When my Israeli infantry unit arrived at the first village in Gaza, in July 2014, we cleared houses by sending grenades through windows, blowing doors open and firing bullets into rooms to avoid ambush and booby traps. We were told Palestinian civilians had fled.
I realized this wasn’t true as I stood over the corpse of an elderly Palestinian woman whose face had been mutilated by shrapnel. She had been lying on the sand floor of a shack, in a pool of blood.
Like the invasion that the Israeli military has said is imminent, that campaign was precipitated by atrocities carried out by Hamas terrorists. On June 12 of that year, Hamas kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers; soon after, Israelis murdered a Palestinian teenager. The horrific exchange escalated into a larger conflict; ultimately some 70 Israelis and 2,250 Palestinians were killed over seven weeks. Then, as now, Israelis were told that we were going in to deal a decisive blow to Hamas.
As Israeli troops made incursions into Gaza on Friday and prepared for possible street-by-street urban combat, complicated by the presence of more than 200 hostages still being held by Hamas, I know firsthand the terror they can expect in an landscape of postapocalyptic bombed-out neighborhoods, where Hamas fighters could be lying in wait. There’s also the constant fear of coming under attack by mortars and missiles, and the possibility of a gunman emerging from the group’s underground network of tunnels.
Those three fateful weeks inside the Gaza Strip transformed me from a deeply religious, Modern Orthodox yeshiva student and West Bank settler into an activist with the movement opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, first with the antiwar veterans organization Breaking the Silence and now with Extend, a group that connects Palestinian and Israeli human rights leaders with American Jewish audiences.
All our casualties and the suffering brought on Palestinians in Gaza accomplished nothing since our leaders refused to work on creating a political reality in which more violence would not be inevitable. While I believe in self-defense, fighting in Gaza taught me that if my government doesn’t change its approach from crushing Palestinian hope to committing to Palestinian independence, not only will this war kill an untold number of Israelis and Palestinians in addition to the thousands who already have died, but it also will not decisively end terror. A ground invasion is doomed to failure. [Continue reading…]