Thursday, July 31, 2014

Children of '93

Back in the autumn of 1973, during the traumatic days of the Yom Kippur War, Israeli superstar Yehoram Gaon had a hit song whose refrain was "I promise you my little girl that this will be the last war", in each verse backing up his pledge in the name of all the different branches of the armed forces, the fathers who've gone off to war and want to come home to their little girls, the dusty faced tankers, the doctors and medics fighting to save lives, the paratroopers who saw a vision of her as an angel amidst the smoke of battle, the pilots seared by missiles and anti-aircraft fire.

Nine months after that war ended Israel started experiencing a baby boom.

About twenty years later the children born then were of military age, Israel was in the early stages of a new peace process and also experiencing an increase in terror attacks. One of those soldiers from the Yom Kippur War was now a successful playwrite and he penned a song called "Winter '73" about those children born after the war who were now in the army, those children whose parents had promised, in the words of Gaon's song that '73 would be the last war.

"Winter '73" was recorded by the musical troupe of the Israeli army Education Corps. The chorus seems to rebuke their parents' generation "You promised us a dove, an olive branch, you promised us peace at home, you promised us spring and flowers, you promised to keep your promises", continuing " we're now in the army with guns, helmets on our heads...when we were little you taught us, promises must be kept."

The song was so controversial when it came out that leading radio stations such as the Voice of Israel and even army radio declined to give it air time, though the song later gained popularity following live performances at Memorial Day ceremonies.

I am from that post-73 generation but that song has always felt to me like a kick in the teeth to our parents' generation who helped build this state, who sacrificed to ensure Israel's survival and who all the while strived to achieve peace, most notably achieving an agreement with one of Israel's bitterest opponents, Egypt.

It's now over twenty years since those heady days of autumn 1993 when the Rabin government announced the Oslo peace accords with the Palestinians, setting in motion a chain of Israeli concessions that would see Israel agree to the creation of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian government that would take control of the territory Israel ceded to it, including almost all Palestinian population centres and the whole of the Gaza strip. 

IBack in the autumn of '93 Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres tantalised Israelis with visions of a bright future, of what Peres glowingly termed "The New Middle East", a Middle East of regional cooperation, peace and growth. Rabin stood on the White House lawn and promised "No More War". A few years later prime minister Ehud Barak promised Israelis an end to military reserve duty. 

Twenty years have gone by. 

The children born in the heady days of Winter '93 amidst all the talk of no more war and a peaceful New Middle East are today the dusty face tankers, the army medics fighting to save lives, the paratroopers who saw a vision of their little girl as an angel amidst the smoke of battle, the pilots seared by anti-aircraft fire, the tireless sailors, their eyes stung by salt and waves. They are reaping the rewards of the Oslo process, not an end to army service but yet another war forced upon us to defend Israel from bloodthirsty enemies intent on our destruction. A war in which rockets are falling on almost all of Israel's major cities, in which the homefront in some places is as threatened as the front. 

This is what was running through my mind as I read the latest list of Israeli casualties from this Gaza war, so many young men of military age born to my generation, the Winter '73+ generation. We who came of age during the heady days of Rabin's and Peres' Oslo promises, who were encouraged to believe that peace would be right around the corner even during the horrific wave of terrorism which was the culmination of that process in the autumn of 2000, whose leadership told us that all those Israelis murdered by our peace partners were "sacrifices for peace" and if we could just stomach a few more Israeli civilian casualties then the Palestinian leadership would come around, reign in the opponents of peace and ring in a new era of coexistance. We're still waiting.

What song then should the children of '93 write? Should they rebuke their naive parents for believing the Oslo hype? Should they chastise their grandparents for failing to achieve peace? Should they admonish their grandparents for gambling with territorial concessions in exchange for a piece of paper with empty promises? Should they berate their parents for voting for governments which allowed Yasser Arafat to place his heavily armed goons within range of almost every major Israeli population centre and then tolerated escalating attacks in the name of not rocking the peace process? 

Even as the children of Winter '73 are starting to get their official notices of retirement from military reserve duty many of our children are getting their draft papers from the army. Those of us with children still too young to serve have few delusions that they are likely to come of age in an era of peace. If we have learnt anything from our parents' generation, it is not to make empty promises whose fulfillment is likely to be out of our hands.

Like Cyclamen

There's a song they've been playing nonstop on the radio in recent weeks, the kind that perfectly captures the nation's mood right now, and I guess there's no surprise there, it was written during Operation Cast Lead, one of Israel's previous attempts at halting the rockets and terror from Gaza. 

Ariel Horovitz, son of the late Naomi Shemer shows he is truly his mother's son with this evocative song, the lyrics comparing the spirit of Israel in times of crisis with the cyclamen flowers that rise up among the barren, rough rocks, creating life and beauty where it seems there should be no soil to support any plant, let alone a delicate flower. 

I should be totally sick of it by now, a song played so often as to be cliche and passe and devoid of any emotional impact after so much airtime but somehow it just gets me right in the kishkes each time I hear it. This is us and this is in so many ways our song over and over and over, my people who come together in times like these, the selflessness, the giving, the volunteering the courage of so many who leave everything time and time again to go out and protect all of us in this rough neighbourhood we live in.

It was more than that though tonight. As the song played for the millionth time I suddenly found myself choking up, this sudden rush of emotion which isn't me, like a rip tide pulling at my usual mild mannered calm and cool. 

Not sadness, though like all my countrymen I am heartbroken by the loss of life, the ever growing collage of the faces of the fallen. Not the tension or the uncertainty, though I am sure everyone here feels those too. 

No, it's anger I'm feeling, a swelling gushing anger at all of this, that we have to be like this, that the song of Cast Lead could have been the song of Protective Edge because here we are in this same tired film all over again. 

I'm angry that once again we are fighting a necessary war of self-defence against an enemy who time and time again has professed his hatred of life, his determination to exterminate my state and my people and has rejoiced at the spilling of Jewish blood.

I'm angry that the generation born at the time of the Oslo peace process promises of a shiny new Middle East full of friendship and co-existence is the generation making up the bulk of the combat troops today fighting and sacrificing amidst the wreckage of Oslo and Wye and Camp David II and the Gaza withdrawal and every other peace initiative from the last 20 years that was supposed to end the bloodshed but instead each in its turn only yielded more. 

I'm angry at the Obama/Kerry team peddling more of the same, the bullying and patronising threats against Israel to force ceasefire terms that will only grant Hamas a greater license to continue its campaign of violence and destruction. A ceasefire that will only create another stalemate in an endless stream of stalemates that prolong and sustain this conflict round after round. 

I'm angry that despite the justness of our cause the world media, diplomats and the leaders of supposed allies have twisted it all around to portray us as the devil incarnate. 

