I am afraid.
I am afraid of the rockets. I am afraid they will come in the middle of the night and, defying the millions-to-one odds, murder my children in their sleep. When the sirens wail, I race to grab them from their beds and flee toward shelter.
I am afraid to drive through East Jerusalem and the West Bank right now. I have a friend whose car windows were struck last month by rage-filled Palestinian rocks, whose baby was covered in shattered glass, who only by a miracle emerged unharmed. As we drive, I picture my children’s heads smashed by stones, I imagine screaming at them to put their heads between their knees, mentally willing my husband to keep driving, keep driving.
I am afraid of the racism seeping through my fear. As I was picking up my son from school, an Arab woman sat on the steps leading down to the preschool to smoke her cigarette. I wondered if I should be suspicious, if I needed to warn someone. I eyed her bag to see if it might hold a bomb.
I am afraid to speak up when a fearful mother suggests to the preschool parents’ listserve that we should hire a security guard because there are Arab workers renovating the school next door – making the place better for our children – and they might be terrorists. I hate that I understand her fear. And I hate that I’m not brave enough to counter it with reason, humanity, humility.
I am afraid friends and family will sense my fear, that it will bolster and justify and amplify their own. I am afraid they will worry about me, worry about Israel, allow their fears for Israel to completely eclipse concerns for Palestinian life and freedom.
I am afraid that without a common language we will become ever more deeply entrenched in conflict, never be able to connect as human beings. That we will never be one society no matter how many civil rights we give our Arab citizens (so much imbalanced power in those words, “we”, “give”). But I am afraid to send my children to the Jewish-Arab school – afraid of the reactions of family and friends, afraid of ostracism, of disappointment, of being thought a traitor.
I am afraid my children will grow up seeing Arabs as the Eternal Other. That they will imbibe the collective fear-blurred-with-hatred that surrounds us at all times. I am afraid I already have.
I am afraid to ask questions: If the tunnels were in fact designed to attack military targets does that make them a little less bad? Are there genuine similarities between Palestinians kidnapping soldiers and us taking prisoners and holding them indefinitely without charges? Is this purely a war of defense, or are there things we could and should have done differently to try to prevent it that make us partly responsible? (I am just asking, not answering one way or the other. I am afraid to write without disclaimers. I am afraid even asking questions will be seen as an unforgivable betrayal. I am afraid of losing you as a friend.)
I am afraid of us, afraid of the power that has come hand-in-hand with our security. I am afraid of those yelling “death to Arabs”, but I am even more scared of whatever it is about our society that has emboldened them to shout such obscenities in public, filled with pride.
I am afraid that as my confidence grows I will lose my humility.
I am afraid nothing will change before my eldest is drafted for the army in ten years. I am afraid he will be killed. I am afraid he will kill. I am afraid for his innocent soul.
I am afraid of you, because you are also afraid, and the more we share our fear the more it threatens to strengthen its hold on us and paralyze us.
I was afraid in Boston too. As a young, single woman I grew anxious every time I saw a black man walking near me at night. I felt guilty every time I crossed to the other side of the street, wanted to tell him, “it’s not you, it’s me.” I would have been scared of Michael Brown. I despaired at the realization that fear-based racism was infinitely more insidious than the normal, ignorance-based, hate-based kinds, infinitely more difficult to address. I hated that I could feel so enlightened and so guilty and still feel so afraid.
As bad as it is there, in America, where tear gas is billowing and policemen have become soldiers, it feels worse here, in this land of stones and rockets and collective memories of gas chambers and babies killed on exploding buses. I am afraid we shall never even begin to overcome.
Someday. Some day, I tell myself, I will transcend the fear and guilt and despair of impotence and figure out how to help do something about it. Hopefully in time for my children to grow up with even just a little less fear.
I am afraid.