The third in a series of opinion columns by Laura Marks, who has spent the last month in Israel during Operation Protective Edge.
Sporting a light Tel Aviv tan and carrying my obligatory Dead Sea hand cream, I returned to the UK this week having spent nearly a month living in Israel and learning as much as I could about the Gaza conflict.
As the fighting resumed last weekend and the sirens around us screamed after ten days of calm, I paused to consider where we stand.
The UJIA’s excellent mission, as well as meetings this last week with BICOM, HE Matthew Gould, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, a teacher in Jerusalem, and a communications advisor with her two children in the IDF, have left me pessimistic about the chances of an imminent robust peace.
Short term, ‘slugging it out’ seems to be the order of the day but it is hard to see this as anything other than expediency. At the same time, the horrific news of the brutal murder of James Foley and the summary, brutal execution of 18 ‘informers’ by Hamas, with not even the semblance of a trial, brings home to anyone still in doubt that the forces of militant extremism are real, are international and are in our own back yard.
But this last week also made me think about kindness and giving, which I saw on an extraordinary scale amid the pessimism and violence. The mission, for example, introduced us to Professor Mooli Lahad, a specialist in Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and his work with the children in the South of Israel who will carry the scars of this conflict deep in their souls for years to come.
Equally encouraging was learning about the work being undertaken with traumatised Palestinian children – tragically no child will experience war unscathed. Similarly, at Tel Hashomer Sheba medical centre I met three soldiers, barely out of their teens, coming to terms with shattered bodies but fixated on the need for peace.
We saw the care dedicated to these young Jewish victims of the conflict and we were also so proud to hear both about the field hospitals on the Gaza border treating Palestinians and the hospitals in the North of Israel trying to support the massive humanitarian crisis facing the Syrian people and turning no one away.
I listened to Brigadier General Eival Gilady, to Dr Danny Gold, the genius who invented the extraordinary Iron Dome, and to HE Ambassador Gould. Gilady, maybe as an Israeli, was more upbeat whilst the British ambassador was, not surprisingly, more cautious.
The Ambassador focused us on the importance of the relationship between Israel and the UK and, after years working in communications myself, I don’t need to be told that Israel is fighting not just a military but also a tough PR battle.
But the Ambassador’s final plea that we must keep on building bridges felt like a meaningful way for us as British Jews to move forwards. Those bridges need to be built right here at home and, with Interfaith Mitzvah Day and Interfaith Week fast approaching, now is the time to get started.
I left my daughter in Israel for a few more days, whilst my husband, son and I reluctantly boarded our El Al plane for London and a rainy bank holiday. She phoned the next day, huddled in the stairwell as renewed fighting broke out.
I left a country facing challenges beyond anything we can imagine here – even now when our community feels so vulnerable. But what lifted my spirits was the determination I saw to survive with dignity and with consideration for people on both sides of the conflict.
I saw remarkable examples of care for wounded Palestinians, of unparalleled technological advances and of people committed to finding a path to peace.
Humbled by such determination, I returned home ready for work.