The box of bullets that I carried fit in the palm of my hand. The shrapnel couldn’t have weighed more than five ounces; yet, the emotional weight they bore was crushing.
The five jagged bullets in the box were handmade to kill a Jew. They found their way into a woman’s kitchen in Sderot, a Jewish kibbutz village on the border of the Gaza strip. The middle-aged woman who has lived minutes from Gaza for her entire life, is used to running from violence. Every time the sirens sound, she has 10 seconds to get herself and her children to safety.
Once, while standing in her kitchen, loudspeakers again boomed, “RED ALERT,” in Hebrew. She ran to her bomb shelter and waited for the explosion. Upon her return, she found bullets strewn across her floor—in the place she had been standing just minutes before. Yet another rocket from Hamas, a terrorist group, had interrupted her life in the kibbutz.
Sirens in Sderot are normal occurrences, and though its people inhabit a warzone, they attempt to live normally. Playgrounds are made to look like bomb shelters. Children play therapist-approved board games to cope with PTSD. School continues; work continues; life continues.
As the woman told her story, tears running down her face, I could see windows with baby mobiles and cradles in them. Just below the windows were splotches of white, where the structure had been repaired after an explosion. This is when I shut down.
I had asked to look at the pieces of metal in the box, but I quickly realized the overwhelming burden that came with them. I had read about war and violence as an abstract idea, something that happened ‘over there.’ Yet there I was, tangibly looking at ‘war’ in this little box. I didn’t want to confront any of the feelings I had inside.
Thank goodness for that box. The bullets that were intended to kill were the weapons that God used to make me have a personal conversation with the woman who so graciously shared her story. I hugged her and thanked her for sharing. I didn’t know really what else to say, so I just kept saying thank you. No matter how badly I wanted to stay inside my apathy, complacency was no longer an option after I returned the shrapnel to its intended victim. Violence is a terrible thing.
I’m still processing the image of that box of metal that continues to float in the forefront of my mind. I think what I’ve gained from that moment is a better compassion for the people of Israel and the people of Gaza. The people in Sderot go through an unbearable amount of trauma just for living where they do. It’s not right. And while the worst parts of me wanted to hate the people across the border, my Israeli friends explained that the people of Gaza are extremely impoverished, brainwashed and have no access to bomb shelters. Not every Palestinian is a terrorist. On both sides of the Gaza border: violence is a terrible thing.
I’ll never forget that hot, dusty day in southern Israel, because the shrapnel that ripped through Sderot ripped through my very soul. May we, as Christians, always stand on the border of violence before condemning either side. May we search for compassion and empathy in the midst of justice, and look to God for wisdom in times of dire circumstances.