I'm angry that legions of otherwise apparently decent folk who like to hoist their liberal, humanitarian devoted to human rights credentials aloft like a banner have swallowed hook line and sinker every last lie fed to them by the Hamas propaganda machine, so that they are blind to the evils Hamas has perpetrated upon their very own people but proudly portray Israelis as Nazis even as Israel employs tactics that expose our soldiers to greater risk in an effort to protect Gaza civilians.

I'm angry that my country is treated with such a lack of gratitude and respect, that our small state has given the world so much, worked so hard to create and innovate ways to make life better for all of humanity, from medicine to agriculture to communications to humanitarian missions, and time and time again the world turns around and kicks us in the teeth in the twilight zone assemblies of the United Nations human rights forums. 

I don't think I ever realised just how much this all bothers me until tonight, grown so used to the expectation that the only good Israeli is one who flagellates himself and condemns his country before the court of world opinion. How many times have I been through this in every co-existence and dialogue forum I've ever attended. I'm not so naive as to believe my country is perfect, no country is, but I will not be bullied in to denying the goodness that I fervently believe far outweighs our mistakes. 

Through it all I'm reminded of Rudyard Kipling's immortal words, the ones I had to memorise in primary school English class a lifetime ago. They too have been recited to death, repeated so often that when we hear them today they seem trite and passe, a cliche from too many kitchen posters and anthologies. That may be so, but looking around today I feel that his words are truer than ever.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pray for their safety

Last week at my halakha class the teacher started by asking everyone whether their husbands/sons were home. It's the question on everyone's lips now, so many thousands of reservists have been drafted leaving wives and children to cope at home with the rocket alerts and sirens. Everyone knows someone serving at the front, if not their spouse, child or other relative than a neighbour, friend or coworker.

Two hours earlier my teacher's combat soldier son had called to say they were shutting off their phones, would be unreachable for a while. Nothing unremarkable about that except that he also called all his siblings and his father. She knew he'd just gone in to Gaza. We read Psalms together and dedicated our Torah learning to our soldiers at the front.

My teacher is such an inspiring women, looking at her face the concern and worry was clearly there,  but so too her deep faith in God and in the justice of this cause, the need to fight the enemy so determined to destroy us.

Tonight she was a little less strained. After six days without contact with her son, days of knowing that he was with his combat unit in the thick of things in Gaza, he was finally able to call and tell her that his unit had been granted a break. He was out of Gaza for now, getting some much earned rest.

It is not easy to be a mother in Israel, especially a mother of sons in a community where the ethic of serving one's country by volunteering for combat units it's a principle value. It isn't easy being a wife either, so many husbands vanished for weeks on end, spirited away by emergency call up papers. It isn't just husbands either, some women have also been drafted, and in a rare case or two even both spouses.

The Gaza front line is at most a few hours from people's homes, in most cases much closer, but in times like these, both for those now serving in the army and those left home to "hold down the fort" that distance can feel like worlds away.

And in the middle of it all, even where it seems peaceful and calm and you could pretend that we aren't a country at war, there is this quiet buzz of tension, the ever present worry, the silent prayer on everyone's lips, please God let our soldiers do their jobs, let them get the terrorists and their rockets, may our soldiers find all the terror tunnels and may they be able to do so without endangering themselves or having to take more Palestinian civilians lives, may this war restore peace to all of Israel, and most of all, please God, bring all our people home safe.

Ima, it's just like a film

I was riding home on the bus this lunchtime when we stopped in traffic near the train station. Looking out the window I saw an exhausted looking reservist in a dusty, disheveled uniform standing outside near the park and ride. Just then his wife pulled up in her car, jumped out, ran towards him with open arms and enveloped him in the tightest embrace and the longest kiss I have ever seen.

My daughter was watching out the window with me, kvelling at the sight and cooing "Ima, it's SO romantic! It's just like in a film."

Please God all our soldiers should come home safe and sound to such a loving welcome from their families.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Doing their bit

Israel at war is an Israel where everyone feels the need to contribute. This is still a small country where everyone seems interconnected and with the front so close to soldiers' homes local communities are able to organise a continuous stream of care packages. Day after day community notice boards are covered in notices about which family or synagogue is collecting for which unit, what supplies are most needed by the soldiers, which stores are donating goods, which stores are offering discounts to civilians shopping for care packages and so on.

This week for example my upstairs neighbours was contacted by a relative serving in the reserves, telling her his unit has been living on battle rations for weeks. She put out a call for volunteers to cook for the soldiers, so that at least for Shabbat they could enjoy a taste of home. A steady flow of people carrying foil pans and plastic containers to her door continued late into the night, folks from around the neighbourhood bringing trays laden with kugels, rice, chicken and all manner of salads and dips, freshly baked hallot and cookies.

My neighbour joked that it was a great way to meet local residents, many of us living on the same street for the past decade or more but only now finally getting to know each other beyond a basic smile and "shalom" while passing one another in the car park or on our way to dump bottles at the recycling bins. Early Friday morning the unit sent a military truck right to our building to collect the fridge full of donations and Sunday morning grateful soldiers e-mailed photos of tired looking men with stubbled faces and dusty crumpled fatigues tucking in to the meals on Friday afternoon.

Brave civilians drive down to the Gaza border area risking Hamad mortar fire to bring food, toiletries, underwear and messages of support to weary soldiers. One man has already been killed on such a mission of kindness, struck down while handing out treats. The IDF has tried to ban civilians from endangering themselves by coming so close to Gaza, but people are still determined to find a way to get some home comforts to the front line bases. To get an idea just how dangerous that area is, four soldiers were killed today by a mortar right in this Gaza  border region.

Israeli civilians are also doing their best to support the hundreds of thousands of people living in towns and villages right near the Gaza border, people who've been living under heavy fire, in or close to their shelters. Some businesses have had to close, others have no choice, as in the case of the farmers harvesting their crops in the intervals between mortars and rockets, with nowhere to take cover out in the open fields, in recent weeks this has cost the life of a farm worker, one of several killed or injured in recent years by attacks from Gaza.

In the middle of all this people still need to somehow earn their living, care for their families, keep their children from going completely stir crazy from the long hours in the shelters and the day after day of bombardments and alerts. Volunteers have gone down to entertain the kids in the shelters, bringing with them donations of toys, books and treats from northern and central Israel.

All over Israel synagogues and social centres have organised group purchases from southern businesses, be it mass orders of hallot for Shabbat from bakeries in Sderot and Ofakim, farmers markets in support of southern farms or young couples having their wedding invitations printed by printshops in frontline communities.

It's not just collections for our own people though, various Israeli groups have been organising aid efforts for civilians in Gaza - drives for baby clothes and formula, clothing and medical equipment, as well as organising toys and Arabic language children's books for Gazan children continuing to receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals.

People are trying to help so much that sometimes they're going overboard, so many people flocking to hospitals upon hearing of lone soldiers with few visitors that the hospitals have had to turn people away because these wounded soldiers who needed rest were being flooded with well wishers. 

