Why Hamas Forced Me to Leave Amherst College
Issue   |   Wed, 11/28/2012 - 01:03
Image courtesy The Christian Science Monitor
Hamas faithfuls gather in the Palestinian territories.

Amherst College is a small community, so I am sure that many of my fellow classmates already know that I left Amherst to join the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). I am sharing my experiences with you from this past week to illustrate two things to the Amherst community: why I took a leave of absence to serve in the Israeli Army and why Israel deserves an apology from her many critics on and off of our campus.

I have spent the last three days in Netivot, a small city of 30,000 people located less than 12 kilometers away from the Gaza Strip. I was volunteering there with a small non-profit. We were operating day care centers, teaching children in bomb-shelter-turned-classrooms and trying to restore a sense of normality to the children’s lives. For the over one million Israelis living within 40 kilometers of Gaza (the typical range of Hamas’s Qassam and Grad rockets), their children experienced the Israeli equivalent of a snow day there was no school here for over a week as the blizzard of rockets continued. It was too dangerous to travel to school and too dangerous to congregate under one roof, so the Israeli government spread out children in bomb shelters across southern Israel to minimize the likelihood of mass casualties. The young, old, sick and disabled must remain in these bomb shelters day and night because they cannot run to safety in time. The residents of Netivot have less than 12 seconds between siren and impact.

As I attempted to entertain the frightened children of Netivot, reading stories and playing games, I could hear the deep booms of rockets slamming into nearby cities and towns. Over 1,000 rockets were sent screaming toward Israel in the past week. If the rocket was within five kilometers, we could feel the vibrations of the impacts, watch books fall off of shelves, see windows shiver and sit helplessly wondering who was injured. If the predicted trajectory of the rocket was towards us in Netivot, an air-raid siren would alarm, and the 30,000 residents scrambled towards shelter. When the siren began to howl, the feeling was one of absolute panic. As I sprinted toward safety and grabbed any straggling children nearby, the idea of terror became a reality to me; it dawned on me that there are actually people, just a car-ride away, who are trying to kill me and those around me. On the night of November 20th a rocket leveled a house a block away from my bunker.

However terrorized we may feel in southern Israel, I realize the people of Gaza have it worse. Tragically, the people of Gaza have no shelters to run to and no sirens to warn them when Israel strikes back. Their government (since 2006 controlled by the internationally categorized terrorist group, Hamas) has chosen not to invest in these public safety measures despite waging a continuous war on Israel. This negligence is no accident. Hamas has decidedly tried (and succeeded) to take advantage of Western disdain for civilian casualties, choosing to play off of our sympathy for the pain and suffering of innocents. Hamas’s leaders know that by repeatedly firing rockets towards Israeli civilian areas from their civilian areas, Israel’s response will be one of impossible choices.

Defense and safety are the most fundamental duties of a functioning state. (It is sad that I feel the need to remind my readers of this.) Knowing that any state would eventually be forced to respond, Hamas leaders choose to house their rocket caches, launchers and training facilities within populated areas — all in an effort to maximize their own civilian casualties and thereby earn the sympathy of the international media. This is why whenever a Gazan child dies, he or she is quickly paraded in front of cameras for a photo op. This is why Hamas’s leadership hides in a bunker located underneath Gaza’s largest hospital. Israel will not strike the hospital. (This hospital was modernized by an Israeli relief project in the 1980s and is supplied by Israeli humanitarian aid.) This is why Hamas does not build bunkers for Gaza’s 1.6 million residents. (The bomb shelters that do exist are reserved for Hamas officials and fighters.) This is not because of a lack of finances. According to the Palestine Human Development Report, Palestinians are the largest per capita recipients of international development assistance in the world.

Criticizing Israel for the resulting deaths is not only an unfair and frustrating irony, but it encourages Hamas and makes life worse for Gazans. The U.S. State Department reaffirmed this irony, saying, “Hamas claims to have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart, yet it continues to engage in violence that is counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. Attacking Israel on a near daily basis does nothing to help Palestinians in Gaza or to move the Palestinian people any closer to achieving self-determination.” The international condemnation of Israel becomes laughable to many of us under fire. We understand that simultaneous to Hamas’s brutal tactics, our military goes through great lengths to avoid the very casualties that Hamas so aggressively seeks. As Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “When we hit civilians, we call it a failure. When they hit civilians, they call it a success.”

While Hamas purposely puts civilians in harm’s way in order win a cheap media campaign, Israel carries out arguably the most humane military response in the history of warfare. While I do wish that more could accomplished on the diplomatic front, Israel’s handling of the barrage of rockets itself is wholly impressive. Complex international politics, a broken peace process and the lack of earnest peace partners in Gaza force the status quo to continue. This is, however, a separate issue. Israel’s military and humanitarian response to the continuous rocket fire is probably unmatched by any nation. Israel has been delivering continuous aid to Gaza even during wartime. Israeli citizens’ tax money helps feed the same people who voted Hamas into power in 2006. Furthermore, Gaza’s electricity comes from Israel — which if Israel chooses to, it could simply shut off. Unlike Hamas, all IDF strikes in Gaza are carried out with surgical precision by laser guided missiles, purposely avoiding civilian casualties. In fact, Israel drops warning pamphlets, makes telephone calls and sends out text messages to all residents near potential targets so that civilians can stay far away before a strike occurs. Moreover, Gazans are transported to Israeli hospitals for advanced medical treatment on Israel’s dime.

