Thursday, January 29, 2009

Letter from a Reserve Soldier

This is what Elie and so many other soldiers would say to the world and the people of Gaza, if they could. But Elie is a young man, not yet comfortable with the power of words. These thoughts are his, I've heard him express them to me many times, but this letter, from a reserve soldier who recently served in Gaza, shows a maturity that Elie does not yet have and an experience I hope he'll never get. They are important words and so I post them here - an open letter to the people of Gaza...if only...if only they would listen!

An Open Letter to A citizen Of Gaza:
I Am the Soldier Who Slept In Your Home

By: Yishai G (reserve soldier)

Hello,

While the world watches the ruins in Gaza, you return to your home which remains standing. However, I am sure that it is clear to you that someone was in your home while you were away.
I am that someone.

I spent long hours imagining how you would react when you walked into your home. How you would feel when you understood that IDF soldiers had slept on your mattresses and used your blankets to keep warm.

I knew that it would make you angry and sad and that you would feel this violation of the most intimate areas of your life by those defined as your enemies, with stinging humiliation. I am convinced that you hate me with unbridled hatred, and you do not have even the tiniest desire to hear what I have to say. At the same time, it is important for me to say the following in the hope that there is even the minutest chance that you will hear me.

I spent many days in your home. You and your family’s presence was felt in every corner. I saw your family portraits on the wall, and I thought of my family. I saw your wife’s perfume bottles on the bureau, and I thought of my wife. I saw your children’s toys and their English language schoolbooks. I saw your personal computer and how you set up the modem and wireless phone next to the screen, just as I do.

I wanted you to know that despite the immense disorder you found in your house that was created during a search for explosives and tunnels (which were indeed found in other homes), we did our best to treat your possessions with respect. When I moved the computer table, I disconnected the cables and lay them down neatly on the floor, as I would do with my own computer. I even covered the computer from dust with a piece of cloth. I tried to put back the clothes that fell when we moved the closet although not the same as you would have done, but at least in such a way that nothing would get lost.

I know that the devastation, the bullet holes in your walls and the destruction of those homes near you place my descriptions in a ridiculous light. Still, I need you to understand me, us, and hope that you will channel your anger and criticism to the right places.

I decided to write you this letter specifically because I stayed in your home.

I can surmise that you are intelligent and educated and there are those in your household that are university students. Your children learn English, and you are connected to the Internet. You are not ignorant; you know what is going on around you.

Therefore, I am sure you know that Qassam rockets were launched from your neighborhood into Israeli towns and cities.

How could you see these weekly launches and not think that one day we would say "enough"?! Did you ever consider that it is perhaps wrong to launch rockets at innocent civilians trying to lead a normal life, much like you? How long did you think we would sit back without reacting?

I can hear you saying "it’s not me, it’s Hamas". My intuition tells me you are not their most avid supporter. If you look closely at the sad reality in which your people live, and you do not try to deceive yourself or make excuses about "occupation", you must certainly reach the conclusion that the Hamas is your real enemy.

The reality is so simple, even a seven year old can understand: Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip, removing military bases and its citizens from Gush Katif. Nonetheless, we continued to provide you with electricity, water, and goods (and this I know very well as during my reserve duty I guarded the border crossings more than once, and witnessed hundreds of trucks full of goods entering a blockade-free Gaza every day).

Despite all this, for reasons that cannot be understood and with a lack of any rational logic, Hamas launched missiles on Israeli towns. For three years we clenched our teeth and restrained ourselves. In the end, we could not take it anymore and entered the Gaza strip, into your neighborhood, in order to remove those who want to kill us. A reality that is painful but very easy to explain.

As soon as you agree with me that Hamas is your enemy and because of them, your people are miserable, you will also understand that the change must come from within. I am acutely aware of the fact that what I say is easier to write than to do, but I do not see any other way. You, who are connected to the world and concerned about your children’s education, must lead, together with your friends, a civil uprising against Hamas.

I swear to you, that if the citizens of Gaza were busy paving roads, building schools, opening factories and cultural institutions instead of dwelling in self pity, arms smuggling and nurturing a hatred to your Israeli neighbors, your homes would not be in ruins right now. If your leaders were not corrupt and motivated by hatred, your home would not have been harmed. If someone would have stood up and shouted that there is no point in launching missiles on innocent civilians, I would not have to stand in your kitchen as a soldier.

You don’t have money, you tell me? You have more than you can imagine.

Even before Hamas took control of Gaza, during the time of Yasser Arafat, millions if not billions of dollars donated by the world community to the Palestinians was used for purchasing arms or taken directly to your leaders bank accounts. Gulf States, the emirates - your brothers, your flesh and blood, are some of the richest nations in the world. If there was even a small feeling of solidarity between Arab nations, if these nations had but the smallest interest in reconstructing the Palestinian people – your situation would be very different.

You must be familiar with Singapore. The land mass there is not much larger than the Gaza strip and it is considered to be the second most populated country in the world. Yet, Singapore is a successful, prospering, and well managed country. Why not the same for you?

My friend, I would like to call you by name, but I will not do so publicly. I want you to know that I am 100% at peace with what my country did, what my army did, and what I did. However, I feel your pain. I am sorry for the destruction you are finding in your neighborhood at this moment. On a personal level, I did what I could to minimize the damage to your home as much as possible.

In my opinion, we have a lot more in common than you might imagine. I am a civilian, not a soldier, and in my private life I have nothing to do with the military. However, I have an obligation to leave my home, put on a uniform, and protect my family every time we are attacked. I have no desire to be in your home wearing a uniform again and I would be more than happy to sit with you as a guest on your beautiful balcony, drinking sweet tea seasoned with the sage growing in your garden.

The only person who could make that dream a reality is you. Take responsibility for yourself, your family, your people, and start to take control of your destiny. How? I do not know. Maybe there is something to be learned from the Jewish people who rose up from the most destructive human tragedy of the 20th century, and instead of sinking into self-pity, built a flourishing and prospering country. It is possible, and it is in your hands. I am ready to be there to provide a shoulder of support and help to you.

But only you can move the wheels of history."

Regards,

Yishai, (Reserve Soldier)

Rocket on Sderot

Sometimes, no words really are better...

07:10 AM - Jan/29/09 Gaza terrorists Thursday morning and ended several days of quiet for Sderot residents, attacking the area with one Kassam rocket that exploded without causing any injuries or damage. The early warning system also sounded several minutes earlier in the Eshkol region, and it is not yet clear if it was a false alarm or it landed an unknown area.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Elie's Team Won!

... today at the PaintBall field.

Elie told me about his few hours on the field, much of it with laughter and smiles. He shot one of his officers - right between the eyes (which luckily for all was covered with a safety helmet and visor). That was considered a "kill" and so the officer had to leave the playing field for the duration of that segment. Elie was "hit" one time in the vest, not considered a kill.

"I got others too," Elie explained.

But the funniest explanation came about when he explained that one segment involved each side having a captain. The goal was to "kill" the other team's captain and, if neither side succeeded, the winner would be the team whose captain advanced the farthest on the playing field. The idea was that the team had to protect its captain at all cost.

"Who was your captain?" I asked Elie.

"K., of course," Elie explained. K. is the head of Elie's solela (battery) and the one who organized the day. The problem was, K. wasn't one to be protected. He ran into the battle shooting and taking part while Elie and the others kept trying to make him take cover. Luckily, K. wasn't hit and so Elie's team was victorious.

Another segment involved the two teams moving through territory trying to capture cannons on the field. This was a bit much for me to imagine - a group of artillery soldiers on a "battlefield" with paint guns, trying to vie for cannons.

"Did they know you were artillery soldiers?" I asked.

"Yes," Elie said with a smile. "They figured it out."

Elie told me about how the guns shoot, "they aren't like real guns," he explained. "You don't hold them like a real gun. You just shoot and see how the 'bullets' go and then you change your aim."

01.28.09, 21:47 A Color Red alert sounded in Eshkol Regional Council. No rocket landing sites have been detected at this time.

"Did they give you a chance to practice before you started the games?" I asked. Silly me, asking such a question.

With the arrogance that only youth can have and a wicked grin on his face, Elie answered, "we didn't need it."

God, I love that boy. He had a great day. I'm so so glad he had this day.

01.28.09, 22:02 A rocket fired from northern Gaza landed in Eshkol Regional Council limits. No injuries or damage were reported.

Nothing to say, nothing to write

Elie is off with the other commanders in his unit - playing PaintBall. His gun is secured here in my office behind two locks, dismantled and separated from the magazine of bullets, which Elie put in yet another place before he left. He'll stop back here later to pick up his gun, even if it is after I leave the office because, "you can't take the gun home." (No, I can't.)

He went in regular clothes - jeans and a T-shirt, to meet a bunch of guys similarly dressed. Today, he is...just a 21-year-old having fun with a bunch of guys around the same age. They will divide into teams, run and shoot and fall and play. They will forget that for the past month, they have been involved in a war, that they were given the responsibility to watch over and be ready to protect hundreds, perhaps even thousands of their brothers in arms. Ever ready to protect if something went wrong, they were on alert, waiting for a command to come telling them to fire.

