as what I didn't hear. Remarkably, I didn't feel or hear hate. I didn't hear or feel "We want to crush them." Rather what I did hear was that not ALL Arabs are bad. The people I spoke with felt for those trying to live their lives and who are decent people caught in the crossfire because of a radical anti-Israel, anti-Semitic group of fanatics that live for our destruction.
I am welcomed here with much appreciation which really feels nothing short of terrific. Israelis need to know that we're with them emotionally AND financially. I am shocked at how my simple presence starts conversations and ends with a “thank you for being with us during these dark days.”
The mission hasn't even started, but I'm as proud as ever to be a Jew and to call Israel my home away from home.
Michael Katz is on the national Campaigners’ Mission in Israel.