However, Israel’s moral upper hand does not stop there. While in Netivot, I witnessed firsthand Israel’s rocket defense system, Iron Dome, at work. Israeli- designed and partly funded by the United States, this program costs an average $50 million for one battery and over $30,000 per missile. This price tag shows our value for human life. It goes without saying that Israelis have access to bomb shelters unlike their Gazan counterparts. All these reasons make it senseless to look at “disproportional death rates.” Hamas wants death for their own citizens as well as Israel’s, while Israel seeks to protect all lives, Gazan or Israeli. While in bomb shelters in the south, it was not only Jews who took refuge alongside me, but also Bedouin Arabs. Caravans of the still semi-nomadic people arrived to hide in our shelters. Not a single person was turned away because of their race or religion. Meanwhile, the rockets fired into Israel have no specific aim. These rockets don’t discriminate between men or women, Jew or Arab, soldier or civilian, children or the elderly. In fact, several of these rockets landed in Israeli-Arab villages, killing one man. Of course, that is a price the fanatics of Hamas are at peace with, given that he is now a “martyr of the cause” whether willing or unwilling.

What is their cause? End the occupation? Israel already pulled out of Gaza seven years ago and has only been rewarded with more terror. The remaining restrictions on the Gaza Strip are only in place to impede the smuggling of weapons. (Gaza is already one of the most heavily armed places on earth per-square mile.) The Hamas Charter proudly pronounces their cause to anyone who is unsure: “Israel…will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors….The time will not come until Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them.” Those on the left who claim to be champions of human rights do not realize the stark contrast between Israel and Gaza or any of our neighbors for that matter. You cannot be openly gay in Gaza. Women there can be arrested for their own rape. How about life for children? I am not sure if there is a worse form of child abuse than using your child as a human shield. Yet, Israel is framed as the human rights abuser. Still, the greatest tragedy in this conflict may be from those on the left, who in their confusion, support a totalitarian ideology that hurts the very people they claim to support.

The best way to support the people of Gaza, and indeed the entire Arab world, is to support Israel in its struggle against Islamic extremism. For Israel is the only viable model of a country with religious tolerance, multiparty democracy, independent judiciary and free press in a diverse, war-torn region. Israel is an imperfect democracy, as all democracies are, but the governing ideology is one of Western, secular liberalism.

I left Netivot the morning of November 21st for a placement interview with the IDF. About six blocks north of where I was, a bomb tore through a city bus, forever changing the lives of 23 innocent passengers. That same day, Israel pushed ahead toward peace, agreeing to a ceasefire. After the ceasefire began, five more rockets hit southern Israel. Israel chose not to respond. Sadly, it looks like the rocket fire will continue until the world demands more from Hamas. Until that time, Israel will continue to need to defend herself.

It is this past week that reaffirmed my decision to leave the comforts of study at Amherst College. I am drafting into the Israeli army to help defend the Jewish people, to defend the democratic and diverse people of Israel, to ensure the phrase “never again” remains true and because defending Israel is not just a Jewish cause, an Israeli cause or Western cause but a humane cause.

concerned (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 11:36

"But of course when Muslims kill other Muslims people like 'Concerned' are never too concerned..."

This is absolutely preposterous, Steve.

And aside from your Islamophobia, which to the educated reader fairly speaks for itself, I think you're missing my point. I was simply commenting on this article's description of human shields: I believe we have to challenge the premise that some forms of citizen sacrifice are more legitimate than others, that IDF soldiers who die protecting the state die "rationally," justifiably, and for reasons we should understand. I don't accept the deaths of innocents anywhere, ever; I don't believe citizens should ever feel they are "forced" to defend a nation that may or may not represent their interests in the future; and I don't feel we should ever stop ourselves from challenging taken-for-granted notions of legitimate violence in a war that threatens civilian life on both sides.

Morgan (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 17:20

I respect your decision to go and work for a humanitarian cause. Surely Israeli children are experiencing trauma, and I know your recognition of Gazan childrens' suffering would attract some nasty responses from the Israeli right. I believe you are motivated by good intentions and a love for the Israeli people.

That being said, your knowledge seems to be extremely lacking when it comes to the impact of the nakba and the occupation on the Palestinian people. I lived in the West Bank for eight months, in a village under demolition order by the Israeli army. I worked with Israeli civilians and Palestinians and internationals to protect the village and send a message that what the IDF is doing in the territories is an absolute shame that needs to be addressed for the dignity and security of everyone in the Holy Land. This was my project: www.alaqabaguesthouse.wordpress.com

I just wanted to rephrase the end of your article, to offer another perspective.

"I moved to the West Bank last year to help defend the dignity and security of all people in Israel/Palestine, to defend the democratic and diverse people of Israel/Paletsine, to ensure the phrase “never again” remains true for all people, and because defending all people in Israel/Palestine is not just a Jewish cause, an Israeli cause or Western cause but a humane cause."

