Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Drat...I lost it...

Rockets have landed today in Beersheva again, Sderot, Ashkelon, Netivot, Eshkol region, several kibbutzim in the area and, for the first time, Gedera. Today, in light of the missiles that hit Beersheva last night, the city decided to close schools for the day. And a great miracle happened - no one was hurt when a missile slammed into a school. There was great damage to the building, but buildings are nothing. It is the people that cannot be replaced, the children that we revere.

I've watched as the news detailed each missile attack. I went into class today, giving someone my phone and one simple request, "if Elie calls, interrupt the class."

I didn't call Elie in the morning because I don't know if he was on late and might still be sleeping. I didn't call him during my breaks, nor into the hours of the afternoon. Mostly, it was because I feel like we're all waiting. It's like when you know a woman is nearing the end of her pregnancy. The last thing she needs is for people to call her each day to ask her if anything is happening. And yet, that's what it feels like. I don't know when, if, or where the army will take my son. I haven't talked to him every day in a week since he was in training.

Then, I felt he needed it and now, now I know it is me. I need to hear that he's still waiting to move, and not already in danger and he just needs to do what he's doing. All in all, though people are asking me how things are, I think I'm handling it quite well, writing all the time, calming others far and near. First, because there's nothing to handle - he's not even there. Second because to a much larger degree, all things are in Greater Hands than mine and thirdly, as strange as this sounds, human nature is to try to get accustomed to new situations, to make them normal.

While there is nothing "normal" about your country being at war or people living under the constant threat of violence, you find a way, somehow, to accept and lessen the tension. Of course, it all might come back in seconds when you hear a siren or get beeped on your telephone, but you find that 10 minutes can pass, and then 15, and then 30, when you don't feel that sense of panic. So, I was cruising along today, feeling pretty good. I wrote to one mother trying to make sure she was calm; passing on all the things others were saying to me. Other than that one comment about bringing me the phone if Elie called, I was doing just fine.

During the breaks, I didn't stay and talk to those taking our course, but rather went right to the computer. More rockets throughout the south, damage and some injuries but in all cases, it could have been so much worse. There could have been fatalities; there could have been children in the school that was hit. Azoun wasn't in the news. I can handle this, I thought to myself proudly as I finished the class and wished everyone a good weekend until we meet again next week.

And then, I lost it.

It's the last day of the financial year; the last chance to deposit money into various employee accounts and still get the tax credit. I faxed the papers to the bank and to the insurance agent and then had to deal with calling each to confirm. I live in a wonderful city of about 35,000 people and yet for all that it is a city, it's also got a small town closeness to it. I know everyone at the local bank, and most know that Elie is a soldier.

"How's your son?" asked the woman over the phone.

"He's OK," I answered slowly.

"Is he there?" she continued.

"No, at least I don't think so. I spoke to him yesterday. They might send his unit down, but I don't know when."

"He should go in peace and come back in peace and be safe," and then a minute later, "I sent you the fax confirming the transfer."

I thanked her, got off the phone and just lost it. My eyes filled with tears. God, I want to see him and I want him to call me and tell me he's fine and I don't want to listen to how many rockets have fallen and how many people are living with this constant fear that the next missile will hit them. I don't want to hear another country telling us that WE should stop, when it is them.

They should stop. They shouldn't shoot missiles at 700,000 people. Fine - our weapons are accurate and almost always hit what they are aimed at, while their weapons are incredibly inaccurate and rarely hit anything, never mind what they hope it would hit. They may hit open fields most of the time, but when they don't, they are aimed at people. They hit a school today. They hit a kindergarten last night. They've hit malls and cars and homes and people. Tell THEM to stop and we won't have to stop them. Tell THEM to talk and not fire. Hold THEM accountable. Force THEM to recognize the sanctity of life and stop glorifying death.

So, I sat there in my office for a few minutes, letting all these thoughts fill my head. I turned from my computer, my connection to all that is exploding, and looked out the windows at the black clouds hovering overhead and there, to the side, where the two walls of windows that grace my beautiful office meet. It's my photo gallery, two pictures of each of my children and between each pair of pictures, a note that my youngest daughter wrote to each, promising them that she loves them more than anyone else. She's still too young to understand the illogical nature of that concept; each note remains true. She loves all of us more than anyone else.

What an amazing country we live in. The transfer is made, the employee papers filed, rockets are exploding, and the woman at the bank offers a blessing that my son should be safe.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Beersheva Hit By Rockets

Beersheva is the sixth largest city in Israel with a population of approximately 200,000 people. Beersheva is first mentioned in the Bible and represents the heart of the Negev Desert. There's a hospital there, a university with a medical school, many malls, gas stations, and schools. They have a Rugby team and soccer and a movie theater.

A few years ago, a Palestinian woman tried to blow up the emergency room. She'd been a patient there, been given excellent medical care and continued to be treated on an out-patient basis. She hoped to take advantage of this status to sneak in to the emergency room with an explosive belt and kill the people who saved her. Caught on video, she was distraught when she realized she had been caught and would kill no one that day.

