For Israeli Millennials, Already War-Weary


Jerusalem — Since early July, Sharon Turgeman, a 25-year-old resident of Jerusalem, has been glued to every news broadcast related to Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, Israel’s month-long military operation against Hamas.

Although Turgeman, interviewed while picking up something at a jewelry store in south Jerusalem mall, wasn’t called up for reserve duty in Gaza, his heart “was there the entire time.”

On Monday, the day before Israel announced it had agreed to a 72-hour cease-fire and withdrawn all its ground troops from Gaza, the accounting student predicted the latest military operation will bring “at most a few months of calm and then there will be trouble again: more attacks from Gaza, some sort of response from Israel, another attack from Gaza, and then some quiet.”

Although convinced that “there is no solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Turgeman, who finished his regular army service four years ago, said he has never considered living anywhere else.

“My family is here, my friends are here. ‘Ain lee eretz acheret,’” he said, reciting the words of a famous Israeli song meaning, “I have no other land.”

The war in Gaza has been particularly hard on Israel’s 20- and 30-somethings, not least because they are often the ones serving in the regular army or called up for reserve duty or have friends and siblings who were.

While many younger people felt brash and defiant at the outset of the war, by early August many were physically and emotionally exhausted not only by the actual rockets but also international efforts to delegitimize Israel via demonstrations, boycotts and rabid comments on social media.

“At first everyone was taking selfies in the bomb shelter. We were cracking jokes,” said Sarah Tuttle-Singer, the 33-year-old new media editor of The Times of Israel just hours after Tuesday’s cease-fire went into effect. “There was the sense we’re not going to let this hurt our spirit.”

That began to change, Tuttle-Singer said, around the time of Israel’s ground offensive, when the number of casualties in both Israel and Gaza began to rise dramatically.

Now, she said, the atmosphere is a lot more subdued.

“There is a pall of stress from the rockets, but also from the awareness that the international community doesn’t acknowledge our suffering.”

When Tuttle-Singer, one of her paper’s most popular bloggers, wrote about the stress of rushing to the bomb shelter with her two small children, “some people commented that I have no right to complain about cowering in a shelter” because unlike the Palestinians “I at least have a shelter.”

Right now, she said, the young people she encounters are trying to be resilient, all the while knowing the next call-up notice could be around the corner.

“People are very resolute but also very tired,” Tuttle-Singer said. “They’ve been going through this since they were embryos.”

This weariness is also a central theme of a Jerusalem Post essay by Daniel Gordis, a writer and senior vice president of the Shalem College in Jerusalem.

“Behind all the chatter — the politicians’ proclamations … and all the organizations correctly trumpeting the legitimacy of Israel’s cause and the necessity of this horrific war” is “a hurting Israel,” Gordis writes.

Recalling a recent encounter with a somber, war-weary 20-something waitress in Jerusalem, Gordis noted “a sadness here among the ‘kids’ in their 20s, a quiet desperation. It’s not that we can’t “win” — they know we can. It’s just that they believe there will never be an end to this.”

Gordis, who is in his 50s, said the younger generation needs to have a reason to continue to live here.

Israel’s high-tech boom “is dazzling, but it’s not a reason for a Jewish state. World-class Israeli wines are fun to drink, but they, too, are not the reason we’re here.

“So why are we here? That’s the question which is going to hang heavily over this country when the uniforms return to the closets and the guns get put away. It’s the question these kids will want to hear their society discussing. They will want to know that this is a fight for our homes, but also for a vision. They want to believe that this fight is worth the lives of the children they haven’t yet had.”

For Oren Ableman, a 32-year-old doctoral student, the most recent conflict with Hamas was an important event “that showed me again the problems within Israeli society” but that did not shake his fundamental faith in the country or its people.

“At the beginning of this military operation, I saw racism and attacks against people who are Jewish, and the same people delegitimizing left-wing views and people,” said Ableman, who describes himself as religious and ‘left-leaning’ politically. “It makes me feel helpless because I’m not sure what to do about it, but I’m also not willing to give up hope that we can create a more moderate, more tolerant society.”

Ableman emphasized that, like other Israelis, “my entire life does not revolve around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Personally I think there are a lot of other issues brushed aside by politicians, such as issues of social welfare, the relationship between religion and state and the high price of housing.”

The doctoral student said he is “proud” of being Israeli, and that the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement that gained so much traction during the war “is in the best case naïve and in the worst case anti-Semitic and hurts the very people it’s supposed to help.”

At the soap and fragrance store where she works in Jerusalem, Tamar Tzemach, 27, shook her head vigorously when asked whether she sees a solution to the conflict.

“I don’t really have faith there can be peace unless we get rid of Hamas, and with all the international pressure on Israel over children killed in Gaza, that’s not going to happen.”

Tzemach, who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union when she was 15, said the lack of peace hasn’t tempted her to emigrate.

“I’ve never thought of leaving, even during the end of the second intifada, when things were blowing up. Ain lee eretz acheret.”

Tuttle-Singer said the young Israelis, especially the immigrants she’s met from around the world, “feel a sense of love for this place and a responsibility to make it better. There are so many things that are right about this country, and many things that need to be fixed.”

Israel, she said, “is a work in progress.”