I remember a record of songs from the '73 War my mother used to play. One of the songs was about a reservist writing to his girlfriend and the chorus went something like "send me underwear and vests, here we're living like animals, fighting like lions, morale is very high, and in our platoon we're desperate for a ceasefire - please sweetie, don't send me more cakes!" With the masses and masses of goods being baked for soldiers I feel like I finally understand it. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

There but for the grace of God and Iron Dome

It was my two little sons tonight lying in the thistles and dirt by the side of the road, their father shielding them with his body, while the sirens wailed and a rocket was intercepted overhead, loud booms shattering the night like thunder.

My husband needed to run an errand and even though it was past their bedtimes the boys just couldn't sleep, they were so excited their dad was finally home from work that he reluctantly agreed to take them with him. Just a quick run to a local shopping centre to pick up a few things. The ride in the car was lulling the boys to sleep when the siren caught them on a rural local road driving home from the shops.

We're far enough from Gaza that my husband had a whole 90 seconds to unstrap them from their car seats, grab them from the vehicle, make a dash for the verge overgrown with thistles while carrying half-asleep 2 and 4 year-olds, try to lay them down as safely as possible without the boys hurting themselves on the prickles and lay himself down over them for protection.

This is what my husband recounted to me a few minutes later when my phone call reached him still face down in the brush with our little boys, waiting the recommended 10 minutes after the siren and booms to make sure there was no falling shrapnel. My heart skipped a beat knowing how that could have ended but for the grace of God and Iron Dome.

I was home with my oldest, our resident bookaholic. When the siren went and I started dashing to our shelter I realised that she was still in her bedroom where I'd sent her to change in to her PJs. I yelled my lungs off for her to come, worried that maybe she somehow hadn't noticed the blaring siren.

I am generally very calm in such situations, but for a few seconds I was worried. She is the unflapable child who has read the Home Front Command "What to do in an emergency" booklet from cover to cover multiple times, I know that she better than anyone knows exactly what to do when the alert goes, she's been fantastic at helping to herd the boys into the shelter and drill them in what to do, so where was she?

She finally appeared after what seemed like an age, but was only about a minute, her head in a book, the siren continuing its eerie wail. Sitting in our stiffling windowless shelter I rebuked her, trying to be stern  but calm without letting my worry bleed through too much. "You know exactly what to do during a siren, where were you?"

"Oh Ima, I couldn't find a book mark and I was worried I'd lose my place"

Sometimes she is so sensible about these things that I forget that she is still only a little kid. And then she does something like this to remind me.

Elastic Dome

My DH's brilliant insight tonight: "We need to develop Elastic Dome. Everything they shoot bounces off of it and back to them."

Monday, July 21, 2014

Labour pains

In all of last week's craziness my friend went into labour. It was a long drawn out labour interrupted by several air raid sirens during which she and the rest of the maternity ward were rushed to shelters.

Our young sons are close friends, so her boy stayed with us for a few days while she was in hospital, days that coincided with our town's first experience of rockets, including an interception right overhead, shrapnel from which started a brush fire in a local park.

Poor little boy, not only without his Mummy for a few days, but sleeping over at a time it seemed prudent to put all the kids to sleep in our rather small home shelter. There he was, anxious about his mother and on top of it all trying to get to sleep with three other children in a small windowless room worried about another rocket attack.

To cap it off the siren went again just as I was tucking the boys in, my oldest calmly leading the family in singing Psalms to calm the other children, my friend's son plaintively complaining "But Mummy and Daddy always say we should do quiet things to help sleep, what's all this noise at bedtime?"

It was a tense night, eventually the only thing that settled everyone down was letting them stay up for a while snuggled in amongst the blankets and cuddly toys I'd made sure to leave on the sofabed that takes up most of the space in our household shelter room. My oldest put on a children's video for them to watch, and eventually they conked out, but not before 22:00, incredibly late for a pair of kindergartners.

The next day they went of to summer camp as usual but with huge bags under their eyes.  And when I say summer camp I mean staying indoors or in the yard within 90 seconds of the nearest shelter.

Whether it was the tiredness kicking in or just the tension all around I don't know, but these quiet boys who usually keep themselves busy with toys cars and dinosaurs were bouncing around my flat like jumping beans that afternoon, as though they didn't know where to put themselves.

And then I caught what game they were playing.

"Wooooohoooh!" my son wailed


 "Listen, it's another siren, we better run to the Mamad (secure room/shelter)"

 "Oh, it's still going, lets stay in the Mamad and hide."

"Oh, now we can come out YAAAYYY!!"

 "Oh no, it's another siren we have to go back in again."

And so on and so forth. Not exactly the kind of new game I hoped my kindergartner and his friend would come up with. On the other hand they didn't seem scared, a bit too frenetic, a bit too animated and jumpy, yes, definitely, but it was mixed the the natural exuberance of kids their age. All said and done despite it grating on my already strained nerves it was certainly a good way for young children to process the upset going on around them, a good outlet for their concerns and stress from the situation.

Eventually they got tired enough that I was able to entice them into the kitchen to bake biscuits with me, followed by a nice quiet hour of them making sticker pictures with the toddler to take to my friend in the maternity ward, and a few extra to send with care packages to our soldiers in the south.

After dinner the boys embarked on another round of "sirens and rockets" (the game even has a name), this time with the boys taking turns at being "good rockets" and "bad rockets", with the good rockets chasing the bad rockets around the room and trying to catch them before they could "explode", accompanied by yet more pseudo-siren noises. Oh the noise, the noise, my poor poor neighbours.

They were still at it when my DH came home from work and I was trying unsuccessfully to get them to bed with a story. My friend's son finally wore himself out and crashed, spreadeagled on the bed, clutching one of my son's cuddly animals.

My boy was still hyped up though, my husband beseeching him "Stop being a siren and go to sleep!" Five storybooks later he finally curled himself up at the opposite end of the bed next to the toddler and nodded off, his big sister slumbering away on the mattress on the floor. Finally, all four of them asleep in the shelter.

While her son played and eventually slept at my house, over in a Tel Aviv region hospital my friend found out what happens when the sirens go and you're in labour hooked up to a monitor in the maternity unit and need to get to a shelter.

Over the next few days she would find out over and over again what it was like to be in hospital during an air raid. Her newborn had to spend time in the NICU, which it turns out is not in a reenforced secure part of the hospital, and because of the frailty of the babies hooked up to equipment, they can't be rushed to a shelter during an alert.The nurses stay with their tiny charges through the sirens, relying on Iron Dome to keep them safe. It was a terrifying experience for a mother: "When the rocket alerts came there was nothing much those of us in the NICU could do, other than to lean over our babies and protect them with our bodies in case the blast from a rocket strike or even the interception was close enough to shatter windows."

