I’m writing to you on behalf of two 12-year-old girls living in Southern Israel who were upset by something you posted to Instagram a few weeks ago—a post which expressed sympathy for the people of Gaza, but also provided a space for your followers to condemn and delegitimize the State of Israel in the comments.
I met Noa and Yarden* in Southern Israel while I was doing some reporting for a few stories about religion and conflict in that region. This may be a bold statement, but they’re your biggest fans—seriously, your biggest fans. “Selena Gomez,” cried Yarden. “I love her! I love her music!”
And then you let them down. You hurt them. You prayed for Gaza, but not Israel, taking sides in a conflict that is not your own. By doing that, you isolated some fans.
Selena, Noa and Yarden have something to say. They love you. They idolize you. That’s why they want to say this—because they’re worried that their idol hates them simply because they’re Israeli. I wanted to relay their message to you. The remainder of this letter is based on my conversation with them.
“Everything you say about the Arab-Israeli conflict is wrong. It’s so much more complicated than anyone not living here can imagine,” Yarden said. “Even the people in central and northern Israel don’t understand it they way we do. So, Selena, why did you say what you did?”
“To you, Rihanna, and anyone else who has anything ill to say about us and our people,” Noa added, “come visit us, spend a day in our life and see what it’s like.”
Israelis, like all Middle Easterners, are known for their generosity and hospitality. “We’d be more than happy to host you for however long,” Yarden said. “You can even stay with me or Noa—we have safe rooms, bomb shelters, in our houses. We have to, given the number of rockets that are fired at us daily.”
Noa and Yarden live in Israel on Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, a small village of 500 people two kilometers from the Gaza border. They’re the last Israeli residents before the border crossing between Israel and Gaza. On any given day, they are pummeled with rockets. On a good day they have two warning sirens—in Hebrew they’re called tzeva adom. On a bad day they can have as many as fifteen.
“From the time the sirens signaling the rockets sound, we have 15 seconds—just 15 seconds—to run for safety,” Noa explained, with a twinge of lingering fear in her voice. “Usually, the Iron Dome intercepts the rockets before they can harm us. When that happens, everything shakes from the booms—my house shakes, our whole neighborhood shakes. And in turn, we all shake. It’s terrifying. There is nowhere to hide.”
“We live in our shelters now,” she continued. “They still shake, a lot, but when shrapnel falls from the intercepted rockets, at least it can’t hit us. We hardly ever leave our shelters.”
At that moment, I must interject, the girls and I heard a bone-rattling boom—a boom that you feel in your core. I jumped, but the two girls just looked at me and said, “don’t be afraid. That is us bombing Gaza—it’s not here. Nothing will hurt us from that boom.” A few moments later, a plume of light grey smoke appeared through the trees in the distance. “Gaza is close to here,” Noa said. “Very close,” Yarden added.
“We”—meaning the Israeli Defense Force—”don’t bomb to hurt,” they felt the need to tell me. “We bomb to defend. In Gaza the terrorists bomb because they want to terrorize us—and they do!”
“I remember on the first day of the war, oh, what a trauma we experienced,” Yarden recalled. “Noa and I were on the beach very close to here. We were enjoying ourselves, swimming, you know, because it was hot. And then, all of a sudden, we hear a siren. As daughters of the south, we knew what that meant. We had 15 seconds to find shelter. But we were in an open space with nowhere to go. We saw the rockets approaching overhead. It was terrifying! With nowhere to hide, we did the next best thing: we dropped on our stomachs and covered our heads, lest shrapnel from an intercepted rocket fall on us.”
“And then two loud booms. Everything shook. The Iron Dome had saved us. We were safe. But with rockets being targeted at our homes, could we ever be truly safe?”
“Between me and my classmates who live in villages like Zikim, Carmia, and Sderot, all over Southern Israel,” Noa said, “rockets are aimed at us all the time. Without end.”
“But we live in the South of Israel,” Yarden added. “We’re used to this way of life already. We were born into this. It’s our life.”
Noa’s family has lived in Yad Mordechai since the kibbutz was founded in 1936. They came here to escape anti-Semitism in Europe. They built the kibbutz up with their own hands. They defended it from Egyptian invaders in 1948—there were only fifty kibbutzniks with twenty outdated guns between them, facing hundreds of trained Egyptian soldiers. But the kibbutzniks, Noa’s family, persevered. They then lived in peace with their Arab neighbors in Gaza. Sure, there were tensions and flare-ups, but for the most part they lived in peace. And then just after Noa and Yarden were born, the rockets started.
“At this point, I’m not scared of the sirens anymore,” Noa stated plainly.”I’m scared of the booms, but not even so much. I’m really more scared of the terrorists who are shooting them.”
“Why can’t we just live in peace?” asked Yarden. “We hope the kids in Gaza are good and safe,” she said. “We don’t wish this kind of trauma on anyone. I’m sad that everyone dies. We can’t live like this. Let’s just be neighbors in peace.”
“That’s all we want here,” Noa said. “Peace.”
I’m paraphrasing now, but the girls wanted you to know that you’re still one of their heroes. Look at everything you’ve overcome in your life! But you hurt them. They just want you to understand before you isolate them, before you dismiss them and their families as bad people.
So, will you take them up on their offer and visit? Will you see their life and cheer them up?
On behalf of your fans in Israel,
*The girls’ names have been changed.