Saturday, February 28, 2009

Rockets to the North; Rockets to the South

It was a wonderful Shabbat though Elie wasn't home. It was one of those great days where the weather is miserable (thank God) and so you don't mind staying home...and you don't even feel guilty. It rained. It stormed. It poured. We need the rain so badly. At some point in the morning, just as my middle son was about to leave for the synagogue, his phone beeped.

I asked him who would be calling on the Sabbath and he told me it was a message coming in. A few minutes later, my phone beeped as well. I'm calmer; Elie is in the north not in a war zone. We've been getting hit by a rocket-a-day for a few weeks now and I assumed that was the message.

Later, after the Sabbath ended, I checked the news. Two rockets hit Ashkelon; a school was damaged. Rockets hit several other places as well. About 90 rockets have hit Israel in the last month since the "cease-fire" was declared. We are back to the world ignoring these attacks. It isn't so bad, is the message they are sending Hamas. We'll tolerate one or two or three rockets...so long as you don't hit anything major or hurt too many people at any one time.

Great - great message.

Last week, rockets were found in Lebanon (again). Hezbollah announced today that they are now ready for war. Wonderful.

Iran is announcing that their nuclear plant is ready to come on line...another wonderful bit of news. It's like Israel is a giant pressure-cooker and someone is putting up the pressure bit by bit. Where this all ends...is likely another round of war. When is anyone's guess. Whether Gaza will blow up before Lebanon...or Lebanon before Gaza; isn't known yet.

Elie isn't concerned; he feels that Israel can handle both Hezbollah and Hamas. It is the difference between being the mother and the child; a woman in her middle years versus a boy on the brink of manhood or perhaps a man, still hovering just past the edge of his boyhood. Either way, there is a confidence in the soldier that the mother of the soldier cannot feel. They handled Hamas as it needed to be handled; they will handle Hezbollah this time the way it should have been done...and yes, had it been done properly a few years ago, this past round with Gaza and this next round with Lebanon might not have been necessary.

But it leads me to another thing. The last time Elie was home, or perhaps the time before that, he showed me the pins he has received and a change. He was given a pin after he completed his training. When his commanding officer, Or, went to give Elie his pin, he did something amazing. It is a tradition that the commanding officer picks one soldier and rather than simply give him a pin, the officer removes his pin and exchanges it with this "special" soldier (see Exchanging Pins). So, for the last year or so, Elie has worn Or's pin and it has become his.

After returning home from the war, Elie and his fellow soldiers followed another tradition. They outlined the edges of the pin in red. This means they have seen combat; it is a rite of passage too many of our soldiers pass through. I was thinking about the red color and so many thoughts came to mind. Red is the color of blood; but it is also the color that stands out most prominently. From the red pens we use to emphasize; to the red lights that alert us to stop; to the Code Red that sounded today in some of Israel's southern cities - red is a color that demands we pay attention.

Elie now wears the emblem marking his participation in war - he and the latest generation of soldiers with little hope that he will be the last. It is a sad and sobering thought. The world ignored thousands of rockets fired against Israel. Israel went to war and when the Palestinians cried out that Israel was unfairly attacking them, even the Egyptians answered them with disdain. What did you think was going to happen, the Egyptians and others asked?

It was so obvious...just as it likely will be again. Last week, Israel was hit by rockets from the north and from the south. Tomorrow, many children in Ashkelon will not go to school. What will Israel do? The answer, if the rockets continue, may well come in the form of another decisive act by Israel. The world can avoid this...or it can continue to be silent.

A school was hit today - thankfully because it was the Sabbath, no children were inside. Tomorrow, if the same thing happens, we may not be so blessed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

See...you gotta RETURN the keys...

One thing I have learned after being a soldier's mother for almost two years now, is that even though he carries a gun, dresses in an army uniform, and even commands others, he is still so much of what he was before. Elie loves cars. He loves to drive them. He loves to understand them. He, like his father, can hear the sound of an engine and understand when something is wrong or right.

He spent the last few days in Jerusalem and last night he went to the mall with the other religious soldiers who, like Elie, chose to spend their vacation time in Jerusalem rather than in the vacation resort in Ashkelon. Last night, he stopped by the house to bring back shoes that he didn't need up north, pick up a book (which he forgot) and a few other things.

This morning, he drove the car to our Training Center, grabbed something to eat, and then I drove him to the Central Bus Station to meet up with his friends and catch the bus back to the rest of his unit in Ashkelon. The next bus was scheduled to leave around 10:30 a.m.

At 10:10 a.m., I got a frantic call, "Ima, I have the keys to the car."

"I'll be right there," I said as I grabbed my purse and the keys to the second car.

"Hurry," he said, "the bus is leaving soon."

I ran to the elevator; ran to the car; drove really fast (but at a legal and careful speed, always stopping completely at stop signs and never once breaking any laws...yeah, yeah, yeah)...and pulled up near the Central Bus Station a minute before he came running outside with his gun in one hand and the keys in the other.

"Well, at least I get another kiss and hug," I said to him.

He smiled, gave me my mother payments, and said, "I've got to go." And went.

So, the thing is...to all soldiers and kids out there - when you borrow the car - you have to remember to return the keys...and if you don't - at least pay your parent a kiss and hug and they will feel well paid for the inconvenience of driving to meet you.

Elie made his bus and got to Ashkelon on time.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Army of Israel Pays...

for a vacation for its soldiers. That's great, right?

But wait, it gets better. Elie and a group of soldiers felt that the planned activities weren't really appropriate for them and asked to be excused. Instead of simply sending them home - which is common in the army - their division commander decided that they too should be entitled to something special.

So, they called the unit rabbi, who was all to happy to take the young men and plan something. Within hours, Elie and several others were taken to Jerusalem. They are sleeping at a yeshiva for post-army religious guys who spend the day learning. At first sight, these boys seemed more ultra-Orthodox than my son and his friends' "camp", and Elie told me he wasn't sure they'd be comfortable.

There is a basic difference in philosophy and upbringing. There are those who fight for Israel physically and do not adhere to the call of the spiritual. There are those who do not fight for Israel physically, listening only to the call of the spiritual. And then there are those like Elie, who attempt to listen to both.

Without an army, Israel cannot survive. Without recognition that our lives and future are ultimately in Greater Hands, all the fighting is for nothing. To do one and not the other, to value one above the other, is not the way we have raised our children.

At first glance, Elie thought they had been taken to a yeshiva where the men learn all day, but do not fight and he wasn't sure he would be comfortable. Within minutes, they learned that each of the men had been through the army, that they too had chosen a path that includes defending Israel in a physical sense as well as a spiritual one. Having spent their time in the army, they were now dedicating another portion of their lives to defending Israel on a spiritual battlefield. Neither side forgotten, both served with honor. From there it was easy and Elie enjoyed spending the day and the evening; everyone fit in very nicely.

This morning, the boys from Elie's unit were taken to the Old City of Jerusalem, to several tourist sites. They were taken to the ancient tunnels that run below the Old City, to a small historical museum, and finally to a factory to see how tefillin is made. Elie realized from what they were doing, how the final pieces appeared, and where the factory was located, that his own pair of tefillin was probably made there.

Oh, that reminds me - during the war, some people sent me this picture and asked if it was perhaps Elie. It shows a soldier wearing tefillin and praying. I doubt he even knows this picture was taken, or that it circled the globe. He certainly doesn't know that two different people sent it to me asking if it was my son.

There is a very important prayer Jews say each day, in the morning and at night. Shema Yisrael. "Hear Israel, the Lord is God, the Lord is One." We say this with complete faith and focus and so we close and cover our eyes.

I hadn't seen Elie for almost 6 weeks when I got this picture. Is it Elie? The hair is wrong. Elie keeps his hair shorter...but what are the chances that he had time to cut it. It doesn't grow like this and isn't it a bit lighter? No, I didn't think it was Elie.

The line of the face is right; sort of. The chin really does look like Elie. The arms don't seem right. Elie has more hair on his arms, doesn't he? Elie always wears an undershirt. I've never seen him this disheveled looking. But, he's been at war for so long, who knows. The arm holding the paper - that doesn't look like Elie, but the chin, I said to myself again.

No, if I had to guarantee anyone any specific answer, I'd have to say, no. No...no, I am pretty sure not. I called over Elie's youngest brother. He too didn't think so, but wasn't sure.

