While most teenagers my age started their normal school year in September, 50 of my peers and I had already started school thousands of miles away in Israel.
We went as a grade to Alexander Muss High School in Hod HaSharon, Israel. We are all Jewish 11th graders from Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, Pa. For the past two and half months we have been tracing all of Israel’s history from the biblical period until modern day while visiting the places where it took place.
On the night of Wednesday, Nov. 14, we heard that a top Hamas official, Ahmed Jabari, had been killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza. Some people may have a problem with a direct assassination, but just as when the United States assassinated Osama Bin Ladin, we have not been mourning his loss; we knew that rockets were being fired from Gaza on a regular basis on bordering towns, and as scary as that was, none of it was anything new. We knew his death was just an attempt to stop the rockets from coming into Israel.
Since then the world has heard of the continuous rockets sent into Israel as well as the multiple accounts of the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) air strikes. It was different hearing that rockets were going to Tel Aviv from out of the country, but when you live a half-hour away and were just there the other day, it sparks deeper concern.
We have Israeli counselors who chaperone us outside of class; they are like our makeshift parents. The majority of them are Israelis in their mid-twenties just out of the army. In Israel there is a compulsory draft, so the civilians make up the army.
The IDF had called 75,000 reserve troops for a possible invasion of Gaza. Unfortunately that included one of our counselors, who was preparing for a ground mission in the coming days. A second counselor was also called to be ready in case her unit was needed.
It was hard thinking that the people who tuck us in at night and hold us when we cry would have had to go off to war. I think it was harder for us than for them, because they know the duty they have to their country and are proud to defend it, while we just wanted to keep our counselors.
The counselors’ potential fighting was what hurt the most. No one wanted them to go into Gaza. We knew that neither Israel, America, the U.N., the European Union, Egypt nor Hamas wanted an invasion of Gaza. The invasion might temporarily halt the firing of rockets into Israel, but the main thing a ground invasion would do is guarantee the deaths of Palestinians, and put thousands of Israeli soldiers lives at risk (essentially 18-year-old kids).
Enough lives both Palestinian and Israeli have been ruined in the past week alone. Three years ago during the last ground mission in Gaza, it was not something I generally thought about, because I didn’t know anyone and did not feel any particular connection to the land. But when you live a short car ride away from the sites being targeted, it feels personal.
These past few months, I have met many amazing people whose lives are constantly affected by the violence. I met a 19-year-old soldier at a party who this week was on the front lines of a possible invasion. I saw a girl desperately crying the night she heard her brother’s reserve unit was called in.
As scary as I make it sound, I knew I was completely safe and was not willing to let this cut my trip short, even if it is only by a few days. We have bomb shelters in our dorms that we have had drills in. And while the situation was not ideal, it is fortunate that we have never had a use for such rooms.
To be honest, there was a little bit of a disconnection between how safe we all felt and the reality of Israel. We were safe in a small town outside of the rockets’ range. While more than half the country was living in bomb shelters, we were able to safely carry out our normal daily schedule.
All we could do was wait for an answer. I believed in the IDF and hoped for a cease-fire in the immediate future. It came as a relief to everyone when the terms of a cease-fire were reached Wednesday night. Whether they will hold is unknown, considering they were agreed upon at 9 p.m, and 15 rockets were shot into southern Israel at 11 p.m. Even so, most people are staying optimistic.
My grade will now be able to spend our last weekend in Jerusalem, along with Friday night at the Western Wall (one of Judaism’s oldest and most holy sites). We are thankful to be able to end our trip in the same place we started it, in the heart of our Jewish heritage.