November 13, 2019

Want to Understand Israelis? Start Here


My name is Sarah and I am an American Israeli, and I want to tell you something that I hope you try to understand:

Although Israel has one of the most powerful armies in the world, the country never has known a day of peace since it came into being, and that fosters a fear that is real and it does something to everyone who lives there.

And for those who say, “Israel has no real security concerns,” tell me: Have you ever sat down with an Israeli over coffee and asked her what it’s like to live under the threat of rocket fire?

Have you ever visited Har Nof, a quiet neighborhood in Jerusalem with a lot of families, and asked the young rabbi with tired eyes to describe the day in 2014 that terrorists stormed the synagogue and butchered five husbands and fathers and sons in prayer?

Have you ever choked on the smoke from a suicide bombing, smelling blood and flesh and charred bone, wondering why your sweetheart never came home from work, why their phone goes straight to voicemail? 

Have you ever seen your child look at you with huge eyes and ask, “When is Daddy coming home?” while the answer, “He isn’t” is lost in that huge scream that rips through you as you see the soldiers at your door with tears in their eyes.

“Have you ever choked on the smoke from a suicide bombing, smelling blood and flesh and charred bone?”

Have you ever thought twice about getting on a bus? Or have you ever gotten off the bus in the middle of nowhere because a man gets on wearing a bulky jacket on a hot day? Do you wake up every morning and before doing anything, check the news and call the people you love the most and instead of asking, “Hey what’s up?” you say, “Where are you? Are you safe? Did you hear? How many dead?”

Did your child spend the summer in a bomb shelter? Does your child still have nightmares about rockets flying through the air? Does a low-frequency sound — a vacuum cleaner, a motorcycle, the hum of the washing machine — make you look frantically around for shoes and jackets so you can run to the shelter, even though this time it’s nothing because too often it WAS something?

Have you ever walked through neighborhoods and hated yourself for not trusting your neighbors — and as you walk you still believe in the goodness in people? Do you still feel sick to your stomach when you find out that a 13-year-old boy was knifed in the same spot where you stood 24 hours before? Do you sit with your friends and talk about close calls? “I should have been on that bus but I was hungover and I slept through my alarm.” “I was supposed to be at Hebrew University cafeteria but I had to pee, so I was in the bathroom, instead.”

Roots run deep through frustration and through fear, through a history where you feel that you can’t control your own tomorrow. And it’s hard to move forward when you’re so afraid because the ground feels so uncertain, like it could give way.

So if you’re still here reading, please: If you want there to be a just and peaceful resolution for everyone and move forward, I’m asking you to understand why it should be simple but it isn’t.

If you can, this might help Israelis take the brave and necessary first steps toward reaching out to the Palestinians to build a better future.

Sarah Tuttle-Singer is the new media editor at The Times of Israel and the author of “Jerusalem, Drawn and Quartered: One Woman’s Year in the Heart of the Christian, Muslim, Armenian, and Jewish Quarters of Old Jerusalem.”