Gaza: More than Meets the Eye
There are many people – at UC Irvine and beyond – who like to believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a clear-cut case of good versus Evil but a simple talk with fifth-year computer science major Jacob Marash is more than enough to help one see that the conflict is full of unforgiving complexities.
Marash served in the Israel Defense Forces from 2002 to the end of 2005 in an infantry brigade unit called Givati. He finished his service as a first lieutenant and second in command of a company. Givati served exclusively in Gaza, but Marash served in the West Bank as well. During that time, he has seen combat action in Nablus, Qalqilyah, Jenin and in Gaza, from Gaza City to Rafa.
He dealt with finding and inspecting smuggling tunnels, often used by Hamas to transport weapons. He has had to search for Hamas missile-launching sites, gathering intelligence and informants, apprehending wanted terrorists and using camouflage to ambush terrorist cells trying to sneak into Israel.
“Once I was in a Palestinian neighborhood when we caught a suicide bomber. He was seventeen,” Marash said, leaning back reflectively. “So we had to go to his house and check it for accomplices and explosives at two in the morning. This is always very dangerous; you have 20 soldiers in enemy territory controlled by Hamas. When we’re checking the rooms and opening closets, there could be someone with an AK-47 in there. You never know.”
Once Marash’s unit secured the house and began searching it for weapons, Marash took the suicide bomber’s mother aside.
“I wanna ask you a question; I grew up in a right-wing family. My parents were in the IDF. My father served in the Yom Kippur War and always told me I had to serve, too. But when my turn came, my mom was reluctant for me to go. I asked her why, and she said, ‘Ethics don’t matter when it comes to your kids. Forget Israel, I don’t want my kid to be in danger.’ So as much as you hate Israel, how can you send your child to go kill himself? There’s no chance of him coming back and he’s only seventeen.”
At that point, the woman looked at Marash in the eyes, replying in a non-chalant manner.
“I don’t answer to you or anyone. Only to Allah.”
Before the Israeli pullout of Gaza in 2005, Marash’s unit was stationed at an intersection between a main Palestinian-only road and Kisufim, the only Israeli road in Gaza. The intersection, Marash explained, was a hot target for terrorist attacks because hostile Palestinian drivers had the opportunity to attack nearby Israeli drivers – one of the reasons for the segregation of the roads in the first place. After Palestinian gunmen ambushed an Israeli driver at the Kisufim intersection, killing her and her children in the back seat, Israel built part of Kisufim into a bridge to cross over the Palestinian road.
As Marash describes it, the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was a “huge operation.” Givati’s job was to repel hostile Palestinian forces while the army removed unwilling Israeli citizens from their homes. The tricky part was that after remaining in Gaza to dismantle military infrastructure, the thousands-strong IDF presence in Gaza had to leave in one night, which was a very vulnerable procedure. As the rest of the IDF was returning to Israel, Marash and his platoon remained behind in two armored personnel carriers with a single tank as their escort. Their job was to push back the expected onrush of hostile Palestinians to prevent them from reaching the Kisufim crossing and hold the perimeter. Marash remembers sitting on the tank and watching the sun set on Gaza just as the military was leaving. Shortly afterward, he said, thousands of Palestinians flooded into one of the Israeli villages in Gaza, Kfar Darom, below them.
“They burned Kfar Darom down really quickly,” Marash recalled. “I remember … seeing a huge flame appear in the village; the first thing they did was torch the synagogue.”
As a platoon leader, Marash often had to make difficult decisions, especially when the Givati unit served in Gaza forts. Palestinian terrorists tested the vigilance and blind spots of the forts by crawling up the hill. However, they often paid and sent kids or mentally-ill people to walk up to the fence around the fort.
“These are people who don’t know any better,” Marash said with disgust, “[Hamas] sent them in order to see how long it would take soldiers to react and fire. Once they sent up a six-year-old girl with a backpack [that could have had explosives in it] because they knew if she didn’t have it, she wouldn’t look like a threat and we wouldn’t shoot. We didn’t, but this is just one of the dilemmas we deal with.”
Marash is clearly passionate about the issue.
“How many kids have been sent to act as terrorists?” Marash asked, his voice rising in anger. “If the Muslim Student Union is so proud of defending the Palestinians, why don’t they defend them from both Israel and Hamas? Why don’t they protest Hamas sending kids and mentally challenged people to die? Why doesn’t Malik Ali talk about this? … The things I’ve been through and seen, it disrespects my experience to give these people a stage … the depression, the lack of hope from dealing with enemies who aren’t just unafraid of death but look forward to it … they have completely different priorities about life over there.”