Making my Mom proud

My mother died two weeks ago. August 12th. In California. Just like that. In her sleep. Shock for all of us. And although she moved away almost 50 years ago, she had a deep love of Israel and wanted to be buried here.  So my Dad, my brother and sister and I immediately went into crisis mode: calls to Hevra Kadisha (Jewish organization which prepares the bodies of the deceased for a Jewish burial) who thank G-d knew exactly what had to be done, calls to cemetery guy in Israel, notifying family and friends, planning a funeral that she would have liked, buying airline tickets for my Dad, brother and sister to fly over from California, waiting for her body to arrive on El Al Airlines, and putting her in the ground to rest.

Tel Aviv hotel view

My mother looking over the Tel Aviv coastline, enjoying every moment of her visit to Israel

Then we sat shiva (period of 7 days of mourning) at my home in Hannaton where we were fed and enveloped by the love and support of my amazing community.

Suddenly, way too quickly, it was all over, and they left. I felt so alone. But life has to go on.

Reeling from it all, I have been thinking of ways to memorialize, to remember, to honor my Mom, to make her proud. How do I do that… I’ve been gathering ideas, thoughts, little by little. It makes me feel better to think of ways to remember her.

At breakfast this morning, I came upon an article by Kelly Hartog in the Jewish Journal, Israel Helps Yazidi Women Heal from Trauma. Fascinating stuff, about the efforts of a group of Israeli doctors and psychologists to help heal the traumatized Kurdish Yazidi women who underwent several years of torture, imprisonment and rape by their ISIS captors. Here are some excerpts:

Speaking with (Marylene) Cloitre in Northern California, she explained how she had never been to Israel. After completing her latest project with the WHO, she was trying to figure out what to do next.

“I thought, what I’d really like to do next is go to Israel. It’s a country that has experienced so much trauma and has persevered, it just felt like I should know more,” she said. A week later, she received an email from Hoffman asking her to come to teach the Yazidi women at Bar-Ilan. “It didn’t take me long to say ‘yes,’ ” Cloitre said. 

“I work with women. I recalled the attacks on the Yazidi women and I was really shocked by how little the U.S. did and I felt very bad about it. Those things were on my mind when I got the email from Yaakov.”

I said to myself “Yeah, people really need to come to Israel and check us out. We do some amazing work here” and then I thought of my Mom. She would have loved this connection of good things Israeli is doing, with a woman doctor at Stanford University in Palo Alto (where she lived for so many years).

And…

One of the most intriguing decisions made by Zivotofsky was to take the women to Israel’s Holocaust memorial — Yad Vashem. Hoffman said he thought Zivotofsky was crazy. “I thought he’d fallen on his head,” he said, laughing. “I said to him, ‘What do they need to see Yad Vashem for?’ But then I realized it was the most amazing thing, because first of all, it validated them. They saw they’re not the only ones who have suffered. And the way Yad Vashem is documented and archived, they were in total awe of how you can rebuild and get hope and can resume life afterward.”

That, said Hoffman, became the program’s mantra: “Visiting Yad Vashem wasn’t just an extracurricular activity. It tied into the whole theme of empowerment, rebuilding; of post-traumatic growth, which is something we were trying to imbue.”

The visit, Zivotofsky added, helped the women look up to Israel and the Jewish people. “We are a people who have been where they have been, just 75 years ago. They wanted to understand how we have commemorated our Holocaust and they wanted to understand how we have built ourselves up.”

Oh yes, my mother would have loved this project. The trauma she and her immediate family suffered as they managed to survive the Holocaust in work camps in Siberia and Kazakhstan shaped her life story. This would have made her very proud!

So, in honor of my mother, Pola Harrel, may her memory be a blessing, I encourage you to read this article (long but totally worth it) and do good in this world. Oh, and come and visit Israel.

I love you, Mom.

Click the link below for the article

Israel Helps Yazidi Women Heal from ISIS Trauma

 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Israel is so much more than the sum of its parts.

This piece was difficult to write. Difficult to digest. Difficult to explain. But I’m giving it a shot because its been on my mind for over two months and I feel it helps me understand why I love this country so much.

Its been a tough summer in our neck of the woods. And that is indeed an understatement.  Now the fighting is over and the negotiations have begun and we hope ‘they’ come to some kind of agreement. Both of ‘them’, Israel and Hamas.

Within the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are many sides, many issues of paramount importance that can be argued, discussed and learned, ad nauseum…

But for me, this time, there is one thing that has especially moved, affected and stayed with me these past few weeks. It is a deeper, more visceral understanding of the relationship between Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews in Israel; this dysfunctional, co-dependent drama that makes this country so special and worth getting to know.