Connie Pearlstein (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 17:38

Michael, they sure taught you how to write at Amherst. I can't tell you how much I admire all the lone soldiers. As a volunteer in the Sar-el program, I have worked with many. Your dedication and love for all Israelis is unmatched. I know many people will not understand why you are doing this just as people I know can't understand why a woman 73 years old leaves her comfortable surroundins every year to live and work on an army base. Stay safe!

SB (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 18:24

First of all, I find it impressive that you actually took a leave of absence from college to go and defend your homeland and your principles. That is something that most people talk a lot about, but usually don't act on.
However, I find your remark that "the lack of earnest peace partners in Gaza force the status quo to continue." to be a little disturbing. I've never been to Gaza, so I guess I wouldn't know for sure, but if I had to guess, I'd say that most ordinary Gazans probably don't want to deal with the day-to-day terrors of the ongoing conflict in that area, and want peace just as much as an ordinary Israeli citizen. Just a guess.
I also think it's unfair to say that the attempts to make peace have fallen entirely on the Israeli side. From what I have read, Netanyahu does not seem particularly interested in the peace process, or negotiating with the legitimate government of Palestinian people (the Palestinian Authority). Of course, neither does Hamas. So the cycle of violence continues.
In any case, I feel that in general this extremely complex and multilayered issue has been far oversimplified by everyone--the government, the media, and of course, me and you.
Anyway, thank you for writing a thought-provoking article. There are points we can agree on, and points we can disagree on, but the fact that we can, we should all be grateful for. God bless the U.S.A.

UMASS Student (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 18:38

Michael— I applaud your courage. The rate at which rationale educated persons are willing to support a war-mongering religiously radical terror group like Hamas is alarming. Hamas is not some sort of underdog political movement rallying against Western imperialism. Hamas is a venom spewing hate group that acts as the Iran's proxy arms as it completely disregards the safety and humanity of its citizens. Anyone who chants "Viva Palestina" would do well to also chant "Down with Hamas."

Ethan Price (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 18:54

This was one of the best write ups on the situation that I have read. I hope the IDF puts your talents to good use. Thank you for your service!

Lee Smith (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 18:56

give me 100 kids like this kid and we can hold off 1000 evil doers. also it is a shame that the parents of the students at Amherst have to spend so much money for tuition and then have their kids have to listen to so many liberal crack pot professors there

Emahunn (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 19:01

from this narrative is how Israeli forces decided to shoot a 13 year old child from Gaza playing soccer. This effectively broke the cease fire. Additionally, there is no mention of Hamas, prior to OCL, was making arrests of those who fired rockets into Israel, according to the New York Times. The author makes no differentiation between Hamas as a political group and militants who affiliate with Hamas or other militant groups in Gaza.

The firing of Qassam rockets is horrible and should be condemned. But the use of white phosphorous by Israel since 2008 - and there have been reports of its use in Israel's latest attacks - is against international law. Gaza, by major human rights groups, have been declared an open air prison, and the blockage Israel has imposed, under the specious argument of security, is also a violation of international law. See Harvard professor Sara Roy for more information on the economic situation in Gaza, which is, needless to say, deplorable.

With Israel being a TOP TEN military force on the planet, with the weaponry help and financial support of the United States, I find it incredibly hard to believe that Israel cannot avoid civilian causalities. And considering some of the extremely problematic and pugnacious remarks from Israeli politicians, it is no surprise there is no divergence between the political rhetoric and the on-the-ground actions by Israel. Now the author has decided to join the bloodbath...

Rahul (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 19:09

yet, I think it is easy to misinterpret and misrepresent facts through ignorance. For example, Hamas is both a civilian and a military force - Hamas operates services that Gazans rely on on a day-to-day basis - telling civilians to distance themselves from Hamas is like telling Americans to distance themselves from the U.S. government. Should I stay away from my postman? Ex) from http://www.buenosairesherald.com/article/117150/israel-bombs-hamas-gover..., "Israeli missiles wrecked the office building of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh... and struck a police headquarters." -- these are not necessarily military targets ..

Regarding the reason Gazans require so much aid and the blockade on Gaza, see this quote from the CIA World Factbook: "High population density and Israeli security controls placed on the Gaza Strip since the end of the second intifada have degraded economic conditions in this territory, which is smaller than the West Bank. Israeli-imposed border closures, which became more restrictive after HAMAS seized control of the territory in June 2007, have resulted in high unemployment, elevated poverty rates, and the near collapse of the private sector that had relied on export markets. The population is reliant on large-scale humanitarian assistance - led by UN agencies. Changes to Israeli restrictions on imports in 2010 resulted in a rebound in some economic activity, but regular exports from Gaza still are not permitted."

Finally, I'm sure if Hamas had laser guided missiles they would use them too -- and regardless, neither Israeli "pinpoint" strikes, American drone assassinations, nor Gazan bombs are anywhere close to civilian casualty free... Some use terms that inspire images of sniper-like precision, yet the truth is that whenever they are used in populated areas there is a significant likelihood of civilian casualties, the only thing precision grants is a higher chance of the target also being killed.

Lou (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 20:56

How can you criticize Hamas for not investing in missile-detecting systems, when the real blame is on the people firing the missiles!!?? They wouldn't need to build bomb shelters if the threat of death didn't loom over them every day.

