Recently I shared the human side of the conflict in southern Israel and told my personal stories from Sderot in a presentation at DePaul University in Chicago sponsored by StandWithUs, Hillel, and the university’s Political Science department. As a representative of Sderot Media Center, I traveled from Israel to explain the daily reality of rocket fire that has been plaguing the country for the past eight years.
Several anti-Israel posters draped the entrance to the building in which I was to tell my personal stories. I began my presentation with a small audience of around 20 people and as my presentation went on the room began filling with people not merely against Israel’s political policies and action, but also in clear support of terrorist group Hamas.
When I welcomed the custom of a question and answer period following my presentation, the very right of free speech that I welcomed to the audience of now over 100 people was thrown in my face and denied to me. First, an audience member verbally attacked me, expressed his support for the firing of rockets into Israel, and ended his anti-Semitic rhetoric filled rant with a question irrelevant to anything in my presentation. I then pointed out to the audience the same fact I want to point out in this article, that this person was not simply criticizing Israel but was clearly expressing his support for a terrorist organization.
Free speech denied
Yet before I could finish answering the question, I was interrupted and silenced by the overwhelming Hamas supporters. Next, another audience member stood up and screamed out, calling me a “dirty whore” in Arabic and proceeding to grab his crotch and scream “Here’s your Qassam!” in Arabic.
My free speech was denied, I was not able to utter a word, and the event was terminated. As I was collecting my belongings amidst the continuing anti-Semitic harassment, a small group of audience members interested in my presentation approached me and expressed their resentment over the interruption and their fear to speak out. The local police teamed with university security then had to escort me to my car several blocks down the street.
As I was there to tell the human side of Sderot’s daily reality of rockets, these Hamas supporters laughed at raw footage of kindergarten children running for shelter as a Qassam was fired at their city. If it wasn’t clear before, it was clear to me then that these people were not there to learn about this reality or gain understanding of the trauma and suffering in southern Israel, or even object to my personal stories. These people were there for one reason: It was an event about the Jewish State of Israel to whose existence they blatantly object. How was I even to proceed with promoting human understanding if the unruly crowd didn’t even recognize my basic right as a Jew to live in Israel?
This past week I have answered email after email, phone call after phone call from everyone ranging from people at the event, to event organizers, to journalists, to heads of major organizations. It is saddening that not one of the emails or phone calls was about the fact that more than three out of four children in Sderot have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or that now one million Israelis live under the daily threat of rockets. No one remembers the story I told of the baby in the stroller gasping while pointing to the sky as the Color Red alarm sounded in downtown Sderot. The message I brought from Israel was lost.