I asked his younger sister. She didn't think so, "he's not opening his shirt this way" and "it's not his hair."

I asked his middle brother still wanting to be sure. He and my son-in-law looked. Shmulik answered right away, with confidence. "No, it isn't him. The tefillin is Sephardi." Sephardic Jews are those that came to Israel from Arab lands and from Spain; while Ashkenazi Jews (like us) came from Europe, Russia, etc.

My son-in-law pointed out something else. "He's using the wrong hand."

Why hadn't I noticed that? You cover your eyes with the right hand when you say Shema. You put your tefillin on according to whether you are left-handed or right-handed but you cover your eyes during Shema with your right-hand regardless.

What this means, what this shows, is an example of what so many of us heard about, what Elie told me about. Many boys in Elie's unit are not religious. On the Sabbath, they will listen to music or watch TV. At home, they will not keep the Sabbath as Elie does and yet...and yet while at war, they donned tefillin every day, wore the four-cornered garments known as tzitzit, as commanded in Shmot (the book of "Numbers").

I was thinking about this young man, whose name I will never know and I was wondering if perhaps someone sent his mother this picture and did she smile when she saw it?

My son-in-law took pictures during my youngest son's bar mitzvah celebration at the Western Wall recently. He took a picture of Elie wearing tefillin. His face is not covered because this isn't during the Shema prayer.
It was the day after he had returned from the war. His hair had been so long. I hadn't seen it that way in more than a year. The first thing he did was take a long, long, hot, hot shower and cut his hair.
Can you see how the chins are similar?
Two pictures of two Israeli soldiers. Both wearing tefillin. One is likely secular, one is most definitely religious. But there is something much more important that these two young men have in common. They were both involved in a war to protect their land and while there, both recognized the importance of giving thanks to the God of Israel, our Protector.
And this week, the army of Israel gave thanks - perhaps not to the other soldier, I'll never know. But definitely to my soldier. And it gave thanks in a way that was so appropriate for who he is. Tomorrow, he will return to Ashkelon to join the other soldiers and from there, they will travel up north, back to the borders of Israel.
Elie won't be home this coming Shabbat, but hopefully the next one. Safe travels, Elie...hope you had a great vacation - you earned it.


Monday, February 23, 2009

A Soldier's Vacation

In Israel, each soldier is allocated a certain number of vacation days per year. Combat soldiers, Elie tells me, rarely are able to take all that are owed to them so it is traditional to give them about a month off at the end of their service. Elie was supposed to have gotten a week off in December, but the war happened and so he was down near Gaza and missed that vacation.

After the war, they gave the boys a week at home, a wonderful week. They went north several weeks ago, and this week the army is giving them back the vacation they had planned as sort of a "Nofesh G'dud" - or battalion vacation. This means the army takes them somewhere and lets them play at being the boys they would be, if they weren't in the army becoming men. Sometimes it is the beautiful southern city of Eilat, where the boys can swim in the Red Sea. Other times, it is in the north, where they can go hiking and even skiing.

There are whole resorts that the army takes out for the soldiers - good fro the army, good for the local community. The units mix together - men, women, many ages - discipline relaxed. They don't even have to wear uniforms. Amazingly enough, after a month near Gaza, the army decided to send Elie's unit to a vacation location in Ashkelon. The night before they arrived, rockets hit the city - so much for a cease fire.

I was wondering about the incredible irony of giving these boys a break, by taking them back within rocket range. But then again, over 1 million Israelis in the south are within range and another million or more in the north as well. These vacation weeks are sometimes problematic for religious boys and they often ask to be released and spend the time at home.

Before I explain further, I'll also add that our house is relatively alcohol-free. We just don't like the stuff and never serve it unless guests bring it - and even then we forget half the time. The strongest alcohol in our house is a bottle of wine, at that. The strongly-enforced prohibition against alcohol is eased during these vacation weeks.

So, Elie called me last night. We'd discussed whether he was going to join his g'dud for the vacation or opt out. He wanted to try to be a part of it. He was excited that for most of the week, they would not be wearing uniforms. He even took the car Saturday night to buy another pair of regular pants that he could wear. The last time they had this g'dud vacation, the g'dud commander went out of his way to make sure all activities were "religious-friendly" - he was determined that his unit would spend the time together.

Elie wasn't sure what would happen, if the same care had gone into planning this week or not. All he knew was that they were to meet in Ashkelon Sunday morning. I was surprised, therefore, to see that I'd missed his call last night and so I quickly called him back.

"It's a kfar nofesh," Elie explained.

"OK," I answered.

"Do you know what that means?" Elie asked. Yes - a vacation resort. An all-enclosed party village for a lot of young people to have a good time. There's probably a bar and dancing. Great for many boys looking to have fun; not really something that Elie's crowd would enjoy.

"We called the rabbi today," Elie told me. "He's arranged for us to go to Jerusalem tomorrow and then maybe I can go to the mechina for a few days. They're dedicating the new Beit Midrash on Wednesday."

Allow me to translate - mechina is a pre-military academy that often combines religious learning with preparation for the army, including learning Jewish law that applies to being a soldier. Elie spent about 18 months there before the army and he loved the place, the boys there, the teachers. They became a part of who he is and when he has a chance, he returns to visit. They are like brothers, always checking up on the other. They knew, during the war, who went in, who was nearby. Thankfully, none were hurt; all came home.

A Beit Midrash is a house of study, the place where hundreds of boys sit and learn with each other and with their rabbis. They pour over ancient texts and learn how relevant they are to the life we live today. Before their eyes, these text come alive and challenge them. The rabbis there are dedicated to these boys, their students and follow them through the army and in the years to come. Many boys bring their wives and children back for the rabbis to meet and they celebrate life's joys and sorrows together.

What Elie is saying is that he doesn't feel comfortable in the "vacation resort" - that it isn't appropriate for a religious boy. And so he and some others decided it was more appropriate to find another option. They called the unit's rabbi, who agreed.

He arranged to have special lessons for these boys in the beautiful Old City of Jerusalem, overlooking the Kotel, the Western Wall. This is another place that Elie loves and knows well. He spent months volunteering for the ambulance squad in the Old City, running the alleyways to help treat people.

Hopefully, Elie will get permission to go back to his yeshiva where he attended the mechina (pre-military academy) and take part in the celebration of the new Beit Midrash, the study hall. There will be singing and dancing...but the kind that is appropriate for Elie.

That Elie chose this path is yet another sign that he is true to how he was raised. It is humbling for a parent when this happens, when you send your child out to the free world, where all doors are open, and they choose the right door, the right path. Elie has done this before, several times already. He continues on this path and makes me so proud of him and most of all, I'm happy that deep down, he knew this was something I'd want to know and so he called to tell me.

I told him once - I can handle almost everything, if I know where you are and that you are OK. This week, Elie called to tell me that he wouldn't be where I thought he'd be - he'd be in an even better place and he is doing fine. Have a wonderful week, Elie.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Why I Hate CNN...

There are two stories on CNN tonight, one about a cat and one about a woman. The cat was put to sleep after a relatively short battle with cancer; the woman lives in northern Israel. I cannot say whether CNN visited the animal hospital where former-White House cat, Socks, was put to sleep, but apparently, there is nothing in dispute. As for the woman, CNN apparently needs to lend doubt to the incident and couldn't be bothered to send a reporter or call the hospital for verification and so the headlines reads, "Israel claims woman hurt in rocket attack." Notice the "claims"?

It doesn't surprise me that CNN appears to have more sympathy for a dead cat that lived a long and relatively happy life, than it does for a woman who was "apparently" enjoying a leisurely day off of work when "apparently", suddenly, without warning, a rocket "apparently" crashed into her house and she was "apparently" wounded - or so Israel claims.

It seems rather silly that CNN is ready to accept the supposed death of Socks, who in fact did not die of natural causes. CNN states as fact that the cat has been losing weight since November, and even knows when Socks was born (in 1989, if you are interested) and yet, amazingly enough, CNN has problems concluding that the artillery fire that was shot FROM Israel INTO Lebanon AT the location FROM WHICH two katyushas were fired were actually fired as a response.
According to CNN:
The Israeli army fired artillery toward the village of Qlayleh, close to the port city of Tyre, according to the Lebanese army said. However, it is not known if the attack was in response to the rockets fired toward Israel.
So, CNN knows that Israel fired artillery (no "claims" there). It apparently doesn't know how to draw a line between points A and points B - as in - they fired at us, and we fired back. Sometimes, I prefer Elie's response to things and his was so perfect when I read him the article. He asked CNN a simple question, "how stupid are you?"
02.21.09, 21:52 Two mortar shells were fired at Israel from Gaza and apparently landed in Shaar HaNegev Regional Council.