The command came many times over the weeks that they were there - and each time, Elie and his unit fired. The fire and power of the weapons, the sounds of explosions near and far, the smoke, the hours and hours they worked - it's all in the past today. Far from their minds. They have earned the right to step down, to relax, to have fun.

A siren sounded in southern Israel a short while ago - it appears to be a false alarm. Last night, the air force identified and destroyed more tunnels that are used for smuggling weapons into Gaza. The 7-day truce declared by Hamas formally ends today. Gilad Shalit remains a prisoner in Gaza, a pawn used to terrorize his family.

It's sunny outside, a bit cool and cloudy at times. Across the street, I see people sitting on the balcony taking a break from work. A car drives down the street and the driver honks at another car that threatens to jump into his lane. In the distance, I can see the trees in an open field gently moving with the breeze.

At this moment, my younger daughter is in school; my younger son is in school. My middle son is studying for a math test later today. My older daughter is either at the university or at her apartment. She and her husband will be coming for the weekend to spend some time with my husband's brother, who will head back to the States early next week. As of now, Elie will be home for the Sabbath. I will get to watch my husband bless him and pray for peace for his son, all his sons.

It's quiet. It's calm. I have nothing to write other than to say that I have to learn to go back to normal...and I'm not quite there yet. There was a trauma, having my son in a war, having my friends' sons in a war, having my nation at war. There was a trauma in listening to the radio, only to hear a voice-over telling people to quickly go into bomb shelters.

When this happens, the body tenses, as if waiting for a blow. Where will the missile land? Has it already hit? That quickly, did I learn in Ashkelon. Oddly enough, I'm more nervous, slower to calm now, than I was even last week. The anticipation is almost worse than the reality...and the reality was pretty bad. There is even comfort in knowing that the numbers of people reading this blog has settled back down to normal. During the war - at one point, it hit over 11,000 in one day - too many people, I think - too much noise. I like feeling the comfort of a smaller group of people - it's just you and me again. Well, you, me, and Elie and my other kids and certainly I can't forget my husband. But that isn't too crowded - I can handle that. I can handle this post-war, settle back down time.

Each day that passes brings two things: one is a return to normalcy, because that's what the human seeks. We want today to be normal and so we block all thoughts that suggest things are not as they should be. Where only yesterday people hovered close to bomb shelters, today they want to believe they can run in the parks and not fear being caught outside.

Those who cannot bring themselves to run freely are the traumatized ones, the ones who need help. But those who are outside today enjoying the freedom, leaving their phones behind and their radios silent - these are the ones who are normal, who seek normalcy. It is why within hours of a terrorist attack, the site of the attack is clean and the traffic flowing. We need to believe that we can live normally in our country, and so we do. Until the day comes when we can't...because something has exploded - a bomb, a rocket, it doesn't matter what. And so we take it, we deal, we clean, and we strive for normal again.

The second thing that today brings closer, is the knowledge that the next round...and there will be one...is simply one day closer. It may take a week, a month, a year. If we are lucky, it will be even longer, but few believe this. There must be a fundamental change in the culture of the Palestinians; a basic acceptance of Israel and our right to exist here. Even more so, they have to accept we have a right to live. So long as their religious leaders preach violence against the "infidels" (and that is everyone who is not a Muslim), the next war - here and around the world, is only a matter of time.

So long as they raise their children to be martyrs rather than doctors; fighters rather than teachers, the next war is only a matter of time. But today, Elie is playing and I'm sure he is laughing and happy. He is safe, he is among friends, and his greatest worry is that perhaps he will be hit with a small blob of paint. In a world that has been so far from normal recently, I am so glad that for the moment, I have nothing to say, nothing to write.

May we all be granted days full of normalcy, days when our children are safe in school and our soldier sons safe shooting paint balls at their fellow soldiers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stomach Heading South...

My stomach headed south today. The darn phone beeped with a message that a soldier had been killed near Gaza in an explosion. Another soldier has been seriously wounded, two others lightly wounded. That was the first sickening jolt I felt. Israel was sending in troops to Gaza again, probably only for a brief incursion to track those responsible or to make sure nothing else was going to explode near the patrols. Whatever they were charged with doing, it was enough to cause my nerves to shatter.

"Elie, it's Ima. Did you hear what happened?"

"Yeah," he answered. Of course he did. He gets the same SMS messages to his phone that I do.

"If they call you, call me and let me know, ok?"

"Yeah, I'll call and see what's happening."

"Let me know," I said - terrified that it was all happening again.

Nothing has changed, Elie informed me later. They still have plans to go tomorrow to PaintBall and to the next training in the north soon after that. The Arabs again fired rockets at Israel - luckily they landed in an open field and luckily, Elie and his unit aren't in an open field now.

It took me a long time to settle today, to calm down enough to swallow. I sat at my client's computer and typed three documents. I talked to two engineers. I discussed issues with the new project manager and the whole time my heart was filled with dread. I haven't been checking the news obsessively for a few days. I've even left my phone in another room and not worried about missing a call.

Today, it was back to taking my phone to the bathroom with me, terrified that Elie would call and say he was heading back south.

"Why is Hamas doing this?" I asked Elie. "Could they have been more defeated?"

"We left too early," Elie answered. "They see that as a victory."

"How stupid are they?" I asked Elie - not really expecting an answer. How can they complain that everything is in rubble and yet continue to be so aggressive? They demanded that the crossings from Israel into Gaza be opened to allow humanitarian aide in - this was done already for days (actually, it was done throughout much of the war as well). They demanded Israel remove its troops - this we did (of course, their setting off a bomb next to our troops just ensured that we'd end up going back in, which is what happened today).

Tonight, three sets of parents have experienced the terror of getting a call that their sons were injured and another family is in mourning. The news stations are saying this is Hamas' way of saying that any ceasefire they offer will not include a cessation of attacks against our soldiers. Personally, I think this is Hamas' way of saying they are stupid.

I mean...been there, done that. If we could so easily beat a fully-armed Hamas...what makes them think they can take us on now when we have seriously damaged their infrastructure, depleted a fair amount of their weaponry and eliminated several important elements of their leadership?

Oh, they will rebuild - they will be re-armed by the Iranians and perhaps by others. But they have learned nothing because they will not use the money they get to build schools, but rather to re-arm. They will not use it for improved hospital equipment and healthcare - they will use it for rockets and mortars.

Gaza will be rebuilt and, if Hamas' leaders remain as stupid as they were today, Gaza will be brought down again. It took me a few hours to settle down, to accept that we might be headed right back into another phase of this war now instead of the reprieve I thought we'd have. But truthfully, no matter what tomorrow or next week brings, the one good thing that came out of this was the reality that Israel has reclaimed its army from its own political leaders.

The government may have succeeded in stopping the fighting before we achieved all our goals, but the army succeeded in showing Hamas that we know how to fight, that we will fight. We achieved a few days of peace for our southern residents, showered our soldiers with support and love, and convinced ourselves and the world that we will not allow Hamas to continue to terrorize us.

We may not have convinced Hamas of this - but if they come at us again, we will. We did not hesitate this time to defend ourselves against Hamas rockets and this time, for perhaps the first time in a very long, long time, if they attacked us from a mosque - we hit the mosque. When they attacked us from a school or a hospital, we attacked them back. If they do not hesitate to hide behind their women and children, they should no longer be surprised if we hit them back.

So, today I once again experienced that sickening feeling of dread that comes from knowing that we are, as we have always been, still stuck in this vicious, endless state of war. I had hoped for a longer period of quiet than a mere 7 days. I had hoped that perhaps we would have even up to a year, maybe, in my most desperate of dreams, I even hoped it would last up to 18 months. I held little hope for it lasting more than that.

Hamas has made it clear - they are not interested in peace nor do they particularly care about the comfort of their own people, let alone ours. A soldier died today - a Bedouin tracker, as it turns out, who chose to serve in the army and help defend this land. An officer was critically injured. Rockets were fired at Israel, more shots fired tonight.

And though my stomach headed south for a good portion of the day, leaving me nervous and worried, I dealt with it and functioned quite well (delivering no less than three documents!). It's 11:00 p.m. here in Israel. Elie went to bed a few hours ago, safe in his room, in his home, with his family.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring; if more rockets will fall, if Elie will go to the PaintBall place or be called south or north. But that has been a constant since Elie went into the army - that not knowing. Long ago, I resolved to take this army business one day at a time. Sometimes, for a stretch, I can handle longer periods. At the worst of times, I'll take it hour by hour.

No matter what happens, there is confidence that Israel will do what it has to do - that wasn't something I was completely sure about a few short weeks ago. We didn't do what needed to be done in Lebanon three years ago. We went in to get back two of our soldiers and lost too many in the failed attempt. We failed because the government held the army back, crippled its ability to act and react. We failed because the army never really accepted it was fighting a war because it waited for the politicians to decide how and what we were fighting. Hizbollah attacked our civilians, and we let them. Hizbollah won that war and for perhaps the first time in Israel's history, it was faced with a harsh reality in which the Arabs were led to believe they could defeat us.

