Dear Second Lady, come see for yourself

Op-Ed: An invitation from three Israeli mothers who are living near Gaza, raising kids and praying for peace

Israeli citizens take cover as a warning siren sounds for possible incoming rockets in Nitzan on November 14, 2012. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Israeli citizens take cover as a warning siren sounds for possible incoming rockets in Nitzan on November 14, 2012. (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

Dear Mrs. Biden,

Israelis live in a beautiful country where there is never a dull moment. Never. Israel is a tiny yet disproportionately colorful and diverse democracy, well-loved and welcoming yet at times, very, very challenging.

All these definitions hold true, but magnified by 100 for us in the Israeli communities along the Gaza-Israel border: Yael in Nahal-Oz, Janet who lives in Kibbutz Nir-Yitzhak, and Adele from Kibbutz Nirim, as well as the mothers in dozens of pastoral neighboring farming communities here.

As working moms with children from toddlers to college-aged, our lives appear normal with our daily business. But we simply can’t take any period of quiet for granted when our house is a short jog from the hidden openings of Hamas terror tunnels dug under our fields of peanuts, sweet potatoes and turnips. It’s normal during quiet times, but for the past 16 years our kids have grown up with “normal” being knowing how to run for their lives at the sound of the sirens for the almost 20,000 rockets and mortar bombs Hamas has fired at Israeli towns and cities. Now it’s as instinctive as riding their bikes.

“Normal” means women don’t wear high heels because they slow them down running to reach shelter. Gaza is so close that we have at most 15 seconds warning, and usually less, before the rockets explode. Young mothers take only two children outside to play, because if the siren goes off, you can’t grab more and make it to shelter in time. Even in quiet times some kids still wet their beds from fear and many of us keep packed knapsacks by the door in case Hamas decides to wage war again.

Yet despite these challenges our communities appear normal: kids go to school, we shop, work, farm, play, volunteer, have little leagues and go out for burgers, pizza or a movie. Just a few weeks ago hundreds of thousands of Israeli nature lovers visited to hike through red fields of spring poppies in the same area where rockets were exploding in 2014.

We live in hope and optimism that peace will prevail. We teach our children that although Hamas terrorists are on the other side of the border, there are also normal people on the Palestinian side — parents and children just like us who want the same thing: food on their tables, safe places to play, and opportunities for education and work. We know those Gazans are held hostage by the radical fundamentalists. We do not demonize them nor do we teach our children to hate them. We seek options for tolerance and co-acceptance and a better future of peace for our kids and theirs. We long for the times when there were no fences and we could visit our Palestinian friends and shop in Gaza.

Our communities here have so much in common with the communities you have lived in, and our families share much of the same backgrounds as yours. Some of us are fellow teachers and we heard you have a passion for community colleges – many of our kids attend our local community college. Our nation also believes in service, and like you, we are all military moms with many of us being army veterans ourselves.

We appreciate the warm feelings you and your husband have for the state of Israel. In his speech last year he acknowledged that “…the people of Israel still live in a dangerous neighborhood. And just to be an Israeli — it still demands uncommon courage.” That’s so empowering to hear when we consider ourselves simply to be mothers raising our kids and praying for peace.

We were honored to meet last month Ambassador Samantha Power, a distinguished diplomat who stands up for us in the UN, who came to see the realities of life here. We want to show you too that it’s not enough to have good fences in order to have good neighbors. Good neighbors are happy, safe neighbors who have more to gain by striving for coexistence than by digging tunnels of terror. We need to help improve the quality of their lives. Gazans can be gainfully employed by building homes, schools and hospitals rather than be exploited by Hamas to dig underneath us.

We raise our children to want a better world in which there is peace.

We are excited that you are coming to Israel this week with your family and we invite you to visit us — to see with your own eyes, to hear first-hand how we appreciate America’s support. We open our hearts and homes and warmly remember the visit President Obama made to our area.

We hope and pray for a better reality. Life is complicated in the Middle East, and although coexistence and peace may be far away, it is indeed peace with our neighbors that we pray for.

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