I fought for the I.D.F. in Gaza

Amira Rayan, the Queens Girl Scout, and the Palestine of the Future: When a Palestinian Girl Meets Israeli Soldiers

Those three fateful weeks inside the Gaza Strip transformed me from a deeply religious, Modern Orthodox yeshiva student and West Bank settler into an activist with the movement opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, first with the antiwar veterans organization Breaking the Silence and now with Extend, a group that connects Palestinian and Israeli human rights leaders with American Jewish audiences.

As Ms. Rayan spoke, I saw Amira’s young face. I wondered how long this bright, spirited Queens kid could keep her fire for what I believe John Lewis would have called “good trouble” in a world that seems hellbent on snuffing it out. I worried about how she would finish her college applications.

As Israeli troops made incursions into Gaza on Friday and prepared for possible street-by-street urban combat, complicated by the presence of more than 200 hostages still being held by Hamas, I know firsthand the terror they can expect in an landscape of ​​postapocalyptic bombed-out neighborhoods, where Hamas fighters could be lying in wait. There is the fear of being hit by missiles or mortars, as well as the chance of a lone male shooting up the group in the underground network of tunnels.

Amira’s mother carefully inspected the work of some of the younger scouts; she wore a blue Girl Scouts U.S.A. vest, filled with colorful badges, and a hot-pink hijab. “It’s no conflict at all,” Ms. Rayan told me of Islam and the Girl Scouts. “You want a strong Muslim American girl.”

I will do my best to be honest and fair, friendly and helpful, caring and compassionate, courageous and strong, and responsible for what I do and to respect myself and others, which is what I want the world to be.

A young woman went into a meeting of Muslim girls and asked if they had tickets to the concert. The scout said she was the Taylor Swift of our generation.

The lady looked at me and she said I was disgusting. You are a baby killer. I was told by Amira that I was an antisemite. Her signature spunk faded when she spoke about the incident. “I just kept saying, ‘That’s not true,’” she said. “I was just on my way to school. I was just wearing my hijab.”

Amira was born in Queens in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks. She remembers doing demonstrations at City Hall as a child as a result of the efforts to make school holidays during Eid al-Adha and Fitr in New York City.

But since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, in which an estimated 1,400 Israelis were killed and some 200 others were kidnapped, Amira, who is Palestinian American, said she has experienced for the first time the full fury of Islamophobia and racism that her older relatives and friends have told stories about all her life. There has been a rise in both anti-Muslim and antisemitic attacks throughout the city.

Police officers are frequently stopping and searching Muslim men in Queens, she said. (New York City has stepped up its police presence around both Muslim and Jewish neighborhoods and sites within the five boroughs.) She said that her peers are getting the feeling that Palestinian lives don’t matter, as the United States will back Israel when it goes to war.

Many New York City children have a moxie that is indicative of a worldliness. Amira can seem unstoppable, because she is a joyful sneaker-wearing, self-proclaimed Queen’s kid.

When she was just 15, Amira helped topple a major mayoral campaign in America’s largest city, writing a letter accusing the ultraprogressive candidate Dianne Morales of having violated child labor laws while purporting to champion the working class in New York.

The Fate of a Soldier in the Dead: Israel’s First Security Service (Shin Bet) during a September 7 Operation

I left his funeral last week and knew we had lost a righteous soul. To me it’s clear. My friend fought against Hamas in order to protect his friends and family during his last moments, and he also fought against Hamas for years when he was involved in activism against the occupation.

Many of the people who made this argument were victims of the attack on October 7. They included a fellow member of my unit who also served with me in Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation veterans group. When Hamas attacked a kibbutz he was a security guard and fought them for 7 hours until he ran out of bullets and died.

In Israel on the left, we have been warning for years that we will never have peace and security unless there is an agreement in which Palestinians can gain freedom and independence. Ami Ayalion, the former head of the Israeli security service Shin Bet, argued for years that Palestinian terror could only be defeated if they created Palestinian hope.

At one point, I scribbled some thoughts on a piece of paper. I wrote that some members of my team had been tallying the number of soldiers killed and discussing whether this operation was worth the losses. It could be worth it if we eliminate the threat.

As we withdrew from Beit Hanoun, we heard the roar of Air Force fighter jets overhead, followed by deafening explosions and towering plumes of debris and smoke rising from Al-Burrah. I later learned that in those moments, the airstrikes killed eight members of the Wahdan family, mostly women and children, whose home soldiers from my unit had occupied for days while the family was there.

The battle was unpredictable as we faced an enemy that used the complicated terrain to its advantage. It looked like the Hamas fighters had fled from our advance. On the 4th day of the ground invasion, as we were moving to the Al-Burrah neighborhood in northeast Gaza, four soldiers were killed at the border fence by Hamas fighters.

Our main task over the two weeks I was in the northern Gaza Strip was to clear and secure a perimeter in urban areas to enable combat engineers to identify and demolish tunnels leading into Israel. We wanted to become targets so we’d take up positions in a new house every night. Each house had to be cleared; in one, I found a Kalashnikov rifle with a combat vest and an explosive device. At one point, I listened in terror to graphic reports from our radioman of soldiers from my unit searching for body parts after a missile struck a nearby house they had taken over, injuring and killing some of my comrades.

I remember vividly the ground shaking as we moved into Gaza at dusk at the start of the ground invasion on July 17. The sound and light show was caused by our bombardment of the fields next to us while we marched into the village of Umm al-Nasr.

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