Monday, August 14, 2006

August 14, 2006, Day 34 War in Israel, Cease-Fire

August 14, 2006 Day 34 War in Israel – Cease fire

Israel breathed a sigh of relief this morning when the cease-fire went into effect at 8:00 PM Israel time. Up until then Israel was busy flying sorties into Lebanon, reportedly striking over 100 Hezbollah targets. Hezbollah also fired rockets this morning, and fought with Israeli forces. Two soldiers were killed in the early morning hours before the cease-fire went into effect. Israel shot down two unmanned drones heading to the Israeli coast. It was assumed they carried bombs.

Then, suddenly it all stopped. Some thought it eerie to suddenly not be glued to the radio or TV anticipating the next air-raid siren, next missile dropping, next round of Israel’s artillery rocking the ground as the shells went on their way into Lebanon.

Israelis emerged cautiously from the bomb shelters like; some wouldn’t leave, yet.

One elderly woman interviewed on Israel radio said, “Some announcements say come out. Others say ‘be careful.’ So I’ve decided to stay here until it’s safe.”

A few people nearly squinted, as if seeing daylight for the first time.

A reporter said he was still on edge, waiting for the siren to go off, anticipating a bomb to explode near him, the ground to shake.

But people did come out of the shelters. The radio announced communities that were safe to leave the bomb shelter and go home. Those taking shelter with families in the south started packing up, going back north. One recently widowed American immigrant left her son’s home in the Golan Heights, where sirens had also gone off, but few missiles fell, and returned to her apartment in Haifa.

Israel was returning to normal. This after 3,970 rockets fell, 901 of them in populated communities, killing over 40 people. The mourning was still going on. Over 100 Israeli soldiers were killed. Hundreds more wounded, some with injuries so serious they may succumb to their wounds; others who will never be the same again, missing limbs, organs, senses.

A few days ago three of Israel’s leading authors, Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua and David Grossman held a press conference calling for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops. In a tragic irony a few hours before the cease-fire went into effect, peace activist and author David Grossman’s son Uri, a 20-year old tank commander, was killed in Lebanon.

Unfortunately he was not alone. Five other soldiers died yesterday.

The tragic stories go on and on. Each death is a tragedy. Each injury unjustified. Why was this war necessary? Was it necessary? Will the cease-fire last? These are all the questions upper-most in the minds of Israelis today. Those and what happens next?

E-mails are flying around with messages announcing buses and convoys of volunteers taking goods and services up north. Tsfat, a poor town, is reportedly in deep need of nearly everything. Other people are gathering up whatever they can, clothing, food, games, DVDs, CDs, and bringing them up north.

The country has rarely been more united. This is evident by today’s Knesset session, addressed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and then leader of the opposition, Likud leader Benjamin ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu. Perhaps it was expected, but Prime Minister Olmert sent a clear message. He was responsible for everything that happened. He also said that Israel had made significant achievements. In Olmert’s speech he said that this war had changed the complexion of the Middle East. “No longer would there be a state within a state in Lebanon,” he said. Olmert said the Hezbollah leadership had gone underground, but would be found, and dealt with in time. He also issued a stern warning to Iran, comparing the Iranian Prime Minister Monsour Achmadnijad to Hitler.

Analysts said that Olmert had made a very lawyer-like speech; one that would serve him if a committee was ever formed to investigate the war. Olmert said the war brought up some serious issues and problems in the workings of the government and the army and these issues would be dealt with. But he also put on a brave front. And gave a strong message: Israel wasn’t defeated. Israel would continue to fight as long as necessary, when necessary. “We’ve had experience with more serious threats. Terrorism wouldn’t defeat Israel.” Olmert even received a round of applause, rare for anyone in Israel’s Knesset.

When opposition leader Netanyahu spoke, he took kept his tone calm and measured. He didn’t attack Olmert of the military in their handling of the war. Rather he spoke of the national grief over those brave soldiers who fought for Israel’s freedom and died, or were injured in their efforts. He also attacked Iran. Netanyahu then warned that this conflict wasn’t over. He strongly hinted that he didn’t expect Hezbollah to honor the cease-fire for long.

When he as done analysts said he made a reasoned speech. He knew that soldiers were still in Lebanon, and the fighting might start at any moment. The pundits said that overall this was not a time to criticize Olmert. That could wait a few weeks, until the final resolution of the cease-fire was in hand. Now was a time for unity, and that was the message Netanyahu sent.

A message the media and Israel’s well-meaning critics could also heed.

Israel is recovering, battered, dazed, like coming out of a bad car accident.

Israel seems still to be like the elderly woman in the bomb shelter, gingerly stepping out into the daylight, ears twitching, waiting for the sirens to blare again.