Like my son, I have no clue...but I do suspect that it is so much more involved than sheer stupidity, though clearly there is a good dose of that as well.



Here is CNN's article - with a bit of wondering on my part:
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A woman was injured Saturday when a rocket landed in northern Israel, a spokesman for the Israeli police said.
Gee, when Socks died, you quoted a source, but assumed as fact in the headlines.

The Israel Defense Forces fired artillery toward the source of the fire, an army spokesman said, but he could not say from where the rocket originated.
OK...when you say the army spokesman could not say from where the rocket originated, could you be more specific? Does the army typically reveal to CNN sensitive information such as exact locations? That it came from Lebanon is obvious. The Arabs know where it came from, as does Israel. Did your reporter ask specifically and the Israeli spokeperson said, "we don't know where it came from"? Did CNN ask and the Israeli spokesperson said, "we are not at liberty to divulge this informatoin"? What does CNN mean, what is it trying to imply, by saying "he couldn not say from where the rocket originated?"
The clear implication would be that Israel didn't know. Given Israel's demonstrated abilities in the area of pinpointing targets (like the mastermind of rocket attacks or a terrorist on a motorcycle), this would indicate CNN's stupidity much sooner than it would indicate a lack of knowledge on Israel's part. If what was implied, and what would then be so hard to believe (that Israel fired on an unidentified target "somewhere" in Lebanon), it would seem to me that an exact quote should have been used because the clear implication of how this was phrased was that Israel didn't know the source. Obviously, Israel has advanced satellite technology, so clearly this is CNN's attempt to make it seem like Israel simply shot back, blindly.

Officials said the rocket landed in the Western Galilee region of northwestern Israel, which borders Lebanon. The Lebanese army said two rockets were fired from Lebanon toward Israel, but they failed to reach Israeli territory. According to the Lebanese army, the rockets landed east of Naqoura, a coastal town just north of the border with Israel.
Well, all I can tell you is that the injured people - oh, and CNN, there were three injured people, not one, were in Israel, as were the six others treated for shock and the two houses that were damaged. If you are wondering, why not go look - it's kind of hard to miss the damage of a rocket hitting a house. If you have two contradictory stories, doesn't it behoove CNN's readers for CNN to get out and check the facts? Also lacking in this report is the reality that on the Lebanese side, you have an army that hasn't been able to stop something like 7 rockets being fired from their territory in the last few weeks.

The Israeli army fired artillery toward the village of Qlayleh, close to the port city of Tyre, according to the Lebanese army said. However, it is not known if the attack was in response to the rockets fired toward Israel.
Isn't that interesting. CNN knows that Israel fired towards Qlayleh - no "claims" there. No citing the Lebanese as claiming something. And then the "duh" factor. CNN does not know if the Israeli response (notice they call it an attack) resulted from rockets firing towards Israel. This is equivalent to not knowing whether the policeman shot the robber because he was robbing the house, or simply because he felt like shooting the man, who happened to be stealing the poor family blind.
Of course, one could ask CNN to define how many times Israel has fired artillery into Lebanon when it wasn't retaliating for incoming rockets, but CNN probably wouldn't answer - too busy reporting about poor Socks, the cat.

The last time rockets were fired from Lebanon toward Israel was January 14, but they did not cause any casualties. The Israeli army retaliated against the source of the fire, according a statement issued by the Israeli army that day.
Notice that this is important to CNN, to point out that there were no injuries and that Israel retaliated. So, apparently while CNN cannot confirm that the Israeli army fired in retaliation (and therefore must cite army courses), it can confirm that there were no casualties. And more importantly, it seems, the most significant part of this attack was not that Israel's population was terrorized, its sovereignty violated. No, what is significant is that there were no casualties. Canada, you may fire into Michigan, but only if you promise not to hit anything. England, don't complain if France fires at you - this too, according to the world of CNN is not really a big deal, if France misses.
And, what I am left with is a sick reality that CNN has a desire to garner sympathy for a poor cat that had once been homeless, but was taken into the most famous house in America, where he was loved and sheltered for the rest of his long life, but not for a woman who was in her own home when a rocket came plowing into it.
CNN's attempt to question Israel's right to respond, it's questioning the obvious connection between someone firing katyusha rockets into Israel and Israel's military response a short time later, and its ongoing attempt to downplay the significance of previous attacks from Lebanon by quantifying injuries on our side as the measure of the seriousness of the attack, result in only one clear message.
22:45 02/22/09: Arab terrorists fired a missle at Ashkelon Saturday. The rocket exploded south of the town at about 10:45 PM.

The one clear conclusion from this, and many past reports, is that CNN has no right to claim it practices fair and impartial journalism - unless it relates to a dead cat.

Friday, February 20, 2009

More Truths about Gaza...on a Rainy Friday

The thing about weather is that it is...or it isn't. You look up and the truth is there before your eyes. Whatever will come later is not the issue. For now, it is raining, or it is not; it's cold, or it's not. You can't be fooled by someone saying to you there is no rain when you feel the moisture on your face and can see the drops falling from the clouds. There is no spin to the weather - it just is.

The thing about war is that until the smoke clears...you don't always know what really happened. Add to this simple concept, an enemy who loves to exaggerate. It's sort of like the old ethnic joke (stick in whatever nationality you want) which says they (whoever "they" are) are so dumb that when a horrible tragedy occurs and a small, two-seater plane crashes into the cemetery, within a short while, they had already unearthed 500 bodies and were expecting to find more.

That describes the Palestinian philosophy of propaganda and sadly, much of the media's attention span. Hundreds...no, thousands died in Jenin in a horrible Israel attack. These ridiculous claims went on for weeks and weeks; Israel was condemned right and left. It was a massacre, a holocaust, a bloodbath...no, wait...it was only 52 and 90% or more of the casualties were confirmed combatants; with several of the few remaining unidentified bodies of questionable association.

Flash to 2009 - and the world has learned nothing. A mortar hits outside the United Nations school and immediately the Palestinians turn on their "massacre" track. It's a bloodbath, it's a holocaust. Babies and innocents killed in the school as they desperately tried to find shelter.

And the clouds begin to clear. As it turns out - see...the Israeli mortar DID NOT hit the school. NO ONE was killed in the school...the UN knew this all along but let the media dance with claims of a massacre, a holocaust, a horrible, horrible thing. Only no one died IN the school. So, the UN left it at 43 dead - OUTSIDE the school. But the smoke is really clearing now and like the weather, you can't fool everyone forever - eventually, either you can tell it rained, or it didn't. And guess what - it didn't rain at the school in Gaza and there was barely a shower outside.

But, as it turns out, even the 40-43 dead is not true.

According to IsraelInsider (and other news sources):
9 fighters and 3 non-combatants were killed in IDF return fire to Hamas mortar attacks deliberately launched next to a UNRWA school on January 6. Previously it has reported that 40 civilians were killed in the school. Last week the UN admitted that the school itself was in fact not targeted. Now it turns out that the casualty numbers were wildly exaggerated and that most of the hurt of killed were active combatants using civilians as human shields.

You can read the rest of it here.

So, what we come down to...as Israel claimed all along - was that there were Hamas fighters shooting - Israel shot back and killed 9 of them.

I much prefer the clouds in the sky to the UN in Gaza - at least we know that the clouds will deliver an honest and expect result.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Eternal Optimists Never Die

I am for the most part, among the community known as "eternal optimists." Not always and not in all things, but generally, I try to look at life from the point of view that it is worth living, worth cherishing and worth enjoying. There are realities I know I should face, possibilities well worth considering, that I know in my heart, I just can't handle.

When Hezbollah finally agreed to return Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev to Israel (in exchange for hundreds of prisoners), I, like all of Israel turned to the north. I waited for that first glimpse of our soldiers returning and literally gasped out loud when I saw the coffins. My eyes filled with tears and it was at that very moment that I realized that I hadn't believed, in the depths of my heart, that they were really dead.

