Sometimes people say they have a lump in their throat to indicate fear or nerves. Well, it isn't a lump, exactly, and it isn't in my throat - it's deep in the pit of my stomach. It isn't exactly a burning sensation, more like a gnawing ache trying to remind me of something... I can't quite describe it, but it started about 40 minutes ago when Elie called me.
It's Friday again here in Israel. Erev Shabbat - the eve of the coming Sabbath, a day of preparation, a day to summarize the week, know you are taking a deep breathe and a brief rest before the next week begins. Friday is also the day when the Arabs near where Elie is stationed regularly decide to protest the security fence Israel has built near their homes.
Of course, Israel didn't build the security fence BECAUSE it was near their homes. Israel built it because THEIR homes are near ISRAELI homes and to protect the Israelis from shooting attacks, rock-throwing, fire-bombing and the ever persistent threat of suicide bombers attempting to infiltrate through these areas to attack our buses, our cafes, even our schools, Israel chose to make a physical and hopefully impenetrable barrier.
Other countries would flatten their enemy’s villages, expel them from near their civilian areas. Other countries would do what is necessary to defend their citizens and answer to the world later on…or not at all. But Israel is held to a different standard, and so we don’t flatten, we don’t destroy whole villages. We simply build a barrier, until they decide to make peace with us. We created a division, until, as Golda Meir once said, they love their children more than they hate us. It is needed, until the day they stop sending their children to kill ours.
In most places, the barrier is marked by a fence and in some places, where the Arab villages come very close to Jewish towns, there is a wall. The wall is tall and intimidating. It is supposed to be. There are cameras and sensors and whatever is needed. It is meant to stop those who should not enter. It does. Terrorist attacks have dropped by more than 90%; even car thefts have dropped dramatically!
There are crossings at various intervals along the security fence/wall so that those who have a right to enter our cities, those who come to work and not to kill, can enter. Thousands who would once have simply walked across a field to get to work or shop in our cities must now get to one of these crossings. Israel was forced to choose – make them get to a crossing and wait to be checked, or risk suicide bombers in our cities. They can wait, or we can bury our children. It sounds harsh, but it all comes down to that simple equation.
These crossings also allow thousands of Palestinians the chance to receive what is perhaps the best health care available in the Middle East. There are two realities here. The first is that Israeli doctors regularly treat Palestinians - children with heart defects, women in labor, and even Palestinians who attempt to hurt Israelis. And the second reality is that the delays, the closures, the checkpoints and the security fence itself are a reaction to the level of violence waged against us.
And so this morning, as happens most Fridays when Israelis and Arabs in Israel are enjoying the first day of their weekend and most workplaces are closed, some Arabs will likely once again choose to spend their day off, as they do each week, violently protesting the security fence (instead of the violence that caused it to be built).
This time, for the first time, my son will be on the line. My son will be near the security fence with a gun in his hands and rubber bullets in the gun. He will not shoot, unless the situation requires it. His training has included when to shoot, where to shoot. He will listen to them scream out their hatred. He will read their signs of anger. He will do nothing...unless they attack (as they often do). These protestors often get violent, throwing stones and sometimes more. Last week, the boys at the same checkpoint were involved in trying to break up the protesters for many hours and only returned to base an hour after the Sabbath had begun.
And so, worried that he wouldn’t be able to call me later in the day before the Sabbath, Elie called to wish me (Shabbat Shalom – a peaceful Sabbath) almost an hour ago. If he has time before Shabbat comes, he’ll call me again. If not, my stomach will continue to ache and my mind to worry.
Elie once again has told me not to worry and once again I won't tell him what a silly thing that is to tell a mother. I'll worry. I'll carry this ache in the pit of my stomach until I hear his voice say he is fine. I'll check the news, knowing most of these demonstrations don't even rate a line in the news, and I'll wait.
The Sabbath arrives in a few short minutes. Elie still hasn’t called. The news is not reporting any demonstrations or disturbances. I can only hope that Elie will return to base, or is already there.
And finally, I can only hope that the Palestinian demonstrators realize that the way to get Israel to remove the barrier, the only way, is to stop the violence. We cannot reward violence with surrender. The security fence works. It’s proven itself and literally hundreds of people are probably alive and healthy today because Israel was able to find the suicide bombers before they were able to come into our cities.
A few years ago, a team of terrorists was on its way to attack a school in the small city of Yokneam. They were caught by Israeli security forces and when asked why they had chosen Yokneam, the terrorists answered honestly – because it wasn’t protected by the fence.
So, today, as the fence protected Israel, Elie and his unit protected the fence. May God protect the defenders of Israel – those in the north and in the south, those who fly through the skies and those who patrol the waters. And may God protect my son, Elie, and all those who guard and patrol the security fence.