Municipality workers wearing protective clothes disinfect a street in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip as part of measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, March 14. JNS photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
by Jonathan Feldstein
I sent an email this week offering tips on being in isolation, from Israel’s political and civic leader, former Deputy Prime Minister and former Soviet Prisoner of Zion, Natan Sharansky. I run The Genesis 123 Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to building bridges between Jews and Christians and Christians with Israel in new and meaningful ways.
The email was meant to be an inspiration for people struggling with various degrees of isolation from a man who knows something about this firsthand by being in Soviet prisons, who is a critical thinker, and humanitarian. We didn’t even ask for a donation.
I received a number of responses of thanks, and blessings for me and Israel. One response stood out, “How are you helping the Palestinians during this pandemic?”
I try to reply to everyone, to acknowledge their email, and offer thanks where appropriate, even if the note is off topic. So, I responded to this writer in that spirit.
“I don’t know all the ways. I do know many have been offered shelter in Israeli hotels, so they don’t get stuck in the Palestinian Authority without work. Some are being treated in Israeli hospitals. Israel is providing medical supplies. My organization is raising money for food for some of the poorest families in Jerusalem who have at risk needs kids with special needs, including Palestinian Arabs. I’m sure there’s more I just don’t know it all.”
Seven minutes later, my virtual pen pal wrote back. “I hope this is true.”
“Sure it is. It’s all over the news here.”
My pen pal replied, “Really. Because the news I’m seeing this…” and attached a vulgar image listing a whole series of allegations against Israel, some false, some embellished, all hateful. I realized I was not dealing with someone who knew the reality, so I took some time to research it and respond thoughtfully.
“I appreciate your email and concerns, but respectfully, what you shared is not news, it’s really just propaganda from a source that perpetuates the fraud of Israel being responsible for all the ills (literally) of the Palestinian Arabs. These are people who do not want co-existence, but to fault Israel for anything and everything.
“I have taken the liberty of copying and pasting links below to actual news sources, some of which I was not even aware of but are very credible. Follow the writing of Israeli Arab Khaled Abu Toameh. There’s nobody more credible than him. The last two articles are ones I have written about how we, as a non-profit, are directly supporting Christian Arabs.
“in addition, I was asked by the deputy mayor of Jerusalem to help fund a project to support some of Jerusalem’s neediest families, including Palestinian Arabs. She affirmed that, as did the heads of the non-profit providing the actual service. To suggest otherwise, that Israel does not provide abundant help all the time, as well as now during its own national crisis with the Coronavirus outbreak widening, is not accurate or honest. Anyone who says that is either misinformed, or lying.”
I assumed until that point that I was still writing thoughtfully to someone with whom I could have a thoughtful dialogue. I added honestly, “I just want to wrap this up in noting two things. Israel is a sovereign nation. 20 percent of the country as well as 1/3 of Jerusalem are Arabs. Many identify as Palestinians. That’s not universal, however. Over and above these people, Israel coordinates carefully with the Palestinian Authority for a variety of humanitarian and security needs.
“Having said that, as a sovereign nation, Israel does not have a direct obligation to provide for the Palestinian Authority or Palestinian Arabs who are not citizens. It does so out of good will and good mutual interests. Our aspiration is peace. I live here, I know that’s the truth. Personally, I have mixed feelings as to what obligations Israel has. The rest of the Arab world has more or less abandoned Palestinian Arabs, and countries like Iran and Turkey happily provide money and weapons to fight us, but not to help them build a better society for themselves.”
While mixed as to what our response on a state level, or even the resources to do so, ought to be, I added, “Having said all that, the Genesis 123 Foundation exists to make connections between Jews and Christians and Christians with Israel. We view the latter as being responsible to all people in the State and Land of Israel. We are a small, new non-profit with a big and broad mission. However, we have many other needs and priorities that focus on the rest of Israel. Some by definition serve primarily Jews (Holocaust survivors, Terror victims, soldiers — though you’ll note we are supporting Christian Arab soldiers), and others, but many serve Arabs and Jews equally and proportionally.
Since this writer was responding to an email, sent to a list to which she subscribed, I invited her to join us. “We welcome and invite you to join us, partner with us, be part of the big vision we have, and celebrate our success together. But we don’t want to be judged or in the position to defend the overall conflict or whatever misinformation you and others may receive. If that’s of interest, please join us. If it’s not, you’re welcome to unsubscribe and not receive our updates. I’m proud of what we do and what we can do. Please join us, or leave us. Either is OK. But please don’t doubt the facts and our sincerity. To be honest, it just drags us down and takes time from the good work we are doing and can do. I don’t mean to be abrasive, just direct.”
And then I listed links to 10 bonafide news sources of ways that Israel has been helping Palestinian Arabs specifically now, and how others, including the PA, have abandoned them.
Eight minutes later, with no time to have read any of the sources I provided, I received this.