This war in Gaza was a direct result of the Second Lebanon War. We fight a culture that relishes its enemy's weaknesses; one that gladly targets innocents and sacrifices its own for the glory of Allah and the ability to cry victim. That was what started the war.

What ended it was Hamas realizing that the Israel that came out of the Second Lebanon War was an angry one - both at the national level and at the military level. Our army learned the lessons of Lebanon and fought this war as wars must be fought - to win.

Our victory came because we did not listen to the politicians and we did not cave in to international pressure. Our people knew the truth; we've seen the rockets and mortars and missiles that Hamas and the Palestinians have been firing at us, and we know what these weapons can do.

So...whatever tomorrow brings, hopefully Elie will get his day with fighting with paint and hopefully those in the south will have quiet and perhaps, just perhaps, the Palestinians will use tomorrow to rebuild rather than restart a war they can't win.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Thank you...from Elie's Commander

There are many things that I think are unique about the Israeli army. Chief among these things is the way that the Israeli soldier interacts with his commanding officers. Israel is a very informal country in many ways. It is not uncommon for people to wear jeans to work; for children to call their teachers by their first names (or at least Morah [teacher] First Name). I know everyone in our local bank by their first names and in discussions with friends, even refer t the mayor of our city by his first name.

During the first four months that Elie was in the army, he and his fellow soldiers called his commanding officer, "Commander." After the ceremony that gave Elie his turquoise beret (Tekes Kumta), his commanding officer, who had been with these soldiers for four months, walked into the room and said, "Hi, my name is Or."

From that moment on, Elie called Or by his first name, as he does all of his commanding officers, and as his soldiers call him. After Elie finished his Commanders Course, he returned to the battalion (g'dud) that he joined when he first entered the army. Or was assigned a different task, and Elie rose in rank to be the equivalent of what Or was when he first met Elie. His soldiers call him "Elie."

Elie is a commander of a unit - the translations escape me, but I'll try to build the structure for you. Several of these units form another unit, called a solela. Several of these solelot (plural of solela, the artillery equivalent of the pluga, if that helps), is what makes up the g'dud. Of course, this assumes that I've written this correctly. There might be, and probably is, some level in between all this.

In non-technical terms - you have a bunch of soldiers, which form a unit. A bunch of those units forms a bigger unit and a bunch of those units forms an even bigger unit. A bunch of those units forms...well, a bigger unit and a few more of these and you have the artillery division. Put the artillery and tanks and well, a whole bunch of other groups - and there you have the army. By now, those who know all this are laughing because rather than tell our enemies anything secret, I've probably completely confused them!

Never mind. The point is - when Elie returned to the g'dud - he was given a new commanding officer. This young man, who is likely only a few months older than Elie - perhaps a year or two more at most, fought in Lebanon and has now led his soldiers in battle in Gaza. I can't write his name because I only know him, according to how Elie refers to him, by his last name. All I can say, is that K. (that's how we refer to "secret" officers in Israel) wants to thank his commanders and so has planned a special day for them. Once, when K. wanted to thank all his soldiers, he suddenly had his driver stop in front of a supermarket. He went in, and bought ices for all his soldiers (we're talking dozens here). This time, he wants to thank his commanders - those who he relied on during the war as orders were sent, coordinates, information.

Last week, after Elie was given time to attend his brother's bar mitzvah, he received a call telling him the whole unit was being given a week at home. It's called regila, and they get this vacation a few times per year. So, with all the soldiers at home, K. called Elie and told him that the army was taking all the commanders to...ready...a day of PaintBall.

"Didn't you shoot enough this last month?" I joked with Elie when I heard. He just smiled.

A few days ago, he went with friends to ancient caves about half way between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. They spent much of the day hiking and just being outside. Today, Elie spent much of the day simply doing nothing more than relaxing.

Tomorrow, he goes to have a fun day with his fellow commanders. It shows you yet another aspect of the Israeli army. In war, things are very serious and disciplined. One of the boys was upset during the war about some personal problems he was having. So a few friends went to a side field, took out some beer and sat with him drinking - trying to help him relax. They were "caught" by a commanding officer and sent to military jail. There is no fooling around in war. Even when a soldier is not on duty, he is on call.

Now the war is over...or at least we hope it is...and so the army not only allows this downtime, it encourages it and even sponsors it. Tomorrow, Elie will run, take aim, and shoot his best shots. He's an excellent marksman. Remind me never to go to a PaintBall session with a bunch of Israeli soldiers.

In addition to the PaintBall day, we received a letter in the mail from the head of Elie's g'dud. It was addressed to the families and explained how important was the role artillery played in this war, giving support to the paratroopers, the tank division, Givati and Golani ground forces, and more. The letter thanked the soldiers and their families and talked of plans for the coming weeks. Several times already, these plans have changed - north, south, center, north...

Several times in the last few days, I have seen large army trucks carrying tanks and armored personnel carriers and jeeps - all moving these massive vehicles back to where they were before the war. Israel is standing down. Except for our nerves and our fears.

"Elie, is it smart for them to move the stuff away so soon?" I asked him as we passed a tank on a large trailer.

"Ima, they moved it there once...they can move it there again."

Elie told me more about the first days of the war; how they arrived and slept outside on mattresses until the tents and cannons arrived. How they set up camp and prepared the cannons for war during the holy Sabbath. The rabbi had come before the Sabbath arrived and told the boys that they were allowed to do everything they needed to do to prepare for war, including building tents and using electricity.

I met a friend whose child is also in an artillery unit (though several rotations after Elie). She told me how Elie had spoken to her soldier before heading down to the war zone. Elie confirmed that he was probably heading down there and then said, "but don't tell my mother...or yours."

"Why didn't you want me to know?" I asked him. He didn't want me to worry. There was time enough if it really happened and until they got down there, he wasn't sure it would happen. That was why he called me, after he was there, to tell me that he wasn't where he had been - army talk to confirm he was down near Gaza.

As the days turned into weeks, Elie and almost all the soldiers received a constant stream of gifts: warm clothes, food, candies, and notes from children. Signs were hung on major intersections supporting the soldiers as they passed through cities and towns. And when they went home, restaurants gave them free food or at least discounts; people stopped them and welcomed them home. A nation has been thanking them for days now.

And tomorrow, Elie will receive a day of thanks from the army - a day where he can run around and shoot balls of paint at his "enemy". But this little war will end not in rubble, but in a barbecue and talk among friends who were there. It will give Elie a chance to relax among those who, like him, have been through a parent's nightmare and have now earned the time to just have fun.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Thoughts of the War

After long talks with Elie, here are my thoughts (and his) on what came out of this war:

What came out of this war: A sense of unity, of a well trained army working together.


The army worked as a unit - each part doing their share and protecting its flank. Artillery was there, every step of the way, and their role was critical. For fear of writing too much, I will write too little. But I will tell you that the war was run as correctly as possible, each part doing what it was supposed to do. The credit for this brilliant campaign may be taken by the politicians, but they are not the ones who coordinated - they are only the ones who will take credit.

What was accomplished was done so by the planning of generals who finally focused on their goal, one what had to be done. Politically, it is not easy to bomb a mosque. Militarily, they had every right to do so - it was not a mosque, but an arsenal with a minaret. In this war, the generals won and thus Israel won. We bombed the mosques with rockets, the schools with missiles and for once we held Hamas accountable. If you do not care about your own people, Israel told Hamas, it is left to us to do our best to protect them. So we dropped leaflets warning the civilians to move away from the terrorists, to leave certain areas. I know this to be true - I have such a leaflet with me now because so many thousands were dropped over Gaza that with the wind, many blew the short distance into Israel and Elie caught one.

"Save it, Ima," Elie told me. Perhaps he too feels the need to remember that we fought a just war, a fair war. We did not target civilians. I'll save it because my son felt the need to hold on to it in the middle of a war; to bring it home. He knows. He knows that civilians died in Gaza, possibly by his own hands - certainly by his orders to fire. But every shot that he and his unit fired had a specific target. Not once did they simply release such devastating weaponry without thought as to where it would go.

Sometimes, they did it to destroy their weapons, their strongholds, their "army." And sometimes, they did it to protect our own. To help our boys get in or out under the cover of our artillery. In all cases, their targets were true, their aim proper. Civilians were warned - I have the proof and I will save it for my son.

What came out of this war: A sense of spiritual faith, strengthened and grateful.


Elie told me that during the war, hundreds of pairs of tzitzit - a four-cornered garment with strings that men are commanded to wear - were distributed. The army simply could not keep up with demand. Elie told me that five pairs of tefillin (phylacteries - a religious article that is tied to the arm and to the head during the prayers - typically in the morning, that contains parchment with words from the Torah), were donated to his unit and it was in constant use throughout the day. One boy who is not religious at all - put on tefillin every day of the war. These are the shields of Israel, a vital part of who we are and as our sons faced this war, they understood this.

From the most religious to the most secular - even perhaps those who say they don't believe - still prayed for the safety of our soldiers and our southern residents.

