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Herbert A. Opalek: Gaza as seen from Merced

Herb Opalek

I have spent the last few days speaking to friends throughout the state of Israel.

Unfortunately, I cannot reach my good Palestinian friend, a professor of classical antiquity, who resides in Gaza City.

The situation in Israel is most disheartening.

The Israeli army is basically a "reserve" army. Men and women are subject to recall until they reach their 60th birthday and they are being called up.

Universities are empty and the streets of southern Israel are deserted. Tourism is slowing down and the Israeli economy has been hit hard.

Tel Aviv, Israel's largest city, is far from the fighting. Yet, the beaches are virtually deserted and one only sees senior citizens, women and children on the streets.

The poor and homeless are still there but the volunteers who feed and cloth them under the aegis of the Tel Aviv Rescue Mission, Ohel Avraham, are in short supply.

The suspicion and distrust between the indigenous Jewish, Palestinian and Arab citizenry has been heightened and the walls for societal peace that have been built over the past 10 years is shaking.

Mutual friends that I know and have worked with in these communities are not speaking to each other.

The carnage is two-sided. Sderot and other cities in Israel are alert for the sound of the alarm, warning of incoming missiles.

It is not a pleasant sight seeing people run to a "miqlat," or bomb shelter. Ordinary citizens of Gaza are caught in the middle. They are human shields for the terrorist organization, Hamas, and are under the guns of the Israeli forces.

The world seems helpless. Israelis don't understand why the world community denies their right to self-defense and the Palestinians in Gaza don't understand why the United States won't support a cease fire that they deem to be so one-sided.

It is an age-old conundrum. Jew, Arab and Palestinian can not get over centuries of distrust and hatred.

It goes all the way back to Abraham and not one of these aggrieved parties wants to understand that Jew, Palestinian, Arab and Christian are all descended from him and that they are all one family.

In Merced, I wait and pray for those killed in battle, for the innocent lives lost, for the doctors and ambulance teams, for the fearless media who bring us the news from the front, for the children left without parents and for a lasting and just peace.

Herbert A. Opalek is CEO of the Merced County Rescue Mission. He writes a column every other Saturday, and sometimes in between.