My Brother Went to War in Gaza, I Stayed Back as Amnesty International Israel Director

Palestinians salvage items from the rubble of destroyed buildings in part of Gaza City's al-Tufah neighbourhood as the fragile ceasefire in the Gaza Strip entered a second day on August 6, 2014. (Photo credit: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

Palestinians salvage items from the rubble of destroyed buildings in part of Gaza City’s al-Tufah neighborhood as the fragile ceasefire in the Gaza Strip entered a second day on August 6, 2014 (Photo credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images).

By Yonatan Gher, Executive Director, Amnesty International Israel

My brother and I are experiencing the current Israel-Gaza conflict quite differently. He is 20, serving out his military service and has been fighting in Gaza. I, on the other hand, am the Executive Director of Amnesty International Israel, an organization that is now heavily involved in documenting and campaigning on apparent crimes perpetrated by both sides of this conflict. I am also a conscientious objector.

My position does not diminish from the fact that I spend my days worried sick about him and other family members in similar situations. When you have such complexity in a family situation, humor is often the best approach, and so we joke sometimes that if the rest of the world heeds Amnesty International’s call for an arms embargo, I’ll be coming for his gun first.

In this part of the world, humor is one of our ways of dealing with situations that are so terribly sad. From the start of this conflict, more than 1,800 Palestinians and 64 Israeli soldiers as well as three civilians in Israel have been killed. Each and every one of these lives lost – children, babies, elderly people, women, men, in Gaza and Israel alike – is tragic.

When you have such complexity in a family situation, humor is often the best approach, and so we joke sometimes that if the rest of the world heeds Amnesty International’s call for an arms embargo, I'll be coming for his gun first.

Public discourse in Israel seeks relativity: If you must express sadness over people dying in Gaza, at least don’t be as sad as when it’s an Israeli that is killed. And make sure to note it’s Hamas’s fault, too. Plain simple sadness means that there must be something wrong with you: you must care about them more than about your own people. Traitor.

As I refuse to take part in this, and instead see every life as sacred, without relativity, without context and without justification, I find human rights discourse to be a good refuge. While human rights are a legal framework, they are built on the basis of a higher moral code of the nations of the world at their best. We in Israel ought to have a special affinity towards human rights, as they were created in the aftermath of World War II, as the world’s way of saying ‘never again.’

Nations came together then and decided that there must be limits to the absolute power a nation has over its own citizens, as well as those in countries with whom it is at war. It is a code that has existed in Judaism for centuries: Arvut Hadadit, mutual responsibility between all people, or as Amnesty International often refers to it: Solidarity. The idea is that countries will involve themselves in each other’s business to assure that a set of collectively adopted rights will be granted to each and every person in the world.

Israel has been consistent in its support for the creation of human rights instruments. This includes the active role Israel took in establishing the Refugee Convention in the 1950s, or some good first steps on the Arms Trade Treaty, which was adopted just last year.

Yet, as we have witnessed countless times, Israel has one standard for the rest of the world, and another for itself. Actions which amount to clear violations of human rights when another country commits them, are coined ‘political’ when they happen here, and if you criticize those actions you’ll be accused of ‘ignoring the context,’ or Israel’s favorite: ‘criticizing us is anti-Semitic.’

It’s 2:30 a.m., and I have just pulled my five year old son out of bed. I am holding him in the stairwell – our designated ‘safe zone’ – as the missile siren wails. In a minute, we’ll hear a few loud bangs, which we hope will be the Iron Dome intercepting rockets; rockets that were sent to kill us.

My son spends his mornings in kindergarten, hearing about the soldiers protecting us. He boasts about his own uncle the brave soldier. The children draw pictures which are sent to the combating army units and hung up on tanks and artillery. In the evening, during another siren, he asks me whether there are sirens in Gaza too. I explain that kids in Gaza have none, nor do they have an Iron Dome. “What protects kids there?” he asks.

It seems that the last line of protection for kids in Gaza, for my kid, and for all civilians on both sides of this conflict, is the upholding of human rights. I truly hope that more people around the world take action, to call on all fighting parties to stop targeting civilians, and on their own countries to utilize the International Criminal Court and to impose arms embargoes, to keep us all safe.

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10 thoughts on “My Brother Went to War in Gaza, I Stayed Back as Amnesty International Israel Director

  1. Your brother is a murderer and you know as well as all Palestinians know – the Hamas missiles are nothing but fireworks. Why do you choose to live in Israel with your children knowing that Israel occupies and kills civilians.. I like how your sincere article doesn't fail to mention the fault being on both sides.. I'd like to correct that, if I may.. Get out of Palestine, and you shouldn't have any missile concerns!!

    • Of course Israel can just sit there and not respond to all the rocket fire ,because most of the rockets are either in schools ,or hospital basements .In other words if you fire rockets from a school yard you have your own iron dome no one should touch you .I'm afraid you are over the top ,and what do you say when Israel warns you to leave your home before it will be destroyed ,and Hamas urges you to stay .And answer me with $91 million worth of concrete in Gaza ,why are there are no bomb shelters , and for that high price Hamas is only able to kill a handful of people which breaks down to millions of dollars for every Israeli killed .And you like the media show the same clips of injured children ,I hear around 300 killed BUT over 900 militants killed why not show their bodies.

  2. It's just so sad that the root cause of the ongoing conflict cannot be sorted once and for all.
    I really am pessimistic however that Palestinians will ever truly accept Israel, after all , their lives , properties, everything since israrl was formed have been changed.

  3. The reason there are no sirens in Gaza is because they have been on a war footting for years. There Human Rights record is not that good either. Israel has something to do improve its record, but Hamas has a clear agenda that doesn't allow for free speech, so you'll never hear about any violations.

    Liberman's suggestion of a UN mandate sounds better. Kossovo ain't perfect, but there is no war. It's not really independent, but the arrangement seems to work. Albanians and Serbs hate each other, but not enough to kill each other in a war. Were we to get to that stage, I would be happy.

  4. If I did not have tanks and fighters and bombers and guided missiles how could I possibly fight back on an open battlefield? I just met a blonde AMERICAN girl helping replant olive trees which Israeli settlers burned and the big bad Israeli soldiers deported her after bullying her . I am real impressed…….

  5. I purely agree with this author. The UN needs to step in as this situations monitor and restore humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. Israel requires no further aid from the USA as it is behaving like a terrorist. Both nations need the neutrality and reconciliation within the halls of the UNITED NATIONS and the International Court of Justice. Sanctions on Israel must be advised and the Palestinians need a new Leader.

  6. Shame on ur Mr. Executive DIrectior as u care abt ur children but also review the other side of picture that isreali forces killing the children in gaza those children r more innocent than urs…and i m sorry to say fuck u amnesty international if u have such executive directors sorry