What came out of this war: A sense of pride in being a nation that cares about others...even if this is not recognized.


Throughout this war, we shipped in humanitarian aide to our enemies - name me a single other country in history that has done this. When other nations besiege, intentionally attempt to weaken the enemy by surrounding and cutting off their food and water supplies, Israel - even under fire, shipped in thousands of tons of humanitarian aide - food, water, medicines. We took our enemies into our hospitals and gave them better care than they would ever get in Gaza...because we invest tremendous resources in our medical equipment, personnel, technologies. Israel is at the forefront of research and development - because we care enough about ourselves and others.

What came out of this war: Men who were boys; men who had learned war.
I can't write about this because Elie doesn't really talk about it. It is too deep to explain to one's mother; too serious to talk about with someone who can't understand. I've never shot a bullet, let alone a cannon. I've heard the explosion - but only in training or over the phone. Elie heard these explosions thousands of times. More, Elie helped create these explosions. He knows exactly how many times his unit shot. He's brushed off, nicely but firmly, my attempts to get him to talk too much about this aspect. He'll tell me what he did - because there is no shame, none whatsoever. He knows what he shot at, and the results of this shooting. But he won't talk about himself or what he feels.

"Does the army have you talk to people?" I asked him, hoping he would open more about it.
"If someone wants to," he answered.

And again, my son was not in the war in the sense that he was not on the ground in Gaza. He can see the results of what they did - he knows of the destroyed buildings, the devastated neighborhoods and the need to rebuild. But he is at peace with all that he did, all that he was called upon to do because he knows that from these buildings his unit destroyed - his nation was attacked. From these devastated neighborhoods, Hamas choose to fire at Israel. When a vicious enemy hides among his people...how much of an obligation do you have to do all you can to avoid hitting the people? The answer is all that Israel did.

Some people left comments that my son was a murderer. Not even close. My son has never murdered anyone, though in this new reality that Hamas thrust upon us, there is a good possibility that my son killed. He knows this. He lives with it. Not with joy, but with determination. He came back from this war whole in body and in spirit. There is a world of difference between killing and murdering. The commandment in the Bible says we are forbidden to murder. My son and the army of Israel did not violate this commandment. The Bible commands times that you must kill - the army of Israel killed. We killed those who would have killed us, murdered our innocents. And yes, it is likely that in hiding behind their wives and children and mothers, the Palestinians caused their deaths. If Israel killed Palestinian civilians, it is Hamas that murdered them.

And so, what came out of this war: with incredible gratitude to God, was my son and the boys from our neighborhood - and most of the sons of Israel. We lost sons there and many were injured and are still fighting for their lives. My youngest son explained to his little sister that this was a "milchemet mitzvah" - an obligatory war and that even a groom is commanded to leave his wedding ceremony to fight such a war.
This is what happened in this war. Aharon Karov is a soldier of Israel, a beloved son. On the Thursday night before Israel's ground forces entered Gaza, Aharon got married. A boy in Elie's unit asked to leave the unit to attend the wedding of his friend, but was denied. They needed him there, in Elie's unit, ready to fire, and so he missed his friend's wedding. Elie's soldier knew, Aharon knew, his new wife and his family knew that Aharon was likely to be called to fight in this war.
And that's what happened. Within hours after the ceremony, Aharon, a commander in the paratroopers, was called for a briefing. He was allowed to return to his new wife for the Sabbath and the celebrations for his wedding. But, in the early morning on Saturday, Aharon was called away from his new wife and went to war.
He entered Gaza with his men, as he had been trained and as he had trained them. As is the case in the Israeli army, he said, "Follow me," and the men followed. He fought with his men, led them on mission after mission. And then, three days after entering Gaza, Aharon led his men into a booby-trapped house in Gaza. Aharon (his full name for those who wish to pray for him is: Aharon Yehoshua ben [son of] Chaya Shoshana) was critically wounded.
He was evacuated by helicopter to Beilinson Hospital in Petach Tivkah, where he underwent six operations during the course of 12 hours: on his head, his eyes, ear-nose-throat, mouth and jaw, chest, and an orthopedic operation.
It is a story that has touched many in the world. Some with great pride - that such a young man would give of himself and join his men in war. Some in anger - how could you take a man from his new bride and send him to war? But Aharon's father answered that very question before his son was hurt - under the wedding canopy, surrounded by friends and family, knowing that soon his son would go to off to war.
Aharon's father, Rabbi Zev Karov said, “In the main wedding blessing, we say, ‘G-d sanctifies His nation Israel via the wedding canopy and betrothal.’ Why don’t we say that He sanctifies the bride and groom? We see that the personal building is a part of the national edifice. This is the main point, this is what we are brought up on, and now is the test when we show that it is not just talk, but it is how we really act.”
This, perhaps is the main lesson of the entire war for all of Israel and for the world. The Arabs have tested us time and again - they tested us again now. And each time we answer. It is how we act - the bravery to go to war, to fight a war, and to fight it as humanely as possible against an enemy that will hide behind its own children.
What came out of this war is an Israel that is much stronger than the one that went into Gaza a month ago. We are not stronger because our enemies are much weaker (though they are). We are stronger because we conducted ourselves according to "what we are brought up on."
With bravery, with courage, with fortitude, with compassion, with grace, with strength - Israel went to war. Hamas has claimed that they killed 1,583 of our soldiers. Hamas has claimed victory. Then again, Hamas claims we are the ones who are inhumane, the ones who aim at civilians. Hamas claims...and the world laughs at its lies.
The victory - if there can be victory in war, goes to Israel because, even in war, we continue to fight for peace. When the Arabs can claim the same - there will be peace here in the Middle East.

Yesterday...

Yesterday, my son was called to the Torah. Even more, he read the entire weekly portion, as well as the additional section known as the Haftorah. He read, as his father was called to bless the Torah and when his father had finished and David had read this first portion, our dear friend Gidon offered the blessing for the person who has been called up. He blessed my husband and his wife (that would be me). He blessed our eldest daughter and her husband, our Elie, our two younger sons and our youngest daughter.

The night before, our friends and family joined us for the Sabbath dinner. As is our custom, my husband stood up to bless each of our children. Unfortunately, my youngest daughter had a fever and so my oldest daughter and her husband stayed with her while I welcomed our guests. So Elie stepped up to his father, to receive his blessing for the first time in many weeks. We were honored to have our "adopted" son Yaakov and his wife here to help us celebrate. Yaakov met Elie when they shared a room in yeshiva/Hesder together and when we learned he was what we call a "lone" soldier because his immediate family was all in the States, we adopted him as ours.

When his brother Chaim came last year to learn in Israel, we did a quick calculation and figured my son's brother would be my son and so we have adopted Chaim too. And so, I quickly got all my sons in line to await the blessing from their father. Elie, then Yaakov, Chaim, then my middle son, Shmulik, followed by the bar mitzvah boy. The five handsome young men stood there as Elie lowered his head and my husband placed his hands on his oldest son's head.
May the Lord bless you and keep you.

May the Lord let His face shine upon you and be gracious to you.

May the Lord look kindly upon you and give you peace.

Peace...it reminded me of a song - a very sad song that I know. One line says, "with what shall I bless you?" - and the answer was life...and peace. After Elie had received his blessing, Yaakov received his - and then Chaim, and Shmulik and David - it was a scene I don't think I'll ever forget and though there were no cameras to record this moment, I can still close my eyes and see the five boys lined up waiting.

In the synagogue on Shabbat morning, after his father had said his blessing, David's uncle was called, then each of his brothers. Elie's gun was on the floor to the side of the room when he was called to the Torah. My nephew was lucky to be released from the army to attend his cousin's bar mitzvah and so he too had his gun with him.

There was no where Elie could leave his gun and so he had it with him always over the weekend. He wears it easily, even comfortably. After the Sabbath had ended and our guests had left, we gathered to finally take family pictures. Because my youngest was sick on Friday, we couldn't manage it before. She was up and jumping, the virus having run its course just in time for her to come and listen to David read his Torah portion so beautifully.

When it was Elie's turn, he put the gun down near me and went to stand for his turn. His gun and I have an understanding. Protect him and I won't hate you. Be there if, God forbid he ever needs you, and I'll welcome you into my house...a house that had never really known a gun until Elie went into the army.

Yaakov came over and I asked him to pick up the gun and hold it. Yaakov served in the Givati unit and he too holds it easily and confidently. Over the weekend, the war was mentioned many times. At one point, a friend was giving a class and took a moment to list the names of boys who had served - and returned home safely - from our neighborhood. It was so long, and had more names than I had known about. This friend, whose son was there, in Gaza, had taken the time to ask and list those sons who were serving.

It was humbling - but this is so like her. She's an amazing person, a woman of deep faith. Her son was IN Gaza, mine served outside...and I was crippled by the war, while she turned her fear towards being productive. Her husband was David's teacher. During the morning prayers, he read the special prayers blessing the State of Israel, the army of Israel, and finally the soldiers still in captivity, whose fates are still not known. Each name is like a stab in the heart; proof that we are not really at peace, not done with this and other wars.

