Friday, November 29, 2002

The crazed wind in my garden

Friday, November 29, 2002

The wind wouldn't let me sleep last night. It hammered on the shutters as though trying to break into the apartment. From upstairs came the sound of a herd of animals clattering around on the upstairs balcony - the wind driving around the garden furniture. Bits of leaves were sucked between the shutter and the window, swirling around in the gap like balls in a lottery machine.

I'd spent the evening working on my balcony, tending to my plants. Already the strong winds had started, tousling the large tree in my neighbours' garden below, blowing my gardening stool across the porch. The dust tickled my throat, sending me indoors in a spasm of coughing.

Finally, autumn weather in November, just as we are supposed to be on the cusp of winter. The rains have been late this year. We've had a few thunderstorms so far, some brief downpours, but not the blessed bounty we desperately need. This was a teasing gale, though, dry, choking and slightly warm. It blew along bits of dry earth and dust, with not a drop of rain in sight.

By about 2:45am I realized that sleep was impossible, and, bundling up in my warmest dressing gown, I went out to see what the violent wind had wrought on my balcony.

My favourite Arabian jasmine had been pulled to one side, half uprooted, while many of the tender seedlings were doubled over, squashed by the tempest. Assorted plant debris churned around the floor, along with a child's ball and an empty flower pot.

A few mocking drops of drizzle spattered down for an instant, leaving a pattern of tears on the balcony floor, nothing more.

The terrible gusts were tormenting the neighbours' tree, tossing it this way and that, ripping off clumps of its elegant leaves and pretty pink seed pods, along with strips of the jasmine vine which sprawls over the tree. The windward side was stripped bare and skeletal, like a face scarred on one side, with the sheltered side still glorious in its foliage and seed pods, the jasmine daintily weaving in and out among them. I wondered what had happened to the flock of house sparrows which usually roost there for the night.

Good thing my neighbour harvested his lemons two weeks ago. This storm would have decimated his crop.

The wind raged on. A cluster of marigold heads from a distant garden flew past me, followed by some flimsy branches.

I went back to bed but sleep wouldn't come. A song kept repeating in my head, the wind beating at the building, the wind chimes clanging wildly in panic. In my mind the tumult outside merged with the violence of the war, the destruction striking daily at random.

I found myself humming a song from the October 1973 Yom Kippur War:

Each year in the fall, Giora,
The crazed wind in my garden
Decapitates the best of my lilies.

Each year
Each year in the fall, Giora,
I cast my eyes up to the mountains.
From where will my salvation come?

Each year
Each year in the fall
Each year in the fall

Giora fell fighting a very different war, a war in which mighty armies faced each other in the vastness of the Sinai Peninsula, a war of soldier against soldier. Troops went off to the front line, and however small the country's borders were, the battlefield and the home were separate places. Now the distinction between the front and home seems a quaint luxury.

It felt as if the turbulence had grown out of the day's events, the frantic pace of tragedies and near tragedies bombarding us one after the other, battering the tender shoots along with the mature trees. Suddenly I felt sick. So many people had been cut down that day, and here I was worrying about the plants and sparrows.

And then it came. A clap of thunder, real thunder, not just the thrashing of the wind. A new sound arose from the tumult, a reassuring steady pounding of water on concrete and soil.

Finally a blessing from within the storm.

Shabbat shalom and Hannukah sameah.

Saturday, November 23, 2002

Jerusalem of blood

Friday, November 22, 2002

"I don't know why the song is 'Jerusalem of Gold'", remarked one of the women in the waiting room to her neighbour. "They should have called it Jerusalem of Blood."

I had just been getting ready to leave for Jerusalem when radio anchor Arieh Golan interrupted an election campaign interview to report on that morning's bus bombing in Jerusalem.

We drove down Highway 443 listening to the macabre mix of news on the radio, the sickening reports from the atrocity interspersed with traffic updates about which roads were closed as a result. One station was already back to election news.

In the opposite direction a long line of vehicles snaked back from the Makkabim checkpoint, the soldiers carefully checking each one as it weaved its way through the huge concrete blocks, strategically placed to slow down traffic. Recently they were repainted to look like dice cubes, presumably by someone with a wry sense of humour. The gambling theme seemed oddly appropriate. Driving the highways, riding the buses, going shopping every day we take a chance with our lives, and not just because of the local driving culture (or lack thereof).

By the time we reached central Jerusalem the death toll was up to nine. The nurses at my doctor's office had the news on in the background. Hamas spokesman Abdel Aziz Rantisi was praising the "self-martyrdom operation". Rantisi is a physician, a paediatrician no less. One nurse stood staring at the radio. "He praises this," she muttered in disbelief.

At the pharmacy a woman commented that two boys had failed to show up at her son's school that morning. No one knew what had happened to them. She feared the worst.

In the centre of Jerusalem all was as usual. That day's bombing had occurred in faraway Kiryat Menahem, a sleepy neighbourhood in southern Jerusalem. Once again it struck me how large a city Jerusalem really is. Or perhaps just how compartmentalised.

As we returned to the car only about 3 hours after that morning's bombing the radio was reporting on the reopening of Mexico Street, where the bus was blown up. Over fifty buses have been attacked these past two years, including over twenty suicide bombings, so Israel is now quite proficient at cleaning up after them. Before long, life on Mexico Street will take on a semblance of normality. But the residents, cleanup crews and rescue service personnel will carry the horrors with them forever.

