Tuesday, August 08, 2006

August 8, 2006 Day 28 War in Israel

August 8, 2006 Day 28, War in Israel

In the supermarket this morning, Miriam, a grade school teacher, said her three sons are in Lebanon, reserve soldiers, all called up a few weeks ago. “I heard from two of them, but the third one,” she said, sighing. “I haven’t heard from him in three days.”

Tonight, at the wedding of a friend, overlooking the Kidron valley and the old city in Jerusalem, a young woman sat away from the festivities, frantically punching numbers on her cell phone. Her husband had been in Lebanon for ten days. She hadn’t heard from him in a day and a half. The radio announced three Israeli soldiers were killed. She was worried that a dreaded phone call might come. Or that gut-wrenching knock at the door with bad news.

Another guest at the wedding was also worried. Avraham had two children in the army. His daughter was in an underground shelter, working in Army intelligence. But his son was an officer in the tank corps. A tank commander with a squad of tanks under his orders. Lot of responsibility for a 22-year old. “When he said he wanted to go into the tank corp. instead of army intelligence, I said, ‘sure, why not?’ Everyone knows that tanks are passé. No one uses them. The government is cutting them out of the army. And what about the hi-tech anti-missile systems to protect the tanks? ‘No budget, sorry. Besides, who needs tanks?’ Battle plans don’t include tanks anymore. Don’t include wars, even. Has to be safe, right? But no. Now it’s the tanks that are right out there in front. And my son with them. Wish he had those anti-missile systems, too.”

Avraham recently took a job in Haifa. “It’s sort of a ghost town. Not much going on.” What happens when the sirens go off? “I go into the bomb shelter like everyone else.”
But he wasn’t as worried about himself as he was about his son. “I hope this ends soon.” What did Avraham think was the solution? “Not much to do, is there. Fight them. That’s what has to happen. Some how or another eliminates the threat.”

The last story showed the Israeli heart even in the army. When the “Tzav shomna” emergency reserve call up order went out, the press wondered aloud at the effect it would have on the public. As of today everyone was surprised, there was more than 100 per cent response to the call-up. Not just those who had received the call up were appearing, but also volunteers. That’s how they got to more than 100 per cent.

One young man in the neighborhood just finished his three-year compulsory service, and received a call-up notice. He went. When he showed up at the base his commanding officer told him that since so many guys were showing up for reserve duty, ready to fight in Lebanon, the army had decided to let those guys who’d just finished their compulsory duty go home.

But many of the neighborhood kids are fighting in Lebanon. Fighting as in going house to house with an M-16 in their hands, their stomachs tightened, the adrenaline pumping. In an Israel TV interview, a reserve soldier in Lebanon said, “Sure I’m scared. But it keeps you sharp. Aware. You never really sleep. You just do what you have to do, eyes open all the time.”

Morale in Israel is surprisingly high. Most of the population is still a strong supporter of the war. Even those stuck in the bomb shelters in Kryiat Shmona. Israel TV shows footage of those poor people, still in bomb shelters after four weeks. Most of the bomb shelters were not prepared for long-term use. Frequently, the toilets don’t work, if there are toilets. The air-conditioning doesn’t work, because there isn’t any. And the kids. The kids. Imagine kids restricted to a bomb shelter for a month. Coming out to get some air, but then dashing back down the stairs when the sirens go off, as they always do. The TV cameras show the pain on their faces. Mom listens to the sirens, the kids cringe, the bombs fall. “Hear that? Hear that?” Mom asks the reporter. Sure, he hears it. The sirens go off all day; the bombs fall several times an hour.

Today, again, nearly 200 missiles fell. Some time yesterday rockets fell on a local school in Kyriat Shmona. The bomb took a big bite out of the exterior wall. The ball bearings packed into the explosive tore little holes in the classroom. It’s these ball bearings that tear people up like meat grinders. Luckily the school was empty. Summer vacation. These kids are spending their summer vacations in a bomb shelter.

When the Germans bombed London incessantly, the citizens took to the underground, camped out there for hours, days at a time. The bombing went on for about nine months. One day it stopped. The Londoners came up and started their lives again. But PM Churchill took the opportunity to help decimate Germany. Recently I worked on a film that required me to scan footage of the destruction of German cities. Pleased Soviet soldiers, cigarettes in their mouths, arms around a local beauty, smiled at the cameras. All around them was rubble, a wall here, two walls there, the rest piles of bricks. Churchill must have been happy.