Days later her baby was finally released from hospital. As she signed the paperwork and happily carried her newborn out to the car she saw nurses rushing to the helipad with gurneys, medivac helicopters coming in to land and her heart sank with the knowledge that these were surely signs of bad news. We found out today these were some of the first IDF casualties from the ground assault in northern Gaza.

It's all part of the dizzying pace of events lately, personal joys mixed with national sorrow, children's unexpressable fears spilling out in exuberant play, the mundane and the surreal, the honey and the sting, the bitter and the sweet.

We pray for simpler, peaceful times.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Gymborees and bomb shelters

The war has developed a routine of it's own, or rather I should say has spread the routine of the long suffering residents of Israel's south to the centre of the country.

On mother's groups on Facebook and Whatsup women seek recommendations for children's outings that are a) fun and b) close to a bomb shelter. Gymborees, museum and small petting zoos close to fortified "safe rooms" are popular.

Other mothers ask if it's safe enough to take their kids to the park, what if they get caught out in the open by a siren, is 1.5 minutes enough time to gather up all the kids and rush to the relative safety of a nearby parking garage or the stairwell of a building? Some answer that they are trying to keep to their regular routines and trust in Iron Dome to keep them safe. Others have pretty much been staying indoors for most of the past 3 weeks. Yet other online groups are dedicated to fun activities for kids stuck at home by the conflict, creative crafts, games and baking projects. 

Many outdoor attractions in central and southern Israel which earn their bread and butter durign the busy summer season are virtually empty. Those in the south are closed on the orders of Home Front Command because the area is under the heaviest bombardment. Most in the centre are open but restrictions on large outdoor gatherings mean that summer camps and tourist groups have had to cancel, leaving only a few brave or possibly foolhardy families to visit the zoos, nature reserves and amusement parks in central areas targeted by Hamas rockets. The economic impact on these businesses is huge, many have had almost no custom for weeks now in what should be their peak season, and some have had to close their doors for most of the summer.

One place that has been busy is a local gymboree in my town which is in the reenforced concrete lower level of shopping centre. It's right next to an official shelter, but the nature of the construction means that the whole lower story of this structure is technically a shelter. It is one of many attractions advertising "easy access to secure area" in big bold letters.

Home Front Command, the army unit in charge of keeping civilians safe, has a dedicated "explainer" for children. In online videos and special meetings she teaches children what to do when the sirens sound, tells them stories designed to help reassure them and allay their fears, encourages them to talk about their concerns and holds Q&A sessions for worried children in which they can ask all kinds of questions about the situation and what it means to be a child when Israel is at war.

From personal experience I think it's often hardest for those children who aren't yet old enough to ask these questions but are alert enough to the changes in routine and the general atmosphere of tension to know that things are not as they should be. I see my own recently weaned toddler desparate to nurse again, needing that extra proximity, wanting that unique comfort, and friends report similar reactions in their young ones. In many families toilet trained children have started wetting their beds again or having "accidents" in their pants. Kids of all ages wake up with night terrors about sirens and rockets or fears that "bad people" are breaking in to their homes.

I'm glad that for the most part our children are calm, but that level of calm corelates to their ages, with the oldest most able to understand the situation, find ingstrength in knowing what she has to do in case of a siren or other emergency, while the middle one voices more concerns about "what if a rocket breaks our house?", going stock still at every unexpected sound asking us "what was that noise?" and the youngest shows the most signs of stress, like waking up more at night and wanting to nurse again.

My nine year-old at least has tried to find some kind of silver lining. "Ima, I don't like this situation, but you know what, at least I'm learning from it. I remember the stories about grandma spending her nights sleeping in their backyard shelter when she was a little girl and the Nazis were shooting flying bombs at London. When the sirens go here and when we go to sleep in our shelter it makes me feel connected to her. Now I know at least a little bit what it was like to be a child in those days." 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Between a rock and a hard place

Much has been made of Israel's need to just "absorb" all the rocket strikes as though they were rain. The argument I hear over and over again is that the rockets do little damage, so what'st the big deal? Why is Israel all in a tizzy and embarking on military action over a few harmless rockets? It isn't as if they are really killing anyone, right?

Wrong. Israelis have been killed by these rockets. It doesn't matter that these rockets are not terribly accurate, that Israel has developed Iron Dome to shoot them down, and so further minimise their effectiveness, the mere existence of the rockets, the constant air raid sirens, millions of people's lives disrupted, nights spend sleeping in bomb shelters, all these make it incumbent on Israel to defend her residents safety, and the state's sovereignty.

Furthermore with each year that passes Hamas improves its rocket capability. From the primitive mortars it started out with, raining them down on the Israeli village of Netzarim in Gaza over a decade ago, back before Israel's pullout from the territory, to the first short range Kassam rockets Hamas attacked Sderot with, right up to the medium range Grads later used to attack Ashdod and Beer Sheva and the long range M-75 and M-302 rockets which have reached the greater Tel Aviv region, all the way up to the northern Israeli port city of Haifa. The longer Israel waits to dismantle Hamas' missile infrastructure the deadlier it becomes and the more Israeli cities and towns are threatened by rocket fire.

No state can allow its citizens to be subjected to such rocket terror, let alone allow its citizens to be terrorised this way for over a decade, with the range of the rockets increasing to threaten more and more of its population.

It is about more than rockets though. Hamas has used millions upon millions of pounds of financial aid, along with "humanitarian" supplies such as building materials and concrete, to create a vast underground network beneath Gaza. These tunnels facilitate Hamas rocket fire by providing extensive rocket storage and manufacturing facilities, as well as safe, secret passage between launch sites. They are also used for infiltration into Israel, such as in the raid that resulted in the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2006, and in recent days several attempted assaults on Israeli civilians, Hamas gunmen tunneling below Israeli border villages and kibbutzim with tunnel exits right in the heart of these communities.

Allowed to go unchecked these well constructed tunnels present an existential threat to the Jewish state, allowing Hamas the potential to strike deep into Israeli territory, intent as ever on terrorising Israeli civilians.

By tolerating tunnels and rocket fire on our border areas Israel is de facto ceding that territory, with every Hamas push further into Israel and Israel's "absorption" of that rocket fire Israel is in essence ceding more and more sovereignty and emboldening Hamas that a military solution, a military victory on their part, is possible, if they wait long enough.

Excessive restraint and the steady erosion of Israeli deterrance do not bode well for a possible future peace settlement if Hamas believes that it can simply wage a prolonged war of attrition to wear down Israeli resolve.

