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Asher '15: Bloody, bloody Israel

Down the street from each other in Jerusalem lived two families, both named Harel, both with sons named Yuval. Though both Yuvals were the same age, their families didn't know each other, and as a result they didn't know that both were fighting with the Israeli Defense Forces in the 1982 Lebanon War. One day, two military officers came to the door of one of the Harel families with the devastating news that their son had been killed in battle. However, the next day, during the shiva - the seven days of mourning customary under Jewish law - there was another knock on the door. It was the IDF again. They had made a mistake. Their son was still alive, and in actuality it was the other Yuval Harel who had been killed.

After a day of grim relief, knowing that their son was, amazingly, still alive, the Harels were visited by the IDF once more. Their son - the first Yuval Harel - had also been killed in battle.  Today, the two Yuval Harels are buried in the same row of graves in Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem.

The Harel family's story is the history of Israel. Its people know war and the tragedy it brings in its wake in a way we, as university students in the United States, don't and hopefully never will. Few of us know any members of the Armed Forces, and fewer still have lost someone close to them in war. Even within that small subset of people, most will never visit Iraq, Afghanistan or any place U.S. soldiers are or recently have been actively engaged in combat. Like the Malabar Front in George Orwell's "1984," our theaters of war exist only in the abstract and are shown - when they are shown to us at all - in nicely produced segments in between announcements about the new iPhone and Paul Ryan's workout regimen.

Not so for Israelis. For them, war is such a part of the fabric of regular life that complete peace is a dream for them in the way an economy free of fossil fuels is a dream for many in the United States. Military conscription is mandatory for all Israeli citizens at the age of 18 - university comes after. From Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, to Beirut, a major center of Hezbollah activity, is approximately 80 miles. To put that in perspective, that's about half the distance from Providence to New York. When you live under a more or less constant threat of attack - from that close proximity - there's nothing abstract about war.

Even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has extensive special forces experience, having taken part in raids along the Suez Canal and leading a commando team into Syrian territory during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Perhaps most importantly, though, is that in the same cemetery as the two Yuval Harels, a few plots away, lies his brother Yonatan "Johnny" Netanyahu, who was killed in a special forces raid rescuing Israeli hostages at Entebbe Airport in Uganda. Say what you will about his policies, but Prime Minister Netanyahu has no illusions about war and its costs.

This is not a call for arms, but for empathy. Not to excuse unnecessary violence, but to try to help people understand why to many Israelis, it might not seem so unnecessary. If we ever want to have a real shot at bringing about lasting peace in the region, it has to start from a place of true understanding of both sides. What we see is a wall being built between Israel and the West Bank - what we don't see as often are the pictures of buses in Tel Aviv going up in flames with children on board that prompted such drastic action.

It is often said that Israelis are oppressing the Palestinian people - for examples of this line of thinking I would refer you to a thoughtful piece written by Mika Zacks '15 ("Suffering on the path to freedom," Sept. 26). But why can't the converse be true as well? And while innocent citizens affected by the violence in the Palestinian territories unequivocally deserve our attention, Israelis in cities like Sderot and Ashkelon live in constant fear of rocket barrages from Gaza. 

The Second Intifada and the threat of a third  loom specter-like over Israeli communities near the border of the West Bank. Citizens of Haifa know they are one flare-up away from a repeat of the 2006 Lebanon War in which the city was hammered with Katyusha rockets. In Brown's hyper-liberal political atmosphere, it is often overlooked that in Israel and the Palestinian territories, brutality is a two-way street. Our discourse needs to start treating it as such.




Adam Asher '15 can be reached at, followed on Twitter (@asheradams) and found on his laptop drinking coffee at various locations around campus.


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