Fact: 20% of Israelis are Israeli Arabs.

Fact: Israeli Arabs are generally divided into four groups; Muslims, Christians, Bedouins and Druze. All Israelis. With Israeli citizenship. And civil rights. And voting rights.

But what does that mean?

What does it mean to be an Israeli Arab during a war between the country you live in and the extended family and relatives you have across the border in Gaza?

Where do you stand? What do you do? Where do you direct your anger and frustration?

What about feelings of guilt for living in the safety of a democratic Israel, while watching Arabs in neighboring countries being slaughtered, gassed, bombed by their own Arab brothers?

What about Hamas rocket strikes against your own home? Where do you direct your anger then?

What happens to an Israeli Arab soul when at the same time he is fearful of incoming Hamas rockets, angry at Israeli bombings of Gaza, feeling guilty for living in Israel, feeling thankful for living in Israel, frustrated with the Israeli government’s inability to adequately address his community’s needs, upset with Israeli Arab leadership that has lost touch with its voters, furious at the way Arab governments kill their own people, horrified as images of dying Palestinian children are flashed over and over on TV screens as the world media cannot get enough of the suffering of the people of Gaza?

And despite of it all, life goes on here in Israel. Israeli Arabs work, study, shop for groceries, do business, raise their kids. Alongside the Jews.

The complexity of Israeli Arab life in Israel is absolutely fascinating and at times unbelievably ironic.

Cases in point. All from this past summer.


Aug. 24th – Hamas mortar shells fall at the Erez Crossing, injuring several  Israeli Arab taxi drivers waiting to transport sick and wounded Gazans from the border to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals. Three of the taxi drivers were Bedouin and one was from East Jerusalem. (Read more)


 

Aug 4th – The life of a Israeli Jewish soldier seriously injured by an Arab drive-by shooter was saved by an Israeli Arab doctor, Professor Ahmad Eid, head of surgery at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem. Professor Eid insists “There’s no drama here.”

Oh yes, professor, there is. There certainly is.  Read about Dr Eid’s amazing story here.

Prof Ahmend Eid, Head of Surgery at Hadassah Hospital. (courtesy of Haddasah)

 


 

July 20th – Ghassan Alian, an Israeli Druze Arab and Commander of the elite Golani Brigade in the Israeli Defense Forces, was wounded in the first days of the military operation. His demand to be patched up quickly and to return to his troops endeared him to the Jewish majority and made his Druze community proud.  However, not all Israeli Arabs were impressed. Alian was criticized and even received death threats for his role as an Arab commander in the IDF. (Read more)

 

Golani Commander

Ghassan Alian, Golani Brigade Commander (courtesy IDF spokesman)


 

July 29 – Israeli Police decide not to investigate Israeli Arab Member of Knesset Haneen Zoabi’s apparent praise for the kidnapping of 3 Jewish teenagers, whose abduction and murder ignited this summer’s Operation Protective Edge.

In this article, we read of the story of Israeli Arab Mohammad Zoabi, a young, family member of that same MK Haneen Zoabi, who unabashedly spoke out on Facebook against the kidnappers of those 3 Jewish boys. His mother told the media that her son had to escape to a safe house abroad due to the threats to his life.

“My son dared to express his feelings toward the Jews who had been kidnapped,” she said. “As a mother, I am proud of him. I received many threats. One reporter wrote that my son should be kidnapped and raped. With all due respect, I am not impressed with the Israel Police. I am disappointed. They wait until something happens, and only then do they get involved.”

The Zoabi family, a very prominent Israeli Arab family from Nazareth, exemplifies the internal conflict of being Arab, and Muslim and Israeli, all at the same time. Their struggle for identity is certainly not easy. (Read more)


 

Two Israeli Arab Bedouin IDF Army doctors are being court-martialled for desertion. This is the story as far as I understand it: Two Bedouin brothers, outstanding students in school, decided about 9 years ago to follow the ‘Atudah’ program in the Israeli Defense Forces, where top students first attend university with an all paid scholarship from the IDF, then enlist for several years and serve in their corresponding profession. These brothers became the very first Bedouin ‘atudah’ doctors in the history of Israel.  They became officers and served in the IDF as doctors, providing care for all patients, regardless of their background.

This summer, as the Israeli Air Force began bombardments in Gaza after many days of rocket attacks from Hamas, these two brothers, like many other Israelis, became distraught at the media images of dead and injured Palestinian Gazans. As they knew their unit would eventually join the fighting, they became conflicted, didn’t know how to respond and where to turn, so in an act of desperation they abandoned their posts and went home. They deserted.

