Let me be very clear at the outset of this post: I refuse to get into the politics of this situation. This is a tale from the Mother land, not a story of sides. It’s hard to discuss Israel and Palestine without taking sides, or talking politics… unless your child is living there. Frankly, the politics, which are stated and restated on the news— hour by hour— are inescapable, but to a mother’s heart it is really only about whether my baby is safe. Of course, that is not purely true either. There are mothers and children on both sides, and when I’m thinking of my own child, it’s impossible not to think of all the others. The images of the civilians, on both sides, remind me that there are plenty of mothers and children worrying like me. I think of my girl, and the others, but not the politics.
In our house, it is nearly impossible to discuss Israel and Palestine, and keep things calm. It’s been that way for all of my children’s lives. Peace in the Middle East, only existed way back when Smart Guy and I were first dating… it was a tenuous thing even then, but it hadn’t always seemed that way—it does not exist at our dinner table. When I was in college, I told everyone I knew that I wanted to go to Israel and live on a kibbutz. It sounded so exotic, so unique. I knew a few people who had done it, and the idea was incredibly romantic. Today, my daughter would find that hard to believe, as she begs me to visit and I stall. Instead, I graduated college, fell in love and went to grad school. In the mid-80s bombs began to go off in market places in Israel, and it looked a lot less exotic to me.
Instead of going to Israel I married a Jewish man, and my kids have gone to Israel. They have been raised on a very different image of Israel, a political and religious image. It has not been the foreign, mysterious place to them, that it was to me. They’ve never mentioned kibbutzes, but both Middle Man and Principessa have gone on Birthright trips (a program that pays for Jews around the world, to visit their “home” in Israel), and our daughter spent an entire year of college studying there. My daughter, who is nearly 23 now, has spent nearly two years there in the past four years. She loves Israel and imagines living there full time at some point. This year she is there studying religion and following her own dreams.
So, as things have amped up this week between Israel and Palestine, just as things have done in the Middle East for a couple of years now—the “Arab Spring” blooming all over the region— I began watching the news a lot more. Yesterday, I found myself turning on the news throughout the day. I was grateful when my girl called to say that her school group was headed back to Jerusalem, out of harm’s way. Out of harm’s way? Smart Guy reminded me that Jerusalem and Gaza are not that close. “Imagine if this was happening in Seattle?” Uh, I’d rather not. If this was happening in Seattle, we might not fear for our lives, but we’d certainly feel it. We’d be very uneasy. “But it’s not that close. We wouldn’t be very worried.” Really? Really! I tried to eat my dinner despite my rising sense of unease. It’s hard to argue his rational positions against my gut anxiety. But I do.
First of all: The distance from Seattle to where I live is more 89 miles. Jerusalem to Gaza is 48 miles. I looked it up. Twice. I’m not a math person; so for me that is basically half the distance. Forty-eight miles is not far. It is not far at all, when missiles and my child are used in the same sentence. Second of all: he is not her mother. We are wired differently, and not just because I have hot flashes and a womb; though I believe the womb trumps all. That is my baby, my girl over there, and they are firing missiles in her direction. After Smart Guy assured me that Hamas couldn’t really “reach very far,” I woke to news this morning that there is smoke just south of Jerusalem and Hamas claims that they fired the rocket that caused that smoke. Hello! My womb aches and I’m grinding my teeth.
People who live in Israel see all of this very differently. My daughter sees this very differently. They live with this situation all year, whether it makes the news or not. The are savvy; they are practical; they do not grind their teeth… they go about their business and are aware of their surroundings. My daughter has told me countless times: “It’s much bigger in the news there (here) than it is here (Israel). We are fine.” She is her father’s daughter in so many ways. In December, Smart Guy will travel there to visit our girl. We both wanted to go, but we have another child at home and only one of us can be there at once. I’ ll be taking care of Hanukkah and holiday preparation here. I’ll be relieved that he’s with her, but worrying that they are both there.
My superstitious nature it getting the best of me, in my anxiety. I dial my girl’s number and a message in Hebrew tells me to leave a message. Why isn’t she answering her cell? Where the hell is she? My eyes fill with tears as the sirens blare on the news. My baby can hear them I’m sure. As sense of panic rises in me, and my mind goes to dark, dark places. I tap on the table. Then I remember that with the time difference, it is now dark there; it is Shabbat, the sabbath. Her cell phone is turned off. She will not turn on her computer, her TV or electronics until sundown on Saturday. I should do the same. Turn it all off. The CNN updates are not easing my mind; the images from there do not bring me peace. Thoughts run through my mind and I knock on the (wood) table beside me. I put on my angel necklace, given to me by my aunt for troubling times. When any one of us needs it, we call an “Angel Alert,” and I know that several woman I love, and who love my girl, will wear their necklaces too. Superstition. I know that wrapping my knuckles on tables and door frames will not keep anyone safe. It’s hard to believe that this delicate necklace will have any concrete impact. But both ease my mind, a bit. That is something for now.
I am not immune to the politics. They are central, key, to what is happening there. However, in the midst of all this, I want only to know that my child is ok and that my friends there and those they love, are safe. My views do not sit easily at our dinner table; I feel alliances to both sides. There are mothers and fathers, children and loved ones on both sides, that are suffering—as the soldiers on both sides soldier on. Missiles are being fired from both sides, and that can only cause loss on either side. Each loss is paramount to a mother and father on either side. As I knock wood, and grind my teeth, there are Palestinian and Israeli parents, who have much greater cause for sleepless nights. My womb cries: Can’t you all just play nicely? You don’t have to like each other, but try to get along. As foolish as tapping the table.