Of course, they were killed immediately during the attack on their unit. There never had been reason to hope. Slowly the information had been leaked to the Israeli public, but we didn't want to believe, you see? It was too much. One is most definitely dead, the other critically injured, the army told the people months before the exchange. It made no sense that they didn't know which one had died - wouldn't there be enough physical evidence to know? It didn't matter. It was all logistics and with broken hearts, we couldn't focus on the details.

I've been writing the last few days (and weeks and months) about Gilad Shalit. Gilad is a few months older than my Elie. Both soldiers in Israel. Beyond that, I doubt the boys have much in common. Gilad is a writer and a musician; Elie loves to tinker and put things together. Gilad comes from a secular home; Elie comes from a religious one. Gilad is thin, sometimes even painfully thin in the pictures we've seen. Elie is by no means heavy, but he's solid. That's the word, solid.

So after my most recent post, someone commented as follows:
I hate to be negative about this, but after so long I don't even have any hope that Gillad is still alive. It seems like there was not any real effort on the part of the Israeli government to assure his release. If Gillad comes back I would not at all be surprised if it's in a pine box. Hizbollah has never been one that anyone could trust. I'm not sure why anyone would believe them now.
And I wanted to answer, to explain. I do have hope that Gilad is still alive, and even the desperate prayer that somehow Hamas will allow him to come home. I can't disagree about the failures of the Olmert government. Beyond the corruption of the Kadima party itself, this is a personal failure of both Olmert and Barak, leaving the situation with Gilad so long.

My brain, too, will not be surprised if Gilad doesn't return alive, but until, God forbid, I see the coffin, I won't believe it deep in my heart. My heart will weep with sheer agony, for Gilad, for his parents, for his family, and for Israel. And, I can't do that now. Yes, you are so correct - Hezbollah has never been one that anyone can trust, and neither has Hamas. Both these terrorist organizations, so popular among their people, have proven themselves to be inhumane as they regularly tortured the families of their captives by dangling hope and then crushing it.

But your final sentence was one that touched me most. You wrote, "I'm not sure why anyone would believe them now." So, let me explain. In Israel, we live on miracles and hope on a daily basis. My brain says that you may be right (it can't even say you are right because that would be too painful). My brain thinks of the welcome that Hezbollah gave to the murderer Samir Kuntar, celebrating the return of this child killer and my brain remembers the joy and celebration when most of the hostages returned safely to Israel in 1976 after the Entebbe raid, or the joyful welcome given to Natan Sharansky after he was finally released by the Soviet Union.

I think all of Israel would take to the streets to welcome Gilad home and in knowing of the joy is the knowledge that our enemies would do almost anything to prevent this. All this, as you say, is the brain. The heart of an Israeli remembers what David Ben Gurion once said, "In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles."

This is as true today as it was when he said it. I believe in miracles. I am a realist. Gilad Shalit could well be alive and we have to pray that he is. Hamas isn't nearly so dumb as to kill their most valuable bargaining chip and if they have, I can only hope that Israel will seal the crossings permanently and forever, cut the electricity, the water, whatever. Enough. We owe them nothing and if we can't have Gilad...they shouldn't have access to our medical facilities. Let them spend their money on hospitals and doctors, rather than missiles and rockets. Enough.

For now, my brain and heart have to believe that Gilad may still come home - alive and well and safe - especially if our government remains firm and insistent. If you will it, it is no dream. Israel was created by people who believed this, built by men and women who proved this. Gilad's present is in Hamas' hands, but his future is in the hands or our leaders - if they will it, they can bring forth a miracle.

May God bless and watch over Gilad Shalit. May He give Gilad's parents courage and strength and may He grant our leaders the knowledge and the wisdom and the strength to make it happen. We are waiting for you Gilad - come home soon.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Mubarak Is Right – We Can Have a Ceasefire without Gilad

President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has openly criticized Israel. He says that the issue of opening the crossings and the ceasefire agreement should not be connected to the issue of Gilad Shalit. He’s right. It is time for Israel to learn to negotiate properly. We’ve failed for much of the last 61 years to do this correctly. Apples with apples; oranges with oranges.

First – let’s talk about the ceasefire. We, unlike our enemies, do not seek to harm innocents. We do not target them, we do not abuse them, and most importantly, we do not relish and celebrate when they get in the middle. So, we can afford to be generous on this issue. Here’s our very generous offer: stop firing at us, and we won’t fire at you. Send no more rockets at our citizens, and we won’t send any at your citizens either. Mubarak is correct – the issue of the ceasefire is clear and simple. Gee, that was easy.

Wait, one caveat – if you do plan to send rockets and missiles, we suggest you build shelters for your innocents, as we have done for ours. Improve your siren system; perhaps create a Code Red. Calculate how long it takes for an Israeli missile to target your civilian populations and then start training your people to run as fast as they can. Train them not to be out in the open, to avoid large gatherings.

Forbid weddings within miles and miles of Israel and train your children to fall to the ground and cover their heads with their hands. Teach them to pray. Mubarak is correct. It is in our interest and yours to see this ceasefire work. This morning, again, a rocket was fired into Israel. You fired, it is our turn, our right, to choose to respond.

Second – the crossings. You want them open? Your people are suffering because they are lacking things that they are so used to getting in Israel, from Israel, through Israel? You want your people to be able to cross into Israel and go to our medical center for treatment? Well, we want something too. We want the crossings to work in two directions. We want Gilad Shalit to cross into Israel from Gaza. So in this, Mubarak is wrong.

Mubarak says the issue of Gilad Shalit should be tied to a prisoner exchange. The Palestinians agree. They have filled their list of 1,000 prisoners in exchange for one 22-year-old who has not seen his parents in 3 years, has not spoken to them. Gilad Shalit, at 19, was taken captive. He was a young man, a boy, really, who had never known war. He’d barely finished his training.

Hamas equates Gilad Shalit with murderers who targeted children, assassins of political leaders, and those who live their lives to murder and maim innocents. Apples and apples; oranges and oranges. Israel must be fair. We must announce that we will release all prisoners who have done no harm, planned no attacks, hurt no one. We have no right to hold anyone for more than 2 years, if all they did was patrol Gaza’s border and plan for what they would do after their stint in the army of Hamas.

Release any innocents – you, and us. Mubarak is correct and we must have fair exchanges. Perhaps now, you are all shaking your heads, thinking that I am naive, as I was when I demanded recently that the Israeli government cease any negotiations for Gilad. In this assumption, perhaps you are correct. It isn’t possible for Israel to release only those who have caused no harm; the numbers, if any, are probably close to insignificant.

Gilad deserves to come home – but releasing murderers is not the way. According to several news sources, our government is seriously considering the release of the following murderers:
  • Marwan Barghouti, who was convicted of five murder counts and given multiple life-sentences
  • Ibrahim Hamed, the leader of the military wing in the West Bank
  • Abdullah Barghouti, who was the mastermind behind the bombings at the Sbarro Pizzeria and Cafe Moment in Jerusalem
  • Abbas al-Sayed, mastermind of the Park Hotel massacre on Passover eve 2002 in Netanya

To release these men is to accept that they will murder again and each death will be the result of a deal for Gilad gone wrong. It’s sometimes easy to agree to pay the price today without worrying about tomorrow and who we will bury.

We so desperately want Gilad to come home, but we can’t agree to releasing those who have killed and will kill again. That is not the way to bring Gilad home; not the way to negotiate with those who store rockets in mosques and missiles in schools. Gilad must come home because international pressure and our own government refuse to open the crossings so long as Gilad is not the first to cross back to his home.

Do not reward murderers or further punish the families of those they murdered. Don’t ask a father who lost a child in Sbarro or the Moment CafĂ© if releasing his child’s murderer is a fair trade for Gilad. What can he say? How many more times can his heart bleed?

Mubarak is right – apples for apples, oranges for oranges, ceasefire for ceasefire, and innocent boys for innocent boys. Let the murderers rot in jail where they belong. Their release is not needed to bring Gilad home – all we need is a united government that stands strong against all demands…until our single demand is met – we want Gilad home now!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Answer with Strength - Stop Negotiating for Gilad

That's right. Stop right now. Hamas is, once again using psychological warfare and we shouldn't let them. According to Israel National News:

Hamas' second in command, Musa Abu Marzouk, said Saturday that kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit may have been killed during the bombing in Operation Cast Lead. Hamas officials made a similar claim during the course of the war.

There can be no "may have been" two weeks after the war. Hamas knows where Gilad is, and more importantly, how he is. If they want to play this game, we have to stop them.

