I will never forget the night of my daughter Gefen’s graduation from primary school.
In Israel, these occasions are a big deal, there’s a ceremony and the parents get busy with food, but for me, a mother who was also the main correspondent at the time for The Washington Post, that night was tense.
It was the summer of 2014 and a few weeks earlier, three Israeli teenagers, Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali, were kidnapped by terrorists in the West Bank.
Israeli security forces were on high alert as they raced to find the three youngsters still alive, and I, as a reporter, was working non-stop, covering the growing tension between Israel and Hamas, the militant group in Gaza behind the kidnapping.
Skipping out on Gefen’s graduation party, however, was not an option. I remember us on our way to the event; Gefen, her siblings Ben and Ela, my husband and I dressed in our finest and me trying not to check my phone every five seconds for updates.
Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived at the party, my phone pinged: it was an embargoed message saying the dead bodies of the three young men had been located.
I sighed as Gefen skipped off to join her class and then called my editor to say a story would be forthcoming.
I don’t remember much about the ceremony, except for sitting in a candlelit field with children singing nearby as I tapped into my phone, writing a breaking story that would essentially tell the world about events that would spark a 50-day war just a few weeks later.
Gefen kept coming over to ask what I was doing. Why wasn’t I sitting with the other parents? Why wasn’t I watching her show?
I told her, “Mummy is working, and it is important.” I didn’t have the heart, or the words, to tell her why. How could I tell her that three boys, not that much older than her, had been kidnapped on their way home from school and murdered? How could I tell her that there now might be a war?
Throughout my eight years at the Washington Post, I found myself in similar scenarios. Gefen, Ben, and Ela, all born during the Second Intifada, would often ask me to explain what was happening.
There were questions about the rocket fire from Gaza — when it managed to reach Jerusalem and set off sirens here; or about attacks in Jerusalem where Gefen was now attending high school. A spate of deadly car ramming, shootings, and stabbing attacks happened minutes from her school during her second year there.
Even as I became adept at outlining and explaining what was happening here for one of the world’s most read and influential newspapers, I was finding it more and more difficult to help my coming-of-age Israeli children make sense of it all.
How do you tell them, without frightening them, that there are people who don’t believe they should be living in this land?
How do you explain that these people are usually Arabic speakers, although not all of them, and certainly not every one of them wants to kill us? How do you describe other Jews, those who do not accept the kind of Judaism that you practise, or who even refuse to see you as Jewish at all — especially when you are about to celebrate your bar or bat mitzvah?
All those questions swirled around my head, and I had no clear answers for my children, even as I kept on writing for the Washington Post’s thousands of readers about wars with Hamas, gruesome terrorist attacks, not to mention highly flammable and increasingly dysfunctional politics and divisions inside Israel.
As many of those stories drew all manner of personal attacks against me from all sides of the political map — journalists are often a scapegoat from both the pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian camps — I realised that the best way for me to explain to my readers and to my children (and maybe even myself) was to delve into one of the world’s most scrutinised and complicated conflicts via fiction.
In 2017, I began the biggest writing — and explaining — project of my life. I met with young secular Israelis, including my own children, interviewed Palestinian and Strictly Orthodox Charedi teenagers, and developed a story filled with heartbreak and hope about young people growing up in Jerusalem, in the midst of an adult conflict.
My novel, Parallel Lines, published this week, is dedicated “to all young people growing up in adult conflicts”.
Not only do I hope that it will provide my own children — who are now young adults — with better tools to make sense of their country, but I believe that it will also help all young people and, in fact, all people, everywhere to gain a better understanding of one of the oldest and most complicated conflicts.
‘Parallel Lines’ by Ruth Marks Eglash (Black Press Writing) is out this week.