Friday, January 30, 2009

After the bombs, a fragile hope for peace

The bombs stopped falling after 23 days.

When the last of Israel's troops left the Gaza Strip Wednesday, more than 1,000 people lay dead, most of them civilians.

Forty-five minutes away, 31-year-old Megan Coss hears the chugging of helicopters and the rumble of fighter jets roaring across the western sky.

Home is a cooperative agricultural community that sits in between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, but the distance from the Gaza Strip -- which she says is similar to the distance between Saratoga Springs and Albany -- means she is relatively far removed from the war.

"I try to explain to people back home that it's not like you see on the news. Even though there is this crazy conflict, we have fun. We have everything you have in America," said Coss, who grew up in the town of Greenfield, graduated from Saratoga Springs High School in 1995 and completed her college studies with a desire to teach and a yearning for travel. The combination led her to Israel in the summer of 2000. To Coss, it was the calm before the impending storm.

"Everyone was so optimistic. Then, suddenly everything exploded," she says.

In October 2000, riots broke out in the streets. Banks and businesses were set on fire. People were killed.

"It was scary, and I was clueless to the situation because it was so new to me then. Now, I have a sort of blase attitude about it," she says, although the threat of suicide bombers is always near.

"You can have a false sense of security. The next eruption could be just around the corner. It's a way of life."

Coss met the man whom she would eventually wed when he worked as a guard at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv. Today, he works in the Israeli military, and the couple have two daughters, ages 2 years and 5 months.

Coss teaches at a Christian International School in West Jerusalem, where a diverse student body includes children of missionaries who support Israel, as well as children of diplomats and U.N. personnel who share an allegiance with the Palestinians.

"One of my students is the son of a CNN correspondent, and today he was wearing a sweatshirt that said, 'Free Palestine,' and had a map of Israel without the borders," Coss noted, during a conversation that occurred last week. "I just rolled my eyes at him and gave a little chuckle. He smiled in response. Things are usually like that. We accept each other's viewpoints and leave them aside in the classroom."

Outside the class, the fear of war and annihilation pushes many toward nationalism.

"I will say there is a lot of hate on both sides, but I think that's because people don't have exposure with one another. In times like these, people become desensitized. They start seeing things as 'us' and 'them,' but there are many Israelis and Palestinians who are friends. They have a human connection.

"There are human relationships beyond this war, beyond the terror. It's a different side people don't really see. People just feel despair at these times, because peace seems so far away."

By Thomas Dimopoulos

The Post-Star, January 2009.
Saratoga Bureau writer Thomas Dimopoulos can be reached at

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home