Last time Israel went to war and Aharon, my partner of 10 years, was called up to reserve duty, I remember checking the news seeking information about how dangerous his unit’s position was, gathering details I thought he couldn’t—or wouldn’t—tell me. Maybe it was because I was new to the experience of an emergency call-up, or maybe I was less politically aware, but the questions of whether the army had a sound strategy or a plan for reaching a ceasefire seemed like something to discuss later, after calm was restored.
The current operation feels different. Coming on the heels of the announcement of early elections—amidst campaigns characterized by a disappointing field of parties and candidates who can barely articulate a position, never mind inspire the public—the strategic and political questions seem all the more significant. Even as rockets fall Tel Aviv and the sirens sound in Jerusalem, the urgency of defense is tinged with long-term questions. Does the current leadership have a plan to bring about a quick ceasefire? What is the plan for lasting calm, if not peace?
The fact that Aharon was called out to emergency miluim (reserve duty) in the middle of Shabbat dinner certainly drives my search for answers. From my wanderings on Facebook, I realize it is unpopular to admit that you want the violence to end just so your personal life can go back to normal, though personal experiences and feelings surely lurk between the justifications of war, the moral critique of violence, and grand messages of support for the IDF broadcast across social media.
On the day after Aharon left, I found comfort in those celebrating the dedication of our soldiers and bemoaning the hardship of running to the bomb shelter (“now we all know what the people of Sderot have been living through”). But soon the justifications for continued violence, the obsession with our victimization, and arguments pushing for a ground invasion as the only way to “show strength” wore me down. Surely, the sooner a ceasefire is reached, the sooner Aharon—and loved ones across the country—will come home.
I seek out and find relief in the Facebook posts insisting that the massive reserve call up may be a bluff or a bargaining chip to show that Netanyahu means business. I break into an anxious sweat when I read suggestions from others that the army is taking its time to retrain the reserve soldiers so they can launch a successful incursion.
News websites updated by-the-minute let me know where a rocket has fallen, how many terrorists were killed by Israeli air attacks, and which world leader is coming to Israel in the next hour—but this focus on the immediate future really isn’t what I’m looking for. I want to know more. I want to know that smart, serious people are calling up the reservists, and that there is a strategy to limit violence. In exchange for this period of anxiety and ache, of obsessively trolling the web and waiting at the window for my reservist to come home, I don’t want to be sold a war of egos or an election campaign slogan. I want to know this repeat experience is going to be the last.
While I scour the web for hints of a ceasefire, I realize what I’m really looking for is a vision. I’m looking for politicians who are not going to take “we have no partner for peace” as an excuse, and who will work for four years to figure out how to build a lasting relationship with our neighbors. We can’t afford to wait passively until there seems to be no choice left but to defend ourselves, again.
I’ve taken solace in a few comments written by lesser-known politicians like Michael Melchior, former Knesset Member in the Meimad party, and Esti Kirmaier, a new voice in the Labor party, who express belief in the possibility of balancing safety and peace. I circle back again and again, hoping to find more.
As I grasp at news of a ceasefire, I wonder whether I can let down my guard. Can I breathe easy knowing that Aharon will be home soon, allowing myself to be proud of his service? Or will this be just another temporary quiet, without the leadership to make it stick?
Alieza Salzberg is co-director and educator at Yeshivat Talpiot in Jerusalem. She is also a graduate student in rabbinic literature at Hebrew University.