Defending Israel

Defending Israel by Dina Barrish - Photo by Marika Campbell-Blue

Throngs of ​Machane-Yehuda​ shoppers freeze, hands clasped behind their backs. Israeli businessmen break mid-highway. Radio silence but for the piercing siren.

On ​Yom HaZikaron​, mother, father, daughter, and son alike observe a sacred pause commemorating fallen Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers. For 60 seconds, solidarity transcends demands of reality. National grief is tangible.

“We’re reading ​this?​” I turn to my Judaic studies partner on ​Yom HaZikaron, ​hoping she’ll mirror my astonishment. The siren, played for us on YouTube during that morning’s tefillah, r​esonates as I digest the editorial before me: Israel Policy Forum Director Michael J. Koplow’s illustration of Palestinian suffering. On a day dedicated to fallen IDF soldiers, I had expected classroom material promoting the Israeli narrative. Koplow’s left-leaning stance took me by surprise.

Insisting that tears mourning IDF soldiers and tears mourning Israel’s establishment as a Nakba​ (catastrophe) deserve equal respect, Koplow supports a joint Israeli-Palestinian ​Yom HaZikaron c​eremony. “Shouldn’t everyone be cheering on [the ceremony] as precisely the type of movement that needs to grow and be nurtured rather than tar it as a disgraceful affront?” he asks, and I reply, plainly and simply, no. Koplow sees Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to deny Palestinians entry to the commemoration as unethical, and I see Koplow neglecting to value Israel’s security.

“Koplow doesn’t criticize Israel, Dina,” my intelligent, practical Judaic studies teacher, Dr. Schwartz, interjects—I guess my emphatic whispers​ ​lost whisper-status. Her squinted gaze challenges me to disagree. I accept.

Ironically, among peers who believe wholeheartedly in Israel’s right to exist, I’d never more clearly understood my responsibility to defend Israel. Beyond justifying Israel’s spot on the map, my unique task is to prevent Jews from misconstruing Israel’s security motives as slighting humanitarian empathy. Today’s tumultuous media mass-produces misconceptions that threaten Israel’s livelihood, and Jews often stumble beneath this weight of global criticism. To arm Jews with comprehension of Netanyahu’s rationale is to crucially defend Israel in the struggle for survival.

I reach this conviction amid class-wide praise of Koplow’s article. At Dr. Schwartz’s nod of acknowledgment, I take a deep breath and launch my case.

“How would you feel if ​Yom Hashoah b​ecame World Genocide Day?”

Chairs shift uncomfortably as classmates perceive my intention. ​Yom HaZikaron, ​like Yom HaShoah, ​cannot become a universal catchall for warfare pain at the expense of Jewish legitimacy. Fusing Israeli and Palestinian grief is a beautiful aspiration, but on ​Yom HaZikaron, the siren commemorates Israeli fallen heroes—those who sacrificed to maintain Israeli national identity.

Class ends, and I again meet Dr. Schwartz’s gaze: no longer a challenge, but a truce. Sensing my exhilaration, she approaches my desk. “Let’s keep talking.”

And so, for the better part of an hour, Dr. Schwartz and I discuss the precarious position of Israeli government, the right—or lack thereof—of diaspora Jews to judge Israel’s decisions, the extent to which Palestinians should belong in Israeli society. Fielding her humanitarian counterarguments by emphasizing Israeli safety, I treat our ideological fractures with curative properties of conversation.

On ​Yom HaZikaron, ​I heard the call to honor Israeli security. I halted routine, embraced my obligation, and defended Israel with the weapon of words.

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Dina Barrish is a senior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School in Deerfield, Illinois. She is the co-founder and managing editor of her school paper, The Stripe, and the executive editor of her school literary magazine. She enjoys musical theater and is very involved in her Jewish community.
Accompanying photo: “Pride” by Marika Campbell-Blue