OK, if what you say is true - there really is no reason for us to continue negotiations. We are pulling out of all discussions - about opening the crossings, about releasing 1,000 prisoners, until we receive firm and confirmed proof that Gilad is alive and well. We demand that Red Cross officials be allowed to see Gilad, talk to him, touch him. Only then, only then will we even talk to anyone from Hamas about continuing.

When, only WHEN we learn to answer in strength, will Gilad come home. It's very simple. Let Hamas realize that this time, in their attempt to harm and torture Israel, they have merely damaged themselves. Shut down ALL talks. We have nothing to say. You, Hamas, say Gilad is dead. Until we hear otherwise, there is nothing to talk about. Let 1,000 rot in Israeli prisons, as you let Gilad rot underground for the last three years. Let the crossings stay closed to all produce. We have nothing to say.

Do this, Israel - and we will see Gilad, alive and well and home.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The War Still Looms in the Mind

It's already been a few weeks since the war ended and yet there were times over the Sabbath that it continued to dominate the conversations we had with Elie. There are moments in your life that you know change you forever - for the good and for the bad. Sometimes, you know them, anticipate them, expect them, while other times they simply happen and then you learn that it is something that will remain with you.

When my oldest daughter said she wanted to go to Poland, that it was important for her to make this trip, as so many young Israelis do, and that she wanted me to come along, I decided her need to have me with her for that week was greater than her siblings. For those 8 days, she needed me more than they would and so I went, while my husband and friends stayed in Israel and kept the house running, the children fed, the daily routine of summer vacation rolling.

Within hours, I understood that my life would be changed by what I saw and experienced in Poland. You can walk into a gas chamber, I learned that first day in Maidanek, and a part of you never quite walks out. Or, maybe you walk out with an extra part, more than you were, rather than less. Either way, I was overwhelmed by the experience.

We walked into a room with 800,000 shoes, remnants of those murdered in the death camp. The guide knew how impossible it was to comprehend the numbers and the reality. "Find a shoe that tells you a story," he told us. Find one and let it talk to you. And there, in the dusty, crumpled cage I saw a small woman's shoe - impossible to know anything about it, I later wrote The Story of a Shoe. It was one of several life-altering moments I experienced there. It is daunting to know that my children are already experiencing such moments.

I can't imagine ever forgetting the weeks of this past war and from what I am getting from Elie, it will be something he too will always remember. He is not haunted by it, not traumatized in any way. He speaks openly and frankly about what he did, the role he played. As I've said before, the Israeli army is extremely professional and technically savvy. Elie knows where his missiles landed, and what damage they caused. And, he knows what he saved, what he defended.

"I got bored," he explained at one point during our discussions, and so joined in the loading and even the shooting of artillery shells into Gaza. That isn't his job in the unit; but the experience was good for him and for the unit as a whole. There is nothing an Israeli commander will ask his men to do that he won't do himself. He knows what units he defended. A friend's son was there in Gaza, "tell him I covered him going in," Elie said with a smile, "and out," he added.

There were many such discussions this past weekend, while we prepared on Friday, while we ate or walked home from the synagogue. This was a lazy Shabbat for me. I had frozen chicken made two weeks ago in the freezer, and a large container of soup as well. Mostly, I used Friday to concentrate on catching up with folding and distributing laundry and as a treat, my sister-in-law had brought us 7-layer cake from America during her recent trip, so I didn't even bake. She also brought Rainbow cake (marzipan) and kosher candy corns that are impossible to find here.

I offered to bake brownies or cookies for Elie for the week, but he said he was going to take some of the special Rainbow cake his aunt brought, along with the candy corns. "I want to lose weight," Elie explained when he declined my offer for additional food, "I gained weight in Gaza."

That was a roundabout way of saying that Elie, like most of the soldiers, was treated to an unbelievable outpouring of love (and candies and cookies, and tons of nosh) from Israelis. Losing weight and talking about Gaza are part of the getting-back-to-normal process.

What I learned after visiting Poland was that sometimes normal is different than it was before. The army has changed my son in so many ways. He is what he was before - I saw that in the way he kept teasing his little sister, long after she had tired of it and how he spoke to his brother about cars...and phones...endlessly.

But he is so much more - I saw that in our discussions of Syria and Lebanon. He is convinced that Hezbollah knows that our army is better prepared to fight in winter and so there will be no war...at least until the summer. These were discussions we never had before, never could have had and I am beginning to think - will always have, now and then, in the months and years to come.

I always dreaded this moment - it was, even a few months ago, an unbearable thought - that my son would be in a war, would be forced to kill. That he would live for weeks in danger while the sun would shine in Jerusalem, buses would run, and children would play on their bikes.

Of all the lessons I have learned - and perhaps may yet learn - the need to accept and adapt have become paramount. This Elie has done; this I will yet learn to do.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Asleep and Awake

Elie is asleep in his bed. The younger children are already at school. I could use his help running the errands such as picking up the weekly newspaper, picking up the mail that has accumulated for the last few days, buying the challah (the braided sweet bread that is special for the Sabbath), and more. He was so tired last night that he fell asleep on the bus from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and didn't awaken until the bus stopped in the Central Bus Station.

We had planned that he would call me and I'd meet him and bring him home, avoiding the final bus station. I was attending a neighbor's son's bar mitzvah celebration and left to meet him, but he decided, having already arrived in Jerusalem, that it was easier and faster just to catch another bus home. I ended up catching up to the bus a few stops before our home and so called him and told him to get off the bus for the final bus-to-door service.

He was so tired when he got home. Too tired to even eat. He grabbed some cookies; looked at some meat I had ready and decided it was too much energy to eat it (even if I'd heat it for him), grabbed a piece of cake and went to bed. I don't have the heart to wake him and so even now, close to 9:00 in the morning, he's still asleep.

This morning, children in southern Israel woke again to the sound and fear of rockets. A mortar shell and a kassem rocket hit Israel early this morning, around the time children are awakening for the day, and another hit near Sderot between 7:30 and 8:00 - the time children are leaving their homes and making their way to school.

Israel went to war to stop these rockets, and yet they continue. Yesterday, they finished counting the votes of the soldiers. In the end, the soldiers voted much as Israel did and the results didn't change. But some soldiers chose to use their vote to send a message to the government. They didn't vote for Kadima or Likud, National Union or Israel Beitenu. They voted on a blank slip saying simply "Israel wants Gilad Shalit."

They voted for Gilad. It's time Israel's leaders wake up. It's time the world stops dreaming. Gilad can be brought home with a national and international effort. I recently had a run-in with a "journalist" in Jakarta who used Elie's picture illegally. I told him he had 24 hours to remove the picture or face an international lawsuit. The picture was down within 5 minutes.

Today, this minute - let the world say to Gaza - you have 24 hours to return Gilad Shalit or you will be removed from the United Nations, all aid suspended. Your representatives will be kicked out of all countries. Your people will not be allowed entry into Israel on humanitarian grounds or any other. Israel will stop the water we supply, the electricity we supply. Your phone system, that part that comes from Israel, will be stopped.

We will close all borders - yes, we are prepared to make one million Palestinians suffer...or, more accurately, you are prepared to make one million Palestinians suffer rather than do what is right. No mother should be separated from her son for three years simply because he wore green clothes and stood near a border. Gilad was kidnapped from Israeli soil and must be returned. When there is a united effort, the likes of which the Palestinians have never seen - when the United Nations threatens withdrawing all aid; when the Egyptians demand it; when the French and the Germans and the Americans refuse to deliver even one dollar in aid - humanitarian or otherwise, Gilad will come home.

You have 24 hours to return Gilad, healthy and well...if this answer is delivered the right way, my guess - within 12 hours, Gilad will be home. That was the desperate hope of some soldiers who gave their vote not to this party or that, not that woman or this man - but to Gilad. The time has come...the time has already passed. Bring Gilad home.

May God grant Gilad a peaceful and safe Shabbat and may He bring him home to a family and nation that waits for him.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Elie's coming home....

He's on the bus...they kept them until very late but finally put them on buses to come home. He'll be tired...but he'll be home. I'm so happy!

I don't know what this means on a global scale - if we are less concerned about a Hezbollah reaction...if the feared reprisal has yet to come. For now, at this moment, I don't care. He's on a bus heading south. To get home faster, he's taking the bus to Tel Aviv and then he'll catch another to Jerusalem. I'll probably meet him there and bring him home, or he'll catch another bus. Either way, it's a Shabbat when he'll be home, when we'll be together. His father will bless him tomorrow night.

