Israel, My Homeland

by Public Relations Office - Cedarville, OH

By David Shkedi

Watching live minute-to-minute coverage of a war gives you a sense that you are there, just like when you watch college football on TV. You are glued to the screen, on edge, hungry for the next big move. I know this because that’s how I watched this war play out: switching channels, from one news agency to another, waiting for that big scoop. But unlike football, how can you know that what you are seeing and hearing is real and not just the channel’s version? Where do they get their information? Who are their sources? The problem is that you don’t know. And then you build a virtual reality based on the interpretation of outsiders in a land thousands of miles away. We’ll return to this issue of media perspective later, but first let me share with you a bit about what I and my family saw and experienced.

To say that I represent the whole Israeli population, which is a melting pot of Jews from different ethnicities and backgrounds, Arabs (Muslims and Christians), Druze, and Bedouin, is presumptuous at the very least and quite dangerous at best. Consider the different political views of all these groups and you find yourself struggling to keep that pot from boiling over. You can imagine how hard it would be for all these groups to come to an agreement on any given issue. And usually, they don’t. It took Hezbollah to do what no other leader has been able to do — unite the people of Israel, even if for a short time and on a single issue — defending the Northern border.

You see, all these Israeli people groups live in the North and were personally involved, one way or another, either by having a member of the family/community in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in the war, or by the threat of personal death and destruction from Katyusha rockets and other weapons. As a result of the threat, people were forced to stay in bomb shelters all day, every day, or risk their lives going to work, buying groceries, or just getting a breath of fresh air. Sirens went off constantly, indicating the next rocket attack and giving only a few minutes to find cover. Consequently, many picked up and transferred their families south, out of the reach of the rockets, into homes of family members, friends, or random people opening their homes. Others chose to stay and refused to be pushed out of their homes by the “neighborhood bully.”

My family, which lives near Tiberias, found themselves driving down “Katyusha alley” time and again while going to and from work. It wasn’t hard making the decision to stay at home some days rather than risking life, even though every shekel was needed for living, especially in times like these.

One day during the war, my brother received word that his good friend was injured in battle and was taken to a hospital in Tsfat (an hour north of Tiberias). He begged my parents for permission to take the car there to visit his friend. My parents refused, for they knew that Tsfat was one of the main Hezbollah targets and was being hit constantly. But my brother was determined and decided to risk his life to journey there on a public bus. This happened during his weekend break from his reserve duty in Hebron (in the West Bank, 30 minutes south of Jerusalem). My family’s experience was common to others.

Do Israelis hate Lebanon? No. On the contrary, they have no issue with Lebanon or the Lebanese people. In fact, most find them to be relatively modern (especially in the Beirut area) and civilized and rich in culture. We even had an ally for years in one of the Christian sects in South Lebanon. Many of these Lebanese moved to Israel in 2000 during the IDF pullout from that region, namely because they feared for their lives (from Hezbollah).

The question arose: since Lebanon is a sovereign nation with a national police force and military, does it not have responsibility for its borders and internal security? Why hasn’t it dismantled Hezbollah? Why has the government allowed Hezbollah to take the people of Lebanon hostage knowingly, putting them in the middle of this conflict, when Hezbollah themselves represent only part of Lebanon, the Shia population? Are the government and people of Lebanon in effect giving Hezbollah a “green light” and continuing the conflict by not rising up against Hezbollah? Perhaps they do not resist because they fear another civil war, when they have yet to recover from the last one? Who could blame them? These are just a few of the questions to be asked.

But if Hezbollah does represent Lebanon, then that gives more reason for Israel to respond in any way it sees fit in order to protect our sovereign borders and stop the terrorizing inside the country. If Lebanon won’t fight Hezbollah, Israel will.

The IDF uses several techniques in order to minimize civilian casualties, including dropping leaflets in civilian populated areas to inform of an upcoming attack, broadcasting via radio, and even making phone calls to individuals. Do you think Hezbollah does the same? We are perfectly aware that these tactics put us at a disadvantage, but we still hold strong to these tactics because we have a high respect for life, even that of our enemy. I remember, as a soldier, being taught the IDF ethical code and how human life was of great importance and is sacred. As a commander, I taught others the same, both theoretically and practically. At briefings before missions, this issue was a pivotal one. It was not uncommon to cancel certain missions precisely because of the risk of losing innocent human life. The IDF’s rules of engagement are very strict so as to even risk soldiers’ lives instead of those of “innocent” civilians. This means being shot at from a mixed crowd of gunmen, women, and children and being unable to shoot back, risking your own life for the innocent who are used as human shields. Israel uses its most precise weaponry in order to minimize civilian loss. In many cases, an air strike was too risky, so the ground troops were sent in. In other words, Israel put its own soldiers’ lives at stake in order to save civilians from the other side. This has become routine in many cases. This commitment means that our enemies laugh at us and the world sometimes misjudges our resolve.

Yet even with all these precautions, the loss of civilian life is inevitable. Mistakes will always be made — we’re human. What else can you do — it’s war!

One may ask, “What about the Shia part of Beirut (Hezbollah headqurters) which was heavily bombed?” Well, most of the buildings were not as important as what lay beneath them. Since 2000, Hezbollah, with the help of Syrian and Iranian expertise, built fortified underground structures, became heavily armed, and prepared the ground for this offensive. But how can you destroy peoples homes? Although that is a terrible thing, these homes housed people who were active in and supported Hezbollah in every way. That’s the essence of guerrilla warfare — to gain the hearts of people and use them to promote your agenda, either by hiding you, feeding you, transporting you, gathering intelligence for you, etc. So with this in mind, you can see it is difficult to know who the enemy is and who is innocent when they all look and dress alike.

Back to the media’s perspective … Let’s not forget that news agencies are businesses. A “good” business makes “good” money or it ceases to be “good.” The media makes money from ratings, boosted by headlines which portray that agency’s agenda, worded in a way to suit its audience, regardless if it’s 100 percent accurate or not. And even if it is, how could you verify it and why would you even want to if it’s a known news outlet?

This war was portrayed as very black and white by the media. There is always so much information and disinformation in the air which the news agencies’ antennas do not pick up: death tolls elevated by the Lebanese prime minister, responsibility taken by the Israeli side before proper inquiry is made … these are just a few examples. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. And sometimes even when you do see it, it turns out to be fabricated. This happened a few times during this war when major news outlets published pictures (which equal a thousand words) from sources who tampered with the photos, giving them a whole new meaning. These agencies have been confronted by many customers and rarely apologize and correct their mistakes. And by the time they do, the war is over — who remembers and who cares anymore, right? Next headline …

David Shkedi grew up in Israel and served 10 years of active duty in the Israeli Defense Forces with the rank of captain. He and his wife, Cedarville alumna Emily (Wheeler), reside in Ohio. David enjoys touring the U.S. and Europe with an Israeli band.