The larger looming conflict: How two Israeli students see the recent unrest with Palestine

The battle in Palestine and Israel might have disrupted their lifestyles majorly, but it has also resulted in a major misrepresentation of reality on social media.
The larger looming conflict: How two Israeli students see the recent unrest with Palestine
Two Israeli students narrate to us their grim experiences.The Bridge Chronicle

The ceasefire between Israel and Hamas may have come into effect now after 11 days of raging violence, the hostilities claimed the lives of more than 200 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, while Hamas rocket attacks killed 12 people in Israel. Hamas launched more than 4,300 rockets towards Israeli cities and towns, a clear war crime, killing mostly civilians. In retaliation, Israel targeted around 1,000 sites in Gaza, which it claimed had a significant military value. As per the Israeli military, it killed more than 130 combatants.

Even though the incessant salvos of rocket fire has come to a halt and calm seems to be returning to the region, the recent conflict - one of the worst unrest in seven years between the two sides - has come with widespread destruction, civil unrest and a worsening humanitarian crisis.

Two Israeli students – one in Rehovot, and one in Tel Aviv – narrate to us their grim experiences.

I heard a siren... Soon, it became the scariest moment of my life... I was alone on the staircase for hours. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life

Gal Rapaport, an American-Israeli student

Living with anxiety and fear

One of the major challenges during in the latest bout of violence between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip was finding a safe space. The air-raid sirens and rocket salvos made people run for bomb shelters in Israel. Gal Rapaport, 24, an American-Israeli citizen and a student of Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security at IDC Herzliya in Tel Aviv, said that she was stuck on a staircase for hours as she rushed to a bomb shelter after a siren alert on May 11 in the middle of the night.

“I heard a siren, it was sudden and loud. Soon, it became the scariest moment of my life,” Gal told The Bridge Chronicle over a zoom call. “I was in my rooftop apartment, which doesn’t have a bomb shelter when I heard it. Hence, I ran inside the building and started knocking on people’s doors. Most people were already inside their bomb shelters within their homes so no one could hear me. I was alone on the staircase for hours. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life,” she added.

As Hamas unleashed a barrage of deadly rockets towards Tel Aviv and its environs, their high frequency would disrupt the nights and at times, go on relentlessly for hours. “In just a few minutes, I heard more than 30 explosions. I am still living in fear and stress,” said Gal.

The indiscriminate firing in the middle of the night has taken a toll on the collective mental health of people. “We are barely able to get sleep. The situation is bad. I have not been able to touch my computer for work or study. It is not something that we are used to. I am not able to focus. There is always anxiety within,” she said.

Our ears have now become extra sensitive to a siren’s ring and listening to that is the scariest. Especially, when you are not near a bomb shelter.

Gal Rapaport, an American-Israeli student

While it is hard to get work done in such turbulent times, Gal says that things might take a long time to be normal now or how they used to be. “The situation is worse and as someone who has resided in America, this isn’t normal. Now, you are always stressed when you’re outside, and you get scared when you get near a car. Even if you’re taking your dog out for a walk or going out to buy groceries down the street. Our ears have now become extra sensitive to a siren’s ring and listening to that is the scariest. Especially, when you are not near a bomb shelter. There is a constant thought of locating a bomb shelter near you if you are going out. I think it is very sad living this way. It is the kind of experience that wouldn’t leave you easily and will stay with you,” Gal said.

She feels that many Jews and Arabs have a shared perspective about peace. But due to the current conflict, emotions are running high everywhere. “There are so many Arabs or Jews that live in peace together in so many cities in Israel. It is very common in Israel for people to eat at restaurants, which belong to a different community, to celebrate together or attend weddings. It has been very integrated. But right now, things are just too heated and people have been blinded by anger and power,” she said.

There is a constant thought of locating a bomb shelter near you if you are going out... It's very sad living this way.

Gal Rapaport, an American-Israeli student

Social media: A medium of polarisation

Referring to the trending #FreePalestine on social media, Gal pointed out that the reality is being morphed due to a wrong representation of the truth online, which is being followed by netizens across the globe. “The real enemy is Hamas, not Israel,” she said, calling misrepresentation as one of the emerging, major factors of disputes today. “Yes, we do agree about freeing the Palestinians, but not from Israel. They need to be free from Hamas, a terrorist organisation that has taken control of Gaza. We are not the only people suffering from Hamas’ brutality, even those in Gaza are the sufferers,” Gal added.

Noting the protests and clashes are also taking place within mixed cities of Israel, Gal highlighted that only radicals seem to gain from this conflict. She said, “The world can witness what is going on on the streets of our cities. Radicals on both sides are taking the centre stage. Everyone is acting with their impulse and people are upset and hurt. This has gone too far. I wish people could realise it. The sooner, the better.”

People, who... have not witnessed life in a war zone, who don't understand conflict, are not having the right conversation on social media.

Itan Gabriel Shaham, an Israeli student

Itan Gabriel Shaham, 24, a first-year student at IDC Herzliya and someone who has performed his obligatory military service in combat units for Israel Defence Forces (IDF), feels social media platforms are used more cynically and systematically to manipulate the actual narrative and create polarisation. He believes that it is giving space for direct, unfiltered documentation of the realities on the ground.

“I expect more critical thinking from people in Europe, the United States,” Itan told The Bridge Chronicle. He added, “People, who are not living in the Middle East, have not witnessed life in a war zone, who do not understand conflict, are not having the right conversation on social media. The discussions there are creating more polarisation and some long-term misunderstandings. A lot of people on social media also try to relate to other social media campaigns which do not stand true to the Israel-Palestine context. I have seen netizens connecting the #FreePalestine movement with the #BlackLivesMatter in America on Twitter, which are two absolutely different faces of a coin.”

Two Israeli students narrate to us their grim experiences.
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He pointed out the need to understand the truth from an “objective standpoint” and the need for a balanced outlook on this subject. “Just seeing a graphic image of children without knowing the background story is not the right way of understanding a conflict or a topic as a whole,” he added.

Talking about whether the unrest could further escalate the tensions between Israeli Jews and Arabs in the region, Itan said that the extremists on both sides could help in deteriorating the situation. “Extremists are constantly on the lookout for headline-worthy actions. I think a real gesture and a conversation of peace should come from the government and the different welfare groups. At the same time, we also need to make sure that Israeli Arabs are met with their needs and their voices are heard,” he added.

As the ceasefire has come into force, war-weary students will look to shed away the misery and damage caused in the recent round of fighting.

Two Israeli students narrate to us their grim experiences.
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