Elie will do his laundry and share in the cooking. We'll talk. The house will seem full of energy, as it often does. His middle brother is home as well, contemplating moving up his army service rather than remaining another year in yeshiva. Maybe he'll talk to Elie. We don't know what unit he will enter - I'm praying it is Artillery. Artillery is the family I know, the danger I understand.

My friend's son is in Givati; another is a proud Golani. I'm terrified of those honorable units. If I was a basket case with a son in Artillery, I don't know how I'd handle those others. The Artillery division has lost soldiers - we faced that reality only a few months into the army when they held their first ceremony at the Gunner's House in the north - and on the walls near the open plaza where the soldiers stood - were the names, year by year, war by war, of Artillery's fallen.

There isn't a unit or division that hasn't lost soldiers in our 61 years as a state, but I know the Artillery, I like the Artillery. Silly, I know and not yet time to contemplate it so I'll wait. I'll put that slowly churning burn to the side. Elie is home and I still haven't gotten my fill of that concept.

Next week is a "sports" week for them - they'll be doing physical training and exercise, a break before the real training begins. The following week - they have vacation again. Though they had a week off just two weeks ago, everything is still off course because of the war - delayed by more than a month on alert, at the war's front.

This vacation week will be spent together as a unit - a gift from the army. Sometimes they take the boys to places that are not appropriate for religious men, and so the religious among them choose to go spend the weekend at home. Elie is still waiting to find out what they have planned and if he will participate or spend the weekend here and at his yeshiva.

Again my mind wanders to the future when I want to keep it solidly here in the present and so I'll go cook, fold laundry, deal with a week's worth of chores. Already I have filled the Shabbat candles with oil. I've started doing that almost immediately after the Sabbath ends Saturday night. It's my way of beginning to prepare for the next Sabbath - all week long, through phones and laundry and schedules and homework, the candles ready to be lit are a reminder that a peaceful time is coming.

Someday, maybe the peace of the Sabbath that we force into our world will become a real part of our lives. For now, it's only a dream, but Elie is home, the candles are ready and even now, the house is filling with the smells of the weekend - the soup on the stove, the chicken in the oven.

Shabbat shalom, Israel. May it come in peace and pass in peace, or even better - may its peace never leave us.

Home or Not? Back on Alert

I'm waiting for a phone call to tell me whether Elie will be home this weekend or not. According to most major new sources (and Elie on the phone last night), the army is on alert in the north and throughout Israel. Israelis and Jews around the world are warned to be aware, alert, cautious today.

A year ago, senior Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyah was assassinated in Damascus. Though Israel has not claimed responsibility, has in fact denied any connection. Hezbollah maintains Israel is to blame and is demanding revenge. The list of Mughniyah's crimes is quite long. According to YNET, "The United States considers Mugniyah to be the man behind the bombing at the American embassy in Beirut and the attack against the US Marines' headquarters in Lebanon in 1983, which killed over 200 Americans."

Hassan Nasrallah has vowed revenge and revenge he will have. We don't know when, we don't know the extent, and we don't know where. "The army knows when Nasrallah says something, he means it," Elie told me a few weeks ago.

And so, Elie may be home today or he may not. I've settled back into the calm, back into sleeping and breathing more easily, even with this threat. For all the talk and warnings, Hezbollah paid attention to what happened in Gaza. Whatever we lost in the battlefields of Lebanon a few years ago, we have reclaimed. Why it happened is now obvious to all. It was the incompetence of the Defense Minister and the Prime Minister. One is gone, the other shortly will be.

Our current Defense Minister (who will also likely be leaving his job in the weeks to come) was smart enough to let the army do its work. There is little question the next Defense Minister will be equally as smart. So, for the future, I believe Israel will be more secure in the years to come than it has been in the previous years.

For this weekend, it means that Elie may have to stay up north, on alert, and waiting on the whims of Hezbollah. Or maybe, must maybe, he'll call me in the next few minutes and tell me he is on a bus coming home.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Waiting for the Soldiers

I have found, over time, that life is filled with ironies. Subtle things that are so humorous, if we but take the time to notice them, we will choke from our laughter or drown in our tears. Often, it seems as if God is playing with us, wanting us to see what is so obvious...knowing that we never will. Two items that happen on the same day and yet the world will see only one. Two halves of a truth, hidden and yet obvious.

Yesterday, we were presented with several such incidents. In an ironic twist, Baruch Marzel of the National Union party was set to act as a polling monitor in the Israeli Arab town of Umm al-Fahm. Meanwhile, the Arab Ra'am Ta'al party sent a representative to monitor the Knesset election in the Jewish community of Beit El. By Israeli "mainstream" standards, whatever that is, Baruch Marzel is often called "an extremist." Beit El is located in Samaria, often referred to as the West Bank. Its residents, like 250,000 other Israelis are often referred to as "settlers" - usually by those who wish to separate them from Israel and Israelis.

The Ra'am Ta'al is an Arab party, known for its strong anti-Israel standing and its leaders who regularly use their democratically elected position to condemn the very country that gave them a voice and Umm al-Fahm is often the site of many anti-Israel riots. In short, this is a perfect example of how to set up an explosion waiting to happen. This is also part of Israel's democracy - that parties are appointed to send monitors to represent them and see that voting is done honestly and fairly.

So yesterday, the representative of the Arab party set out to enter Beit El, a town his party rejects and wants to see destroyed. The representative entered the town, monitored the voting, and left. That's the end of that story. There was no violence; no threats.

At the same time, Baruch Marzel was prevented by police from arriving because police feared Arab violence and riots. Even before he would have arrived, the Arabs of the town were busy demonstrating not the right to vote, but their right to express their negative attitudes - that too is part of our democracy...until, of course, they threatened violence. The police caved in, fearing what would happen, and Marzel was replaced by Member of Knesset Aryeh Eldad, of the same party.

In the end, MK Eldad was escorted by police out of the polling station after spending a few hours there. An Arab mob began rioting and threatening him. Rocks were thrown at security forces as they evacuated the Knesset member, and shouts of "Death to the Jews!" could be heard.

I find it ironic that a Jew cannot go to a predominantly Arab polling station in the Jewish state of Israel, while a representative of an Arab party can easily and quietly spend the entire day in the Jewish community of Beit El, without violence or rioting. That was, for me, the first irony of the elections that took place in Israel.

The second irony was that much of this election centers around security and as the day ended and the polls were closing, the Palestinians in Gaza launched a rocket against Israel - yet another violation of the so-called cease-fire. Once again, God was merciful and the rocket caused no injuries. And just after the polls closed, there was a shooting attack near Beit El, the very place that a representative of an Arab party watched Israel’s democracy in action. Though an Israeli car was damaged, thankfully there were no injuries.

And finally, I woke to the third irony of the day - this one caused me to smile. The elections were very close. Kadima was calculated to have 28 seats; Likud would get 27 according to the tally. Nevertheless, Israel has moved to the right and it is clear that only Netanyahu and Likud will be able to form the next government. Over 99% of the votes have been counted. The last 1% belongs to the soldiers and Israeli diplomats abroad. These votes are held aside and must be counted and checked against the roster of those who voted to confirm that they didn't vote twice. Technically, a soldier could have voted on his base and then gone home and voted locally.

In the last election, six Knesset (parliament) seats changed hands as a result of these last votes. What this means is that the final rests with the soldiers, and there may well be enough to change the final tally enough to push Likud over Kadima. In practical terms, it means little. The right wing already carries enough votes to determine the composition of the next government.

But I like the idea that it is our soldiers who have the final word. In the last few months, they fought for our citizens but even more, they fought for our democracy. They fought for our right to live in this land, as normal citizens of our country. They protected our citizens against an enemy that hid behind their own. Several years ago, the Palestinians voted for Hamas and got the government that even they don't deserve. Now, our soldiers went to the polls to help pick a government that will hopefully be worthy to lead our land.

There are great challenges ahead. Social, economic, and educational tests will be faced by this government. But as with all Israeli governments since the founding of the State, this next government will be faced with unprecedented security issues. Hamas, Hizbollah and Iran threaten us. What they decide to do will determine the path our government takes, and the demands it makes on our soldiers.

It is so incredibly just that the nation now waits for the soldiers' votes.

