Israel-Gaza: Voices From Across The Divide

Israel-Gaza: Voices From Across The Divide

Hostilities have ceased in the Gaza conflict following the deaths of more than 160 people in eight days. Israeli Motti Colman and Palestinian Hatem Shurrab have witnessed the violence from opposite sides.

Below, in alphabetical order according to their surnames, they offer their first-hand accounts - and hopes for the future.

:: Motti Colman, in Tel Aviv

I grew up in a typical middle-class home in London. The concept of anti-Semitism didn't manifest itself in anything worse than the occasional snarling of local children. In comparison to generations prior, I figured I was lucky.

As I grew older and I started to explore my own identity, I discovered I had a strong connection to Israel.

While I never partook in political activism in university, I was always astonished by the intense hatred directed at the country that I felt so close to. Anti-Israel demonstrations on campus took place frequently, and the Jewish community always rallied in defence of the country.

I remember once playing in a football tournament arranged by the university - a society world cup. I represented the Jewish society and played as Team Israel. We were drawn against the Islamic society, playing as Palestine. The game attracted a large gathering of spectators. As we were about to kick off, the chairman of the Islamic society announced that he was boycotting the game to protest Israeli aggression.  The tournament's purpose was to bring societies at university together.

My most vivid memory of the day is the look on the Palestinian team players' faces. They wanted to play the game and felt as if they were being used as pawns to make a point.

In 2008, Israel went to war with Hamas in Gaza, who had been firing on Israel's southern population. Israel dropped leaflets into Gaza to warn the civilians. There were daily ceasefires, during which Israel would deliver aid to the very people they were fighting. To my knowledge this was unprecedented, yet the world screamed genocide.

I tried to understand the logic of the situation. Clearly the IDF had a simple goal - preventing rocket attacks on Israel's civilian population. However, trying to work out the motives of Hamas, it became clear. Hamas was firing at civilians, from within civilian territory. They knew that the strikes from the IDF would harm their own civilians and seemingly went out their way to ensure this.

As the world's outrage grew, it became clear that Hamas' plan was working. The world's leaders managed to stop the Israeli "assault".

Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, would later speak out asserting that the IDF "did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare". This is a man with no affiliation to Israel and here he was standing up against the world view.

A couple of years later, I attended a speech given by the colonel. He explained how he had come to this conclusion. As a military expert who supports the IDF, how could he explain the constant negative press that Israel receives?

He answered me simply - (1) anti-Semitism, (2) favouring of the underdog and (3) the West's fear of radical Islam coming for them next. The latter two answers I can understand - there is some rationality. However, a non-Jew with his extraordinary military experience claiming that institutional anti-Semitism exists broke my heart.

I am not claiming that all non-Jews hate Jews - far from it. However, for as long as there have been Jews on the Earth, there has been anti-Semitism. In every generation people have risen up to destroy our nation. They have given every excuse that matches the current trend. We were hated for being introverted and refusing to integrate and yet by the twentieth century in Germany, never in history before then had Jews been such an integral part of a secular society. The Jews of Germany called themselves Germans before they called themselves Jews. They were such an integral part of the society they refused to believe that they could be targeted.

Modern anti-Semitism comes in anti-Israel sentiments. Discriminating against a person based on his/her race is of course contemptible. However, discriminating against a country because of its policies is perfectly legitimate. Being anti-Israel today is a legitimate way of hating Jews.

Now, in 2012, I am writing this piece from my home in Tel Aviv, having moved here eight months ago.

Those who know me have heard me say that a war is imminent - one that could potentially see the destruction of this little country that Jews have called home for thousands of years. Yet, I moved here willingly, knowing that my neighbours are intent on seeing me dead.

That feeling became a reality on November 15, 2012. As air raid sirens went off, I ran for cover.

I have had a constant sick feeling in my stomach since Thursday night. Hamas released a video detailing how they plan on killing Israeli citizens using suicide bombers. These same suicide bombers killed a once close friend of mine ten years ago, not far from where I currently sit. I do not understand how there is any debate as to Hamas’s intentions, or for that matter any other terrorist organisations that openly talk about their plans.

There has never been an Israeli leader that has called for the death of Palestinians, yet on a daily basis the whole world hears how terrorists want to kill Jews.

I don't want anyone dead. I certainly want the people who are trying to kill me to stop. And if it comes to a point of me or them, I would prefer that it was them. But honestly, I would rather they just stop and allow life to continue. They must know that this can only end badly for them. They seem to believe that the more of their own people who die only serves to strengthen their cause.

They know they can't beat our army, but they use death as their weapon, and I can't understand why.