Since the 2006 Lebanon War Israel has managed to maintain a mostly successful deterrence policy with regard to missiles fired from Lebanon into Israel. The Hizballah barrages that paralysed and terrified northern Israel have all but disappeared. Occasional rogue Palestinian groups do fire into Israel from Lebanon, but the Lebanese military know that it is not in their interest to allow such attacks on Israel, they fear an Israeli military response and so act themselves to prevent attacks on Israel from their territory.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the "spillover" from Syria, occasional stray shells or rockets that land in Israeli territory, fired by accident or sometimes possibly intentionally, and most recently claiming the life of 13 year-old Israeli Mohammed Karaka. Each time something fired from Syria has landed in Israel, and especially when the result was the killing of a young Israeli, the IDF have responded by returning fire in the direction the Syrian shots were fired from, sometimes causing casualties on the Syrian side, but most importantly, making the point that such "spillover" into Israel will not be tolerated, whether by the Syrian government forces or the rebels. So far despite several incidents this deterrance factor seems to be working, residents of northern Israel can live in peace. It would seem that both Assad's forces and the Al-Nustra Front Jihadists currently controlling the Syrian region adjacent to Israel have taken this message of deterrence to heart.

The message is especially vital as Israelis look around nervously and see the rise of these Jihadi movements and their control of ever increasingly large chunks of Iraq and Syria. Jordan and the Saudis have massed troops on their borders with Iraq. They clearly see the threat. Israel is aware of it too, especially aware that any sign of weakness in the face of Hamas provocations and attack will signal dangerous weakness on Israel's part that serves to embolden the attempts of such Jihadi groups to expand their operations into Israel, either from the Syrian border, via Jordan or elsewhere.

Hamas is another piece in that puzzle. To view the conflict between Israel and Hamas as simply a local issue is to remove it from the broader context of the new Middle East taking shape around us. Hamas is part of the same Jihadi ideology as the recently toppled Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a group which also considers itself the prime opposition to the Hashemite monarchy in Jordan. Even more radical Al-Qaeda affiliated and Al-Qaeda inspired groups are active in the Egyptian controlled Sinai peninsula, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Red Sea Africa. Israel today is on the frontlines of this region wide surge in Islamist activity. As such Israel cannot afford to show weakness or hesitation.

It isn't just about the threat to Israel though. Our more stable, Western oriented neighbours like Jordan and Egypt are effectively allied with Israel against the pan-Middle Eastern Jihadi movement trying to establish a new Middle East order. There is little love lost between Israel, Jordan and Egypt, but all three countries realise that they are coming to be a last bulwark against Al-Qaida inspired forces in Syria and Iraq who make no secret of their desire to control all of the Levant and press onwards into North Africa.

A strong Israel capable of defending her own borders against such Islamist threats is an Israel worth allying with in line with the cliche my enemy's enemy is my friend. An Israel which can't or won't even defend her own citizens and territory from a Jihadi assault is not a state worth joining cause with and certainly not one to be relied upon in time of crisis. Israeli deterrance strengthens Israel's strategic cooperation with other states in the region and beyond. Who knows, maybe one day this might even help create a more peaceful future for the Middle East.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Prayer for the IDF

מִי שֶׁבֵּרַךְ אֲבוֹתֵינוּ אַבְרָהָם יִצְחָק וְיַעֲקֹב הוּא יְבָרֵךְ אֶת חַיָּלֵי צְבָא הֲגַנָּה לְיִשְׂרָאֵל, הָעוֹמְדִים עַל מִשְׁמַר אַרְצֵנוּ וְעָרֵי אֱלהֵינוּ מִגְּבוּל הַלְּבָנוֹן וְעַד מִדְבַּר מִצְרַיִם וּמִן הַיָּם הַגָּדוֹל עַד לְבוֹא הָעֲרָבָה בַּיַּבָּשָׁה בָּאֲוִיר וּבַיָּם. יִתֵּן ה' אֶת אוֹיְבֵינוּ הַקָּמִים עָלֵינוּ נִגָּפִים לִפְנֵיהֶם. הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יִשְׁמֹר וְיַצִּיל אֶת חַיָלֵינוּ מִכָּל צָרָה וְצוּקָה וּמִכָּל נֶגַע וּמַחְלָה וְיִשְׁלַח בְּרָכָה וְהַצְלָחָה בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יְדֵיהֶם. יַדְבֵּר שׂוֹנְאֵינוּ תַּחְתֵּיהֶם וִיעַטְרֵם בְּכֶתֶר יְשׁוּעָה וּבְעֲטֶרֶת נִצָּחוֹן. וִיקֻיַּם בָּהֶם הַכָּתוּב: כִּי ה' אֱלֹהֵיכֶם הַהֹלֵךְ עִמָּכֶם לְהִלָּחֵם לָכֶם עִם איבֵיכֶם לְהוֹשִׁיעַ אֶתְכֶם: וְנאמַר אָמֵן:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Welcome to our local insanity

Hamas fires a rocket from Gaza and knocks out Israeli power line just over the border which supplies power to, wait for it, Gaza. So Hamas just knocked out their own electricity by shooting rockets at Israel because Israel supplies Gaza with free electricity. Talk about poetic justice. 

Fortunately some common sense prevailed in Israel and a decision was made that Israeli workers would not go in under fire to restore electricity to Gaza. However if the shooting dies down Israel's electric company will repair the line and resume free power supplies to the Hamas ruled Gaza even as it lobs dozens of rockets at Israel on a daily basis. Welcome to our local insanity.

This is your early morning wake-up from Hamas

At six this morning the morning silence was shattered by the wail of the air raid sirens again. I was sort of awake already but that racket is one hell of a way to snap to instant alertness.

Somehow in last night's attempts to get the toddler to sleep I'd ended up settling him in my own bed, even though he'd eventually toddled off back to DH who was sleeping in the living room with our other son, close to the shelter. They were all snuggled up in the secure room in the seconds it took me to dash across the flat.

My daughter already had the sequel to last night's nature documentary DVD, trying to keep the boys focused on the novelty of Ima and Abba allowing early morning television watching. She and my middle son seemed to be taking the whole thing in their stride, but just like last night, the 2 year-old was kvetchy and hard to comfort.

He'd had very little sleep, which I'm sure contributed to his mood, but nothing seemed to help, he just wanted to be held and nursed (even though he's pretty much weaned), kept looking around with unease. He's at a tough age, old enough and alert enough to pay attention to every detail, but way too young for us to be able to explain to him what is going on and why.

And then it was over and we all got ready for the day, older kids at their day camps, DH off to work, me home with an anxious toddler who finally managed to nurse himself back to sleep around 10am.

Tonight was the night

All Shabbat we had the radio tuned to a special silent frequency that only broadcasts when there is analert. We heard the warnings for many parts of Israel, from the Gaza border all the way up the coast to the great Tel Aviv area and all the way over towards Hebron and Jerusalem.

It was surreal sitting in the living room doing puzzles with the kids or eating our family Shabbat meals together and every so often we'd hear a muffled "whump" and know that somewhere within earshot someone in Gaza was shooting at us and Iron Dome was saving lives all over central Israel.