“Thank you for taking the time. However, my visit to the holy land was full of discrimination as a Palestinian American. Are you familiar with this Sander building? I enclosed a link and picture. It belonged to my grandfather and was stolen by Israel. That is not propaganda. I’m a prominent physcian in the USA. And currently a frontline doctor here in Florida. Feel free to google me.”
“I want on a pilgrimage to the holy land. I cried when I went there. You have the Palestinians like animals behind an electric fence. So please don’t bullshit me. The people desperate to make a living and survive. I was there in 2014. When the so called “rockets” were shot, people went into shelters on the Israel side with food and comfort. The Palestinians had nothing. I saw the bombings. And worse, when I was living Israel with my Catholic priest. I was the only one detained and searched extensively. I’m a USA citizen but my ethnic look and name clearly well recognized.
“What is being done to the Palestinians is worse then what the nazi did dieting (sic) the Holocaust. A shame that the lesson was not learn and now being repeated to the Palestinians. Many prominent Jews can say the same thing. Look at Bernie Sanded (sic). He condemns Israel and the treatment of Palestinians. I could post my own videos and pictures. Real events unlike all your propaganda news. But you see, I actually have to go save lives right now. God Bless”
Now, it was clear she had no interest in a dialogue, no interest in facts, no interests in being connected with an organization that’s meant to support any of Israel in any way. She’s just been trolling me and us, and used this “chat” to attack.
Nevertheless, always the optimist, I engaged once again.
“I appreciate your perspective but don’t have the time or interest to debate. When you don’t take a minute to read the actual news sources I provided and dismiss that as propaganda it says to me, you’re not even interested. There’s one thing I can’t let pass unchallenged, however. You wrote ‘I was there in 2014. When the so called “rockets” were shot, people went into shelters on the Israel side with food and comfort. The Palestinians had nothing. I saw the bombings’.”
“I lived here then too. That was the summer that Palestinian Arab terrorists kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teens in cold blood. It was the summer that three rockets from Gaza made it scores of miles to my own community, one landing literally across the valley from my house.
“The reason Gazans don’t have protection is because they have been held hostage by Hamas and abused by the PA who use their own people as human shields and abscond with tens of millions of dollars or more to build terrorist tunnels and weapons to attack us rather than homes and hospitals and schools. These are incontrovertible facts. Honestly, one of the best things Israel did for the Palestinian Arabs is to build the Iron Dome which protects us from their rockets because, God forbid a rocket were to hit a kindergarten or hospital or apartment building and there were many casualties, the response from Israel would be dramatic and lives on both sides would be lost.”
Dr. Terrorist, in all her humanity, didn’t let go. “The thing about you is that you have actually not lived any of. Just sit behind a desk pasting articles. Big difference in fact from fiction.”
Her response was so ludicrous, so ill informed, and so not engaging in factual debate rather than posting made up facts, it’s hard to imagine that if she’s really a doctor, what medical school would have standards so low to allow someone who has no critical thinking abilities to be entrusted with saving lives, as she likes to give herself credit for.
I thought this would be my last reply. “I live it quite well thank you. Funny how you claim you’re so busy saving lives, yet you have made time to harass me. Enough. We don’t agree. Fine. I don’t want to or need to hear more from you about what I do or don’t know and the realities I live with. Please stop writing, go save some more lives.”
Dr. Terrorist wouldn’t let go. “The only thing we can agree is that I don’t have time to argue with you when I’m actually saving lives and not shooting off emails. I love the propaganda of what you say. Do you think if was right to steal the land of Palestinians. They had their homes there. They were terrorized and victimized. Do you not see how the innocent Palestinian children are being killed. I could paste links and show all the murders and killed kids. Babies burnt and buried. Yes, let’s blame Hamas and everyone else except the real culprits. You don’t live in reality. I do. I see it firsthand.”
It’s astounding to me that anyone who hates Israel so much would sign up for a list with an organization that supports Israel, except to troll it and make problems. That’s not an accident.
It’s still astounding to me that people think this way. Having their own narrative and interpretation of facts is passable. Making up facts to build up such a narrative is a lie. I don’t see how tips from Natan Sharansky on being in isolation could be a trigger for such a hateful response. Then again, I am not a hateful person.
Most astounding is that this person claims to be a doctor and is saving lives at a time when the world is suffering a pandemic that threatens us all. Yet, as important as her “saving lives” may be, she kept making time to attack and harass me, and wouldn’t let go until I asked her to stop, and then stopped replying myself.
In Judaism, we set aside everything to save lives, that’s a biblical obligation. For this woman, a doctor no less, to seem to conveniently be able to compartmentalize her Hippocratic oath to save lives, and engage in a hateful chat that covers up for the actual terrorism that threatens lives… I hope this always surprises me, albeit I am not surprised.
Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. He is the founder and president of the Genesis 123 Foundation, of which Run for Zion is an inaugural project, and works extensively with Christian supporters of Israel.