Yesterday, celebrating with my family, I was torn in half several times. The first was because for the first 12 hours or so, my youngest daughter was sick with a stomach virus and fever and wanted me to be with her. I missed the afternoon and evening prayers and only went to dinner for a few minutes to greet our guests before returning to my daughter. I was torn between needing to be with her...and her needing to be with me...and wanting to celebrate with my son.

And, I was torn between wanting to focus on Elie after so many weeks of not seeing him, and wanting to focus on the bar mitzvah boy - on his special day. Despite that, I was so incredibly at peace because my world was right there, together, right, and yes, even at peace.

Yesterday could have been so different. The war might not have ended in time; the army might not have released Elie. I would like to think that I would have found a way to focus on David even if Elie hadn't been there - but with him there, everything seemed in place. David was the center of attention and yet understood that there were so many gifts he received - not just the books and the watch and many other presents from friends and family, but his brother.

Elie's being there was a gift from the State of Israel. I gave them my son almost two years ago. They gave him back to me briefly so that we could celebrate this great moment whole and together. As we were packing to leave on Friday, Elie got a call. For a moment, I was afraid they were calling him back - but they had called to tell him that once again, the army was shifting. This time - he has a week vacation - well earned, well deserved.

Today, David is home from school, enjoying a day to relax after weeks of work and anticipation. Elie is off with Yaakov (and Yaakov's wife) hiking around the mountains in the center of Israel, enjoying the sunshine and the land. And I'm enjoying a day to put my life back in order; to clean my house and celebrate that my son...all my sons...are safe.

I celebrate with incredible gratitude to God, that He gave me this incredible time, time to have my family together to celebrate and give my youngest son a memory filled with joy.

On Friday night, my five sons lined up to receive a blessing from their father...but somewhere in Heaven it was decided that my whole family would line up before our Father and be given this blessing.

May God bless our family, our sons and daughters, our nation, our people, our army. May He send a speedy recovery to the injured and the sick and may He look kindly upon us, and may He grant us peace.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Spoils of War

Guilty as charged. I have received the spoils of war...and wear them proudly.

Elie gave me a scarf - one of many he received from the people of Israel, private individuals and corporations who wanted to donate to the soldiers to keep them warm.

Elie gave me a pair of gloves - one of many he received as a sign of love and caring.

He has 5 other pairs of gloves, several scarves, head warmers, socks and more.

Elie brought me a note in Arabic (a copy appears on the Muqata blog) warning the people that the Israeli army was about to enter and telling them to distance themselves from terrorists known to be in that area. It was dropped by helicopters to warn residents - and the winds carried some back to Israel, to my son.

Elie brought me a note from Bank HaPoalim thanking the soldiers. It came with gifts, one of which I now have. Elie's backpack was filled with such gifts - all that a grateful and worried nation could do when it sent its sons to war.

I've received the spoils of war...and take it as a sign of love to a mother of a soldier as well. I'll wear them with pride and gratitude. Pride in my son, my army, my country and gratitude to God for bringing my sons, almost all my sons, home safely.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Today...

Today was a day...a day we will all remember. More importantly, it is a day we will want to remember. I left my phone in my pocketbook, ignored for much of the time. We were all together.

Together, as a family, we celebrated our youngest son's entrance into Jewish tradition. From the moment he was born, he was destined for this moment and all the moments to come. Many friends, David's and ours, joined us. Some came from near, others traveled greater distances. It was a show of love, a show of support. Each felt the joy not only of sharing in the moment, but in seeing that Elie was there too.

This is a scene repeating itself all over Israel. The sheer joy of seeing them safe, seeing them home, mingled with the deep and endless sadness as we recall those who didn't make it home. They came home with backpacks filled with gifts from a grateful nation. I hesitate as I write this, knowing that there will be those who will send me silly and stupid comments asking if we were rewarding them for murdering and going to war.

No, we were not rewarding them. We were thanking them. More importantly, we were trying to do the only thing that we could do. We couldn't change how the enemy treated them, but we could change how the weather effected them. Elie came home with thermal underwear, several new pairs of socks, several pairs of new gloves, scarves, hats. Anything to help them keep warm. He was given washing kits and shampoo and toothpaste...anything to make them just a bit more comfortable.

They went to war for us; we went to pray for them. There are amazing battle stories, miracles of how men were saved when the trap Hamas had set for them was averted. Elie told me some of what the artillery units were responsible for accomplishing. This was a war that elevated artillery in the minds of many other parts of the army. It was with the grace and determination of artillery, that so many units were able to operate so well in Gaza.

I have so much to write about the conversations I had with Elie - but still in the midst of a family celebration, these must wait until tomorrow. For today, I'll explain that it is now after 11:00 p.m., on the second night that Elie has been home. He's on call for the ambulance squad. I don't know how they knew to call him - he probably called them and told him he was back home.

So far, he hasn't been called - but the shift only began a short while ago. Once his going out like this terrified me. I can't even explain now why that was so. It seems so obvious now that there's little to really worry about, so tame compared to the past few weeks.

Today we spoke again about the war. The message he gives is one of pride in the way in which the army functioned. One of the Arabs captured during the war expressed his amazement at how the Israeli army fought. " You [Israel] are fighting like you fought in 1948. What got into you all of a sudden?"

That is very much what Israel and the soldiers felt - that they were fighting for a common goal, a common enemy. I could go on and on - but I'll write about tomorrow and other things soon. For now, I want to continue enjoying today.

Yesterday

Elie called in the early afternoon, "Can you pick me up?"

I was in the mall shopping for shoes for my daughter and for me. Suddenly, all things became so silly. I had no patience for shoes, though we found them - Elie was coming home!

I dropped my two younger kids at home, grabbed brownies and the special tuna-corn pancakes that Elie loves, a bottle of ice tea and some cups - and drove. I didn't take a map; didn't have the GPS from the other car. I know the general way - I'll wing it if I have to.

Enough gas - another delay avoided. Drive...drive and don't think. Drive and enjoy.

"How much longer?" Elie called at one point.

"Another 30-40 minutes at most, I think." I told him at one point.

"I'm still inside. I'll try to get a ride out now," Elie told me. I wouldn't be allowed up to the cannons but would meet him at the same place I met him last time. He would try to find someone with a jeep to drive him to the meeting point.

I took a wrong turn - drove twice as fast to get back to the right point. Called Elie when I got to the meeting point and he wasn't there. The parking lot where I had met him last time was empty. Before it was filled with cars of reservists who had been called to war. There were no buses - last time, there had been three - full of soldiers being moved to and from the front lines. There were no helicopters hovering overheard. But there were signs, "The people embrace our soldiers" and "You fight for our holy land" and simply "The people thank the fighters of Israel."

"Drive down the road till you get to the military police blocking the back road." He told me - and I did, past the "Closed Military Zone" sign in Hebrew and in English. The atmosphere was relaxed. I pulled next to another set of parents whose son was now in the car. I smiled at the mother; she smiled at me. There are times words need not be said, and yet volumes have been exchanged.

Elie was standing there with all of his backpacks. He filled the trunk, even put more in the backseat.

"Want me to drive?" he asked.

That's man-talk for "I want to drive" or "Can I drive?"

I countered with, "do you want to?" which was kind of unnecessary because he was already moving to the driver's door. I figured the least I could get out of it was a hug. I asked if he wanted something to eat or drink. He took the ice tea. I won't tell you about him drinking straight from the bottle or that I couldn't bring myself to even complain about it. We'll pretend it never happened.

"Do you want some brownies?" I asked him.

"Later," he said. "I just ate."

I offered the military police brownies before leaving. And as we drove home...or he did, we talked and talked and talked. We had an amazing conversation - I'll post about that separately. That was yesterday. Within minutes of arriving home, I was in the middle of laundry and other preparations and so I'll come back - later today, or early next week to as much of the substance as I can write about. That was yesterday.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

And the army did it again...

Two days ago, we were told Elie could come out for the celebration at the Western Wall on Thursday...it meant coming home today so that we could be there early Thursday morning.

I was about to walk out the door when the house phone rang. Because we had gone to the synagogue this morning to watch my youngest son put on tefillin for the first time, I had closed my phone and so when I didn't answer, Elie called the house telling me not to leave yet. They have authorized him to come for Shabbat...that's the great news...but now are delaying his coming out today. He may or may not be able to get out today...which means he may or may not be there tomorrow.

I had forgotten the roller-coaster of the army - too focused on getting something, I had forgotten that just because you think you have one thing...you very well might not. So - I might be getting to see Elie today - I might listen to all the things he wants to tell me and have a chance to tell him everything...or I might not. On one side, I could say this is a disappointment, but the more positive way of looking at this is that it really does mean that Israel is settling back into normal, even the army.

As I was walking into the synagogue, two soldiers were walking out, one a friend's son. He looks good. I smiled and greeted him and he smiled and greeted me in return. He is happy to be back home with his family. Another return to normal.

