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An insider’s perspective on the conflict in Gaza

I walked the Tel-Aviv pier with my cousins and aunt on day two of the Israeli aerial attacks in Gaza. I saw Israelis and tourists go about their business like nothing was happening.

About every half hour I heard the deafening roar of a Black Hawk helicopter or a combat plane heading south toward Gaza. After I saw that first Black Hawk, reality hit me and it hit me hard: I wasn’t in Tampa anymore.

Fortunately for me and my family, Tel Aviv is about 45 miles north of Gaza. According to, Hamas’ rockets have a maximum range of only 18 miles — that was the only reason everyone in the city felt they didn’t have to worry about an attack.

But what if Hamas’ rockets’ range wasn’t so short? According to a study conducted by the Lone Star Times, people living within Hamas’ current range have between 15 and 45 seconds to get to safety before the rocket impacts them. I would have had one minute and 45 seconds.

Think about everything you can do in 15 to 45 seconds. It probably took you somewhere within that time range to read the previous paragraph.

Military service is compulsory in Israel for every teenager coming out of high school, and the Israeli teenagers I knew accepted that. Men must stay in the army, air force or navy for at least three years, and women have to serve for at least two.

Many of them, like the eight pilots that joined my Hillel Birthright— a Jewish group that makes it possible for college students to visit Israel for free — count the days until it’s over.

One of the pilots who roomed with me during the trip told me that despite all that, they wouldn’t have it any other way. They were proud to serve their country.

During my 10 days with Hillel Birthright, 47 students and I were in this very safe bubble, concealed from the outside world.

We would never approach dangerous cities such as Gaza, the West Bank or East Jerusalem. When Hamas launched 60 rockets at Israel to start the conflict, we only received a five-minute explanation about what was going on from our tour guide. We had no worries. We were having fun.

We spent a night in the desert, rode a camel, went to the Western Wall and were too busy to stop and think about the gravity of the situation.

But after those 10 days ended, the bubble burst. I saw on Israeli TV the massive explosions and Palestinian women and children dying.

My cousin Eitan, who also happens to be joining the Israeli Air Force, told me all about Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s appearance on Palestinian television. Olmert gave a warning to Hamas because it had been launching rockets at Israel for eight years and the Israeli people couldn’t take it anymore. If Hamas didn’t stop, he said, the consequences would be dire.

Hamas didn’t stop. In fact, the statement seemed to embolden the group, which kept launching rockets then as it keeps launching rockets now.

A few days after Hamas launched 60 rockets into Israeli territory, Israel counterattacked.  Surprisingly, the world seems to be shocked by Israeli retaliation.

Imagine you live in a neighborhood where most of your neighbors wants to blow your house to pieces, and one of them relentlessly throws stones at your windows. How long would it take you to snap and retaliate? Israel restrained itself for eight years, but enough was enough.

The bottom line is this: It doesn’t matter who started the conflict. The only thing that matters now is how to stop it. It has been 60 years since Israel gained its independence. Since then it has had to fend off Palestine, Egypt and Syria, among others, from trying to take over part or all of its territory.

People seem to have concluded that since this resentment has existed for so long it’s inevitable, but it’s not. I refuse to believe it is. Hamas was repudiated by Egypt, and that is an important step for the Arab community, but there is still more to be accomplished.

According to the Jordan Times, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” at the 2005 World Without Zionism conference in Teheran.

As long as people like Ahmadinejad are in power, terrorism will keep growing and peace will never be possible.

If peace is to be achieved, Muslim children need to have a book and a map that includes Israel in their hands, not an AK-47 and a bomb. It’s time to change.

Martin Bater is a senior majoring in journalism