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Kidnapping, death, riots and bombs are words that have crossed most of our news feeds this week. Israel and Palestine have been in the (negative) spotlight with stories highlighting murdered children enough, that along with these words you've probably also garnered a tsk-tsk reaction to the sheer violence we're hearing about. I reached out to several moms asking the same question of each one: What should these political leaders do? Israel and Palestine both get a lot of flak for their politics and I wondered if the view changes at all when you shift the focus from the lens of politics to that of parents. Most of the moms that I asked, like me, didn't have answers. But what struck me is that many didn't even want to engage in the conversation. "I don't know very much about this," "It's all just so ugly, I'm going to stay out of it" and "This seems too hard to think about," were all responses I heard. This gave me (a lot) of pause. It is a hard conversation to have, but mom-to-mom shouldn't we at least think about it? Some children are being ushered into bomb shelters, other mothers are burying their babies. What if that was you? Would, "This is too hard to think about" be enough?
Three Israeli teens, Gilad Shaar, 16, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19, were found dead near the village of Halhul, just north of Hebron. The three teens disappeared while hitchhiking home, a common practice in Israel, near the West Bank city of Hebron late at night on June 12 and were never heard from again. This story line probably sounds familiar. It got a lot of attention, first, while the Israeli army was searching for them, and then again once the three boys were found dead on Palestinian ground.
Once they were found, Israeli President Shimon Peres said, "All of Israel bows its head today" and Naftali Bennett, a member of Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Security Cabinet said, "Murderers of children and those who direct them cannot be forgiven. Now is a time for actions, not words." Neither of these answers are surprising. Kidnapping and murder incite strong reactions. And yet, many people's response to the situation has been to either look the other direction and ignore it as a "far away" problem or to quickly take sides before moving on.
The abductions and murders incited an Israeli political crackdown on Hamas and many terrifying responses ensued moving from calls to political action to riots and hate crimes on the streets. In an article on The World Post, Khaled Diab reported what he was seeing in person in Israel. Diab wrote, "Hours after the bodies of Yifrach, Fraenkel and Shaar were found, another teen also vanished. But this time it was a Palestinian, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was snatched on his way to dawn prayers from outside the family home, which is just 20 steps from the mosque in Shuafat, East Jerusalem. The boy's charred remains were discovered soon after in the Jerusalem Forest, and the police have arrested six suspects who belong to an extremist Jewish group." So now four teens have died tragically and publicly, Palestinians and Israelis are angry and some are calling for more bloodshed.
The problem with "Give peace a chance"
There are Americans, Israelis and Palestinians who are championing peace. Khdeir's father is quoted saying, "I am against kidnapping and killing. Whether Jew or Arab, who can accept the kidnapping and killing of his son or daughter? I call on both sides to stop the bloodshed." And Rachel Fraenkel, the mother of one of the murdered Israeli teens, said, "There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder. There is no justification and no atonement for murder." There has also been a movement against such hate crimes, with some seeking to hold daily joint Jewish-Arab rallies against violence. The full rejection of violence — whether by the Israeli army, Palestinian militants or Arab or Jewish extremists — and its immediate and unconditional condemnation is powerful, especially when committed by one's own side.
But the problem lies in the adjective "full." Neither side can quite get there and the calls for peace, although powerful, aren't as loud as the ones for war. A part of the "blame" for this lies with us. As Americans, or anyone on the outside, when we choose to disengage, when we're silent about these events, we mute the issue. And when we're quick to champion one side at the sake of the other, we do the exact same thing.
Two (ugly) sides to every war
Although this topic is a hot one to broach, I wonder what the reactions should be? And what would they be if this was happening on our ground and to our children. In a The Times of Israel article, Eylon Aslan-Levy wrote, "Here’s a summary of what has happened in Israel last night [July 7]. Between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., Hamas fired one rocket a minute at Israel, aiming to murder as many civilians as possible. Residents of the south have had 15 seconds to flee for cover. Sirens have been heard as far as Jerusalem. Hamas is threatening to strike Tel Aviv. Hospitals are moving babies into bomb shelters. This comes in the wake of an escalation in recent days, which you probably didn’t hear about, in which a nursery sustained a direct hit. Israel has given Hamas a 48-hour ultimatum, but it expired 48 hours ago."