The Israelis are now in the middle of the blitz. Nothing is going easy. One woman reported bringing her TV and video into the bomb shelter in her building. During a break in the bombing she went to see how the world looked above ground. When she returned she discovered one of the other people who’d been using the shelter had left town, heading to the safety of the middle of the country. They took the TV and video with them. Who ever said there were no Jewish thieves?

Why are these people still in the shelters after a month? That’s a question that was asked frequently on the press. Today the government announced that 10,000 residents of the north who’d been stuck in the shelters would be given a government sponsored break, a few days in a hotel in the beachside resort of Netanya, or Tiberias along the Sea of Galilee, even though Tiberias has been hit by rockets itself. Still for those with ‘shelter fever’ the break is a God sent.

They ask why they’re subjected to this torture? They ask why Hezbollah has to keep firing? Why did they start in the first place? It’s a question many people ask, but few can answer.

Almost everyone you talk to has a family member who has been called up. The army has decided, after a month, to expand the fight, go deeper into Lebanon in an attempt to quell the rocket fire on Israeli citizens. This isn’t just a war. This is terrorism. It’s not like Hezbollah hordes invading Israel, although they would if they could, but rockets, hundreds of them a day. A few years back it was a bomb or two each day in Jerusalem, or Tel Aviv, or Hadera, or Netanya. Then it was called the Intifada. It’s always called something.

These bombs aren’t going to topple the country. Not going to destroy us, said then Prime Minister Yitchak Rabin of the suicide bombers. Tonight, at the wedding overlooking the old city of Jerusalem, a university professor said the same thing. The rockets aren’t going to destroy Israel. Not unless the warheads are filled with chemical, biological, or nuclear war heads. 100 dead so far from the rockets that fall every hour will seem like a gift compared to the thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands that would die if weapons of mass destruction were used.

A horrible thought. Hezbollah would suffer the ultimate retaliation of Israel’s wrath. This time it wouldn’t be a few thousand troops in Lebanon, it would be the full frightening force of Israel’s arsenal unleashed on a mostly guiltless, although acquiescent, population. But as William Goldman wrote in The Princess Bride, “Who ever said life was fair?”

The new initiative by the Lebanese Government is “interesting,” according to Israeli PM Olmert. This bold move by Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora comes on the heels of the Arab League that met yesterday in Beirut. Siniora says he’s ready to send 15,000 soldiers to take over South Lebanon, just so the Israelis won’t be there. Lebanon says they’ll be joined by UNIFIL the United National International Force in Lebanon. UNIFIL, has been in Southern Lebanon since 1983, and has done nothing to stop Hezbollah in all those years. Israelis scoff at the idea that they’d do anything now.

Other countries that have offered Lebanon help are Indonesia and Malaysia, both practitioners of fundamentalist Islam, both virulently anti-Israeli. Team them up with the Lebanese Army, which is made up largely of Shiites, like Hezbollah, and you have a sure-fire recipe for ratcheting up the war.

But the paradox is this was precisely what Israel called for at the beginning of the conflict. Why doesn’t Lebanon take over the South? And here they are, calling Israel’s bluff. Sort of puts Israel’s PM Olmert in a tough spot. But what is needed is a non-biased international force. Lebanon opposes that idea. So does Hezbollah. So does Syria, which doesn’t want to lose it’s growing influence in Lebanon.

Meanwhile the Israeli soldiers continue to report for reserve duty. The few is becoming many. Sooner or later Israel’s military planners will stop fighting the last war and start planning and fighting this one. Given time Israel will deal with Hezbollah. The new change in Israel’s military leadership on the Northern front will reportedly be more aggressive in pursuing a military victory on the ground, not in the air. The ‘just a little pregnant’ scenario will go to a full-term affair. The men reporting for duty are ready for the fight, which will get worse before it gets better. The mothers of these men have reason to worry. They won’t all come back. And they won’t become Shahidim (martyrs) either. They’ll just be more dead Jewish/Israeli Arab guys who fought to keep the maniacs from destroying their people, yet again. I hope that if there’s a Heaven, they’ll be up there. If not, they fought to protect 'Mom,' not impose some radical fanatic belief in how God wants the world to run. Too bad the moms of those crazies didn’t talk sense into them when they had the chance. Would have saved a lot of good people, on both sides of the border.