By Yoni Ari
Last week dozens of rockets exploded above my head as I was lying on the asphalt, face-down, covering my head with my arms. Less than a mile away, a rocket smashed down on a less fortunate Israeli. He died on the spot as deafening sirens screamed all around the city. When you feel the fear, you truly understand the right of Israel to defend itself.
I came to Israel two weeks ago to visit my daughter, who decided to enlist to the IDF. She started basic training, and my plan was to go back to Philly the following week. My flight was canceled, and I was in a war zone.
Fortunately enough, I was staying north of Tel Aviv. In my case, I had 90 seconds to get to the bomb shelter. Others not as fortunate had only 15 seconds. I had to get to the bomb shelter five times with my nephews, who are only 3 and 5 years old. To see them wakening up terrified to sirens in the middle of the night was horrifying.
Ido Avigal was a 5-year-old Israeli who lived in Sderot. Eleven days ago, Ido and his family managed to reach their bomb shelter within 15 seconds of hearing the sirens, but it was not enough. The rocket hit the building next to his, and shrapnel pierced through the safe room, killing Ido, and wounding his mother and 7-year-old sister.
Over 11 days, the terror organization Hamas launched over 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities and civilians; 4,000 missiles and mortar shells were sent to kill Israeli civilians, both Arab and Jewish.
I am not writing these words to elicit pity. If you know Israelis you know we are strong people. Unfortunately, we have been through worse, and these attacks only bring us closer together. I am not writing to explain the attack in Gaza, either. Israel is a sovereign state with a responsibility and moral obligation to defend its citizens from attacks and threats.
I am writing these words because I see so much misinformation. People who call themselves influencers use this “power” to dehumanize my fellow Israelis and me. They try to hide the truth of the vicious methods and goals of our attackers.
Yes, the situation in the Gaza Strip is bad, really bad, not only during the last few days, but for many years. The density, the poverty, the corruption and the entire way of life are gruesome. The vicious cycle of fighting has brought only misery to the Palestinian people living in Gaza.
With all that being said, rockets fired into Israel cannot be white-washed into an act of righteousness. There is no justification for blind attempts to murder civilians. As an Israeli who has lived through this conflict, I understand the pain and despair, but blind terror cannot be justified.
This is the time for the Jewish community to come together and support Israel’s right to defend itself and to exist. Last week, more than 200 people came together to rally for unity and peace in Israel amid barrages of rockets fired at Israeli civilians. They marched from the Philadelphia Museum of Art to the Holocaust Memorial Plaza, organized by the Israeli-American Council in a day. It began with the distribution of “Israel is Under Attack” and “I Stand with Israel” posters, Israeli flags and stickers. This week, with the support of so many organization and 700 people, we stood under the Israeli flag, standing for Israel and against antisemitism.
The American-Jewish community has to actively counter false information from social media and mainstream news. The IAC has tools to educate all ages about the conflict, antisemitism and how to take an active role in defending Israel.
A week ago, while I was lying flat on the asphalt trying to avoid being struck by a rocket, millions of Israeli citizens were in shelters. Others, like Ido Avigal z”l, were killed or wounded. A lot of loss, suffering and destruction simultaneously happened across the border in the Gaza Strip.
Now, as in the past, I hope for more peaceful times and a time where people share more optimism and opportunities for us to connect instead of dehumanizing and promoting hatred. I hope to see the Jewish community stand up for Israel and share the truth without fear.
Yoni Ari is regional director of Philadelphia’s Israeli-American Council.