What it’s like for a South Carolinian in Israel now

Editor’s note: To our family, Marina is much more than just “a South Carolinian.” She’s one of my youngest daughter’s oldest and best friends. Her family still lives in our neighborhood, just a few houses away. Several years ago, she met an Israeli while she and my daughter and another girl were traveling around Europe together. She later moved to Israel and married him, and they have a little boy named Yahm. This is something she posted on Facebook a couple of days ago. I asked her if I could post it here, and I’m grateful that she agreed. I haven’t edited it at all.

By Marina Druseikis Guttman

Tuesday night the rocket sirens went off as I was putting Yahm to sleep. We entered the stairwell with the other neighbours. We heard explosions, one after the other and uncomfortably close. Someone suggested we move to the basement and we did, where we stayed for at least 30 minutes as the sirens and explosions continued. I didn’t try to count the number of booms, and even though I smiled with the neighbours at Yahm’s cuteness, I had images of worst-case scenarios running through my head. I didn’t sleep well but still managed to go to the lab the next day to get some data for an experiment that I’ve been really looking forward to.alerts

I moved to Tel Aviv in 2013, so I’d already experienced sirens, running to a safe room, rockets and the iron dome from the 2014 conflict. But this time felt different. On Tuesday some 130 rockets went over central Israel in an hour timespan. The iron dome is an amazing technological achievement, but it’s not perfect and with the increase in simultaneous rockets, it’s not possible to intercept all of them. There were direct hits to an apartment in Givatayim and a parked (empty) bus in Holon.

We had almost 2 days of quiet in Tel Aviv.

Then Saturday afternoon there was a siren at exactly the time Matan and Yahm were supposed to be biking home from down the street. Thankfully they hadn’t left yet. I sat in the stairwell with the neighbours and heard the explosions. Again I didn’t try to count the booms, but there were three blasts in particular that really got to me, one right after the other with each one seeming to get louder, closer, and again the worst-case scenarios ran through my head. During this barrage there was another direct hit in Ramat Gan, about 5 km from us, with one man dead as he was disabled and didn’t make it to a protected space in time. We had another barrage that night, shortly after midnight, as Hamas made good on their promise to “bring hell to Tel Aviv at midnight”, or something like that, as retaliation for the IDF taking down the tower housing international news organisations (the IDF say it was targeted because it was also a Hamas headquarter. I’ll just say the optics are terrible either way).

I don’t write this for sympathy or to detract from the Palestinian’s suffering or Israel’s wrongdoing. I choose to live here knowing what comes with it. But civilians – Israeli, Palestinian, Jewish, Arab, and those of us who fit none of those categories – are suffering and nobody wins.
I guess I feel the need to give my firsthand account because the media usually portrays the situation as David vs Goliath (though David wins so really that’s a poor analogy for the point they’re trying to make), and I’ve heard reporters say “it’s Palestinians throwing rocks versus a modern military.” But it’s not rocks. If there was no iron dome, Tel Aviv would be in rubble right now after just Tuesday night, not to mention the four other attacks since then. People who obviously don’t live here claim these are homemade pipe bombs and therefore not a threat (??), but that’s not the reality. I’m writing from the relative safety of Tel Aviv, but people living less than an hour south of here have had non-stop rockets for a week and are living in bomb shelters.rockets

For lack of a better word, I’m impressed by Hamas’ military advancements since 2014. It’s not like Israel played patty cakes then – no, the IDF destroyed many buildings housing weapons, and got a lot of international backlash for it. But in 6 years time Hamas has built and stockpiled thousands of rockets, and apparently missiles as well as drones that can carry explosives.
The events leading up to this were totally avoidable and the government’s actions, led by Bibi, are horrendous and inexcusable. And of course I don’t think Hamas’ retaliation on Israeli civilians can be justified, although I admit I’m biased because they are literally targeting my city. But that’s what it is. And now every little noise sounds like the start of the siren or a bomb exploding in the distance. It’s nerve wracking.

Perhaps the scariest part of all of this is the civil unrest. Jews and Arabs are attacking each other in mixed cities that have lived together peacefully for years (Arabs make up 20% of Israel’s population – these are Israeli citizens, not Palestinians from Gaza or the West Bank). It’s both heartbreaking and disgusting.

It’s important to separate the people from their governing bodies. I learned this many years ago as an American who was horrified by our actions in the Middle East and South and Central America, to name a few. But it’s still hard to read comments online that say anyone defending Israel or even showing sympathy for Israel is a promoter of ethnic cleansing, apartheid, genocide, etc. Hamas is purposefully bombarding civilians with rockets but no one claims the Palestinians are trying to commit ethnic cleansing or genocide – and they shouldn’t make that claim. Because Hamas doesn’t represent all Palestinians, just like Bibi doesn’t represent all Israelis.

Nothing is black and white. Everything is nuanced. I hope and pray for peace and an end to this cyclical violence.