That's why I wish the world would stop trying to find common ground. They are completely different from us. They don't value life - they value death. They don't want to be like us. Why do we keep insisting that they be like us?

I am not saying that every single person living in Gaza thinks this way. If I, protected in a bomb shelter, feel sick from three bombs, then I cannot even fathom what it must be like for innocent Palestinians in Gaza.

At the time of writing this, the Syrian government has killed 35,000 of its own people, yet they have called for Israel to stop its aggressions. The Turks only a month ago fired at Syria after two mortars landed in Turkey. There have been over one thousand rockets fired at Israel in the last month. The Turks are currently engaged in a fight against the Kurdish people, and I have no idea how many people they have killed. The Turks are apparently outraged at Israel's behaviour.

The double standards that exist in the world's view of Israel, the feeling that lots of people want me dead, the feeling that at some point this is going to escalate into a huge war, and finally the feeling that I cannot see how this will ever get better are the reasons why I have felt sick since Thursday.

It all became a reality.

Motti is on Twitter:  @MottiColman


:: Hatem Shurrab, in Gaza

Gaza witnessed the worst eight days in history as my 70-year-old father told me while we were sitting in darkness due to cut off electricity and explosions happening around.

Every single Palestinian in Gaza was subject to danger and could be killed at any moment especially because Gaza Strip is a densely populated area and any bomb affects civilians' lives if not physically, psychologically. As I work in an aid agency, I had the chance to see the situation closely in the hospitals when we were delivering medical aid there. I saw tens of children and women being injured. I saw a screaming mother after hearing the news that her daughter had been killed in one of the attacks.

The capacity of the central hospital I visited was very low in regard to equipment and disposables. A doctor told me that they use a disposable that should be used once for many surgeries. Such examples of shortages expose the lives of injured people to risk. In ICU unit, I saw many children with serious injuries. If they survive, they will have disabilities in the future. I also saw a girl called Hanin. She was the age of my son. She was severely injured and an hour after leaving the hospital, I heard the news that she had died.

The fear of the children was also another major problem as we hardly managed to calm them down, but the huge sound of bombs made them really scared. My two-year-old child screamed almost every night because of the frightening airstrikes that were targeting everywhere. My nephews are older than my son, so they are more aware than him so I expect it will leave a dangerous impact on their psychology affecting their learning and concentration.

During the attacks my movement was limited. I just did the very urgent and important issues for my work and also shopping to buy food for the family.

A ceasefire was announced and it was like a nightmare ended.

I was sad and happy at the same time. Sad because of the so many people who were killed, injured and those who lost dear ones or had a home destroyed. And happy because the violence will stop finally. After the ceasefire was announced, I went out to explore what was happening. I saw collapsed buildings and homes. I saw a collapsed bridge that links Gaza with the southern area of Gaza Strip. I saw a school being severely damaged and a public library as well. I saw devastation spread all over the city.

Like the previous war on Gaza about three years ago, the same scenes are repeated. It is like the same catastrophe happening for the people of Gaza. Then, a lot of devastation happened as well. That war was longer but this war had more intensive Israeli airstrikes reaching almost all parts of the Gaza Strip.

Since that war we have been recovering from the devastation and agony that happened to the people. And just when we started to take our breath after renovating damaged areas and improving the psychology of the children, there is now another war. Such a horrible circle of violence seems to be endless.

Many of the projects, which were implemented by Islamic Relief, are affected by these recent attacks. For example, a primary school in Gaza was destroyed and Islamic Relief renovated it. The same school this time was destroyed because of the Israeli attacks in Tal El-Hawa area. How sad is the feeling of the school's students who will see the classes they used to sit in are damaged. Many trees were uprooted during the previous war in farmlands in the north of the Gaza Strip. Farmers planted new trees. The trees are uprooted again by heavy bombardment.

As an Islamic Relief member, I think of how much work needs to be done to revive Gaza. How much time we need to let the children forget the difficult days of scary bombings. So much support is needed to help my people here who witnessed such harsh days that they will never forget. The health sector that was already suffering needs so much support now. The economy that was down for many years needs to rise. If the ceasefire is long-term, it should be used to develop the deprived Gaza Strip that suffered a lot for many decades.

As a father, I hope the fear my son had will not happen again in his entire life. I want no harm to any civilian forced to be in this conflict. As a Palestinian, I hope the hard times I had during my 28 years of life become history and I have a peaceful future with everyone else on this land.

Hatem is on Twitter:  @HatemShu

:: Both contributors took part in a live online debate on earlier this week. Watch the replay here .