We Turn our Dead to Heroes

March 16th, 2006, was the first time I ever cut class….

I skipped math, in order to study for a history exam, and I was sitting in a library, inside of a school, up on the beautiful Carmel Mountain in the city of Haifa. Landscapes of my childhood. I was 15 years old, the youngest of three siblings; Ido – a fighter in the paratroopers commando unit, and Hilla – my eldest sister.

That morning, while I was studying about the emergence of the Zionist movement- on the other side of town, a knock was heard on the door of my house.

I remember that on my way to school, that day, we knew my brother was on a special operation somewhere in the west bank – and my parents were worried.

As I was studding, hiding in the library – I was suddenly found by a teacher, and summoned to the Principal’s office. I was sure I was in trouble, and planned how to promise never to miss another class in my life. But in the office – three officers were waiting for me.

“You may want to sit down”, one said. I didn’t want to sit – but I did. “Noa, your brother Ido was killed last tonight during an operation in Jenin”. I was silent. I did not know what to say or think.

My brother was such a geek. During high school he was quiet, shy and introverted. When he joined the army everything changed. From a tall, skinny boy he became a young strong man. He opened up to people and everyone could see the change in him. He was my mentor, my friend, my brother… But now he is gone. Later we learned he was killed from “friendly fire”. His friend shot him by mistake during a military operation.

Ido is one of tens of thousands of soldiers that have died since 1948 – the year Israel was established. On the other side of this story – there are countless Palestinian families that have lost their sons and daughters.

Before my brother was killed, the conflict was present, but not personal. Afterwards – it became my mission to influence the conflict that changed my life. It might have been easier to hate, to be scared – but I choose different.

Since 2006, a lot has happed. Two wars were fought, I graduated, joined the military, finished my service – and now I am here with New story leadership to middle east, spending the summer in the United States, interning for the Obama campaign.

What I am learning more about is the relationship between the United States and Israel, and how it is grounded in foreign aid, that has gradually grown to 3.1 billion dollars a year. The special bond between the two countries is undeniable – but it has an obstacle. Let me explain:

I define myself progressive. But the progressive voice is weak in the Israeli political system. And yet – The Israeli left shares the values America stands for, and sends her children to fight for overseas: democracy; morality; equal human rights to all regardless of religion, race and gender. These values – are pushed aside in the Israeli discourse. Meanwhile – The reactionary government gets funds that preserve the status quo of the conflict.

Every year, lobby-ists who live comfortably in New York, Boston – thousands of miles away from the conflict zone – lobby in favor of that yearly grant. They influence decisions that are being made right here – on this hill – regarding my life.
You may think that the American tax payer money supports a policy that promotes peace and stability. Unfortunately I believe it does the opposite.

But there is more to it: In the last few weeks I attended several conferences about the Middle East, with some high profile speakers, and understood a sad reality – the Issues discussed were Syria, Iran nuclear crisis, the Arab spring, the election in Libya – the Israeli Palestinian conflict was dropped to the list. Hearing Ambassador Dennis Ross address the Israeli- Palestinian issue last in his speech in the New America Foundation – made me realize where our peace process is on president Obama’s desk.

Interning for the Obama campaign taught me that this election revolves around the economy, and foreign policy issues will not sway a voter to change his mind.

The world and the American public have gotten used to our conflict. Out of sight out of mind. When the conflict was discussed in the conferences or even hearings on this hill: the same old solutions were on the table, with a strong scent of despair and lack of faith.

America has chosen sides, supposedly my side – and it gives my government legitimacy not to act.
BUT the international community and especially the United States must play a strong and significant role, it must push both sides back to the negotiation table. Let the moderate voices be heard, my voice be heard – and all other voices that understand – that we have had ENOUGH!

I stand here, surrounded by walls that have heard some of the greatest American legislative leaders, and I want to say: reality is complicated, more complicated than Israel VS Palestine. don’t choose sides. But on the other hand, don’t let us get away from our responsibility to reach a solution as soon as possible.

I feel the fierce urgency of the now. It’s been said before me: “There is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism”.

Too many lives were lost.

For too long we have been trapped in an endless cycle of violence.
For too long we were held hostage by the hands of fear and despair.
For too long we have allowed ourselves to sit aside.

Meanwhile, the earth is starting to move in Israel: after the people of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt overthrow dark regimes, Israeli society is starting to open its eyes. What started from a single tent in the middle of the city I live in, Tel Aviv – turned into a significant movement that demands social justice. This past weekend – frustration has gotten to such a level – that Moshe Silman, an Israeli working class truck driver set himself on fire, and woke us up. The reality is knocking on our door.

The youth of Israel is starting to take responsibility for its future, and I hope that the protesters will understand that a society cannot be healthy in the times of war. We cannot have a utopian society, while 50 miles away people’s human rights are violated. Social justice and peace are interlinked.

When I go home, in four weeks, I will join the demonstrations in the streets of Tel Aviv. I will do all that I can to combine the voice of peace with the voice of social justice. In a year – I will start school, and hopefully, in about 20 years – I will come back here, to this building – as an elected official of my country. This summer has taught me that no matter how appealing the American dream may look to a foreigner – there is one place in the world where I am needed the most – and that is home.

In retrospect, we have the tendency to justify our actions – our wars, our dead – and turn them into myths. We turn our dead to heroes and we glorify the cause they were killed for. I don’t – my brother, Ido, died for a conflict that should have ended a long time ago. It is not justified. Nothing was worth it.

We need new myths, we need a new story, and this is the beginning of my butterfly effect. This group, of amazing leaders who are here with me today– are already telling a new story.

Wish us luck!

by Noa Shapira

New Story Leadership 276 Carroll Street NW Washington, DC 20012 Phone: 240-476-1123