When Elie was in the Commanders course, my brother came to Israel to visit and we drove down to pick up Elie so he could spend some time with his uncle. We met in the mall in Beersheva, sat and had pizza, and talked for a while before heading back up north.

When my kids were little, we often stopped in Beersheva on our way south. It's the natural place to stop on those long north-to-south or south-to-north trips, a welcoming oasis on the long road home. Tonight, this city of 200,000 people was hit with long-range katyusha rockets. A kindergarten was hit, empty by the grace of God.

And the thought that goes through my mind...is a simple one: are we insane?

What world do we live in that allows this to happen? Two hundred thousand people were just used for target practice! The news today was all about Gaza. Israeli airstrikes. Warplanes flying and hitting target after target - but we didn't aim at 200,000 people. Our bombs hit training camps and trucks laden with rockets. But we missed the rockets that were used tonight against Beersheva.

Spain is sending $1.5 million in aid to the Palestinians. The United States is sending $85 million and China offered $1 million. In London, they burned the Israeli flag; in Chicago, a synagogue was firebombed.

Our leaders are taking to the airwaves, trying to explain the simplest of realities. The Palestinians have been firing rockets at us for days...for weeks...for months...for years. During the period the world refers to as "relative calm," we were attacked 214 times by rockets. That's an average of more than one rocket per day over the six months Hamas claimed they were refraining from attack. "Are you going to accept a cease-fire?" the media wants to know. Have they heard nothing? Four people were killed in Israel yesterday by these rockets that were fired at our cities. So the media quotes Palestinian casualty figures and ignores the fact that there would be no casualties in Gaza if they hadn't started firing rockets at us.

Only an insane world would believe that Hamas has some basic, fundamental right to fire rockets at our people and not expect to be stopped. Fire at Manhattan, and you'll be flattened. Launch rockets at London? Impossible. Can you imagine the French people sitting huddled in bomb shelters as Katyushas rained down on the Champs-Elysées?

In the last 7 years, we have been hit by more than 10,000 rockets and now, after weeks of asking the world to stop Hamas, we have finally taken our country's future into our own hands and started defending ourselves. And for this act of self-defense, for these targeted operations - carefully uploaded to YouTube and elsewhere for all the world to see, the United Nations demands we stop. Where was the United Nations for the last 10,000 rocket falls?

Several trucks in Gaza today were caught on video, loaded with missiles - just before our air force blew them apart. There is little doubt about the fate of those men who were busy loading the missiles onto the trucks seconds before our missiles hit, though it is impossible to know whether they died as a result of our missile or the detonation of the rockets they were busy stockpiling. Their deaths have been added to the growing count of dead in Gaza, unfairly paraded in the media as part of Gaza's growing death count.

Years ago, our UN Ambassador said something so simple, so true. This then, is the only sane answer to Hamas. As Ambassador Dan Gillerman said, "When you sleep with a missile, sometimes you may not wake up."

Tonight, the people in Beersheva go to sleep with a new reality. Two hundred thousand more Israelis have now been attacked. Our government would join the insanity of the world if they stop this operation before dismantling Hamas' ability to launch rockets.

Our soldiers are determined and dedicated to this purpose. My son and his unit are waiting for the word, as are tens of thousands of other soldiers near and far from Gaza. If the government lacks the courage to do what must be done, if the Defense Minister falters, the day will come again when Israel will simply have to start again what it fails to finish now. No nation can allow its sixth largest city to come under attack and do nothing to stop it.

Tonight, many in Gaza will choose to sleep with a missile; that is their choice. It is our job to make sure the missiles are destroyed, even if the cost of that action means those people will not wake up in the morning. We will do all in our power not to hurt others. But if you put your head down to sleep, knowing that close by there is someone shooting rockets at 200,000 people, you may not wake up tomorrow morning.

The alternative, if the government loses its determination, is to wonder how many Israelis won't wake up tomorrow or the next day or next month or next year. When Gazans refuse to sleep with a missile, the people of Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheva sleep better, but so too will the people in Gaza.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What I Want...and What I'll Do

What I want...is to go collect my little boy and bring him home. I want to lock him in a room and tell Israel that no, you can't have him. I've changed my mind. No, I'm sorry. He's not allowed to play with guns and big things that go boom. No, I'm his mother. I gave birth to him and no, you simply can't take him.

What I want...is to call him and make sure he is where I put him, where he told me he was yesterday. Not in the north, where Hizbollah is promising to burn the ground and open a second front and not in the south, where dozens of rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel, where a man was killed and dozens were wounded.

That's what I want...

And what I'll do, is sit here at my desk and keep editing this document for my client. I'll update the copyright statements and change the installation information to reflect the new platforms the product now supports. I'll answer the phone and I'll talk to my accountant.

