Mothers and Children

“How can one group of mothers anguish over the thought that their children might be killed, while another group applauds their children for doing the killing?”

There’s nothing new about this question. We have been asking it of ourselves and others for months. But this time, the question took me by surprise because it was asked by someone who has never been to Israel, a kind and gentle mother living in the Northeastern United States. She is not Jewish. Her knowledge of Israel and our area of the world comes largely from our emails over the last few years.

Early on in this current Intifada, she was scheduled to come and give a lecture here. We had a whole day planned. I was going to show her the beauty of my land and why I love Israel so much. Instead, her television screen showed her the horrors that we ourselves were only beginning to comprehend and the organization cancelled the conference, our chance to meet for the first time postponed indefinitely.

Our correspondence is a series of emails, often daily, in which she sometimes asks questions about Israel, about life here, about my family. I know about her son, and when he swam across her pool for the first time, how her husband hates to fly, and about a pesky next door neighbor.

She knows where we live and about my own bothersome neighbor. I’ve sent her a map so that with each terrorist attack, she can quickly check to see if it was close by. She is among my group of cyberspace friends who expect an email telling them that my family and I are safe. I’m fine, I write. Netanya is to the north and Herzliya is to the west. Rishon Letzion lies close to the Mediterranean and Afula is the last stop on our yearly trips to the north.

My daughter is on a bus to Jerusalem, but not the bus that was just attacked and yes, she is okay too. My cleaning woman’s 11-year-old cousin was killed in a suicide attack. A husband and his pregnant wife were murdered in the village where my son’s teacher lives. Thirty minutes before, I passed that intersection, and my husband won’t be home for hours because an intersection has been closed by another suicide attack. So our lives and conversations go.

She is one of a handful of caring people desperately trying to understand a reality that even those who live here cannot comprehend. I explain about the history of our land and our people, about our religion but it doesn’t do much to explain today’s realities. These amazing friends now check Israeli Internet sites daily and don’t blame me when I share the horrors of a terror attack. I send them agonizing testimony of fathers who have lost daughters, of mothers who have lost babies. They offer comfort when I am beyond being comforted and support when I question the world’s humanity. And now, my friend has succeeded in getting to the heart of it all: “How can one group of mothers anguish over the thought that their children might be killed, while another group applauds their children for doing the killing?”

I read this a few times and wondered what to write. Politics. Religion. Jerusalem and refugees. War and terrorism. History and armies. Independence and occupation. No, it is not about these issues. The Palestinians were offered nearly everything and they turned it down.

This Intifada is about the children. Our children, who are taught to avoid public places, look out for men wearing bulky jackets who look nervous. Our children who are taught to call home constantly, where are you, do you have to go there? Our six-year-olds who see a man talking on the television in place of the cartoons and ask if there has been an attack, and our three-year-olds who see us crying and ask “What happened?” in tiny, serious voices that would normally make us laugh.

And this is about their children, who are taught about suicide and martyrdom and 70 virgins waiting in Heaven to greet them. This is about mothers who smile into the camera and send their sons off with guns and explosives, and fathers who wish their other children would also follow the paths of murderers and fanatics.

But most of all, this is about Yaakov Avraham Eliyahu who was 7 months old, and Shalhevet Pass who was 10 months old, and Sinai Keinan who was 18 months old. And Liran Nehmad, just 3-years-old when she was killed along with her brother and 4 of her young cousins. This is about Danielle Shefi, Avishai Shabbo, and Gal Eisenman, who were just 5 when they were murdered. And Koby Mandel and Yosef Ish-Ran, two 13-year-old boys who were bludgeoned to death while hiking in the canyon just behind their homes, their blood deliberately smeared on the walls of the cave where they were found. And Gilad Stiglitz, who was 14 when he was murdered while playing basketball. And Shmuel Yerushalmi who was 17 when his friend was gunned down, just 3 weeks before he too was killed by a suicide bomber. And this is about little Noam and Matan, whose father cried all of our tears as he buried his precious sons.

How can one group of mothers anguish over the thought that their children might be killed, while another group applauds their children for doing the killing?” I don’t know and I never will.

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