Classic (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 21:01

Thank you for your comedic assertion that you would "join the real freedom fighters in Gaza"...but, no, no you absolutely would not. Its easy to sit on a couch in America and think a couple of news briefings makes you all-knowing about the Israel-Palestine conflict, but the reality is no educated or moral human being would enjoy a life under Hamas. If you aren't Muslim, you're dead. If you aren't a man, you're worthless. If you aren't straight, you're exiled. If you speak out against the government, you will be dragged through the streets tied to a motorcycle. The Palestinian people deserve a country, but their current backwards and chaotic "leadership" is what is holding them back, not the State of Israel.

Cheezy (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 21:06

Boy! I admire your sacrifice and love for Israel but please don't try to portray Israel as a victim here. There are people dying from the missiles Israel is dropping like nobody's business in Gaza and you are complaining about old folks staying in shelters for too long. You talk about grabbing children with beating hearts and carrying them to shelters, the people of Gaza talk about pulling the remains of their children ( toddlers and teenagers ) out of the rubble. You mention in your article "When we hit civilians we call it a failure bla bla bla...". That is utter nonsense. One doesn't need a high school diploma to determine that Israel doesn't care about the Palestinians.
"However terrorized we may feel in Southern Israel, I realize bla bla..." Dude, you have no damn clue what happens in Gaza. If you really did you wouldn't be writing this article.

How on earth can you decimate two story and three story buildings and not expect innocent people to die. OOO yea Israel probably thinks there are two Hamas members living in a three story building all alone.

"Israeli taxes pay bla bla bla....." Dude are you for real. Gaza is blockaded by land, sea and air. How the hell do you expect most of the people of Gaza to have a sustainable economy when they are locked up in a giant prison. Yes that is what Gaza is. A giant prison. The World would know how callous Israel is if Israel didn't feed them because the people of Gaza would be dying of starvation.

And excuse me, the people of Gaza don't care about your democracy bla bla........ What they want first and foremost is not to be treated like PRISONERS in their own land.

Come back safely Mike!!!

observations (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 21:24

From the Israeli declaration of independence:

"We offer peace and unity to all the neighboring states and their peoples, and invite them to cooperate with the independent Jewish nation for the common good of all."

The competing ideologies of religious extremism only make the Middle East a more violent, destructive place. Take the equivalent from the Hamas charter, for example:

"Initiatives, and so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement."

West Bank (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 02:32

Since the mid-70s Saudi Arabia and most of the rest of the Arab states have said they would recognize Israel within the pre-1967 borders.
Today Israel decries the fact that they cannot make peace with Hamas in Gaza but they do everything they can to avoid making peace with the Palestinian technocrats in charge of the West Bank who avow non-violence. Why can't Israel make peace with Abbas?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 21:47

I find it disturbing that an American goes abroad and takes arms in the name of a foreign government. I don't think our citizens should be allowed to fight with foreign militaries, period.

Enjoy the sun and have a lovely time in Israel. Tel Aviv is a party town. You really won't know how close you are to the concentration-camp like Gaza when there. And get back safely even more buffed than before ;)

Cameron Millard (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 21:57

First of all, I believe the author has good intentions and has shared what he believes is reality in an honest and straightforward way. I can sympathize with both sides in this conflict, and understand the right to defend one's country as a fundamental right. However, I think the trajectory of the article (and some of the above comments) devalues the purity of the authors intentions. I found that the tone of moral superiority is dangerously close to that of positivist world-view in which the author's view is right based on the wrongness of the other side. Political leadership aside, the devaluation of the Palestinian people can only perpetuate further violence. I don't deny that finding the will to solve problems peacefully is an extremely difficult task and perhaps out of reach, but until the same empathy can be extended to all people as one's own family the cycle will likely never cease. I wish the author safe passage and that he may live to find himself a "peaceful warrior."

Steve Brown (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 04:08

Cameron Millard's comment is the only one I could find that was balanced, if not naive, in its criticism of Israel, while not also exonerating Hamas and the Gazans who voted them into power.

I've responded to a few earlier comments directly but don't have the time to do so with the four or so since my last response.

What I can say is that there's a common theme to the comments which hold primarily if not exclusively Israel accountable.
Ironically it's lack of accountability, or should I say failure to hold the very Gazans, indeed, the majority of Gazans, who voted Hamas into power in the first place, a government whose very Charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the death of Jews.

This is not a closely guarded secret. If Hamas had the ability to level Israel do any of it's defenders on this comment board honestly think they wouldn't do so? Contrast this with Israel's ability to do this to Gaza with little effort, many times over and with far less risk to it's people, but its conscious decision not to because the government and people of Israel respect human life, ALL human life, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, including the 1.2 million Muslims who live within Israel itself who have not been expelled and have an infinitely better life as Israelis than do their co-religionists in Gaza who've decided voting for Islamic supremacists bent on murdering as many Jews as they can, starting with Israel but not ending there, is a noble and moral cause.

As for trying to defend Hamas on the basis that it has a "civil" arm, not just a "military" one, is like trying to defend fascist Italy because the trains ran on time while ignoring the fact that people were being taken away in the middle of the night and shot, or better still defending Hitler because he didn't raise a penny in taxes during most of WWII in order to provide great social services to its Aryan citizens while ignoring the fact that under the very same Nazi regime Jews, gypsies and homosexuals were being transported to gas chambers.

