Stuck on the Sidelines


A former IDF paratrooper who fought during previous Gaza conflicts examines the disparity in observing Operation Protective Edge as a civilian.

Operation Protective Edge has allowed me to round off the trifecta of vantage points on the last three Gaza flareups as a soldier, reservist and, now, civilian.
In 2008-09, two years after I made aliyah, I fought for 15 days in the Gaza Strip in the Israel Defense Forces during Operation Cast Lead, dodging bullets and mortar attacks on numerous occasions.
In 2012, while studying English literature at Bar Ilan University and interning at a marketing firm, my reserves unit was called up to the Gazan border for Operation Pillar of Defense, where I spent six days watching so many rockets fly overhead that our unit stopped running for the roadside ditch that served as our “bomb shelter” because it simply became too inconvenient.
This year, I’m watching the conflict in Gaza unfold from the United States, far away from all the action since I moved back to Mount Airy after living in Israel for seven years.
So as I sit here at my comfy desk in an air-conditioned office in Philadelphia, you can imagine my surprise to discover something I had never considered: It was easier to be a soldier.
It shouldn’t have been such a shocker.
When my unit crossed back into Israel after Operation Cast Lead, I found that my parents had filled my voicemail to the brim with message after message of tearful entreaties like, “We hope you’re safe” and, “We’re so proud of you.” Even my father, habitually silent in his “tough love” for my siblings and me, left several choked-up words of encouragement.
That was the first time I realized how much more difficult it must be for the loved ones back home, where there is nothing to do but wait and worry. The emergency reserves call-up for Operation Pillar of Defense should have further clued me in to this sentiment.
After the first two days of that operation, during which the office of my internship was tuned in to the news 24/7 and I was asked incessantly if I was going to get called up — to which I foolishly responded, “I doubt it” — getting the phone call that I would need to report back to the army was the calmest I had felt since that outburst of violence started.
This time around, news report follows news report about another Israeli soldier or civilian killed, another wayward Israeli missile that killed non-combatant Palestinians, another cease-fire run into the ground by the inability of two peoples to find a peaceful resolution to a bloody conflict that got out of hand a long time ago. And neither side seems to have paused once to look back, reflect and learn.
Now, as a multimedia reporter with the Jewish Exponent, I am constantly surrounded by the situation in Israel while interviewing lone soldiers, parents and others concerned about the conflict.
Though it gives me some solace to feel that I am somehow involved, it is all still so far away. 
During the last conflict, driving with my fellow unit member at breakneck speeds toward the Gazan border  — the opposite direction everyone else was driving except for other reservists — gave me a sense of clarity, a sense of purpose. I was finally doing something!
This time around, relegated to the sidelines, I have found that I am nervous and edgy around the clock. As much as I try not to think about the war, I can’t help but turn on my cell phone to check the latest updates.
I’m frustrated to feel so helpless.
I’m frustrated to be so far away from my friends and family in Israel.
I’m frustrated at the obliviousness of both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian supporters who make broad, sweeping statements about the conflict that only reflect their ignorance on an issue that is soaked in complexity and bad blood.
No — Israel isn’t wrong to defend herself.
No — indiscriminately bombing Gaza is not OK.
No — I don’t have any answers.
Being a soldier came with its fair share of danger but at least I was given orders and forced to turn off the “what if’s” and “how to’s” and “why’s.”
I had no choice but to turn off all the latest news reports and simply focus on the task at hand.
So as I sit here in my Phila­delphia office, I am praying for peace and the safety of all — because that’s all I can do. 


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