Here’s Yahm and I trying to enjoy the sunshine after a difficult night and some snapshots of what it’s like to live in central Israel right now.

Marina and Yahm

10 thoughts on “What it’s like for a South Carolinian in Israel now

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    We had one comment a moment ago. I deleted it.

    This is about a young woman worrying about her family’s safety living in her adopted country.

    So no, I’m not going to allow cold-hearted comments that say things like, “Don’t want to be a target of bombs, leave.”

    If I get more of them — if I get anything that deals with this on any level other than the deeply human and personal level on which it was written, I will delete them, too. And if they keep coming, I’ll just turn off the comments function.

    Reading something like this is an opportunity for everyone on every side of this mess to just shut up with their pat answers and formulas, and learn from a human story, one that teaches what Marina writes, that “Nothing is black and white. Everything is nuanced.”

    And that invites us all to “hope and pray for peace and an end to this cyclical violence.”

    This is a place for that, and not for the usual garbage. It doesn’t seem like I’d have to tell grownups that. But I do, over and over. On every subject, but on one like this it just seems particularly gross.

    This post offers no simplistic political arguments, and doesn’t invite any, from anyone.

    An aside: I’m thinking pretty hard right now — and have been for months — about radically changing the blog policy on comments, to a point that would severely limit them, as a way of doing away with this problem. Because after 16 years, I’ve had enough of dealing with it.

    But no more about that right now. I just wanted people to read Marina’s story and be touched by it the way people in my family have been — not offer brutally thoughtless advice to her…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      All comments will now be held for moderation for the time being. I probably won’t have a chance to look at them and approve any until the middle of Thursday or later. I have a doctor appointment in the morning, and a lot of work after.

      I apologize for your inconvenience, and appreciate any patience you can bring to the situation. Thank you.

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        This continues to be in force. I’ve avoided this for 16 years, but now no comment appears until I’ve approved it.

        I avoided it in the past for two reasons:

        1. It inhibits spontaneity, and I prefer for people to have real-time discussions.
        2. It’s a LOT more work for me. I greatly preferred the honor system because it was less work for yours truly. Now I have to keep checking and checking the “pending” queue, and sometimes I don’t have time, and when that happens I’m the bad guy, right?

        I don’t see this precise arrangement as permanent. But whatever I come up with, while I hope it’s more automatic, it will definitely be more selective.

        For years, I’ve judged comments in terms of “Does this go too far over the line into incivility?” If it didn’t, I let it through. That meant I let almost everything through.

        You know how “woke” people don’t accept you if you’re just not a racist? That now you have to be “anti-racist?”

        Well, this is going to be a similar dynamic, although more in a positive sense — more about being pro than anti. Now, I’m going to be looking less for violations, and more for whether each comment actually promotes the goal of having a civil conversational environment here.

        I’m still figuring out the details, but that’s what I’m going to do…

  2. Randle

    I find this account more helpful in understanding the situation than most news stories I have read. An unending cycle of violence and retribution egged on by men who sow dissension to stay in power. With normal people trying to live their lives and paying the price. And for what? What do the destroyers of peace and happiness gain? Not the kingdom of heaven.

    1. bud

      Agree. Marina story is helpful to understanding this issue on a personal level. I’d love to see a similar story from a Palestinian mother who is just trying to live her life.

  3. Dan

    Brad, well said. Very enlightening. Please stay strong and true to yourself. Weed out the trolls and negative commentors, but please continue your blog with it many interesting and kind and courteous commentors.

  4. Paul DeMarco

    Agree with Dan. This blog is a rare and important place. Marina’s post is enlightening and heart wrenching. The creation of a Jewish State seemed needed and appropriate in the aftermath of WW2. But the way it was created dispossessed and inflamed many Palestinians. There appears to have been no change in the level of hatred between the Jews and Palestinians over the past 70 years. Both sides claim to have God on their side. But is the nature of God’s people to seek justice and extend mercy.

  5. Ken

    I condemn the rocket attacks launched from Gaza.

    But I cannot be blind to the fact that the anger that led to those attacks is legitimate.

    I grew up with the heroic image of Israel. I watched Paul Newman and Sal Mineo lead the righteous fight for a Jewish state on the big screen. I read the same tale as told by Leon Uris. I listened to (former Israeli Ambassador) Abba Eban eloquently recount 2000 years of Jewish history, culminating in the formation of that state. I viewed figures like Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan as heroic giants. And in some ways they were.

    But for me this began to change with Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and Ariel Sharon’s so-called “Iron Fist” policy vis-á-vis Palestinians. Over time I – gradually and reluctantly – came to realize that while many Israelis are not ethno-nationalists, the country of Israel itself is an ethno-nationalist, apartheid state – and has been since it was established. And this isn’t my view alone; it’s how Israel is described in the article I cited above – written by a Jewish resident of Jerusalem.

    I support Israel – just not this Israel. Israel must choose: it can either be an ethno-nationalist apartheid state, or it can be a vibrant democracy for all who live there. It cannot be both.

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