02.11.09, 19:14 Two mortar shells fired from northern Gaza landed in Eshkol Regional Council limits. No injuries or damage were reported.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What Happened to Proportionality?

There has been much talk about whether or not Israel's response was proportional to the actions of Hamas. According to this view, Israel was roundly condemned for its part in the recent war largely because Hamas' 10,000 rockets apparently didn't cause enough damage. We might have been allowed to use our air force or tanks or artillery if, say, Hamas succeeded in obliterating a school filled with Israeli children.

But, we canceled school for nearly a month so that this wouldn't happen. We've spent millions of dollars fortifying schools against rocket attacks to prevent this from happening (and where in the world is this done OTHER than Israel?). Because we took preventive action, because we protected our civilians, the world blames us that the Palestinians didn't do the same.

In a recent interview, Professor Shalom Rosenberg of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem was asked about the proportionality whereby during the Gaza War a relatively small number of Israelis were killed as compared to hundreds of Gazans.

Professor Rosenberg's answer was both prophetic and brilliant:

"Hamas itself set this proportion. If Hamas demands to free 1000 terrorists incarcerated in Israeli jails for one Israeli soldier — Gilad Shalit — then they themselves set the "worth rate" that the life of one Israeli equals one thousand Gazans. If so, this proportionality dictates that in order to defend one Israeli soldier, we ( Israel ) have to attack terrorists despite the risk of killing hundreds of citizens."
It is an answer worth considering on both sides. Gilad Shalit must be brought home - alive and well. The International Red Cross, despite lip service, has done largely nothing to advance this issue. The Israeli government has been inarticulate and incompetent. There is concern that agreeing to a bargain to release 1,000 terrorists for the safe return of one Israeli soldier sets a dangerous precedent that will encourage other terrorists to attempt further kidnappings.

That being the case, let Israel give fair warning. Proportionality works both ways - if Hamas sets the value of one Israeli at 1,000 Palestinians, demanding the return of 1,000 for 1, they should be prepared to pay this price if they take the life of one Israeli as well.

If for one Israeli, Hamas is entitled to 1,000 terrorists, our answer must be that if you shoot rockets at our cities and injure one of our civilians, you have set the proportionality justification scale to 1,000 of your own.

No, I don't expect Israel to do this - I expect the world to realize the absurdity of Hamas' demand and their insistence that Gilad Shalit be brought home NOW.

Voting in Israel

It's election day in Israel and Israelis vote. We regularly have an incredibly high turn out - this is our chance to tell our leaders what we think and what we want for our country. Israel votes on a party system. Typically, the leader of the largest party becomes prime minister. Soldiers are included - they too have a voice in the country they are tasked with defending.

Those at checkpoints and sensitive areas start voting days before so that security is not compromised and rights are not denied. Elie is no longer in a sensitive area, neither at a checkpoint, nor in a war zone. So Elie's unit will vote today, as is all of Israel.

Those in the south have been warned - when you get to the polling place, make sure you know where the bomb shelters are. Be ready to run for safety. They vote under the continued threat of rocket fire, for the prime minister they think most likely to bring an end to this situation.

They vote in the north, under the threat of Hizbollah. They too will vote for the prime minister and party most likely to stand strong against Hassan Nasrallah and an ideology that worships death.

All of Israel votes under the threat of Iran and their promise to attain nuclear capabilities. We must vote for the party strong enough to face that threat, even if we must face it alone.

I spoke to Elie about who he would vote for. I am not naive. I know that I can influence my children, at least to some degree. They ask my opinion and weigh it in carefully. It is the responsibility of every parent to teach their children, and that encompasses the right to vote. My daughter and I will not vote for the same party. I understand her choice; I even agree with it.

Elie, like my daughter, would not vote for the same party for whom I will cast my vote. She will vote for a party that promises a strong Israel, one that will defend our land and our traditions. One of two people will become the next prime minister of Israel; one has already shown her weaknesses; the other has already shown his willingness to sell out positions upon which he was elected. Where does that leave us?

As with many lands, we are choosing the lesser of two evils. There is no real strong leader who has a chance to be elected; no great symbol of honor standing at the gates to lead our nation. It is all politics; and not even worthy politics at that. If I follow in my daughter's path, as my heart would have me do, I would cast my vote for a party that has no chance to hold the office of prime minister. At best, they will be called upon to join a coalition and sway it to the right path. But that is only if Likud is elected. If enough people on the right vote for these smaller parties, the worst of the two may become prime minister, leaving my daughter's party uselessly on the side. So I will go against my heart and vote strategically. Elie and I discussed this.

"I was thinking the same thing," he told me when we discussed my voting concerns.

It was another sign of the man he is becoming. I have little doubt that my middle son will ask me for whom to vote and likely follow what I say. It almost feels sometimes like I have more than one vote. But this is how they learn the importance of voting; by seeing their parents vote consistently in every possible election. In his case, he does not yet have the interest to investigate the parties and their positions as we do and so he trusts us to guide him.

That my daughter is voting differently than me; that Elie has thought through not just the options but the ramifications of the voting process, shows that we have succeeded in teaching our children the value and importance of democracy.

Elie and I, miles and miles apart physically, have come to the same conclusion - we will not vote for the best party, we will vote for the party most likely to be tasked with leading this country and we will pray that the party's leader will take us in the right direction, understanding who gave him the wings to fly.

And with that, when the weight of this responsibility becomes too much for us, we will remember that the future of Israel, our safety, security, the amount of rain, the economy, and all, rests not with the next prime minister, but with the King of Israel.

May God grant the leaders of Israel strength and wisdom and may He show no mercy to those who would stand against us.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Sabbath Call; the Sabbath Blessing

There is sort of a pecking order in Jewish families, built around the concept of respecting your elders. Younger children must listen to the older ones; the older ones should listen to their parents. Their parents should listen to their grandparents, and so on.

In the great order of life, Jewish children call their parents, most especially on Friday (Erev Shabbat) to wish their parents a Shabbat shalom, a peaceful Sabbath. For many weeks now, the order of life has been reversed. I've called Elie, desperately trying to reach him and wish him a quiet and peaceful Shabbat.

The first time this was especially relevant to me was several weeks ago; the day after he'd called me to tell me he wasn't where I wanted him to be. He'd been re-stationed near Gaza and was calling me on Thursday to tell me where he was, where he wasn't, and that he was closing his phone. I still haven't asked him if that was the truth as he knew it, or that he wasn't allowed to say the truth. Only several days later did they announce that the army had confiscated the phones of the soldiers to prevent them from inadvertently leaking the timing of the coming battles.

So as I tried to reach him Friday, he already didn't have a phone. I started the Sabbath nervous and worried; no way to reach him and be reassured despite the incoming rockets and the heightened sense that war was approaching. Only later did Elie describe that night and that day to me.

They arrived in the late afternoon to an empty field and were told to make camp. Only, there wasn't much of a camp to make. They had no beds, no tents, no cannons or armored personnel vehicles. That would come in the middle of the night. In those first hours, they got ready for war. The massive artillery cannons were aimed at Gaza; they were readied for war. Later in the afternoon, around the time I was trying to call him, the rabbi visited them and told them that even though the Shabbat was approaching, they were commanded to continue their preparations.

The Sabbath is a day of rest; Jews are commanded to refrain from doing all sorts of work, including building, lighting fires, using electricity, etc. And yet my son, who was raised in an Orthodox home; one in which he never entered a car on the Sabbath, ordered and was ordered to move these large vehicles. They built tents on the Sabbath, using hammers - tools not even touched in our home during this holy period.

A week later, as the ground forces were preparing to enter, I had a few momments on Thursday afternoon to speak to Elie. He sounded so much better than he had the day before. In one week, his unit had learned how to fight in the long term. I asked him to call me on Friday; I tried to reach him on Friday. Another Sabbath began without our speaking; another day of worry on my part.

After the Sabbath was over, I heard reports of massive artillery attacks. These were an integral part of the war, and my son was an integral part of them. Another week passed and another Sabbath came and went with a few conversations, but not many.

Would Elie be home in time for the bar mitzvah of his brother? Would it be yet another Shabbat without him. He came home not only for that weekend, but for the weekend that followed and so I had two Shabbatot (two Sabbaths) of peace and sleep.

After the second one, Elie moved on to his new assignment with his unit and this past weekend, he wasn't home again. I thought about calling him and wishing him well, but I didn't. I thought of it several times during the day, and each time, I hoped.

