(May 18, 2018 / JNS) You awaken in the morning with the sense that this will be your last. You dress. You look at yourself in the mirror and try not to look scared. You admit to yourself that you are frightened, but you are also resolved. You say goodbye to your family, knowing that this may be the last time. They know where you are going, and they don’t want you to go, but they know that they will not dissuade you. You make a quick departure so that it will not be any more painful than it has to be.
Outside, you are picked up by a friend. You greet each other with an affirmation that this is it, and this is right. You drive and approach a gathering crowd ahead. You see your end ahead of you, and only hesitate a moment before getting out and joining the crowd.
The crowd is angry. Everyone there, like you, has decided that life is cheap if it has to be lived like this. There is a man with a megaphone, and he calls to you and the others. He curses the enemy; he invokes scripture; he promises eternal reward; he reminds you that your family will be taken care of, that they will remember you and thank you forever.
You see the enemy with their guns and their artillery across the border fence. They are evil. They have occupied your land and held you captive your entire life. They are inhuman. The man with the megaphone urges you on: We will take down the fence, we will take back our land, we will slaughter the enemy and push the survivors into the sea.
The air is full of smoke and the sickening smell of burning tires. Your ears are full of the voice from the megaphone, and then the voices of your comrades yelling as they storm the fence, and then the sound of gunfire and the explosions of Molotov cocktails and your own cries of “Death to the enemy!” . . .
And then, it is quiet. You fall to the ground, and hear only your heartbeat and see only the sky. You have caught a bullet in your chest. You gasp for breath. You suddenly realize that you have lain here before—many years ago when you were 5 or 6, when there was no fence here, no violence. You laid in the grass right here and stared up at the sky. And here you are again. But you will not get up now. Your heartbeat slows. The sky grows dark, and you are gone.
We must cry for those on the other side of the fence. We must place ourselves in their bodies, their hearts, their minds, even for a moment, and feel their pain. The humanity within us demands it. It is a tragedy. It is horrific. Even if there is no other way to protect our families on our side of the fence, even if we are justified, even if every nation in the world would similarly protect its citizens when a frenzied mob assails the border with murderous intent, still we can mourn. Still we can feel the sadness of these lives that were raised and sacrificed by hateful leaders who prefer death to coexistence.
To chastise Israel for protecting herself is wrong. To distort the events at the Gaza border and pretend that peaceful demonstrators are being gunned down in cold blood is beyond wrong. It is evil.
The reality is plain for those who want to see it. Hamas is sending Palestinians to the fence to die in order to influence the court of public opinion against Israel. And the kangaroo court of public opinion is happy to close its eyes and pretend that the fence is not being attacked, that Israel has some other choice besides firing in self-defense, that the Israel Defense Forces has not dropped leaflets throughout Gaza saying that it would protect its land with deadly force.
Is it murder if a kamikaze pilot is flying his plane towards your ship and you shoot him out of the air before he is able to sink you? It is not. A life has been lost—a man with a family, a history, a reason for his actions. You have taken his life not because you wanted to, but because you were forced to make a decision between his life and those he would have taken if you hadn’t acted first.
It is a terrible decision to have to make. It is terrible for the one who is forced to make it and for those about whom it has been made. It is appalling that the kamikaze pilot—or the Palestinian trying to breach the fence, in this case—is simply a pawn in a cynical war being waged by corrupt and implacable leaders who could have earned peace long ago if peace were what they were after.
There is no cheering at the Gaza fence. No cries of victory from those who have been forced to shoot and kill. The only people who are rejoicing in the death and carnage are the leaders of Hamas and their international funders, who cherish every Palestinian death as another round in the arsenal they are constantly stockpiling in their endless attempt to destroy the Jewish state.
Defending Israel’s actions is not synonymous with indifference towards the tragic loss of Palestinian lives. Sympathy and empathy for the Palestinians who are dying or losing loved ones in Gaza is not synonymous with blaming Israel or condemning her necessary actions.
We are human beings all. The vast majority of us want peace. We value life. We simultaneously recognize that there are those who don’t share these values and who will force us to make horrible choices. As Golda Meir famously said, when peace comes, it will be easier for us to forgive you for killing our sons than for forcing us to kill yours.
Marc Erlbaum is the president of Nationlight Productions, a film-production company in Philadelphia, and the founder of Common Party, a social movement that is working to bring Americans back together in these divisive times.