As the expression goes people get the government they deserve. The majority of Gazans democratically elected Hamas as their representatives. Ever since then thousands of rockets have been fired by their representatives at the citizens of Israel whose own democratically elected government finally decided to better protect its people as all such governments are obliged to do.

Gazans and some of the people on this comment board who can find fault only with Israel need to be reminded, we reap what we sew.

Joseph (not verified) says:
Wed, 11/28/2012 - 23:02

Michael you will be happy to hear that the Friends of the IDF had an event in Boston on November 14th where 750 supporters of Israel stood up to support the soldiers! This event was the same day that Israel decided to defend its citizens from the rocket attacks from Gaza. We also honored the Lone Soldiers of New England and their families.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 00:16

One of the major reasons for international criticism of Israel is their settlement policy, which the writer has conveniently chosen to ignore. Israel repeatedly encroaches into and expands in Palestinian areas to expand the jewish state ..How does this policy promote peace, pray tell?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 00:36

How arrogant to claim that Palestinians don't value the human life of their people. Do you really think that if they had the millions of dollars and military infrastructure being handed to them by the U.S. government that they wouldn't have the same systems of defense in place? If as you say "IDF strikes in Gaza are carried out with surgical precision by laser guided missiles" and given the 100+ civilian Palestinian casualties as a direct result of IDF's terror Pillar of Defense Operation, then the only conclusion I can draw based on your logic is that Israel is directly targeting civilian lives. Regardless of whether this is true or not, giving warnings via pamphlets, phone calls or text messages does not excuse Israeli officials from the human rights violations they are committing nor does giving out warnings give Israel a "moral upper hand". It's clear that you haven't stopped to consider that these warnings are nothing more than psychological warfare against a people who have nowhere to run and nowhere where they are safe. As long as the IDF continues military aggression against an occupied and incarcerated nation this will be the reality Palestinians will continue to face everyday.
I know that I'm not going to convince you but given the overwhelming support you are receiving from our student body, which is frankly sickening but not unexpected, I felt I had to voice my opinion in support of Palestine and wish others will take a more critical approach to this subject which you have so sadly failed to do.

Typical (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 01:18

As a Jew this article frustrates me beyond belief! I am sick of the Jewish community standing idly by and watching innocent children die. Racism should have no place in Judaism. The real terrorists are the IDF. Israel is a network of state terrorism and enough is enough. I too was taught never again and to ensure that I support the palestinian cause. Currently Israel is ethnically cleansing the Palestinians and the IDF is the perpetrator of that ethnic cleansing. These arguments are the typical lies of the Israeli state terrorism network. It is time the Jewish community learned the truth and stopped the propaganda. It is time to do what adonai would want and free Palestine. I do hope you stay safe in the IDF but more than that I hope that you can look past the lies and see the truth and stop being a part of a network of state terrorism.

Never again (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 02:27

Congratulations on your choice to join the occupation forces. The age of Western domination of the rest of us is coming to an end, have fun on the wrong side of history. For those of us of the formerly colonized nations of Asia and Africa, never again means never again being told by a white person when we are ready for self-rule and self-determination. Sixty years of Israeli occupation need to end now!

Joe Smack (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 05:22

Five minutes to check whether or not Michael's claims are anything more than propaganda.

Every observer organization, including Amnesty International, claims that Israeli soldiers DELIBERATELY kill civilians, whereas Hamas did NOT use human shields: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jc0DHbDsRG83m4stW9Jdp...

Israel did not "end the occupation" of the Gaza Strip, it only removed its (illegal) settler-colonies from the Strip in 2005. It continues to hold Gaza under a complete siege, preventing basic food and medical supplies from entering Gaza in what one Israeli official termed "putting the Palestinians on a diet": http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/apr/16/israel

As a result, some 1.8 million Palestinians live under constant Israeli siege in Gaza, regularly being fired at by Israeli soldiers, and prevented from accessing basic items necessarily for rebuilding their economy.

Israel also escalated the most recent border conflict by extrajudicially assassinating an elected Palestinian leader, Ahmad Jaabari, who was negotiating a long-term truce. This, not Palestinian rocket-fire, started the most recent crisis:

Unlike the Palestinians, Israel has a long history of breaking these truces, while Palestinian fighters, including Hamas, have a long history of enforcing them -- at their own political risk: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nancy-kanwisher/reigniting-violence-how-d_...

Michael mentions that "5 rockets" fell on Israel after the ceasefire was signed; but in reality, 3 rockets did, and it is likely that they were fired by individuals, not by the governing Hamas group which follows the ceasefire. Hamas consistently enforces ceasefires, resulting in a drastic reduction of rocket-fire -- down from hundreds during a war Israeli initiated to 3 fired by lone groups.

On the other hand, Israeli soldiers recently shot -- and killed -- an unarmed Palestinian protester in Gaza, showing Israel's unwillingness to enforce the ceasefire, even among their own troops.

It's worth also mentioning, that even when there is no ceasefire and hundreds of rockets are fired, they kill very few people. During the 2008 Israeli invasion of Gaza, more Israelis died from friendly fire (!) than from rockets, meaning that soldiers like Michael pose a greater threat to Israelis than do the rockets!

