War was a distant reality. If it happened, it was on distant shores. Perhaps the TV brought it to my living room; perhaps the radio reminded me. But there was never fear, never action I needed to take, never concern that I would hear an explosion or see a rocket's landing site. From the age of 13, I wanted to live here in Israel and so at some point as I contemplated my future here, I must have considered what it would mean for my children.
Certainly, by the time we were finalizing our plans, I knew that Elie and Shmulik would be soldiers one day; that other children we might have would serve as well. When the US went into Iraq during the second Gulf War in 2003, we were told to prepare for war. We were given gas masks and as I do here, I wrote during that time. (http://www.paulasays.com/articles/on_israel/diary_of_an_almost_war.html)
March 20, 2003: This morning, it seems Israelis are being told to "act normally." Now, this wouldn’t be so funny if we weren’t also told to carry gas masks with us everywhere we go...including kids going to school. Anyone know how to carry a gas mask and act normal; So...my first grader is going to school with his backpack, peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a gas mask. On the bright side, I doubt the teacher will care that he’ll be late.And another entry strikes me because this blog has shifted to be more about Shmulik than Elie. And this next part is about Shmulik.
In the end, all the preparation, all the fright - luckily came to nothing and Israel was not hit by SCUD missiles as in the first Gulf War. The next war was the Second Lebanon War - fought up north. The next war was the Gaza War, fought to the south west. Both wars touched us, but other than one wayward alarm, there was little real concern for personal safety (though much for national safety).
March 20, 2003: Well - almost all the kids at school.
My 13 year old...okay - confession - I do not understand the psyche of a 13 year old boy! So, last night he was dancing and laughing and telling the US to attack...why? Not because he’s pro-war - but because we all assumed that school would be canceled today. This morning, he refused to take his gas mask, and I told him that even though there was less than 1% chance that he’d need it, he had to take it. At that point, he started to cry. Yup, 13 years old...and scared out of his mind. So...we made a deal - I get my morning dishes done, and he stays home from school. All in all, he’s calm because he’s home. His next fear was how long it would take him to put the gas mask on, how much time would he have. I told him (not entirely truthfully), that we’d have a good 5 minutes warning. He just asked me if I wanted to time him (no, actually, I don’t)...sure, I said - well - he got his gas mask on within 1 minute. Isn’t it amazing this world we live in....At some point, after this is over, I’ll worry about the psychological scars inflicted on children who have to deal with the concept of chemical warfare (yes, he knows that the rain we are experiencing is a good thing because it would clean the air...).
And, as my daughter just walked off for her driving lesson...do you have enough money? yes...Do you have your bus card? yes...cellular phone? yes....gas mask? yes....
What a world....and all this without a missile ever being fired at us. For what it’s worth, I believe tonight is the defining moment for Israel. If we get through tonight without any missiles...
So why this thought - today, Jerusalem is being tested to see if we are ready for war. According to Israel National News:
A siren will sound today; emergency vehicles will rush here and there. Hospitals and medical personnel will act as if it were real so that if (or perhaps when) it will be real, we will be better prepared. Children, thousands of children in all grades will be asked to stand up and leave their classes and move quietly, quickly, in an orderly fashion to the nearest bomb shelter.
Israel’s National Emergency Authority will be holding a special drill in Jerusalem from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, simulating different scenarios that could occur during a time of war, including missiles falling or a need to absorb mass numbers of residents from other parts of the country. Taking part will be the municipal emergency headquarters, schools, the Jerusalem police, Magen David Adom, Home Front Command, as well as government offices in the Jerusalem district. During the hours of the drill, people can expect brisk movement of emergency vehicles. As part of the drill, a siren will sound throughout the city at 10:00am, at which time all city employees and students in schools will practice safe evacuation into shelters or other protected spaces. Jerusalem’s residents will be asked to fill out a form on the city’s website on which they will indicate whether the siren was heard loud and clear in their homes.
And while this is all happening, in just 30 minutes from now, deep in my heart I want to ask the simplest of questions - is anyone really ever ready for war? Doesn't the simple fact that we have to ask ourselves this question mean something?
No, I want to answer, I am not ready for war. I wasn't ready the last time when you took my son; I won't be ready this time either. I will never be ready for war. I may know where to go, I may close off a room in my house and store extra food, flashlights, water, batteries. But no, no matter how many times you ask me to consider it, no, I will never be ready for war.