Shabbat was out, around the kids' usual bedtime and right after Havdalah started getting ready for bed.

DH and I were getting busy with the usual post-Shabbat clean up with the hourly  radio news on, catching up on the events of the day, followed by a programme of mellow Saturday night music, every so often interupted by the clear, polite tones of the announcer calmly relaying the latest rocket alerts.

I remember thinking how odd it all was, the song playing on the radio had lyrics which went something like "good night to everyone who is alone, good night to everyone who is holding on, good night to you and me", and in between the curt reports of where the sirens where going off.

And then the air raid siren went off in our town, blaring loud and clear, not a drill, but a real time warning that somewhere in Gaza people were trying to kill us.

It's the first siren we've had at home,though DH has had a bunch at work and driving to and from the office. I had at least done practice drills with the kids, so the bigger ones knew what to do, my oldest calmly hurrying her middle brother along and sitting him down with her in our secure room.

Our youngest though just looked bewildered, too little to understand why suddenly everyone was running into the small room he knows only as our den/tv and occasional spare room. As we all charged in there he initially followed his older siblings and sat down with them on the sofabed that takes up much of the limited space. But then my DH closed the heavy blast door, and the little guy started to get perplexed. We never close the door to that room because as a shelter it's windowless and stuffy and unairconditioned, so especially stiffling in summer if you close the door. The toddler tried repeatedly to open the door as my DH held it closed, even as the little guy asked over and over again to go out and play with the toy train he'd left in the living room, asked to open the door, puzzled as to why we were compelling everyone to stay in the tiny space with the heavy door closed, the heavy door he knows he isn't allowed to play with.

We stayed the prequisite 10 minutes in the shelter as per Home Command instructions and when we came out both boys asked for their bedtime baths. We hesitated, what if another siren sounded? Baths would help settle the boys for sleep though, and our apartment isn't that big. In this part of Israel we have a whole one and a half minutes to get to a shelter upon hearing the sirens, unlike the mere seconds they have further south, so DH went off to bath the boys and I went off to add a box with some extra favourite toys and books to our shelter room.

Our oldest went to finish getting ready for bed, and then showed up in the shelter with a huge holdall full of her most precious dolls, books, plastic animals and a lightsabre: "Just in case something hits the house, I want to make sure my special things are with me, and anyway, my animals don't understand what the siren is, I need to have them with me so they aren't scared".

She decided she wanted to bed down in the secure room that night and set up a mattress with her own special pillows and blankets. I covered the sofabed with blankets to make it extra cosy and told my DH we could put the boys to bed there tonight too, and I went to gather up some favourite cuddly animals for the boys.

The siren blared again, splitting the air with its eerie wail.

Out dashed my middle son in his birthday suit, dripping from the bath he had that second stepped out of, the alert having sounded just as he was reaching for his towel. He was quickly followed by my DH carrying a stunned looking toddler wrapped in his towel, both of them wet from having hastily snatched the little guy right out of the bath.

This time my youngest was so stunned from it all that he just lay uncomplaining on the sofa for a while, huddled up in his towel which fortunately was big enough to cover his brother with too. He adores baths and plainly could not fathom why on earth he had been grabbed right out of it, without being dried off and rushed into the shelter to watch a video with all the family at bedtime, and again with the door closed when we never close the door to that room. He begged to go back to his beloved bath over and over again but of course we all stayed put in that stiffling little room.

I kicked myself for forgetting to put nappies, wipes and changes of clothing in the secure room when our youngest kid is potty training. Fortunately he's pretty good at holding out, so there were no messes. My daughter put on a nature documentary, a good choice as the gorgeous images captivated and distracted her younger siblings.

With the alert finally over, we dressed the boys, brushed their teeth and set them up on the sofabed. Through it all my oldest was a beacon of calm matter of factness, snuggling up in her blanket and watching her film, and in doing so sending a soothing message to the boys. The middle guy was soon asleep and she followed not long after, but our youngest just couldn't settle.

We had resolved to sleep in our living room, so as to be close to the shelter in case the kids needed anything at night, and to make sure we'd hear them. We tried putting the toddler to sleep in the secure room, but he just couldn't get to sleep, so we tried tucking him in with my DH in the living room, again no joy, next we tried his bed, my bed, nothing in either place. He kept trying to curl up by himself or with one of us, but minutes later he'd pop up again and try somewhere else. He was clearly disoriented by the whole bizarre evening and as late as midnight was still restlessly trying to find a place to sleep, eventually going back to the shelter and dozing off in front of a favourite video we put on as a last resort.

All this was just one evening, our first of experiencing sirens in our home town. It is mind boggling to think of hundreds of thousand of Israelis in the south who have been living this way for years, millions more who've faced this threat sporadically for the past week, as well as during the last Gaza escalation in 2012. As I write millions of Israelis, pretty much every major town and city in the country is within range of rockets from Gaza and/or from Lebanon. All we have to rely on are Iron Dome and God's miracles to keep us safe from the men in Gaza firing rockets.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

War anecdote #17

I packed some favorite books and toys for the kids to enjoy when stuck in the shelter room. Toddler is now busy running around putting them all back where they belong...

Friday, July 11, 2014

Operation Toffee Crunch

And in war humour today, many Israelis are distressed that Hamas has been targetting Beer Tuvia, home of Israel's Ben and Jerry's ice-cream factory. One friend went so far as to draft a spoof petition demanding that it get its own Iron Dome battery to protect this vital national asset, an important comfort mechanism in these stressful times.

I seem to have missed the section in the Pikud HaOref instructions where one is supposed to install a freezer in one's shelter and keep it stocked with emergency rations of Ben & Jerry's in a selection of flavours. 

Many friends however are strictly abiding by this unwritten rule and all over town there has been a run on luxury ice-cream stocks, with many flavours running out. Local social media has been full of discussions of where to find the most popular and which shops still have decent stocks. My FB feed is full of people reporting which flavours they indulged in during the evening's shelter stays,

It's gotten to the stage that folks are discussing which colourful Ben & Jerry's name would make the best code name for the war. Something a little more original than Protective Edge.

I'm sure pacfist Ben & Jerry's would be horrified, but maybe they could take heart in the comfort their product is bringing to so many civilians under rocket fire.

Operation Toffee Crunch anyone?


People overseas have been asking what this war situation means for us. It's complicated, fluid and varies from region to region and from hour to hour. Looking at the heavy barrages people are enduring in the south it seems almost trivial to mention the occasional sporadic rockets on other cities, but that is to belittle the terror of even "only" one or two sirens. From where we are, thank God, still in the periphery of the rocket zones, it feels almost petty to note how this war has changed our lives at all, listening to rockets in targeted areas while on the face of things it almost seems like business as usual.

For the last couple of days my DH and many of our friends and neighbours have been trying to figure out whether they are overreacting if they decide to work from home "just" because there have been a few air raids in and around the greater Tel Aviv area where many of them work. 

