You don’t know me, but this past January you did something that’s been rattling around my mind ever since. It was the middle of the afternoon in Sderot, Israel. We were on separate tours of the same local police station. I had no idea what our guide was about to show us, but I can tell you right now that what we saw impacted me more than it did you.
During my trip, I was told that at any given time, a siren could sound. I would only have about 10 seconds to run to the nearest bomb shelter. They were scattered across the city, attached to schools and homes, pretending to be bus stops or parts of playgrounds. Spotting one wasn’t difficult, but getting to one in less than 10 seconds is a different story. To get an idea of how short an amount of time that is, my group of 30 students tried a drill. Two people tripped and fell. Less than half of our group “survived.”
Laying less than a mile from the Gaza Strip, Sderot has been under constant rocket fire from Hamas since 2001. Rocket attacks have happened so frequently that 96% of the population suffers from Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. The slightest sound bearing resemblance to a siren or a crash can trigger a panic attack or hyperventilation in many of the city’s citizens. Many people admit to being awoken at night by intense nightmares or flashbacks of rocket fire. These attacks have claimed the lives of 13 people, injured dozens more, and have drastically changed these people’s way of life. At one point, 1,628 bombs were launched into Sderot in the span of only 6 months. That comes out to three or four explosions every day.
I heard stories of school children that were maimed while playing soccer.
I heard stories of elderly people refusing help during an alarm.
I learned that my program coordinator’s children scream during their sleep.
They developed stutters.
They ask him why they left the United States to live in a place where people want to kill them.
They want to fight back.
I was speechless. I didn’t say a word for the majority of that day. Neither did my close friend, he just chain smoked to calm his nerves. I didn’t question it.
But what you did made me want to scream.
The police station had a collection of rocket shrapnel that was either shot down, or landed somewhere in the city. There were stacks of them.
Columns were seven feet high and stretched across the entire wall. They were coded. Written across their rusted shells were the dates they were fired and the locations they struck. I could only imagine the types of days they interrupted, the slow quiet walks they ruined, the smiles they stole, or the buildings they destroyed.
But you imagined something different. You were laughing. You were posing. Holding the rockets up as trophies, like someone had given you a new gift. You flexed your muscles as cameras lit up. Your friends took dozens of photos and yet you kept going further. You posed with the rocket again, but this time you pretended that it was your penis. You fondled a Hamas rocket and rubbed it like it was your pride and joy.
I disagree with the notion that negative attention is still attention. What you did devalues human life. You took the scars and pain of an entire region and turned it into a photo shoot for Instagram. What you held in your hands destroyed more than just a street or a small shop. Rockets exactly like it have blinded, crippled, and killed people. They have taken children from their loving parents and fathers from their families. They have turned two neighboring peoples into enemies. The acquiescence and ignorance of the Arab-Israeli conflict’s foreign audience is preventing peace and progress. You have done nothing to change that. You have done nothing but prove to the world that your ego needs building.
Learn some empathy. Educate yourself. Please.