I hope Elie will be there - knowing he will be with us for Shabbat brings tremendous gratitude that far outweighs whatever disappointment I might be feeling now. I'm still hopeful he'll call me and tell me to drop everything and drive down to get him...and I will. I'm even tempted to do the last minute errands I have to do for the bar mitzvah and then around the time he thinks he'll know, perhaps arrange it so that I'm on the closer side towards him - saving at least 30 minutes of the trip.

We'll see - as always with a son in the armym you never know. So we have Shabbat...but we may or may not have tomorrow with Elie. It's a good trade, if I had to make it. The only problem is it means trading seeing him NOW versus seeing him a little later. I'm a mother - we excel in patience. We demand it of our children. Now, all I have to do is exercise it.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I'll tell you tomorrow, when I see you....

For those of you who have followed this journey...at least in the last few weeks, I'm sure you can imagine how incredibly sweet those words sounded to me. I spoke to Elie this afternoon and for the first time in almost a month, our conversation was relaxed. He has nothing to do. They are waiting there, hoping that the ceasefire will last...forever.

They are ready to fire - if fired upon. They don't expect to be, but they are ready. They are also very ready to come home - to sleep in comfortable beds, eat and dress and just be normal. But not yet. Slowly, troops are returning home. I am not part of the upper circles where they decide on the order of standing down from a war. Elie's unit remains, though many soldiers have already returned home to their families, their jobs, their lives. In some ways, this waiting period is harder than others. They want to finish and be finished.

We talked about what would have been, if they hadn't been called to war. They were to have gone for training. "Guess you had enough training, right?" I asked Elie.

"and then some," he answered.

He told me they might give them a week off, as they were planning to do before the war. They might cancel the unit's vacation - a week where they take the whole group somewhere to relax. There isn't much time yet before the next rotation and anyway, they all just want to go home. Nearly as much as we want them home.

"Guess what I ate for lunch?" he said at one point.

OK, that's going to be a bit hard. It had to be something really good...or really bad. But which? Hoping it was something good, I asked "what did you eat?"

"Steak and hamburgers." OK, that's about at the top of Elie's food chain. And then he explained. One of the father's of a boy in his unit came with a huge truck, a huge refrigerator compartment filled with meat - and made a barbecue for the guys.

"How much weight have you gained in this war?" I asked him and heard him laugh. You can't imagine how wonderful that sounds.

There were several times he started to say something and stopped. No, he can't tell me when his unit will move, where it will go. He can't tell me so many things. We talked a little bit about the rocket fire. Several times they were ordered to quickly take cover.
He told me that his unit is located in a field, and today, for the first time, he saw in the distance that the farmer was beginning to reclaim his land from the army; watering the fields that were open to him. "He can't even come here," Elie explained. "This area is a closed military zone."

I told him about the broadcasts - how in the middle of a discussion, a different announcer would suddenly start talking "on top" of the other voices, "Alert in Beersheva. In Beersheva, an alert. An alert, in Sderot and Ashkelon. Alert in Sderot and Ashkelon. In Ashkelon and Sderot, an alert."

I told him how I would start to pray each time I heard those words - "let it land in an open field and not in the city; let it land in an open field," knowing that even as I was thinking those words, the rocket had already landed. And then, I explained to my son, "then I realized YOU were in an open field. Then I started praying for it to land in the city," I joked and again he laughed.

We talked about his little sister, and the "trauma" of the false alarm here. "Ima, do you know how many times I heard the siren?" he asked. No, I don't know and I'm not sure I want to know.

"Did anything hit near you?" God, I don't want to know the answer to that one. Please, please say no.

"No," he answered. Thank you, God, for that!

He started to say something else, but again stopped. "I'll tell you tomorrow, when I see you," he explained and it sounded so good.

This evening for the first time in weeks, I mixed a batch of tuna-corn fritters. My mother made them when we were little; my sister makes them for her kids; I make them for mine. It doesn't beat steak and hamburgers, but it is something that Elie loves. Actually, I wouldn't be at all surprised someday to hear from Elie that he only eats them and pretends to like them because he doesn't want to hurt my feelings...but he, like the rest of my kids, do seem to love them.

So, I made a batch for dinner tonight and will take several with me to give to Elie during the ride home. He can only leave with the other commander gets back. That commander lives along the route where I'll be traveling to get to Elie, "do you want to ask him if he wants a ride? I can pick him up and bring him straight to where you are so he doesn't have to take any buses."

"I'll check," Elie said. A few hours later, I spoke to Elie again. "No, you don't have to get him," he said. "His father is driving him down."

That made me feel good. Like the father who drove down and made a barbecue for Elie's unit, like the father who will drive his son down tomorrow, like my friends here who went this evening to visit their son who was in Gaza and returned, we all need to see, to hug, to talk.

Many years ago, I wanted to help the Israeli army better explain why and how it does what it does. The army website was not well written and lead to misunderstandings and so I worked with a team of people to help improve the quality of the English on the site. After many months and considerable improvement, we decided the group of people would "stand down."

I liked the term and the concept. You step up to a crisis, you meet it, you deal. I'm not sure I dealt with this war nearly as well as I should have. Many friends (whose sons were in more danger than Elie) handled the war with faith and grace. I don't think I handled it with either. In some ways, that was good. It let you - those of you outside Israel - see the very real picture of how much we as a society love our sons and how much they love our country.

In some ways, I think I am standing down now. I will continue to write on the blog but it goes back to what it was a month ago, a place to share stories about life in Israel, especially those connected to having a son in the army. For now, though I have little faith this ceasefire will last beyond Hamas' ability to rearm, for now, we will sleep; for now, we will enjoy life and go back to whatever passes for normal in this country.

I thought to make a separate post about this, but I'll include it here. Today, Hamas boasted that they had killed 1,583 Israeli soldiers in this war. Miraculously, according to them - they managed to kill over 700 in a single day. If I had to explain the difference between their society and ours, I could not have done it better than they did themselves. There are no celebrations in Israel today; no great triumphant rallies. We do not celebrate the deaths in Gaza; we regret more than words can express, that Hamas brought this war down on the heads of our people and their own.

It would never occur to us to boast over the numbers of people who died in Gaza...not even those caught with guns and rocket launchers. What the Palestinians refuse to understand is that there are no winners in a war and so they lost, and so did we. There are orphans on both sides of the fence near Gaza, millions of dollars in lost earnings and damaged property. Tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of traumatized children.

What did we gain? In a very real sense, what Israel gained was probably several months of quiet before the next round. Again my youngest daughter told me about the moment when the siren went off. This is a child who remembers everything, and yet, almost every day, she keeps telling me the story as if I had not heard it. "There was a rocket attack in Beersheva," she said to me today.

"When?" I asked. Today, like yesterday, was quiet.

"A long time ago," she said.

Tomorrow, Elie will come home. "How are you?" I asked him and got his usual answer.

"Fine."

He does sound fine, but I'll know for sure tomorrow, when I see him and finally have a chance to really listen. When I see him tomorrow...

Monday, January 19, 2009

One Day...and Today is Good

I spoke to Elie on Sunday and asked him if he would be able to come to his brother's "aliyah to the Torah" on Thursday at the Western Wall. We will gather, our friends and family, and watch David recite the blessing over the Torah, and read its wise words. When he finishes, we will throw candies, wishing him only sweet things in life.

His friends will be there; it will be the first of many special moments that we will celebrate over the next few days. We celebrate the moment in his life when all things change; when he stands on his own. We, his parents, will now stand beside him and behind him; no longer in front of him, in the heavenly courts.

What he does, is his responsibility. It is the first step he takes on the road to becoming the man he will be. Till now, what he failed to do was my fault, as his mother; our fault, as his parents. Soon, it will be his choices that matter; his decisions and actions that determine his future.

We will gather no matter what, though the question that has hung over us as a family for the last few weeks is who is "we"? Will Elie be there? Elie was the first of my sons to experience this moment; to teach me what it means to have a son cross the threshold to manhood. Friends have told me that I have to be prepared, in case he can't be there. I have to practice laughing and smiling on the outside, while I cry inside. David deserves his celebration, no matter what it costs us all emotionally. It is part of what we do as Israelis and Jews. We choose life and the celebration of this important moment in my son's life demands that there be no tears, at least none like the ones I have shed in the last month.

Last week, when we talked about it, Elie said he didn't know if he could get out of the army. Yesterday, Elie told me he would only know in a few days. He didn't want to ask, as there was no way there would be an answer.

I took David shopping yesterday, wondering if Elie would be there. Should I buy Elie a new shirt or would that jinx the chances of his coming. Silly to think that way. It's the situation in the country and the war zone that will determine whether Elie will be there. I didn't buy him a new shirt. I couldn't.

So many times I have imagined our family meeting at the Western Wall. So many of my friends are coming, already telling me that they are giving us their love and support. I want Elie there. Could I stand it if he wasn't? How could I smile and be happy if my heart is breaking inside at the thought of his missing this moment with his family?

