By Suzanne Berkovitz, 17, Beverly Hills HS
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One evening, as I was driving home with my father, we began to discuss the war in Iraq. I was completely opposed to war at the time; I told my dad how sorry I felt for the Iraqi civilians, like the starving children receiving yellow bags of donated food, as well as the American soldiers who were risking their lives. My dad got more and more furious as I spoke, and finally exclaimed, "You, like the majority of Americans, do not understand who we are fighting and why. You have no idea what it feels like to be an Israeli. You are naïve and should not voice an opinion on a matter that you do not fully understand."

I felt so offended; what right did my father have to shut me out like that and not even listen to what I had to say? Why did he seem to blame me for the conflict in Israel, which was something I had no control over? I told my dad, "We obviously don’t agree because we grew up in different worlds—you grew up in Israel and I was raised in America."

As tensions grew, our voices grew louder and we began to shout at one another. I asked my father, "Well, what if there is an Iraqi girl who is 17 years old, like me, and studies to be a doctor. Then, she is suddenly killed on her way to school by a misdirected bomb. How do you justify that?" My father sarcastically replied, "Well, what about the dozens of 17-year-old Israeli teens murdered in the discotheque or in the school bus heading to Haifa University?"

How insensitive, I thought. I mean, of course I feel bad for all the Israeli teens that died, but how could he justify death with death? Then my dad said Iraq was a cancer and should not be allowed to be the parasite of the Arab world, attacking other nations and killing its own citizens. He said that America, as the stronger nation, should wipe the Iraqi regime out. He said in life, it’s survival of the fittest. Hearing my father say that made chills run up and down my spine. I had learned about Darwin’s theory in science, applied to animals, but this is not how people should live. It’s so scary to think that we are all fighting one another to see who will survive.

The argument between me and my father ended when we got home, but it wasn’t finished in my mind. As I watched television that evening, I started wondering, what would make my dad feel the way that he does? I mean, he’s not an unfeeling person in general, so what would make him so cold when it came to the war in Iraq? Was he right to feel that Iraq should be bombed, or was I right to feel bad for Iraqi civilians? And what about me? I support Israel, but I am also against the war. Does that make me a hypocrite?

I tried to imagine what it might feel like to be in my father’s place, to be Israeli. Since its founding in 1948, Israel has been under attack by Palestinians, who have been supported by radicals in Iraq and other Arab nations. I wondered, what would it be like to know that the café where you are meeting your best friend for lunch could be the site of the next suicide bombing?

"It’s kill or be killed"

I had so many pressing questions, I began talking to my Israeli friends at Beverly Hills High, looking for answers. Ariel Hecht, 16, was not at all shocked by my dad’s view that only the fittest survive. He agreed, saying, "In Israel, it’s kill or be killed."

Adam Dayan, a junior who has much of his family in Israel, tried to explain to me the feeling of constantly being under siege. He compared it to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. "9/11 was extremely horrific but America just got a taste of what Israel feels all the time. There are constant bombings—so many that you can’t keep track. It’s frightening how everyone is taking precautions; you can feel it everywhere you go. It feels like there’s someone watching you—you have to slow down before you enter a bus or a movie theater. Last time I went to Israel, a mall was bombed the very next day after I went there. You know something will happen—you just have this foreboding feeling."

I remembered an interview that I heard on the news a few years ago. An Israeli teen said when he got on a bus, he only listened to songs he liked on his Walkman, because he wasn’t sure if he would make it out of the bus alive. I suddenly felt selfish for complaining about having to carry a heavy backpack to school, when some Israelis have to carry a gas mask to school or work. The more I thought about what life in Israel was like, the more I thought of being lost in an appalling nightmare.

My father’s pro-war stance was starting to make sense to me. My respect was growing for my Israeli friends, too. I admired them for just living their lives normally, even though there’s so much violence. I admired the pride they take in their culture and history. My friend Ariel embarrassed me with his knowledge of Israeli history; he knew the dates and conflicts of every war, while I don’t even know the name of the president of Ukraine, where my mother was born.

I see people with bumper stickers that say, "War is not the answer." I want to ask them, "Well, what is?" How could we have stopped Saddam Hussein without going to war? I certainly don’t advocate killing people, but I have to admit, diplomacy didn’t work. And now that the war is over, it wasn’t as horrific as I thought it would be at the time of the argument with my father. I don’t want to admit it, but maybe war did help the Iraqi people.

That doesn’t mean I think life is the survival of the fittest, as my father said. Maybe I am naïve, but I’d like to see the world as a loving place. I’d like to think we can figure out how to solve our problems without killing each other. I’m too idealistic, I know, everybody says that. But my Israeli friends and my father don’t have the luxury of sharing my views. They have seen too much violence, and known too much fear. I understand now that they are pro-war, not because they’re ignorant or belligerent, but because they feel they have to be.

It was awesome to be able to see the strength, realism, and devotion of my father and my friends. I respect their point of view. At the same time, I can’t imagine going through life wondering when the next bomb will go off. I can’t live that way, and I hope I will never have to.