Wednesday, January 14, 2009

“How do I raise my children not to hate?”

JERUSALEM -- “How do I raise my children not to hate?”

This was the question posed by a prominent Israeli journalist whose eldest son is now serving on the front lines in Gaza. In reflecting on bringing up his children amidst suicide bombings and rocket attacks, he was particularly concerned with their teen years: “As if it isn’t tough enough to raise teenagers.”

Faces here are filled with sorrow and resolve. Israelis know they are in the midst of a war they must win, waged by the most beloved among them – the young.

Quite reasonably, one might ask about the plight of Palestinian children, and it is a cruel irony that they are victims of the same violence. If only the grown-ups influencing them placed the same priority on barring hatred from their hearts. Instead, they are inculcated with perverse histories and vicious notions of murder and martyrdom from their earliest years.

World opinion has long since swayed in favour of creating a Palestinian state. The outgoing and incoming presidents of the United States, as well as leaders in Canada, Britain, and many citizens of Israel are on board with the concept, provided it can lead to some good end. No one needs another Syria – or worse – on Israel’s border, and it would be naïve to assume that simply conferring statehood on the current arrangement would quell the violence here. So to whom would the state be granted? To Hamas, the Palestinians’ elected leaders who have launched 3,000 rockets at Israel in the last year alone? How about no.

Indeed, one of the saddest aspects of the current conflict is the waste that the Palestinian leadership has made of the Gaza project. When Israelis withdrew completely from the territory in 2005, they left behind greenhouses, infrastructure and the makings of a community. Within days, however, Gaza became a staging ground for rocket attacks on southern Israel. The greenhouses are gone and the misery has returned. As much as many of us advocate the creation of a Palestinian state, we must recognize that no responsible Palestinian leadership exists to shoulder it.

The refusal of Palestinians and their leaders to move beyond grievances and make the most of their opportunities is a source of frustration to some Israelis, who recognize that their own country has managed to survive and thrive against towering odds. One Israeli privately remarked of the Palestinian failure to establish a place in the world: “If they spent time and energy building up their own state instead of trying to destroy mine, they might have something.”

A woman in Jerusalem echoed former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in lamenting, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.” As Meir perhaps had done, the woman spoke the first of these sentences with sadness; the second, with a touch of anger.

Certainly, there are Palestinian moms and dads who care for their children, just as Israeli parents do. Trouble is, those decent folks have no voice in their leadership. In Israel, meanwhile, the armed defense of the nation touches parents deeply.

Military service is prevalent in this country, where young people perform a mandatory three years, and decades in the reserves often follow. All over Israel, families are fretting for loved ones in harm’s way, as active duty troops have been deployed and tens of thousands of reserves have been called up or notified to prepare.

With parents desperately worried, the Israel Defense Forces have taken the precautionary step of confiscating cell phones from troops. There are two principal reasons for this. First, it is a case of good old-fashioned, “Loose lips sink ships.” To wit, even the most innocent revelation of military locations can be overheard or intercepted and lead to lost lives. Second, there is no percentage in having panicked parents all across the country. Knowing that their grown children are without means to communicate, Israeli parents do not want their phones to ring, as they assume it can only be bad news.

Such is the reality for families here. Israelis accept it with courage and determination. Most important, even as they live in the shadow of death, they teach their children to love life.

Theo Caldwell, President of Caldwell Asset Management, Inc., is an investment advisor in the United States and Canada.