I walked up King George Street, pausing in the remodelled hat store to look for a winter Shabbat hat. They didn't have what I was looking for. Next door I stopped in the renovated bakery to get some rolls for lunch. Then I remembered why they had been refurbished: the bomb that had shattered this street only about six months ago.

By the time I arrived back home the death toll was up to eleven. Mothers and grandmothers, children on their way to school. The afternoon headlines brought the first names to be released. By the evening, funerals were being held. The late night news had photos to go with the names: six women, two girls, a little boy, a teenager and a young man.

The terrorist's father was interviewed praising his "heroic" son and proclaiming his desire that his other children follow in his footsteps.

There was a panicked message on my answer machine from a relative who was positive that I had been on that bus. She remembered that last year Thursday was my study day in Jerusalem and she thought I took the number 20 bus to class. Unable to reach me at home or on my cellphone (the battery was drained) she had concluded that something had happened to me.

This morning, a neighbour held a pre-Hannukkah craft fair. A friend stopped by and a few of us chatted for a bit, while business was slow. She is close to the parents of Chana Nachemberg, the young mother from Modi'in who is still in a coma after being wounded in the Sbarro pizzeria bombing in June 2001. She gave us an update on Chana's condition, how she is now off the respirator, how she gives the tiniest of responses, a flicker of the eyes, a movement of the hand in response to someone's touch.

Most of all though she reminded us of the family, the parents who spend every day at their daughter's bedside, the husband left alone to look after his little four-year-old daughter, and hold down a job and schlep to the long term care facility in Tel Aviv to visit his wife.

Sometimes in the first reaction to a terror attack we focus so much on the dead and their families that we forget the others whose lives were shattered by the blast. With nearly 5,000 wounded in over 15,000 acts of terror, sometimes we don't remember the Chanas, and their parents, spouses and children, those struggling with a slow climb back to health, a lifetime of disability or a relative who will require care in an institution for years to come.

The raw figures for yesterday's bombing were eleven dead and 56 wounded. The real casualties are far, far greater.

Shabbat shalom.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Kibbutz Metzer infiltrated

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

"I'm only a kid of 34, and I have to say Kaddish for two children, my whole family," sobbed Avi Ohayon clutching his late little boy's pacifiers.

The camera moved from him to the brightly decorated children's bedroom in their little house in Kibbutz Metzer in northern Israel. It was here that Ohayon's two young sons, Matan aged 5 and No'am, aged 4, were gunned down at point blank range by a Palestinian terrorist late last night. Their mother, Revital, was shot as she leant over her children in a futile attempt to protect them from the gunman. The blue and yellow bedclothes were stained with blood and bullet holes pierced the wall.

I must have seen the clip at least four times yesterday on four different news broadcasts. Each time I watched reporters close to tears. No matter how much terror becomes a "routine" event in Israel, there is no getting used to little kids butchered in their beds, eyeball to eyeball with their murderer while he coldly and calmly shoots them, a bullet for each child.

The terrorist began his killing spree on the tranquil, leafy, paths of the kibbutz, murdering Tirtza Damari as she took a late night stroll with her boyfriend, then gunning down Yitzhak Dori, the kibbutz secretary as he tried to apprehend the gunman. The Ohayon home was next.

Outside the kibbutz gates, by now sealed off by security forces, Avi Ohayon waited for news of his family.

The night stretched on endlessly, the residents of Metzer cooped up in their homes, behind locked doors and closed shutters, the entire village blacked out to hamper the terrorist's movements. Meanwhile soldiers and police scoured the kibbutz for the shooter. It was only at about seven the next morning that the all clear was given and residents were finally allowed to leave their homes. To date the perpetrator has not been caught.

The scenario has become too familiar. Lately, terrorist infiltrations have become almost a weekly event, targeting rural Israeli communities close to Palestinian areas. The attack on Kibbutz Metzer this Sunday night was only the most recent. Last week a Palestinian farm worker in Gush Katif smuggled a gun to work and murdered 52-year-old Amos Sa'ada and 18-year-old Assaf Tzfirah, in the greenhouses. The week before, a terrorist broke through the perimeter fence of the Samarian village of Hermesh, where he killed two 14-year-old Israeli schoolgirls, Hadas Turjeman and Linoi Sarousi, and 53-year-old Orna Eshel.

As the attack in Metzer took place, EU-sponsored talks were underway in Cairo with the aim of persuading the Palestinian terror gangs to renounce the murder of Israelis in "pre-1967 Israel," with the understanding that Israelis in disputed areas are fair game. Today, Palestinian officials expressed criticism of the location of the Metzer attack, with Fatah, whose gunmen perpetrated it, claiming they thought Metzer was over the pre-1967 armistice line. Had little Matan and No'am lived in an Israeli community a few kilometres east, just across the pre-1967 armistice line, they would clearly be considered legitimate targets.

In the last 10 days Israeli security forces have thwarted over fifty attempted terror attacks, mostly suicide bombers and car bombs caught en route to their Israeli targets, including a fifteen-year-old would be bomber apprehended near Nablus/Shekhem wearing an explosive laden belt.

One prominent success was ironically near Kibbutz Metzer itself, the very morning before the infiltration, when police on patrol intercepted a car packed with explosives and carrying a terrorist with a bomb-belt. Relief that this attempted atrocity had been averted was unfortunately to be short lived. Several hours later another terrorist began his killing spree in the same kibbutz.