Monday, January 5, 2009

This Is How You Live In Israel - Part 1

Keren, Gal and Tamar are among our Israeli friends and family. These three exceptional young women are at different stages of their Army duty. Keren is a reserve officer subject to being called up, Gal has finished active duty and is in the year immediately after service when the Army tries not to call you back. Tamar is on active duty.

Keren, my Yemenite daughter, has been attending Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus in Jerusalem. We saw her Saturday night (Jan. 3) at a dinner party thrown by Gideon and Pnina, Molly's in-laws. As of 10 pm Saturday night Keren had not been called up and thought she might be heading back to school. Sunday morning, when her biological father, Mauricio, came by to help me stock up on coffee and wine and told me that, very late at night, Keren was called up. She reported for duty Sunday morning. We saw Keren in Tel Aviv Sunday night, She got the night off. This country is so small the kids can commute to the war front. Today (Monday Jan. 5) she's somewhere along the Gaza border but can't tell us exactly where or what she's doing. Her college studies are on hold for an indefinite period of time. Meanwhile her brother, Daniel, is in the Golani Brigade, an elite combat unit. He was somewhere on the Golan Heights but has been moved to a training area in the Negev. We don't know what he's training for but are pretty sure we'd rather have the war end before he gets a chance to do it.

Mauricio shrugs and says that this is how you live in Israel. In 1950, when he was 2 years old, his family moved here from Italy. He remembers the 1956 war, he fought in the Sinai in 1967 and, in 1981, rode a mobile heavy mortar into Beirut. Almost every Israeli has a similar story.

Here in Tel Aviv, unless you seek out the occasional anti-war demonstration or stay glued to the broadcast news you wouldn't know there's a war going on. Last Friday we joined the Rabinowitz family at the basketball game between the 11-12 year old teams from Hapoel Ussishkin and Hatikva. The game was at the Hatikva community center, the neighborhood where Becky and Gal lived together a few years ago. Gal's youngest brother, Yonaton, a very good player, was the high scorer in a lopsided victory. Gal's Dad, Danny, is a basketball player who supports his family by working as a University professor. He was clearly happy to have his son excel at his game and to have his daughter at home. Gal may get to miss the current war, keep working to save money and take her post-Army trip to the Far East.

Tamar is Marcia and David's granddaughter, making her  my third or fourth cousin (its been too long since law school to remember degrees of consanguinity). Tamar is on active duty. She's been at a base close to the junction of Israel, Gaza and Egypt but may have been moved north and inland. Her usual Army job involves counseling soldiers. So she may not be on the front line (wherever that is today) but she is probably in an area within Hamas' missile range.

Liz, Becky and I have watched the TV channel on which the Homefront Command broadcasts instructions (in Hebrew, English, Arabic and Russian) for dealing with missile attacks. Within 40 kilometers of Gaza, Israelis are asked to stay within a certain distance of a shelter or safe room. The response time varies depending upon how far you are from the missile launching sites. Schools within the danger zone have been closed and outdoor gatherings are banned. We have been told how to select the safest room in the apartment. In the event we can't reach a shelter or don't have a safe room (which we don't), we know how to select the safest room in the apartment. The Opera Tower's bomb shelter is on -3, the lowest garage/basement level, about 9 stories below us. I know where the stairwells are and which one is closest to the shelter. I don't expect to need this information but, having once worked in the World Trade Center, I know it's information I want to have on my frontal lobe, just in case.

The international press and the usual pro-Palestinian whiners are much more concerned with the "civilian" casualties in Gaza than any injuries inflicted upon Israelis. We've been asking Israeli friends and relations about this. The general view is that its unfortunate that some people are caught in the middle but that Israel is right to do something about Hamas' attacks. One friend with a relative who was badly injured by a Grad missile hitting Ashkelon is not at all sympathetic. One relation is so upset that he's rethinking his relationship to the Zionist project. Others point out how Israel tries to warn Gazans before dropping bombs on residential buildings. I don't know if The Usual Suspects in the US know that Israel will call cell phones, drop leaflets and use other means to warn civilians that the building they are in or next to is about to be hit. They even drop small bombs near the building or blank charges that make a loud boom without deadly force before the actual attack. I find myself ambivalent about the fate of children who have been raised to celebrate the death of a Jew and aspire to wear bomb belts. I'd like to see them get a decent life but their parents are the ones who will have to stop the insanity and, frankly, they don't seem inclined to do that. As long as Hamas forces the choice to be our kids or their kids, I'm going to worry about our kids first.

