Thursday, September 25, 2008

Voices of Truth

One final word on the terrorist attack in Jerusalem several days ago (OK, two...):

Almost immediately after the attack, several Arab leaders claimed that it was an accident; that the driver lost control of the car. The young man's father is threatening to go to court if the army doesn't bring charges against the lieutenant that is said to have fired the fatal shots that stopped the terrorist.

As with many things in the Middle East, the absurdity can bring you to laughter or tears. I've had enough tears for the last few days but I don't think I'm ready to laugh about it yet. The police are saying the motive was unrequited love. At least, that's what was in the mind of the 19-year-old. Turned down as a potential husband for his cousin, he decided to kill. I'm sure that somewhere in that twisted logic there is some concept that Kassem Mugrabi thought made sense.

As to his father's claim that it was an accident, the proof that it was not comes from dozens of eyewitnesses. Among those witnesses, are our innocents. Too young to think of political reasons to lie, they simply explain what they saw. A fellow technical writer's daughter was on the bus behind the black BMW. She and her friends were on their way to the Western Wall for the special late night prayers Jews around the world say as the current year ends and the new one arrives.

This young witness, only 12-years-old, and her school friends, saw the car, the black BMW in front of them. There had been a lot of traffic by the Old City of Jerusalem and it finally began to open up, just as a group of soldiers were walking ahead of them on the side. Suddenly she saw the black car right in front speed up, aim itself towards the long line of soldiers, and smash into them. She saw the bodies flying, the impact, the horror, and understood what was happening.

What this amounts to, is more traumatized people. Once, years ago, I saw a woman hit by a taxi in New York City. It wasn't a terror attack. It wasn't intentional and some 25+ years later, I can still close my eyes and hear and see the event. It's one more trauma; one more terrorist attack - no matter what lies the family and others would have you believe. For me, as with all attacks, the immediate reaction has dimmed. Not the horror or the anger, but the panic. The heart no longer screams; the eyes don't fill with tears. It is part of the process of accepting and choosing. Even with this, despite this, because of this, we choose to live here.

More quickly than you can imagine, our conversations go back to "normal." In our last conversation last night, Elie said, "guess what?"

For Elie, this is usually something good. He doesn't give bad news by saying "guess what?" and so I played my part, "What?"

He told me he saw the make and model of a car (color, year, type, etc.) that he recognized. For Elie, like his younger brother, this is no big deal. They can walk down the street and call out the names of every car for blocks in advance. Make, manufacturer, even the year it was produced. I've seen them do this. As a mother, I have two reactions: pride and regret. Pride that they can remember so much; regret that they are wasting precious brain cells with what I firmly believe is useless information, but then again, I'm not a 21-year-old or 18-year-old male, so I clearly don't understand the great importance of this information.

But this time, Elie's great memory of all things related to cars came with special recognition because it was not just recognizing the type of car, but the car itself. He immediately thought of friends of ours and was delighted to find that the car did indeed belong to them. They have a daughter and son-in-law who live further down the road from the checkpoint.

Though I'd already heard from Elie, our friend wrote to me as well, explaining that he'd picked up his daughter and family and "who stops us at the machsom [checkpoint], with a big, big smile on his face, but this no longer small kid from around the block: rather the big soldier protecting our homeland." My friend also wrote, "I felt so bad not having some chocolates / cookies / anything to give him."

And so, I wrote back the truth, "You gave him a smile and a taste of home - trust me, the cookies or chocolate is great, but the piece of home was even better."


And back for one final word on the attack in Jerusalem. My first thought when I saw the blue beret in the news alert, as a wounded soldier climbed into an ambulance and as they wheeled another away, also with the blue artillery beret, was not of Elie. I was sure he was safe. It never occurred to me that it was his unit until I found out that it was...and then the "what ifs" exploded in my mind and heart.

Instead, my thoughts were of two others in artillery in different units: my nephew, and my neighbor's daughter. This past summer, Ya'ara entered the artillery unit as a combat soldier. Her task is one that would keep her far from the front lines and it is how she chooses to serve her country. We have known the family for years, shared holidays and Sabbath meals together and when she had chosen her path, she asked Elie many questions before finalizing her decision. In the end, the army placed her in the same unit as Elie serves, the same division and brigade number. She is learning the same specialized tasks that Elie has learned in the event of a war.

I spoke to Ya'ara a little while ago. She had pulled kitchen duty when word of the attack came in. Word spread quickly - our division, our unit. Each year, as soldiers finish their three year service and leave the g'dud, a new group is brought in and trained. Elie is midway through his service, Ya'ara was brought in to replace the ones going out. After you finish training, you are considered a "vatik" - a veteran fighter in the sense that you have experience and knowledge you didn't have when you started. You are no longer in training.

When word came about the attack, it came in bits of information. Artillery. Our g'dud. The "vatikim" - the "experienced" soldiers, not the new ones - Elie's g'dud. Her commanding officer knows Elie and told her that it was Elie's unit. Because he didn't mention Elie among the wounded, she assumed he wasn't there. She called her mother and told her. Her mother called me. I'd hesitated to call her because I didn't want her to worry. When she realized it was Elie's group, she called me. It's such a small country we have here, so intertwined. I thought of her. She thought of Elie.

Ya'ara and her family will be coming to our home for one meal during the upcoming Rosh Hashana festival. She and Elie will talk about the artillery unit and what they are experiencing. Mostly, I think, they will just enjoy being home. It's what you do after an attack like this. You pull into yourself, hug what you have and thank God that you still have it.

This Rosh Hashana, as we begin a new year, we do so with tremendous gratitude. Each day is a miracle, a blessing from above. As a mother, I know this, as a soldier's mother, I live it.

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