On the other hand, Israel killed some 1300 Palestinians, including 300 children, using indiscriminate warfare, dropping chemical weapons on densely populated neighborhoods, using precision drone strikes which were aimed at civilians despite no military reason for doing so, and deliberately killing civilians during the ground invasion as well.

Israel, in 2012 and in 2008, decided to launch a mass invasion of a small territory which they had under a complete military siege and blockade. Israel is not the victim, and Michael's decision to join the Israeli army is not a matter of defending democracy, it is a matter of actively supporting -- with violence -- a form of brutal military aggression against an otherwise defenseless people in Gaza.

Dana (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 07:58

Please send this to as many newspapers as you can think of (national, and international). The world must hear this. Since journalists doggedly remain silent on what is happening to Israel, it is up to us, non-journalists, to inform the public.

anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 08:59

Lucy, the baltimore chronicle? Really? Did you just click the first thing that popped up on google? The author offers a primary source himself. Why dont you go live in israel for a year and then comment back.

Guy (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 12:15

Has this guy spent his entire life under a rock?

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 18:51

Worse. He's fed into Israeli-American propaganda. That shit makes living under a rock preferable.

Renae (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 12:32

My son just came back from serving in the IDF. It changed his life. He also left college where he found people did not understand the dire situation in Israel and Gaza. I wish you a safe and strong service in the IDF.

Fede (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 13:11

Be safe Mike. Proud of what you're doing.

Lopsy (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 15:38

Lucy, you sadly show your ignorance with regard to how Israel warns all Gazans of an attack. It is a well known fact,through many sources, including the Media of the Western countries Leaflets dropping into Gaza, warning residents of an attack have been filmed on TV News eg BBC, Sky, CNN, etc. In fact, I listened to a resident of Gaza reading out the warning. The media have reported about how Israel texts and phones resident in advance of an attack. The article written is definitely not propoganda, it is FACT. Sadly, the Palestinians in Gaza, are let down by their own leaders, who have played a nasty political game with lies, propoganda, etc, and consquently, they have suffered. I have watched children's TV programmes from Gaza and the West Bank, where they are taught hatred, bigotry, and how wonderful it is to be a shahid (martyr). In my opinion this is child abuse! Your comments showed a lack of knowledge about the Middle East, and you have swallowed the propoganda, so expertly put out by the Palestinians....they even believe their own propoganda.
I suggest you listen to retired Colonol Richard Kemp of the British Army, who talks about the humnaity of the Israeli army. You can google him, and perhaps you will be enlightened. If you really care about the Palestinians then finding out the truth would be beneficial. The life of the Palestinians will never change unless the world helps them to face the truth of their situation, and helps them to get rid of their evil leaders. I was at a demonstration and stood next to an Arab, wearing an Israeli flag around him; I had to stop him from shouting out many of his negative comments about Hamas and Islam, because the British police would have arrested him for encitement. I also listened to a young Gazan girl thanking the Israel Defense Force, and wishing them good luck to rid the Palestinians of Hamas.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 18:49

Michael, I do have to say that you are somewhat misinformed as to your claims made throughout your article. You must look at the bigger picture and look at what Israel has done to Palestine this past 70 years (1948, 1967, etc), then you will see why most of the world is against you. However, regardless, it is a very honorable thing for you to leave everything behind and join a cause you believe in, and for that I applaud you.

Randy (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 20:54

Excellent article, well done.

I would only change one sentence and delete one word.

"The best way to support the people of Gaza, and indeed the entire Arab world, is to support Israel in its struggle against Islamic extremism."

Take the word extremism out, it does not belong there. Islam belongs there.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 21:10

" Hamas) has chosen not to invest in these public safety measures despite waging a continuous war on Israel."

How would the Hamas even be able to invest in such technologies if the Israelis embargo and seal them off? Quite frankly both sides need to sit down and talk it out. Neither side is innocent here.

David (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/30/2012 - 23:40

and rocket launchers, surely they can build shelters. They have a choice, like everyone else, about how to use their resources. They choose to use them to build offensive weapons. The truth is so obvious, it's unbelievable that people willfully reject it: If Israel hated the Palestinians and didn't want them around anymore, there would be no building standing and no living soul in Gaza. The fact that Israeli bombs are not raining on Gaza every day is proof to anyone who is willing to see it that they only respond defensively when they are attacked. Let the Palestinian government in Gaza stop the rocket bombardment of Israeli towns, let it renounce violence and remove from its charter the call to annihilate Israel, and it won't need to dig its children out of rubble. But, sadly, as a prominent Arab writer recently remarked, Hamas is happy to see Palestinian children torn apart, crushed and burned, because they know how it affects those of us in the West and wins sympathy for their plan to wipe out the Jewish state.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Thu, 11/29/2012 - 22:27

There are no bomb shelters in Gaza because Israel doesn't let in concrete and other building materials. Hamas doesn't operate from unpopulated areas in Gaza because there are no unpopulated areas in Gaza--Gaza is the size of the city of Detroit, with almost double the population. Look at the Gaza Strip on Google Maps; it's mostly dense development.

