I look at my phone and it flashes the date. October 1. My cousin Ezra would be turning 22 today.
If he were still alive.
It hits me, then. Four years ago, my cousin, Ezra Schwartz, was celebrating his eighteenth birthday. A month and a half later, he was dead.
It was my first experience with death. I was fourteen and in my first year of high school. Trying to grow into my personality, pursue my passions, be a teenager. Then someone shot my cousin in the face.
It’s weird sometimes. Knowing he won’t get older. That, now, I’m older than he’ll ever be.
I’m currently in Israel, on my gap year before college. The same year off that he took, the same country that he was in. Except he never came back.
I was in Gush Etzion recently—the place where he died. I was staying at this house in the suburbs, in Efrat. Some people would call Efrat a settlement. To the family I was visiting, though, it was just “home,” with six kids running around wreaking havoc on everything and making lots (lots) of noise. I tried to ask their mother questions about the political situation, her experiences with Palestinians, etc., but didn’t glean much from her answers. She didn’t have much experience with Palestinians besides for interactions at the local supermarket, and Efrat’s status as “disputed territory” to whatever extent did not seem to factor into her decision to move there.
I want to learn about Israel. To me, it’s like a second home. America is my home because it’s the place where I grew up, and Israel is my home because it’s the place where my ancestors lived. In some ways I totally belong here, and in other ways it’s totally foreign to me.
When I stayed in the Gush, Ezra’s death would hit me in weird ways. Statistically, his death was highly improbable; in actuality, it still happened. I’d start to get comfortable and then I’d look out the bus windows and see barbed wire and it would all hit me again, that someone could fire through this window and the glass would shatter and the bullet would hit my brain and it would all be over. Just like it was for him.
He killed these people to celebrate his birthday.
It angers me sometimes. The terrorist picked that day for the attack because it was his birthday. He gunned down three people with a submachine gun paid for by the terrorist group Hamas—a Palestinian man in his twenties on the way to work, an Israeli teacher in his fifties who was a father of four, and an eighteen-year-old gap year student who happened to be my cousin. He killed these people to celebrate his birthday. He’d been training for months; he had over $10,000 worth of guns and ammunition; he’d been mentored by multiple adults.
That day, the streets in Gaza came alive with people who were dancing and giving out candy, celebrating the attacks. (In a separate attack that day, 2 people were stabbed to death at a gas station, and a third was moderately injured.) Celebrating the murder of a friendly, lively, impish eighteen-year-old kid who fell asleep in a van with his friends, on his way to do volunteer work. A boy who played football with his three younger brothers and was best friends with his older sister; who played pranks on everyone because it was fun; who laughed a lot; who turned and winked at his girlfriend during his baseball games to remind her he was thinking of her.
Now, the guy who killed him is sitting in jail and his family is getting paid over $3,000/month by the PA (Palestinian Authority) for his actions.
And Ezra? He’s in a grave in Massachussetts. He’s not going to turn 22. He’s not even going to turn 19. I’m older than he was, than he’s ever going to be.
The weird thing is that it’s political. Some people blame Ezra for his own death. Some people call him a dirty Jew and say the terrorist was justified in killing him. Some people defend the man who killed him, saying he was simply “protesting the occupation.”
What about murdering three innocents is “protest”? That’s not protest. That’s terrorism. When you deliberately target Jews—as these “protestors” do—as a celebration, you aren’t an “honorable protestor.” You are a murderer. And if you defend these people, you are an anti-Semite and an advocate for terrorism.
On that note, you’re also not an “honorable protestor” when you “peacefully throw rocks.” Have you ever had a rock thrown at you? These aren’t pebbles. They’re real, heavy rocks. What happens if they’re aimed at the head, or the chest? These people know what they’re doing. They aim to kill.
It’s horrifying, really. Living in a country where people get stabbed to death, gunned down, blown up, and rammed by cars because they’re Jewish.
But how different is it in the US?
I miss Ezra. I miss him so badly it hurts.
But these rabid, anti-Semitic freaks who run around murdering innocents are not going to scare me away from my homeland. They will not drive me out. Not with their terrorism, not with their media war, and not with their real one.
Disclaimer: There are many Palestinians who are against the war, who agree that Palestinian government deliberately escalates the conflict and refuses to negotiate, and who strive for peace. My answer is commenting on the portion of Palestinians who utilize violence as a solution, which strangely enough is more controversial than it should be. I am happy to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the comments as long as people remain respectful and open-minded.