Saturday, January 17, 2009

I went to Israel

Jerusalem, at the Wailing Wall, January 16, 2009, by M.T. Hernandez

Amidst my parents, colleagues, and friends telling me it was too dangerous, I went to Israel on January 9th.  I gave a talk at a conference at Hebrew University.  The topic -  the Jewish influence on the Catholic Church in New Spain.  It was one of those situations that I just couldn't stay home... no matter what the risk management office of my university told me.

Well, I have gone and come back.  I am still alive; I was not near any terrorist bombings, and I had no trouble getting out of the country after a week.  Life in Israel goes on, even if 1000+ people are dying a few miles away.  

I saw lots of soldiers, and lots and lots of rifles.  The university felt like a bunker.  Our passports were checked every time we went on campus.  There were over two hundred soldiers at the Wailing Wall. I couldn't tell if you were guarding the place or they were their because of order to leave for Gaza.  We were checked for weapons as we entered a small cafe a block from campus.  I'm told that is normal.

The strangest thing (for me) was the television access in my hotel room.  I stayed at the faculty club on campus.  The TV stations listed CNN, but when I turned on the the TV, there was just a fuzzy screen.  I guess we weren't supposed to see what was going on in Gaza.  We weren't kept from the internet however - so I kept up with the news on-line.

The place is beautiful.  But at least on the Jewish side of town, there is a quiet sadness everywhere.  I walked to the Arab section of Old Jerusalem with a friend - that scene was different.  There was more movement, more talking, and actually more life.

My Jewish colleagues at the conference were fantastic hosts.  A few spoke to me about the Gaza conflict.  I kept hearing that the rockets from Gaza had been going on for a long time and the U.S. and other nations had not responded in support of Israel on this.  There is a sense of being locked in - that there was no option but to blow the Gazans away.

Everybody is locked in actually.  The Gaza population is trapped, but so are the Jews.  While the Gaza people are dying now, the is also a sense that the Jews could be blown away at any time.


Gaza op may be squeezing Hamas, but it's destroying Israel's soul
By Ari Shavit, Haaretz Correspondent
January 16, 2009

On Thursday it happened, conclusively - Operation Cast Lead turned insane. Attacking any densely populated city is a serious act at any time, but when Israel's international legitimacy is being ground to dust, such an attack is nothing but madness.

Shelling a United Nations facility is something not to be done at any time, but doing it on the day when the UN secretary general is visiting Jerusalem is beyond lunacy. The level of pressure the Israel Defense Forces has been exerting on Gaza may be squeezing Hamas, but it is destroying Israel. Destroying its soul and its image. Destroying it on world television screens, in the living rooms of the international community and most importantly, in Obama's America.

Israel is not Russia and Gaza is not Chechnya. Israel cannot deal with its enemies the way belligerent superpowers deal with theirs. Wars must be just and proportional.

Without being just, Israel cannot triumph on the battlefield. Without a sound moral foundation any Israeli victory is Pyrrhic.

Twenty-one days ago the campaign against Hamas was balanced and right. About a week ago it started slipping and in the last few days it has crossed every line. True, Hamas is in distress, its leaders are being killed, its prestige is dwindling. But this cannot change the fact that what began as a vital, calculated military operation has become a riotous rampage in a populated area. At any given moment the rampage could end in disaster.

The prime minister has apparently decided to act like some kind of Putin. If he ended his first war with no clear conclusion, he will end his second one with a scorched earth. But one should also ask, where is Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is supposed to "look the truth in the eye" in his election campaign? And where is Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who claims to have the courage to change things?

After two weeks of serving their state, they are now in cahoots with licentious military moves.

In a few days the fire will cease and the fog will disperse, revealing the horror. Hamas will be crushed, but pictures of outrageous destruction and killing will flood the world. Beirut's "Waltz with Bashir" will pale by comparison to Gaza's waltz with Olmert.

Then we'll discover that we will not be paying the price of the past week's belligerent escapade only in Obama's America. We will be paying it with the damaged souls of our sons and daughters.

At a gate to the Old City in Jerusalem. A group of students with their body guard. January 16, 2009. Photo by M.T. Hernandez

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