Every country has the right to defend itself from terrorism, but when you look at the big picture, the Palestinians' demands of independence, an end to the blockade, and compensation for the refugees are eminently reasonable. So Hamas is like the Algerians in the 50s and 60s--using immoral means to achieve just ends. On the other hand, Israel is like the French--using justifiable means to perpetuate an unjust empire. It's hard for me to feel sympathy for either side; and meanwhile, the Palestinian people suffer as pretty much the last significant group of stateless people anywhere outside of sub-Saharan Africa.

Also, the idea that population growth disproves the existence of a humanitarian crisis is absurd. The Soviet Union consistently increased its population between 1919 and 1941, but that doesn't mean their policies didn't intentionally cause millions of excess deaths in the Ukraine and the Gulags.

Steve Brown (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/30/2012 - 04:13

Hey, Anonymous, there are plenty of other significant AND for that matter worthier "stateless people" than the "Palestinians"

Two examples: Kurds or Basque. Ever heard of either? Certainly not from leftist media which doesn't consider these groups worthy of much attention at all. Yet both have as great an if not greater entitlement to independence than the "Palestinians". The difference is that for some strange reason the plight of the latter group captivates the imagination and attention of people like "Anonymous" to the exclusion of the many far more oppressed and abused people of the world.

As for the history lesson that the Soviets increased population while causing millions of excess deaths, how exactly is this relevant when the "Occupied Palestinian Territories", as they're referred to by the UN (http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Sorting-Tables/tab-sorting_mortality.htm) has a crude death rate of 3.6/1000, the 8th lowest in the world, lower than about 200 other countries, including Israel (5.7)?

One difference between the other two examples of stateless people is that both are exploited by others of more or less the same skin-tone/geographic origin while with the OPT the general perception is that Israelis, i.e., "white/European" foreigners are exploiting "people of colour". (Please disregard the fact that close to one million Israelis originated in but were forced to flee or forced out of their native Arab/Muslim countries where they'd lived before Islam even arose, and many others have had roots in Israel for even longer as these inconvenient facts damage the tired leftist narrative).

In other words Israelis are "Western Imperialists", "Colonizers", "Oppressors", blah, blah, blah.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/30/2012 - 00:52

A terrified Israeli child who has to spend a week in a bomb shelter is nothing compared to the generation after generation of Palestinians who have been living as starved refugees in their own homeland for more half a century.

Scott (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/30/2012 - 07:39


Good luck in your voyage. You'll unavoidably hear the above phrase from Israelis and Palestinians _i hope you get a chance to speak with some of the latter, outside of your role in the IDF.

Yes, the people do want peace, and they also want the opportunity to be treated with equal rights and responsibilities, which is something that religiously-based states in the region struggle with on an ongoing basis.

And I think that israel, on its own, need to confront what it its destiny and who it will be in the middle east, and there is no easy answer for this either. Unfortunately, while Israel is cast, against its will, into a framework where it is defending itself, this seems to take two forms. In the first case, it is defending tiself in the extreme, where hamas or others are attacking it in a clear and unmitigated manner, and at these times the international community more or less supports Israel in its right to defend itself against aggression. Where things go awry is in the day to day process of trying to ensure that radical elements within the Palestinian society are not able to inflict more contained, but no less deadly injury on Israeli citizens. This requires what most people would acknowledge is a repressive environment on a day to day basis for palestinians in the West Bank, with resulting constraints on movement and access and an intrusive security apparatus necessary, ostensibly, to achieve those goals. And this is where israel is running into trouble, because it is hard to prove the negative - difficult to prove that these measures are necessary when there is no evidence of ongoing violence. Hamas can therefore say that the Israeli blockade is not necessary and unjust, while the israelis maintain that they are sine qua non for security. Nobody outside of Israel discusses the Hamas charter - it is messy, inconvenient and awkward in polite conversation.

But at the same time, we never quite get to the question of how we support those who support peace. They seem to have been lost on the sidelines. It's not clear to me that we are paying enough attention to them and the role that they can play. They are lost among the militants, the militarists, the expansionists who view the conflict opportunistically and push their own agendas, and those that fear the risks that a peace process would inevitably involve. But the real question is whether the current course is sustainable...can we continue on this path for the next fifty years? And if not, then does our current path make an alternative course more or less difficult? Does turning the West Bank into an archipelago of settlements make the peace process more or less likely? What does a single state solution, or even a defacto one, hold for the future of a jewish state of israel?

sorry to ramble a bit but just a few thoughts for you as you go through life in israel. I hope you'll hold more dearly to the questions than the easy answers that most people invovled have attached themselves to. each one carries a lot of baggage that isn't immediately apparent to those newly arrived.

All the best.

isabel (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/30/2012 - 11:36

Thank you so much for this article - it is extremely important that this information be generated; especially to those who buy the hype and publicity that has come out of Gaza. Please think about keeping a diary of your experiences; a book on this topic would be worthwhile. Remain steadfast in your beliefs, don't let others dissuade your from your goal and keep writing.