If the people in the south who are under far heavier bombardment are still going in to work, how can the people of central Israel allow themselves to be scared away from their offices? It's an insane dilemma. So the people of the centre have decided that they should also behave like seasoned rocket strike veterans and go in to work each day knowing that they will likely spend some of that time in shelters and secure areas while rockets are launched their way.

With most of the Tel Aviv suburban area as much at risk of rockets as the city itself it starts feeling a little ridiculous making a distinction, although somehow the idea of being caught out in a crowded office skyscraper is far more disconcerting than having the family together in a home shelter. 

So it was this morning I called my husband at work to ask about some mundane errand and his voice came back oddly muffled, many voices clearly audible in the background. My call found him taking cover in the stairwell of his building during one of today's rocket attacks on the city. 

On the other hand at least he is still pretty much going about his regular routine. Many of my friends husbands have received emergency call-up papers from the army, leaving their wives, children and civilian lives behind at all hours of the day and night and heading off for the unknown, possibly in preparation for a ground offensive in Gaza, though nobody knows for sure if that is even on the cards.

The second time I called him today I could clearly hear the crumps of rockets and Iron Dome interceptions from my living room from which I was worriedly trying to figure out why my oldest child hadn't come home from day camp yet. Our town itself has so far stayed in the clear, but the noise carries and we seem to hear much of what's going many kilometres away, even sometimes catching the sound of muted sirens from other towns.

In between my concerned phone calls my middle child arrived home from his summer programme. As I walked to the front door to greet him we could hear more muffled booms. He gave me a hug, and as he bent down to take off his shoes excitedly told me "Ima, you know what we heard today in the car on the way to our house? Big bangs in the sky!" And he slammed his hands together to emphasise the point. Just what every mother wants to hear her kindergartner talking about when he gets home from kaytana.

The radio announced alerts in the region of my oldest's summer camp starting around home time. I was waiting for the usual call letting me know that the kids were on the bus back to town so I'd know when to go down to the stop to wait. Nothing. No answer on the phone.  I headed out to the street to check, maybe another parent had helped with crossing the road, nothing

Rationally I know the odds of a connection between the news on the radio and my kid's bus being late are low, but with all the insanity this week yes, there was a moment of wondering through the what ifs. I know that the camp is in a building with a shelter, I know the people running the camp are responsible and taking every alert very seriously, so maybe they decided to delay the school buses just in case.

In the end the two events weren't connected, turned out a phone battery was loose, the bus was a little late, trivialities,  but it certainly gives a poignant insight into life in the south for years now, children growing up in the shadow of rockets, parents learning to somehow factor it into the normal routine of life. It's new to us in the centre, certainly to this extent. The mind boggles at how our friends and family in Beer Sheva and Ashkelon and even closer to Gaza have put up with this kind of terror for years on end. 

With all the kids finally home we sat down to our usual family lunch, the older children excitedly talking about their mornings. J, my oldest, told us that they'd compensated for having to stay close the main building and the shelter by having a special dance morning in which they learnt about dance styles around the world. Then they had a session about medical clowns (a clever move by the camp organisers to help the kids through any possible stress caused by "the situation") in which they not only learnt about what these clowns do, but had some basic introductory training in how to be medical clowns themselves.

I asked her whether she had any questions about what was going on, anything she wanted explained. Despite being our avid reader she seemed pretty unphased by current events. "Ima, you're not nervous or scared, so I'm not, right? You tell me what you think I need to know. I know what to do and I know about Iron Dome".

My kindergartner was a little less sanguine.  "Ima were they good guy big bangs or bad guys big bangs I heard?" I said probably good guy. "Ima, tell me again how the good guy rockets get the bad guy rockets?" I raised one hand in the air like an arrow, explaining how the bad guys shoot a rocket into the air ("with fire Ima, it has to have fire in the tail to make it fly"), and then made my other hand into another rocket, explaining how something called radar tells the good guy rockets to go get the bad guys, and they shoot up in the air and smash them, slamming my second hand dramatically into the first hand while making a boom noise to illustrate my point. 

My kindergartner smiled, reassured, his question answered. The toddler who all this time had been studying us with a serious expression burst into uprorious laughter. "Ima, od pa'am!" (Again Mum!) he crowed. I went through the hand motion explanation of Iron Dome again. Both boys laughed at the boom this time. Then my middle child turned pensive, "Ima, what happens to the rockets when they crash into each other? What if there are pieces left and they fall down into the road, or the balcony or in our house?" 

We spent quite some time talking about it all, him with all his questions, me trying to think how to explain this all simply but honestly, to reassure, but not to give blind promises of safety that I could not guarantee. In the end I seemed to hit the right balance though, he seemed satisfied that he was in good hands, that between his parents and our soldiers there were lots of people working hard to keep him safe, and he went off to draw a picture of an Iron Dome battery, trying to copy it from a photo in today's newspaper. He then proceeded to liberally decorate it with pink and gold glitter and a yellow feather, think Iron Dome as a float during Tel Aviv's Pride Week parade.

My oldest got inspired too and decided to draw a picture of a man with an iron skullcap on his head (in Hebrew the name is "Kipat Barzel", which can mean either an iron kippah or an iron dome). On top of his kippah there is a miniature Iron Dome battery. The caption reads "I'm not scared because I have Iron Dome looking after us", with an arrow pointing from the speech bubble to the miniature Iron Dome on top of the kippah.

So that was today's weirdness. Weirdness because we are a house where the kids don't have toy guns or tanks, and yet they spent the afternoon drawing rocket launchers and soldiers. Weird because in our region it feels trivial even to register all these minor inconveniences caused by a war that is wreaking real terror on so many other Israeli towns. Weird because the way the situation is in other parts of the country it seems petty to note "just" a few rockets on Tel Aviv when our friends in the south are getting pounded by monster barrages from Gaza. Weird in the way that this war situation mixes with the mundane routine to become a mundane routine of its own while we're left wondering if this is temporary or whether the centre is the new south.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Love the ger

Folks overseas who may not have a clear understanding of the Middle East, I feel I really have to speak up. Over and over I see people posting on social media about "the Arabs" this and "the Arabs" that, and really, I understand you feel angry, but there is no monolithic "Arabs". The Middle East is not black and white, Israel's Arabic speaking minorities are not one monolithic group, the Arabs of the Middle East are not one monolithic group.

Right now there are Arab Israelis, many of them Muslims observing Ramadan, who are serving in the IDF and protecting us, including Iron Dome personnel and men called up on emergency Tzav 8 notices. There are Israeli Arabs coming under fire from Hamas rockets. Think about your language, think about what you are saying and who you are talking about. 

Think about Hamas or the Palestinian Authority or the international Jihad movement or the Palestinian leadership or specific Arab Israeli leaders whose behaviour has been less than noble. 

