In September 2000, prior to starting college, I studied at Yeshivat Hamivtar. Within weeks of my return for my second and final year of study there, it became abundantly clear that my second year would be quite different from my first. That was the year that the Second Intifada broke out. Clashes between Israelis and Arabs escalated, and terrorist attacks that targeted Israeli civilians occurred on an almost daily basis.
Studying at Yeshivat Hamivtar, situated just outside of Efrat in the Gush Etzion region, I felt the tension as much as anyone else. I rode bulletproof buses to get from Efrat to Jerusalem since terrorists fired on any motorist that they could set their sights on. I attended funerals for residents of the area – civilians who were shot and killed on that same road while simply driving in their cars. I also attended the funeral of Koby Mandell, a young boy who, along with his friend Yosef Ishran, was murdered by Arab neighbors. The boys were so badly beaten by rocks that their dental records were needed to identify their bodies. I was incapable of imagining how a human being could display such viciousness towards an animal, much less two young boys.
Amidst all of this, it would have been easy for me to get on a plane and return to the United States. I could have run away from Israel, which is the country most Jews would run towards if they ever felt that their very existence was threatened. Six million Jews may have been spared from the Holocaust if the State of Israel had been established just a few years earlier.
For me, leaving Israel was not an option. Not only did I feel that actually witnessing a terrorist attack with my own two eyes was almost comparable to being struck by lightning (wrong place, wrong split-second), but I never would have been able to look at myself in the mirror again. People shamelessly run away from worthwhile causes all of the time. I stayed because I believed in the country in which I lived.
In February 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected Prime Minister of Israel. Sharon epitomized the country’s warrior past as he sought to become the architect of a peaceful future. He was a soldier, a defense minister and a prime minister and commanded forces in every one of Israel’s military conflicts since the 1948 War of Independence.
As Prime Minister, he began taking decisive action against the terrorists who put Israel in a state of chaos on a regular basis. While the changes were not instantaneous (the murders of Koby Mandell and Yosef Ishram took place after Sharon was elected), for the first time in months, I felt safer. Every country has the right to defend itself, especially when its civilian population is under daily attack.
Some argue that Sharon began the Second Intifada simply by visiting the Temple Mount, a place that is holy for both Jews and Muslims. Despite the fact that the Temple Mount is inside of Israel, Muslims can worship freely there while Jews cannot. Saying that Sharon’s visit to a holy site was justification for riots and suicide attacks is naïve. At most, it was a straw that broke an already fragile camel’s back.
Despite a formidable military career and firm action during the Second Intifada that made Israel safer, Sharon’s career was not without its mistakes. The 1982 Lebanon War, during which Sharon served as Defense Minister, was considered a grievous miscalculation on his part. In 2005, Sharon orchestrated the withdrawal of more than 8,500 residents of the Gush Katif area in the Southern Gaza Strip. Not only were the lives of these residents thrown into chaos, but the withdrawal led to a beyond-drastic increase in terrorist rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, the most recent of which took place the day before I wrote this article – the day of Sharon’s funeral. While the world has already forgotten about this still-recent withdrawal, it serves as proof that the “land for peace” model with the Arabs does not work.
Sharon made mistakes, ones I have been affected by indirectly. I have not suffered injury or loss of property as a result of these mistakes. It’s not my place to forgive Ariel Sharon for the 1982 Lebanon War and the withdrawal from Gush Katif. All I can say is that, during a year that was one of the most positive and influential in my life, Ariel Sharon made me feel safe.
DANIEL STIEGLITZ (firstname.lastname@example.org), a Providence native, made aliyah in 2007. He holds a master’s degree in creative writing from Bar Ilan University and lives and works in Israel. His short story “Haven” was recently published in FictionMagazines.com’s online magazine, eFiction.