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/30/2012 - 14:22

the piece is well written and i celebrate the author for making a choice to participate in the world outside of amherst college----however, his perspective ignores the longer history of the region. 200 Israeli settlements are illegal under international law. and land has been taken from private Palestinian landowners in defiance of the supreme court of Israel's own ruling! There is no moral high-ground from which Israel can stand on this point--the disregard for international law by the current israeli state will only lead to more violence. there is a reason why israel is coming under increasing scrutiny in the international press--israel cannot both claim a state of exception when it comes to some international laws and then turn around and appeal to the "norms" of a state being able to "defend itself." There is a vibrant peace movement in Israel that advocates this very point.

And let's be very clear about one historical fact---genocide is a postwar WWII term--but if you are going to make an argument based on jewish victims of genocide and a right to a homeland, I urge you to consider that the very most conservative estimates on the population of native americans prior to european contact (in continguous US) were 12 million--nearly 80-90% of this population died due to european colonialism and continental expansion. So please do not reference "human history" when you so blatantly exclude the history of your own country--unless, of course you are willing to cede your house, community, state, etc. for Native Americans to return to their "homeland."

Anonymous (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/30/2012 - 14:40

Didnt read it. Snore. Boring. Too long.

KB (not verified) says:
Fri, 11/30/2012 - 20:31

In agreement with another comment, this article does make me question the critical thinking skills I hope all Amherst students would be armed with. For example, how does Michael conceptualize a Palestinian person? Does he realize that any humane, normal being would never, ever use a child as a shield? Begin to think of the "other" the same as you view those vulnerable children (and their parents) you are teaching in your Israeli bomb shelters.

Boston Guy (not verified) says:
Sat, 12/01/2012 - 08:30

I am a Boston area resident with a student at UMass Amherst. I commend you for your courage in serving the citizenry in Israel and articulately stating your case for the State of Israel. I am glad to say that the cohort of anti-Israel radicals in the Five College area are nothing but a small group of "useful idiots" (to quote Lenin) for Hamas. It is ironic that these armchair revolutionaries support a regime that is hostile to gays, lesbians, seculars, women, free-speech advocates, and moderate Muslims. I don't expect that these self-professed universalists care one hoot that Hamas is anti-Christian and anti-Jewish. The joke is that these anti-Israel extremists would not last five minutes living under the Palestinian regime that they worship. Keep up your good work in Netivot and congratulations on your pending induction to the IDF. May you be safe and strong. Another American supporter of Israel.

Smith Student (not verified) says:
Mon, 12/03/2012 - 21:34

I find it incredible that uninformed liberal students in America can support a regime most of them know absolutely nothing about. As the above comment stated, most people I have debated this issue with ignore the fact that the government in power over the Palestinians was voted in, and their charters includes a reference to Israel as an illegal state. I don't believe that a group of people who have been endangering the lives of common civilians, for years, and on purpose deserves to stand on a moral high ground when it comes to abuses of human rights. The author is correct in that the terrorists in power (I will call them that because that is what they are) place their leaders in schools, and mosques in particular in order to surround themselves with civilians, ensuring that civilians must be killed to get to them. The IDF is not at fault in any way in this conflict and have merely tried to remove threatening individuals instrumental in suicide bombing, kidnappings, and civilian massacres to protect their homes. These "leaders" could use the funds given to them by numerous other Arab countries (which almost all Jews have been chased out of) to actually help Palestinians who are able to contemplate and support the idea of peace. However, even these so called "innocents" have voted in a terrorist organization to serve them, and supply their children to surround their leaders. I had been a previous supporter to a two state solution. But Palestinians have shown again and again that they will not cease attacking Israel. How can you support a country that swear to wipe another of the map? There is no such thing as the Palestinian genocide when the "agressor" has the power to completely obliterate the population, which still stands and grows today. Independent Israeli settlers have taken over slight parts of land that had technically belonged to Israel after the war, but which was ceded in hopes of peace. That peace has been broken numerous times, and bombing the state adjacent is no way to handle the situation.
The author of this piece hits every point that shows that Israel is acting just as the U.S. would (and possibly much more humanely) were it attacked in the same way Israel had been and is being.

john (not verified) says:
Fri, 12/07/2012 - 07:35

Why would you leave one of the highest ranked colleges in the country and a life of enjoyment and luxury to join an army as a lowly foot solider. It's a war, there is no side which is right or wrong and a war is never a referendum on morality. The very act of war involves murder and the fact that this student believes willing himself to join a force whose sheer purpose is to kill is a noble act is baffling. If he truly cared or wanted to make a difference he could have done countless things, he could have joined the red cross or he could have joined the countless organizations that aim to permanent resolution of this long occurring conflict. Instead he decides to participate in the bloodshed and weather it's on the side of israel or Palestine it's equally pointless.

It's sad he allowed himself to be a tool and be a martyr for a war.

Sam S. (not verified) says:
Thu, 02/21/2013 - 00:30

Mike, loved your story. I am at the U of Michigan in my sophomore year and for personal reasons I have a strong desire to do what you did (join the IDF and leave college temporarily). My email address is shrago@umich.edu and I'd really like to ask you some questions about your service. Please shoot me an email if you get this comment, thanks!

Astraea (not verified) says:
Wed, 04/17/2013 - 20:56

As your third grade teacher, I knew you'd do great things. Wow. You amaze me. You're in my prayers.

denig (not verified) says:
Sat, 02/22/2014 - 17:12

They go back to school to get more specialized skills so they can earn more money