Mid-afteroon, the phone rang. Elie.

"Hi, how's it going?" he asked.

"Good. How is it there?" I countered.

"Good." What an ordinary conversation. What a simple one.

"Are you all ready for Shabbat?" I asked.

"Yeah," he answered.

We talked about what he was doing. No, it isn't too cold up there. Yes, he thinks he'll be home next weekend, but he isn't sure. No, he doesn't yet know where he'll be with the next rotation and no, the next rotation won't be disturbed because of the war.

"Ima, new soldiers are still coming in at the same time. Other soldiers are still leaving the army when they are supposed to. That can't change."

He told me a little about the other guys in the unit; nothing unusual; nothing much to talk about.

"Shabbat shalom, sweets," I told him. I keep trying to stop calling him that. He keeps ignoring it.

"Shabbat shalom," he answered.

It was the most wonderful call I've had in weeks because...because...there were no rockets falling near him...no artillery being shot beside him. He's sleeping on a military base - with a radiator in his room that works so well, sometimes he has to open the window because he's hot.

His calling me is yet another sign that this war is behind us and the future is once again, along the lines of having a soldier in the army. He'll call when he can; he'll come home when he can. Plans will be made; plans will change. Before the war, there was this great fear that I had - that my son would one day be involved in war, in really having to shoot and yes, in one day having to kill.

I can't tell you whether Elie has come to terms with this new reality; there are things that young men do not discuss with their mothers. Our nation was again called upon to fight as we have since Israel was first re-established 61 years ago. And, as with each generation, my son faced war, met the challenge, and with more gratitude than I can possibly express, my son came home safe and whole.

It's a milestone, like the end of training, like his getting his kumta (the blue beret that marks him a part of the artillery division). He finished the advanced training, the Commanders Course, months at a checkpoint, and now battle against our enemies.

For now, Israel has returned to what it was before the war - a nation embroiled in an election that will determine our future, a test of directions and will. Our country, like much of the world, is fighting difficult economic times; challenges remain to be faced but for now, I'll put it all aside because my son called home on Friday and had nothing real to say. Things were good. He was warm. He was ready for the coming Sabbath, and so was Israel.

My older daughter was not home this weekend; my middle son was at his yeshiva, and Elie was in the north. One of our "adopted" sons (actually, the brother of our "adopted" son...so we logically assumed that the brother of a son must be a son too) was there. And so my husband blessed our adopted son, our youngest son, and then our youngest daughter.

It passed in our house, as it often does, with guests and good food and song. Sunday was back to work - another week and hopefully, at the end of this one, Elie will come home with his dirty laundry. Elie wasn't home this past weekend to receive his father's blessing, but hopefully this coming weekend he will be.

For now, the urgency is gone; the desperate need to hear from him has lessened. My phone wasn't turned off, but it was put inside a drawer, ignored for the weekend. I was up late Friday night enjoying our company; sharing the meal with friends who had come from far. These are friends we haven't seen in years and so we enjoyed talking late into the night and then, when I went to bed, a wonderful thing happened - I slept. I even overslept, getting to the synagogue later than I have in weeks.

That quiet, that peace, that ability to sleep, and the call from Elie - these are the blessings of Shabbat long postponed because of the war, and now returned.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Truth, though Battered, Still Stands

In the smoke of war, it is so easy to assume that lies are true, deliberate fabrications accidental. As is often the case, the world demanded Israel answer for the claims made by Hamas and so-called Palestinian human rights organizations. How could Israel answer claims when it was in the middle of fighting a war...and other than soldiers in the field, didn't have easy access to the very evidence that would prove Israel innocent?

As expected, as the war ends and the smoke clears, the so-called facts are proved to be lies, the fabrications proved to be exaggerations (at best) and outright falsehoods in even more cases. An amazing organization that watches the media and human rights organizations and calls them on these errors, is CAMERA. CAMERA examined the claims made of huge numbers of civilian casualties and found outright fabrications, missing information, inaccurate numbers - in short, all that is claimed is now suspect given the huge campaign by organizations that were so busy attempting to sway world opinion, they left the truth far behind. As CAMERA shows, the truth, though battered from lies and twisted numbers, still stands.

Here is the beginning of their report (copied without permission, but with gratitude from a soldier's mother, and a link and a hope that this is acceptable):


Gaza Casualties: Civilian or Combatant?

(correct as of January 29, 2009 - more information may be available so please use the link at the end of this snippet for more information)

In the aftermath of Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, controversy rages over whether Israel used indiscriminate and excessive force. Israel defends its actions claiming that ¾ of the fatalities were Hamas members or other combatants opposing Israeli forces. The Palestinian claim, echoed in much of the media coverage, is that the vast majority of the fatalities were unarmed civilians.

A complicating factor in quantifying the number of civilian casualties is the call by Hamas leaders for their members to shed their uniforms and fight in civilian clothing ( "Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery,"New York Times, Jan. 11, 2009).

CAMERA examined the data collected by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), which provides the most comprehensive tally of casualty figures in Gaza. The results of CAMERA's analysis are summarized below.
  • By cross-checking with other sources, CAMERA has identified a number of Hamas fighters and members of other Palestinian terrorist groups who were either misclassified by PCHR as civilians, not identified as combatants, or omitted entirely from their tabulations. This raises serious questions about the accuracy of PCHRs casualty statistics.
  • An analysis of the fatalities by age and gender shows that the majority of civilian fatalities recorded by PCHR are males between 15 and 40 years old, the same age profile as the combatants. This also should raise concern that significant numbers of combatants may have been misclassified as civilians.

PCHR

PCHR represents a partisan source that favors Hamas over Israel. This is evidenced by the terminology and tone it uses in its reports - for example, labelling the Israeli Defense Forces as the "Israeli Occupation Forces" and describing Israeli military operations as "war crimes." Despite PCHR's clear bias, its data is widely cited by the media.


The data examined here covers the period of Dec. 27, 2008 through January 21, 2009. PCHR produces both daily updates and weekly reports on Palestinian casualties in Gaza. CAMERA's study examined both types of reports, but the report focuses on the weekly updates.

Omissions and Inaccuracies in PCHR Data

PCHR data is quite extensive and detailed, yet a sampling of newspaper accounts and a cursory review of items posted by the Maan News Agency, another Palestinian source, uncovered a number of omissions and misclassifications of combatant status. The following individuals, described by PCHR as civilians or without any classification information, were identified in Maan announcements as members of militant groups:

  • Jihad Abu Medif (Medyiff) - identified as member of Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade
  • Haitham Abu al-Qumsan - identified as member of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades
  • Hamdi Fareed Abu Hamada - identified as member of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades
  • Eyad al-Maqqousi - identified as member of Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades
  • Mohammed 'Abed Hassan Brbakh - identified as DFLP commander
  • Tariq Nimer Abu Amsha - identified as member of Islamic Jihad al-Quds Brigades
  • Shams Omar - Al-Quds (Islamic Jihad) commander in Gaza

Maan also released the names of eleven Fatah loyalists it claimed were executed by Hamas during the fighting. One of these, Hasan Hijazi, was listed in PCHR's report as having been killed by Israeli artillery shelling on Jan. 7. The other ten could not be matched to any names listed on PCHR's reports.

CAMERA's examination of PCHR's reports found no mention of several senior commanders from Hamas whose deaths were widely reported in the media:

  • Mahmoud Shalpokh on Jan. 4
  • Ayman Siam on Jan. 6
  • Amir Mansi on Jan. 10
  • Muhammad Hilou on Jan. 4 (a man with a similar name was listed but with no indication that he was a member of Hamas or a combatant)
  • Abu Zakaria al-Jamal on Jan.3

The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center reported that Hamas explicitly forbade the publishing of the names of Hamas fighters killed in combat. Is PCHR abiding by this demand? CAMERA found the following examples to suggest that it is in many cases.
A Hamas announcement on Jan. 19, 2009 (Military Communique, Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades Information Office) names three fighters killed on Jan. 5:

  • Muhammad Farid Abdallah
  • Muhammad Abdallah Obeid
  • Iyad Hassan Obeid

These fighters were named in PCHRs weekly update for Jan. 15-21, but were not identified as combatants even though others included in the same group were identified as combatants.


For the rest of this impressive report (and probably updates), please go to:
http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=118&x_article=1603

All credit for this important work belongs to CAMERA and as the mother of a soldier, I thank them for these efforts.

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