And RYOT is reporting that last week the Israeli military launched a major offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, striking more than 100 sites and mobilizing troops for a possible ground invasion in what Israel called an operation aimed at stopping a heavy salvo of rocket attacks from the Palestinian territory. Both of these are a stark reminder that there are always two (ugly) sides to war. And, as Americans, when we call for just giving peace a chance, we have to do so as a response to violence on both sides.
A mothering issue
As moms we absolutely have to have an opinion about this. Our children are watching and learning from us and if there's one thing we can learn from the seemingly never-ending violence in the Middle East, it's that hate is cyclical. Kirsten Doyle is a Canadian freelance writer, distance runner and autism parent. Doyle gets to the crux of why this is all of our issue — besides being an issue of human rights, it's also one of motherhood. She says, "Stories like this make me feel anxious in part because my children are at an age where they're paying real attention to what’s happening around them. My 8-year-old son in particular seems to be more aware of the hatred and conflict in the world than I was at his age. After hearing about this story, he told me that he sometimes feels nervous because 'people hate each other for nothing.' I worry about the messages these senseless acts impart to our kids." Karyn Van Der Zwet, writer and mother in Napier, New Zealand, distills it down to this: "As a mother, I would simply want my son back... and that cannot be."
Being a World Mom
Becoming a part of the solution — and the dialogue — means shifting our thinking from "their kids, their problem" to "our kids, our issue." Jennifer Burden is the founder of World Moms Blog. Her site has been covering the story in part as a reaction to the lack of world coverage it first got. Burden explains, "For me, as a World Mom, looking out for the future of our children everywhere on the planet should trump most everything else. The question the world needs to ask is, "How can we take this devastating outcome and our overwhelming feelings of grief and anger and turn this energy into making this world a better place?" Burden brings the issue further home connecting the paths we've seen chartered this year. She says, "Making the world safer after [these kids'] deaths is just as much everyone's problem to solve as global citizens as it is to find the over 200 Nigerian school girls kidnapped months ago, or to help the Syrian refugees, or to help the Tanzanian refugees, or to help the children who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border parentless, or to immunize children in every corner of the globe who are most susceptible to vaccine-preventable diseases, the list goes on. #BringBackOurBoys is not only an Israeli and Palestinian problem. It's a world problem. I'm hopeful that anything can be solved if more of us are coming together to figure out what needs to be done to help our children — our human future — everywhere on the globe."
Shira Gura is an Israeli mother, yoga instructor and writer. Her blog is aptly named Stuck in the Muck. There, she tries to process topics she gets stuck on in order to move forward. But what she says about this topic is that this is the exact opposite of what we should all be doing. She says, "I feel very, very connected to this story... My heart [remains] so heavy now, and [is] sick with the incoming news... The truth is, I don't feel like getting 'unstuck.' I feel like staying sad for a while. That's the truth."
Moms: Engage in this conversation
That's what the call to action is here. Let this topic stick to you as a mother. Michelle Lewsen is a multi-awarded writer who blogs about parenting, ADHD, matters of the heart and life's foibles in Australia. She is pro-peace and believes that we need to show love to breed love. But the important part of her message, to me, is that we can't be true advocates for peace until we engage in the conversation. She says, "Change was never achieved by people whose heads were buried in the sand. Throughout history, progress happened because people chose to uncomfortably and, risking unpopularity, stand up and demand better."
So while I don't have political answers for you, what I am suggesting is that as moms we do have power. We can click on that article, engage in the conversation, ask the hard questions, sit with the discomfort that everyone might be right and wrong here and remain sad that it's our— all of our — children who are being victimized. Don't be so quick to take sides and don't be so quick to deem the conversation not yours.