When they started giving some of the boys in his unit short leaves to go home and see their families, it was Elie's idea to offer to stay, with the hope that he could claim his "leave" to coincide with his brother's bar mitzvah. My older daughter suggested I tell Elie to do this. "How can I tell him to stay in a war zone?" I asked her. I can't.

If he can come home safely now, even at the cost of missing the bar mitzvah, I'll take what I can. Saturday night they declared a ceasefire - at least a unilateral one. We would cease firing. Hamas fired a dozen more rockets into Israel. Then, yesterday afternoon, Hamas and other groups declared they would agree to withhold firing for 7 days. What does this mean for our people living down there? For children who have missed so much school, for businesses who have lost so much money...and for Elie, who hasn't been home in so many weeks.

The clock is ticking down. I have so many things to do for this celebration and at any moment, I am overwhelmed with the simple task of just realizing that, for now, this war is over. Hamas has already announced that they are rearming. This is a temporary lull, as there have been so many others. But for children starved for sunshine in Sderot and Ashkelon, for mothers who want to hang their laundry outside and watch the children play, it is enough. They will worry about tomorrow or the next day later.

For now, they are very much like children first testing the vast ocean water at a beach. Slowly, they'll put a foot out the door and they'll listen for the sirens. So far today, it is holding. No rockets have fallen; no one has entered a bomb shelter in fear. Schools and universities are opening and Israel is, once again, sending humanitarian and medical aide to Gaza.

Today is Monday. Elie called to tell me that they have given him permission to take any 24 hours he wants. He'll come home Wednesday and join us on Thursday morning before heading back to the "war zone". We do not yet know if he can come for the weekend celebration. But today I know that he will probably be there on Thursday; that I'll probably see him in just two days.

I want to sit and talk with him for hours, but I don't know if we will have the chance. I have to share him with the others; his aunt who has arrived from America to visit with him and his extended family here in Israel. His little sister, who needs to talk to him and see that he is fine. She'll probably tell him all about the frightening siren she heard; so innocently unaware of all that he has experienced. What is a false siren compared to huge explosions and repeated rocket attacks? Nothing...and everything, for a child. That's the way it is with children. She will never think to ask him what it was like to experience war, if he was afraid. She won't ask him about where he slept or showered or what food he had to eat.

She will not think of Gazan resident Ali Hassan, who was quoted today as saying, "Once we have a missile that can reach the heart of Tel Aviv and blow up a building, maybe they [Hamas] can resume fire." She will not know, at least not now, that Hamas is re-arming itself and another round will come again.

All she will know is that Elie is home to join us, as she believes it is our right, for our family celebration. She will take it as a given.

A few days ago, when my son asked if his brother would be home and I answered that there was a possibility that he would not, my youngest daughter told me that I should "tell them" about the bar mitzvah. He is her brother and at her age, she still knows best to focus on her needs. There are moments when she'll see I'm upset and come give me a hug. She too is going through a transition, a stage where the "me" slowly begins turning into the "we," but she isn't really there yet.

Tonight, when I go home from work, I will tell her that Elie will be coming home in just two days. She won't think of the soldiers who won't ever return home, and I am selfish enough to want her to stay young and unaware as long as she can.

So far, we know that Elie will join us for at least part of our family celebration. It is not enough, just enough, and more than enough.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A Child's Alarm

My daughter is explaining to me what happened last week in her school when the siren was accidentally set off in our area. She was in school and the school properly (and quickly) treated it as real until proven otherwise. The children were whisked off to bomb shelters. But she and her two friends got separated from her class and so went to the wrong bomb shelter. Her teacher was afraid for her and the others; the others were crying and, if you believe my daughter's account, she was scared, but she didn't cry.

She just asked me where we would go if there was an attack here. I explained that we have two areas of the house that are protected - the bomb shelter, which is quite small; and another area.

"So Abba [her father] and Davidi and Shmulik [two of her brothers] should go down there and you and me and Elie should go to the bomb shelter because it's up here." Elie isn't home. Elie hasn't been home in more than a month, but she is planning for his safety. He is in her plans.

Then she started explaining about what happened when she heard the alarm. She is used to my typing and talking. I am able to type rather quickly and maintain a conversation at the same time, so it doesn't disturb her. This time, she doesn't realize that I am typing her words, not mine; her fears, not mine. I can look at her and type - later I can go and read her words and make sure I typed them correctly, add this introduction to explain to you what I have just learned - that there are traumas that must be cleansed; terrors that must be soothed.

She explains there was a siren and then imitates the sount "wee-ooo, wee-ooo" and begins her explanation of what happens in the mind of a 9-year-old. She speaks of her friends - of Rena who never cries, but cried this time; of Tehilla who recently moved to Israel with her family from America. She is brave, now that it is over and she knows it was a mistake. Brave, now that the siren isn't being heard. And yet - a few moments ago, this explanation began because she came to me and said, "I hear a siren."

I opened the living room door to listen outside. There is only the usual sound of cars driving on the highway up to Jerusalem.

"There's no siren," I told her.

"I heard it."

"No, sweetheart. Maybe it was an ambulance, but there's no siren."

And then she began describing, again, what she experienced. It happened a few days ago, and yet, each day, she has described it to me. It's a child's way of cleansing a trauma. The more she explains, the easier it is for her to calm herself. Earlier versions had her crying; today, for the first time, she tells me the others were crying but she wasn't.

Part of the trauma was caused by her getting separated from her class (three little girls somehow ended up in the wrong bomb shelter). I can't blame the school. The important thing is to miraculously move a few hundred kids into special protected rooms - fast. It doesn't really matter, in a physical sense, what room you are in. In an emotional sense, it means being "alone" even with two friends and many children and teachers from other classes. Today, she explained that she was with 1st and 2nd graders. "I didn't say third grade," she explains, as proof that this was a scary and unknown situation.

And so she talks and I listen. I let her tell me about the tears and the fears and soothe them over. I add little comments, "But you got there, right?" and "But it was just an accident, not a real alarm, right?"

Her head knows this and yet deep inside there is still the need to explain, and so I listen. This time, for the first time, I was at my computer. It was nothing to quietly switch windows and keep typing.

"We heard the siren and we didn't know what it was and then everyone started going really fast.
" 'Go, go - go to the art room. It doesn't matter where. Go,' the guard yelled."
"What did you go?" I asked her, a little upset that the guard yelled. Clearly, he too was scared, having the responsibility of hundreds of children in what appeared, perhaps, to be a rocket attack. If it were an attack, he had mere seconds to get the place cleared. There is no time to speak slowly and softly to sensitive little girls.
"It was so scary. It was me and two girls and they were crying. I wasn't supposed to be there. I was supposed to go to the other room. So I just ran to a different one and then the teacher closed the door so fast. He was so worried, he didn't know what to do. And then the teacher was going to the different rooms. And I kept telling the other girls to stop crying and I just told them it was an exercise because I didn't want them to cry and cry and cry. I didn't know it was an exercise, but I just told them. And then the teacher said we could go out. And than Naama cried because she has two cousins that live in Ashdod and she was crying.

"We had tons of kids that cried. Even Rena cried even though she doesn't cry every time. It was so scary the siren. I wasn't ready for it.

"They said it was supposed to be in Beersheva but instead they did our school. But the city did it as a mistake to our school and Jerusalem and not Beersheva. It was scary. Like suddenly - wee--ooo, wee-ooo. And Tehilla didn't know what it was because in America they don't have this. And we did an exercise, but it wasn't a real siren and now it was. And so I told Tehilla, 'just come'.

Friday, January 16, 2009

We Will Not Go Down...well, maybe

Michael Heart writes on his website that he has "no propensity for nonsense." That's kind of hard to believe given his latest song. "WE WILL NOT GO DOWN (Song for Gaza)".

The song itself is quite musical, and were it not for the absurd lyrics, I'd say this guy might have a hit. As it was, listening to it playing on Radio Jordan, I thought of the editing classes I run. I take what people write for the class and show that sometimes when you write, it can be...well...not quite logical. Please note that the song below is copyrighted to Michael Heart and I mean no infrigement on his copyright. He has offered his song as a free download. I make no claims on his words (trust me, I don't want them). The comments that follow, however, are mine.

The song starts with:
A blinding flash of white light
Lit up the sky over Gaza tonight
People running for cover
Not knowing whether they’re dead or alive

Ok, I have to ask. How could a person not know if they are dead or alive? I mean - either you are dead...or you aren't.

9:41 A Qassam rocket fired from northern Gaza landed in Eshkol Regional Council limits
They came with their tanks and their planes
With ravaging fiery flames
And nothing remains
Just a voice rising up in the smoky haze

Ok, I have a feeling this guy has been so busy applying for his "poetic license" that it could be he's been too busy to actually watch the pictures. See, what they show is a building of rubble...surrounded by other buildings. The other buildings remain (though yeah, the people who chose to live next to the Hamas training centers and arms caches are probably going to have to pay for new windows). Well, besides the windows, they'll probably need to do a good cleaning.
We will not go down
In the night, without a fight
You can burn up our mosques and our homes and our schools
But our spirit will never die
We will not go down
In Gaza tonight

So many comments here. Would you prefer to go down during the day? I guess that could be arranged. As for burning of your mosques and homes and schools - it's really very simple. See, if you don't put rockets in your mosques and homes and schools; if you don't shoot these weapons at our cities, chances are, they'd all be fine and then, imagine this, you could actually USE these buildings for the purposes they were intended. The purpose that most normal societies apply to these types of buildings.