After a week of gut wrenching soul searching, they reconsidered, decided they had made a terrible mistake and returned to their base, apologized to their commander and asked to return to their duties. However, they were arrested and have been sitting in jail since then.

Although they had abandoned their post, deserted in fact, the story of their pain and anguish and their eventual return and regret has touched the hearts of many Israeli Jews and there are many who petitioned to have their punishment reduced. Read the latest on their ongoing trial here.


 

July 19 – A rocket shot from Gaza towards the Negev desert  landed in an Israeli Arab Bedouin encampment, killing Ouda Lafi al-Waj, an Israeli Bedouin man and seriously wounding his children.  (Read more) Most Israeli Arab Bedouins in the Negev live in towns but there are several tens of thousands who live in unauthorized, unrecognized encampments without adequate facilities. Because the encampments are not authorized by the government, they are considered open areas and are not included under the Iron Dome protective airspace. Crazy.  And painfully unfair.

 


May – The Israeli Defense Forces began sending draft notices to Israeli Arab Christian youth, inviting them to enlist as do their brothers the Israeli Druze and the Israeli Bedouins. This move came after several years of campaigning by Israeli Arab Christian Greek Orthodox Father Gabriel Nadaf, who believes that Israeli Christians should enlist and do more to integrate into Israeli society. In fact, more and more Israeli Christians are joining the ranks of the Israeli armed forces in an act of solidarity with the only country in the Middle East where they are free to practice their religion and are safe from persecution. Its quite scary to be a Christian in the Middle East these days and Israeli Christians struggle to define their role as Israeli citizens. (Read more)


And finally, this past Monday I attended the Galilee Arab Jewish Conference – Fighting Racism and Working for Cooperation. One of the speakers was Dr. Khawla Abu Baker, an Israeli Arab psychologist and college professor, and it was during her talk that I finally realized I was able to put pencil to paper (in this case fingers to keyboard) and write what was on my mind. I now had the words I wanted to say.

Dr Abu Baker’s specialty is the psychology of Arab Israelis, mainly their mental and emotional profile.

As she started her talk, I began to take notes and furiously translated her thoughts into my journal. I want to share some of her words, as they still resonate for me. The following are some of my notes:

Palestinian Israelis suffer from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); they constantly struggle on the outside and from within, always angry and fearful; when the brain is under constant stress, it changes itself and adapts to its environment, always under danger; this causes psychological and cognitive changes that affect thoughts, behavior; this PTSD must be treated and if not addressed gets relived over and over; we don’t have periods of calm long enough (need to be 6 months or more) to get over our PTSD and recover from our trauma; all Israelis, Palestinian and Jewish alike.

In 1948, 85% of Palestinian Arab society had to relocate and build a new life somewhere else; they lost their place in the world; many still carry the keys to the homes they lost; every war reawakens that trauma; every war causes them to relive traumas from previous wars, never ending; leads to depression, helplessness, loss of hope; these feelings of rage bring on the need to take revenge

And now, an important personal note — Her use of the term Palestinian Israelis bothered me. When I guide tourists, I clearly state there is a difference between the Palestinians (which are those who live in the West Bank and Gaza) and Israeli Arabs (who live in the state of Israel). I find this definition helps the tourists understand how complex the situation is.

However, as I was listening to Dr Abu Baker, it dawned on me that MY defining and labeling THEM as ‘not’ Palestinian was part of the problem! They ARE Palestinian and are proud Palestinians, with a Palestinian heart and soul and language and culture, with family across the border separated from them a mere 65 years ago and then again 46 years ago. My problem with labeling them as proud Palestinians was MY problem, and if  Israeli Arabs want to call themselves Palestinian Israelis, who am I to say it isn’t so? I need to get over it. Huge aha moment for me!

And that’s when it struck me. I am also traumatized! So is my family and my community. I started this post by saying how difficult this summer has been. For all of us here in Israel. All of us.

Dr Khawla Abu Baker continued: What we have here is almost identical to a domestic violence situation; it passes from generation to generation and without treatment it becomes a cycle of violence and abuse; victims and perpetrators both develop their own ‘narratives’ to justify their behavior.

Question from the audience – “What is the medicine?”

“both Jews and Palestinians need to understand there are two sides to a coin; both have to be compassionate and accept each other’s pain and injury as real”

Compassion.

Understanding that the Palestinian – Israeli – Arab – Muslim – Druze – Bedouin – Christian is stuck in a precarious, delicate and sometimes impossible situation.

Between a rock and a hard place.

And that Palestinians and Jews will heal from their trauma only after long, long periods of calm, free of violence.

First peace. Then healing.