Then think about all the Arab Israelis and Bedouin volunteering in the IDF, all the Muslim Circassians, all the Arabic speaking Druze who serve in the IDF and remember what the Torah says over and over again about the commandment to love and grant fair and honourable treatment to the Ger, the loyal non-Jewish citizen of the Jewish state, many of whom have given their lives and may yet give their lives in the defence of Israel.


Not the summer of love

J came home from today and reported that all the activities of the very outdoorsy summer camp tookplace indoors today. They were supposed to be going on a hike in a local nature reserve but that's been cancelled after consultation with Home Front Command. Tomorrow they'll be doing more indoor activities due to concerns about being caught out in the open during an air raid. Until further notice it looks like the sleepaway camping trip is cancelled too. One very disappointed little girl. 

I know it's a trifle compared with what people are going through in other parts of Israel, but for a little kid this is a very big deal. On the small personal level it's heartbreaking to have to sit down with a young child and explain to them that much looked forward to summer plans have been cancelled because there are people who are shooting at our country and trying their best to hurt us.

The military have good reason to issue such directives. Earlier this week a Scouts sleepaway camp in the region Ashdod and Bet Shemesh was evacuated after the area came under rocket fire. 

At least she still has her indoor activities, close to the shelter, to enjoy. In many parts of the country summer camps have been cancelled altogether, either because the places they are being held lack large enough shelters, or have no shelters at all, or because of concers about the safety of transportation in heavily targeted areas. The military has banned large public gatherings in regions closest to Gaza.

To be on the safe side public events have been cancelled or postponed, including Jerusalem's annual Woodstock Revival music festival and many special summer programmes aimed at keeping teens amused and busy during the long summer break. 

Elsewhere in the country the Hamas onslaught is causing much more serious problems. At Beer Sheva's Soroka hospital the NICU ward had to be moved to a reenforced secure section of the hospital for fear that it's regular location might make it vulnerable to rocket attack. Imagine having to move an entire ward of preemie babies and other newborns with serious medical conditions, some on life support.

Kaplan hospital in Rehovot has also found itself in a similar position, moving its entire ICU and cardiac wards to bomb shelters after the city was repeatedly targeted by rockets. It is sad that our hospitals have to be built with sheltered secure sections for times such as these, and no, it isn't straighforward or practical to just build the entire hospital as one big shelter, but Israeli hospitals usually have several underground or reenforced levels so that in cases of emergency such as these they can still function.

At a local farmers' market today some sellers from the south couldn't make it to the centre of the country due to the risk of being caught out by rocket strikes while driving. Another had run the gauntlet of countless air raids to harvest his fields under fire. He explained that he had no choice, all his fields are within range of regular attacks, but this is is his liveliehood, he can't afford to let his crops rot in the field. 

The Iron Dome anti-rocket system has successfully intercepted most rockets en route to heavily populated areas, but some have still managed to score direct hits on homes and workplaces, fortunately residents were protected by their shelters and so escaped injury, or at least severe physcial injury.

As yet no one is sure that Israeli forces will launch a ground assault on Gaza. The Israeli Air Force has struck at Hamas commanders, rocket launchers and similar targets. Day after day Israeli reservists have been called up for emergency duty, husbands and fathers leaving behind pregnant wives, young children and already stressed working mothers, some themselves already living on the front lines.

Meanwhile Israel continues to supply Gaza with free electricity on humanitarian grounds. The Palestinian leadership and more recently the Hamas government in Gaza have unsurpringly enough refused to pay Gaza's electric bills for years.  Electricity the Gaza munitions factories use to continue manufacturing rockets to fire at Israel, including last night at Hadera, apparently in an attempt to hit that city's power station.

And in war humour today, many Israelis have been distressed that Hamas has been targetting Beer Tuvia, home of Israel's Ben and Jerry's ice-cream factory. One friend went so far as to draft a spoof petition demanding that it get its own Iron Dome battery to protect this vital national asset, an important comfort mechanism in these stressful times. Operation Toffee Crunch anyone? 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Rocket rain

There have been air raid sirens in towns and villages across Israel tonight with Hamas firing huge volleys at populated areas from Gaza border areas in the south all the way up to the northern port city of Haifa.

Hour after hour my friends and family check in over social media, by phone and with texts letting us know they're OK. First from around Beer Sheva and Ashkelon, then Rehovot, Gedara and surrounding villages, moving north to the big city of Tel Aviv.

My e-mail and Facebook feeds have been full of questions from worried mothers wondering whether they should keep their kids home from camp and summer school tomorrow, how to calm their children, what to tell little ones and wondering what to do if they are caught by a siren while driving with kids strapped in car seats, making it hard to get everyone out of the car in the painfully short time between the first siren warning and an incoming rocket.

In another online forum a local birth educator was agonising over whether she could teach a class tonight to a group of heavily pregnant women in surrounding villages. There had been no sirens in her town, but the next villages and towns over had several. While there was a chance she could teach the class in a shelter she was terrified that she or one of the women might get caught out in the open during a rocket alert. In the end she cancelled with a heavy heart.

Even in towns where there were no sirens the ferocity of the multiple volleys led many municipalities to cancel big outdoor events, in one case nervous crowds were escorted by police away from a scheduled outdoor film screening in a park in a town that has been quiet. No one wanted to take any chances as the pace and scope of alerts rapidly spread to encompass ever more Israeli population centres throughout the south, central and Haifa regions.

As the night wore on we got messages from more and more people spending the night in shelters, stairwells or even internal windowless bathrooms, anywhere deemed somewhat protected in the event of rocket attack, as not every building has its own shelter. Jerusalem, Bet Shemesh, Ramat Gan, Kfar Saba, Ra'anana, Pardes Hanna, Binyamina, Zikhron Ya'akov and on and on, hundreds and thousands more people spending their night in terror of rockets heading their way.

Thank God for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system that has managed to intercept so many missiles before they were able to strike these densely populated areas.

People tried to find the humour in the situation too. Some enterprising folks have started a "shelter selfie" page inviting people to snap pictures of their families in their secure rooms. Some people are hamming it up for the camera with goofy smiles and thumbs up, other photos show entire families crammed into cramped shelters or peacefully slipping children cuddled up on makeshift canp beds, matresses or sleeping bags, camping out for the night in a family or public shelter.

No sirens here thank God, we can just hear booms from other regions, sound carries far at night. The noise kept the kids awake long after their bedtimes, distant dull thuds breaking the stillness of a balmy summer night. My oldest finally dozed off towards the end of a hilariously madcap Danny Kaye musical film.

It's after eleven now and my husband is still sitting with our kindergartner trying for the millionth time to sing or read him to sleep, anything to help him settle. Been quiet for a while now, and we pray this means an end to the rain of rockets but experience has taught us not to get our hopes up.