Thinking about what could have been

It’s Sunday, Nov. 25, a sunny, crisp Jerusalem morning. We had quite a Thanksgiving — with an Israeli bent. Our small apartment was crowded with about 10 young Americans, friends of our daughter’s who have made aliyah, along with sons and daughters of friends of ours from Sacramento here on various programs. We were all coming down from what was our first experience with the immediacy of war: taking cover, listening for rockets, praying that we would be safe.

As we sat down for dinner, there was a knock at the door. It was Michael Schapira, a friend of our daughter’s who grew up at Palo Alto’s Congregation Kol Emeth and who had been called up with his reserve infantry unit. He had his battle fatigues on, an oversize pack on his shoulder, disheveled hair and a very weary look on his face, but with the hint of a grin.

Michael had come straight from his temporary camp along the Gaza Strip, where he spent the week waiting to see if he would be part of a ground operation. The cease-fire had gone into effect the night of Nov. 21, and Michael had been one of the lucky ones to be released from duty the next morning.

As the kids welcomed him, I thought of my two sons at Thanksgiving dinner in the Bay Area, and I thanked God that the war had come to an end — for now, at least.

The eight days before Thanksgiving had been among the most intense and surreal I have ever experienced. I jotted down some thoughts at about the midway point, and here they are:

Sunday, Nov. 18. Things are calm in Jerusalem today, while Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Ashkelon and a couple of other cities have been targeted by rockets. We went out to the open-air Mamilla Mall last night, and while it was not quite as crowded as usual, there were plenty of people, including tourists, out enjoying themselves.

Of course, we did note where we would go if the sirens went off. In fact, we decided that the parking garage was a much better bet than our apartment staircase.

Newer Israeli homes and apartments are all required to have safe rooms, rooms that are reinforced and that have one window that can be shut airtight. Older apartment buildings have basement shelters where residents can take cover, once they have been cleared out of all the old stuff that has been stored in them for years. Our apartment, which is even older, has nothing, so we are left with the choice of sprinting toward a public shelter a few hundred meters away or taking refuge in the stairwell, which we are told is the safest place in the building because of the number of walls between us and the outside of the building.

I keep telling my wife that the concrete stairs look like they will collapse with a hard knock of a hammer, let alone a rocket attack. Hopefully we will not find out whether I am right.

Michael Schapira of Palo Alto showed up fresh from reserve duty.

We are praying and hoping for peace. We have several friends and acquaintances whose sons are now being called up for a possible ground operation, and that is truly frightening. Everyone dreads the thought of a ground war. We know that most of the world will condemn us, that innocent people will die and suffer, and that we will lose wonderful young people.

However, as much as everyone hates the idea of a ground war, most people do not want a cease-fire unless it includes guarantees that the terrorist infrastructure is dismantled and the rockets are stopped long-term. Otherwise, we just go back to the way it was: rockets coming in whenever Hamas feels like it, and the world paying no attention.

It’s a funny way to fight a war. An IDF spokesman said today that 124 trucks carrying supplies crossed from Israel to Gaza since this morning. The trucks are carrying goods, medical supplies, dairy products and gas. The checkpoint between Israel and Gaza is being kept open so that diplomats, members of the press and other people with urgent business can get through.

In all of the years of rockets, in all the years that Gilad Shalit was kept captive, Israel has continued to supply water and electricity to Gaza. While rockets have targeted the electrical plant that supplies electricity to Gaza, killing Israelis, Israel has continued to supply electricity. The world expects Jews to fight a war this way, and only Jews would be crazy enough to do it.

My family often tells me that I dwell on the past too much. I confess that they are right.

In 2005 Israel unilaterally pulled out of Gaza. Every soldier, every civilian was gone. Greenhouses were left standing with the hope that the Palestinian people would continue growing products, and with the hope that they would plant the seeds of a new country.

Not only could the seeds of a country have come of this, but one of the key ingredients necessary for peace between Israelis and Palestinians could have flourished: trust. The message was clear: Start to develop your country, live in peace, and Israelis will feel safe in giving up more territory in the West Bank.

Instead, the Palestinians in Gaza freely elected Hamas, an Islamist terrorist group dedicated to the murder of Jews and the destruction of Israel. But Fatah still had some control in Gaza so, in a vivid demonstration of their commitment to peace and democracy, Hamas wrested complete power in a bloody and vicious war against their own brothers. They threw Fatah soldiers out of windows, they shot people in the knees, they tortured and they maimed.

And then they turned to Israel and started their campaign of rockets, terror, murder and kidnapping.

Yes, I do look back too much. But I cannot help thinking about what could have been.

Alan Edelstein, a Sacramento lobbyist for 30 years, made aliyah and lives in Jerusalem about seven months a year. He blogs at, where portions of this piece first appeared.