10:05 Two Qassam rockets fired from northern Gaza landed in Eshkol Regional Council limits

As for your spirit, I do hope it will never die - I just wish you'd consider turning it towards life, towards what is really important. Start raising your children to live and not to die, to want peace and not crave death. It's really simple. If you don't want Gaza to go down tonight, don't elect terrorists as your leaders; don't spend millions of dollars on rockets and mortars. Do what Israel does - build hospitals and train doctors. Maybe then, you could treat your own people instead of relying on Israeli hospitals to save your children from all kinds of diseases that are treatable. Just a thought, but please continue.
Women and children alike
Murdered and massacred night after night
While the so-called leaders of countries afar
Debated on who’s wrong or right

11:23 Two rockets fired from northern Gaza landed in Eshkol Regional Council limits

The so-called leaders of countries afar are not debating who is right or wrong. They understand that you don't shoot rockets into cities without expecting the country you are bombing to react. You've done this for 8 years - your free ticket is long since gone. As for the women and children, just move them away from the terrorists. It's really simple. We are using precise weapons. To make our jobs easier, let's set up a 100 meter safety zone. You see, the UN school that was hit - was 30 meters away from the target. Three Israeli missiles were sent towards the site from which rockets were being launched. One missile was 30 meters off - so, if you give yourself a 100 meter safety zone, we'll all be fine. The terrorists will die; the women and children will be safe.

13:33 A Qassam rocket fired from northern Gaza landed in Ofakim.

I'll skip the next verse because it doesn't say much...not that the others do...but onwards.
We will not go down
In the night, without a fight
You can burn up our mosques and our homes and our schools
But our spirit will never die
We will not go down
In Gaza tonight

14:03 Two rockets fired from Gaza exploded in Kiryat Gat. A resident was lightly injured in the attack.

Ah yes, Gaza will not go down tonight...well, we all agree it might take a few more days, so let's not quibble. I suggest, if you don't want Gaza to go down, you stop singing and start changing your government. Tell them that your people now understand that they have to accept that we in Israel will not go down; that we will continue to live in this land and fight for our place here. We will try to avoid hitting your women and children, as we always have - and hope that you can convince your leaders that they should stop targeting our children and our women.

14:27 A rocket fired from northern Gaza landed in an industrial compound in Ashdod.

Explain to them that no one wins in war - not you, and not Israel. Gaza WILL go down, unless you stop firing rockets NOW!

14:55 Sirens are sounding in Ashkelon and Ashdod.


Please pray for little 7-seven-year-old Orel ben (son of) Angela.
He was injured by a Grad rocket, exploding in Be’er Sheva on Thursday. He is in very critical condition, and his life is in danger after fragments from a rocket penetrated his head. The child underwent surgery at the Soroka Medical Center. However, his condition remains very critical. He is an only child, after his parents were childless for eleven years.

What you can't solve up close...

...you probably can't solve from thousands of miles away either. That's a lesson every US president for the last 60 years has learned and yet, somehow never manage to pass on to the new incoming president.

Last week, the United Nations voted for a ceasefire. Good for them! I'm glad they've decided to stop firing; now back to Gaza.

This week, Barack Obama is getting ready to step into the fray. Unfortunately, as soon as he steps in, his feet are likely to get as dirty as if he went to visit George W. Bush's ranch and went a'walking in the cow fields. What each president fails to understand, what seems so obvious to Israelis, is that you cannot make peace until BOTH sides want it.

Israel has offered. Israel has compromised. Israel withdrew its people from Gaza years ago. It was a heart-wrenching, difficult, and ultimately wrong unilateral move because, as so many of us predicted, all it did was give the rocket launchers a better position from which to launch their missiles. Hebrew is not a language spoken or know by many around the world, and yet all know the one simple word for peace, "Shalom." Did you know that peace also mean, "hello" and "goodbye." Not really - we say "Allo?" when we answer the telephone, but when we meet people and then when we part from their company, we say "shalom."

Jerusalem (see the "salem" part?) - means City of Peace. It is part of our prayers and our culture and our daily yearning. We are not the obstacles to peace in the Middle East.

Compare our culture, the rhetoric of our leaders, to that of the Palestinians. You will never find an Israeli leader say about our culture what Hassan Nasrallah says about his own, "We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are the most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death."

From the head of Hizbollah himself, we hear the truth of his people...and ours. Until Barack Obama learns this truth, he is as likely to fail, as likely to step into something really foul smelling, as did his predecessors. There are things in life that nations and people cannot do alone. You can't tango alone. You can't play Poker alone, and you can't make peace with your enemies until your enemies are at least open to the possibility that they will have to live with you in the peace they too must believe is best for their people.

From Israel National News - this news item:
United States President-elect Barack Obama says he will begin dealing with the situation in Gaza immediately after coming into power. Next week, after his inauguration as president, he will appoint a team to discuss negotiations for the end of the Cast Lead operation in the area. Obama revealed his plans in an interview with the USA Today newspaper. The Middle East is complicated, he said. Conflicts that cannot be solved individually may be resolved when many areas are dealt with at once, he added.

US Warning - Avoid the Situation

I don't know how they got my email, but they have it. So relatively often, I get a message from the US Consulate in Israel warning me that, as an American citizen, I should avoid certain areas of the country (Israel), lest I be harmed. It is something that often provides a smile. According to the Americans, I shouldn't be traveling to my home (a mere 3 kilometers outside Jerusalem, the capital of Israel). According to the Americans, I shouldn't travel to my sister's house, about a 10 minute drive from our main, international airport.

For the most part, I think the warnings are issued so that they can say they warned us if something happens. Today, I am warned not to go into Gaza. Smart move, that one. It's because of the "ongoing situation in Gaza." I have to admit - in the last few weeks that Elie has been there, I have called what is happening now in Gaza a "war" and perhaps a "military operation," but I never thought to call it a "situation."

To me, a "situation" is when your guests want coffee and you suddenly realize you are out of milk. Now THAT is a situation. When one million people are being attacked by rockets, when fighter jets and artillery and tanks are on the move against booby-trapped houses and anti-tank missiles and rockets and mortars and phosperous and I don't know what else, the term "situation" kind of makes you want to slam your head against the wall and wonder how the American Consulate could be so out of touch. It's a WAR. WAR. See...a WAR. They are shooting rockets and trying to kill people. We moved our troops in. They are fighting house to house, finding explosives and guns. WAR.

I am also warned not to go near the Temple Mount; that one I would ignore if I had any plans to go but since it is Friday and I haven't even put the chicken in the oven yet and I have company tonight (thanks for coming Elan and Rifka and Shani and Ariella and Amira and Haim...and is Herschel coming too?), I won't be going there anyway.

I could probably get off the mailing list, but I stay on it because it reminds me that some people can live in a country, but never really understand it. You don't have to warn Israelis (or Americans) to stay out of Gaza. Thanks to 60 years of warfare, you can't really stumble into Gaza by mistake and if you're going there, perhaps as a journalist or whatever, you know already that there are dangers.

I don't know why this one "tickles my fancy" but I'll post it here. Perhaps it is the formal tone - so different from Israeli society and culture. My son calls his commanding officers by their first names; his soldiers call him, "Elie." And this warning is so...so formal in its tone.

It is so diplomatically correct - using both the Arab and Jewish ways of referring to the Temple Mount area, citing the Israeli police as the source for this recommendation, or at least part of it. It is so different from the kinds of warnings we receive from Israeli sources - and all these thoughts come just from reading this post:
The Israeli National Police are reporting the possibility of a large demonstration Friday, January 16, 2009, in the Old City and other possible demonstrations throughout East Jerusalem in protest of the ongoing situation in Gaza. There is expected to be a heavy police presence in and around the Old City throughout the day. It is recommended that United States Government employees avoid the Old City and its environs all day on Friday, January 16, 2009.

Access restrictions to the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount and a heavy police presence may spark disturbances at entry points, to include the Damascus, Herod’s and Lion’s gates, in addition to random security checkpoints setup throughout the areas leading to the Old City.

Heightened awareness should continue to be practiced when approaching established and random security checkpoints throughout the Jerusalem area, where crowds and the possibility of spontaneous disturbances may occur. American citizens should exercise caution, stay current with media coverage of local events and be aware of their surroundings at all times.

In addition, the Department of State urges U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip. Conflict and violence can occur and spread rapidly and unpredictably in the Gaza Strip. The State Department strongly recommends that American citizens refrain from all travel to the Gaza strip. This recommendation has been in effect since the deadly roadside bombing of a U.S. Embassy convoy in Gaza in October 2003. It applies to all Americans, including journalists and aid workers. No U.S. government official travel is permitted inside the Gaza Strip at this time.

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