Hamas has for years indiscriminately attacked and killed Israeli civilians and evidences not the least inclination to change its behavior. Israelis, for the most part, really are unhappy when noncombatants get hurt. Hamas could care less. What most of the "international community" wants to ignore when bemoaning the "humanitarian crisis" in Gaza is that one of the reasons the Gaza borders are usually closed is that Hamas has the habit of shelling any crossing at which Palestinians were trying to get into Israel to work or do business. They really do not care how many of their own people die for the cause. If they can't maneuver the Israelis into shooting Palestinians, they'll just do it themselves and say, with a straight face, that Israel forced them to do it. The Hamas leader who died with his four wives and 11 children deliberately ignored Israeli efforts to warn them to get out of harm's way. He would have died with 12 children but for the fact that he had already used one as a homicide bomber.

Its disgraceful how many seemingly intelligent adults refuse to acknowledge that maybe Hamas and its allies have some responsibility for current events. As a pleasant surprise, some Arab governments seem to have figured this out. Arabs accepting that fellow Arabs may actually be at fault is progress of sorts. But my favorite voice in the wilderness is the support Israel has received from the Czech President of the EU. The Czechs know something about self-defense and what can happen if you rely on the British, French and the rest of the "international community" to preserve your borders and protect your citizens. After 50 years of being ruled by Nazis and Stalinists, the Czechs know something about Israel's predicament.

So, how does this end? Well, officially, neither side wants a cease fire that "gives legitimacy" to the other. There is some slim possibility that reality will set in and both sides will find a way to claim victory and stand down. If Hamas survives and gets a truce under which Israel ultimately opens up the borders and seaport, they'll say that they won. Israel can claim victory if it survives (no other UN member gets its existence questioned, why is that?), rocket fire ceases and the smuggling tunnels are closed. As of tonight (Monday Jan 5) Israel has split Gaza into three sections and is clearly trying to achieve the sort of control it has asserted over the West Bank (which has been divided into four sections for a number of years). But Israel can't sustain its divide and conquer strategy with which it has had some success in the West Bank unless it permanently reoccupies Gaza. So, a bigger, albeit unlikely, victory for Israel would be to mortally wound Hamas and put Fatah back in control.

A big reason why the West Bank has been relatively quiet (except for the pogroms initiated by Jewish settlers) is that Fatah police, armed by the US and trained in Jordan, have been keeping Hamas and other Islamic terrorists under control. Amnesty International objects to the use of torture and targeted assassinations that continue to be part of the Fatah playbook but homicide bombings have been squelched. In return, Israeli troops have been pulled back from some population centers, allowing the locals to move about and do some business. The ironic business news of 2008 is that while the rest of the world sank into a deep recession the Palestinians' West Bank economy grew by about 12%. Now 12% of next to nothing isn't much but having the hotels in Bethlehem crowdedwith Christian pilgrims while Israeli Arabs go shopping in Jenin and Ramallah are hopeful signs. However, economic improvements will not, in the end, satisfy Palestinians' national aspirations or bring Israel any lasting peace. The gloomy statistic around here is that from 2005 to 2007 the largest Israeli population increase was the growth of West Bank settlers from 230,000 to 250,000. No segment of the Jewish population has that high a birth rate. This was not "natural growth" but deliberate expansion of the settlements. No matter what sort of cease fire gets worked out in Gaza, the seeds for the next generation's war are being sown.

Meanwhile, the weather has been pleasant and we've been out walking some of the city's more interesting neighborhoods with the Solomons (who left for home this evening), rediscovering some of our favorite restaurants, listening to some great jazz and generally having a very good time. Today, David Chamovitz gave us a tour of the cemetery on Trumpeldor, where many of Tel Aviv's streets and the faces on our Zionist sugar packets are buried. David keeps notes and newspaper clippings to educate the tourists and even waived his usual fee. We found the graves of Dizengoff (Tel Aviv's first mayor), Max Nordau (who never lived in Israel but whose bones were moved to a crypt formerly used by David's friend Joe to teach young Irgun members how to assemble weapons), Ahad Ha'Am, a number of city founders, the mass graves of people killed in the Arab riots of 1921 and 1929, a couple of the Irgun kids who fell in battle while still in their teens and artists like Bialik, Brenner, Reuven Rubin and Shoshana Demari (Israel's great lady of song). This is also how you live in Israel.

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