Opinion: My truth about Israel

FAU Owls for Israel Board member and Israeli Shirel Ben-Chitrit, shares some of her opinions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Illustration by Michelle Rodriguez-Gonzalez.

Shirel Ben-Chitrit, Guest Columnist

According to the Israel Ministry of Foreign affairs website, “The birthplace of the Jewish people is the Land of Israel. There, a significant part of the nation’s long history was enacted, of which the first thousand years are recorded in the Bible; there, its cultural, religious, and national identity was formed; and there, its physical presence has been maintained through the centuries, even after the majority was forced into exile”

My name is Shirel Ben-Chitrit and I am a junior at Florida Atlantic University. I am not a journalism student and have never written an op-ed before, but I identify as a proud Israeli Jew and I am here to share my narrative with you. My mother’s family has been living in Israel for eight generations, and my father was born in Morocco and moved with his family to Israel fleeing vicious antisemitic persecution. Based on my family’s ancestry, our culture, even the food we eat, I identify as a Mizrahi and Sephardic Jew, meaning my ancestors never left the Middle East as opposed to many Jews of Ashkenazi descent whose relatives fled the Middle East to Europe at some point in the history of Israel. 

I would like to begin my reflection on the most recent violence between Israelis and Palestinians by sharing that my heart goes out to the majority of Palestinian civilians in Gaza who innocently live under brutal and oppressive Hamas rule. My sincerest condolences go out to all families, Israeli and Palestinian, who have lost innocent lives. 

As someone who has been directly affected by this conflict, I do not understand it as Israelis versus Palestinians, but rather Hamas versus each of us. Hamas is a brutal and recognized terrorist organization that is willing to sacrifice their own citizens’ lives, who choose hatred, and who have proven over many years that they are unwilling to dialogue or engage in diplomacy to help reach an agreement. Instead, they brainwash innocent children into hating Jews, launch rockets into populated civilian areas, and further fuel the conflict.

I remember living with my grandmother one summer vacation as a young child and waking up to a piercing siren signaling that we only had 15 seconds to get into a bomb shelter or risk a rocket falling on her home. I still remember to this day the sadness in my heart, the fear that I and my fellow Israelis must live with, never knowing what could happen next.

In 2014, one of my dear family friends was murdered by a Hamas terrorist. All Israeli teenagers must serve in the army or national service, and his unit was on a mission to explore tunnels built by Hamas to cross the border into Israel and kidnap or harm citizens in Israel. Israel had the military capability of simply bombing this network of tunnels, however, they wanted to avoid collateral damage whenever possible, and because of this humane approach to defense, my friend was murdered.

Hamas celebrated while we mourned the loss of American victims on 9/11. Hamas celebrated killing my friend and other soldiers. Israel has every right to defend ourselves from terror. We don’t want war, in fact, Israel has accepted many internationally negotiated peace treaties to split the land and establish an independent Palestinian country, but they have always been denied by those who rule over the Palestinian people. 

Not all Palestinians live under brutal government in the Palestinian Territories. According to Jewish Virtual Library, nearly 20% of Israelis self-designate as Palestinian citizens of Israel or Israeli Palestinians. They live under the Israeli government with full rights to vote, sit in the Israeli Knesset, also known as Parliament, have access to equal education, and similar benefits of all citizens of Israel.

Israel is not an apartheid state, it is the only Democracy in the Middle East, and it allows people of different backgrounds, religions, and sexual identities to live side-by-side. In fact, the city of Tel Aviv is one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly places in the world, where same-sex partners proudly display their affection publicly.

According to NPR,This is Tel Aviv — which the government of Israel is now pushing as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world — and gay tourism is booming.This something Hamas would murder people for. One example is out in an article from Haaretz article, where a Palestinian explains how dangerous it is to be living in Gaza while being gay. He mentions, LGBTQ life in Gaza is arduous and dangerous. I would know: I grew up there.”

The latest round of violence between Hamas and Israel was sparked by a few events. I will not go into detail regarding these events, not because they are unimportant, rather because you can easily read articles describing each situation from multiple perspectives. I hope this shows you that this conflict is a complex one, involving the lives of many people and many years of history. It simply is not something that can be boiled down to a clever meme that can be reposted quickly without first grappling with the facts and trying to understand all perspectives.

There is grave danger in taking sides without being fully informed, as Jewish people across the world have been targeted by antisemitic violence in the past two weeks as a result of hate fomented with propaganda and without full context. 

Israel is one of the most beautiful countries I have ever seen and I feel my happiest there. My entire extended family lives there and it feels like home when I get there. I want you all to know Israel is not a scary place or based around war, it’s the only place I feel safe walking alone at night as a woman. It’s a place where everyone is friendly, they want to help you, and feel like family. It’s a place where I am myself, and most proud to express my Judaism. I am and will forever be a proud Israeli Jew and Zionist.

Here are some links that may help you with resources for what is going on in Israel currently:

Disclaimer: The opinions presented here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of the University Press.

Shirel Ben-Chitrit is a guest columnist. She is a student at FAU and a member of Owls for Israel. Instagram: @Shirel.Benchitrit