And what I'll do, is tell my heart to settle. I'll tell my eyes to take a moment and look at the next beautiful wave of clouds rolling in over Jerusalem. I'll sign the papers I need to sign; type the words I need to type. I'll tell my younger daughter to clean her room and my younger son that he has to study for his test NOW. I'll tell my middle son he can borrow the car like we agreed, but he has to drive carefully. I won't talk to my oldest daughter because she's old enough to see the cracks in my smile and know that outside, it's all a front.

What I'll do is answer the phone if Elie calls and I'll talk to him calmly. I'll listen if he tells me he's staying where he is. I'll listen if he tells me they are moving him up north. I'll listen if he tells me they are moving him down south near Gaza. I'll listen, I'll tell him to be careful, and call me when he can. I won't for a single moment, tell him that I'm scared, that I have no real experience with this war thing and that I don't really want him to have any experience with it either.

What I'll do is continue to listen to the news and pray for our civilians who are under attack, and our soldiers who are risking their lives to defend them.

And most of all, what I will do is dig deep inside where I store my faith in God and in my country and my people. I will do what every Israeli is doing today, hoping this will end soon, but not too soon that we only succeed in putting off to tomorrow what should have been dealt with today. I will do all of this because we are what we have always been, a nation with no choice but to deal with what our enemies choose.

They chose to shell our cities with rockets and so we must stop them. They chose the path of war, so we will set the scenery around this path. Our scenery will include our air force that will knock out their launching pads; our scenery will include our navy and tanks. We'll eliminate the tunnels they use to sneak into our land and those they use to smuggle weapons and terrorists to harm our people. We will change the scenery of Gaza, so that their training camps will no longer exist.

The world may forget that it was Hamas and Islamic Jihad who chose rockets and mortars and missiles with which to attack us; they may fail to recognize that we use our air force, our tanks, our ground forces and our artillery to protect. For once, Israelis are united in one simple reality. We cannot afford to bend to the world's will, if that means our children live under rocket fire, if that means people are forced to run for shelter with mere seconds to alert them.

We are, above all things, a nation that chooses life. Today, we choose to protect the lives of our citizens. Maybe deep down, what I want is to hide inside myself, but what I will do is what every Israeli is doing today - having faith that we are bringing a better reality to our country by taking its safety into our hands. Our soldiers have our faith, they have our prayer, and they have our love.

May God protect the soldiers of Israel and watch over them as they do what they must. They cannot be defeated because where they go, they will not be alone. They have with them the Defender of Israel.

A Matter of Cruelty

Gilad Shalit was kidnapped from Israeli soil more than 900 days ago. During all that time, Hamas has sought to use his capture to hurt, to threaten, to blackmail Israel. Contrary to international law, they have refused to offer any evidence of his medical condition, allowed little or no real communication between Gilad and his family.

And today, to increase the family's pain and in the hopes of weakening the resolve of our soldiers and leaders, reports are being released that Gilad Shalit was injured during an Israeli air attack. Rightly so, Egyptian news agencies and all media outlets are immediately clarifying that there is no confirmation that these rumors are anything more than an attempt to hurt the family.

The IDF is quick to point out that Gilad is an asset of great value, one that will be guarded well. The Palestinians themselves have set his worth at well over 1,000 Palestinian lives. So, since we all agree the Palestinians wouldn't be stupid enough to endanger so valuable a commodity, for there is little doubt they fail to see Gilad as anything more than that, what this rumor comes down to, is a matter of cruelty.

A World of Understanding - Israel's Proportional Response

The world is lining up on either side of this conflict. Canada, the United States, and amazingly enough, even Egypt, have announced that they recognize that Hamas' incessant rocket attacks on our civilian populations is what brought about today's reality in which Gaza finds itself under attack.

Russia, China, Venezuela, Chile and Iran condemn Israel...along with Tony Blair. A popular word is "disproportional response." This means, according to the world, that because the Palestinians are using weapons that "only" terrorize and are inaccurate, Israel is wrong to use pinpointed, accurate weaponry that targets their leadership. I'm not sure what weaponry the world would find acceptable, but be that as it may, here is an excellent response written by Dore Gold, a political analyst, ambassador, and former political advisor to the Prime Minister's office.

He asks a simple question - Did Israel Use "Disproportionate Force" in Gaza? The answer, for those willing to listen...is no, and here is why:
  • Israeli population centers in southern Israel have been the target of over 4,000 rockets, as well as thousands of mortar shells, fired by Hamas and other organizations since 2001. Rocket attacks increased by 500 percent after Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. During an informal six-month lull, some 215 rockets were launched at Israel.
  • The charge that Israel uses disproportionate force keeps resurfacing whenever it has to defend its citizens from non-state terrorist organizations and the rocket attacks they perpetuate. From a purely legal perspective, Israel's current military actions in Gaza are on solid ground. According to international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it.
  • Ibrahim Barzak and Amy Teibel wrote for the Associated Press on December 28 that most of the 230 Palestinians who were reportedly killed were "security forces," and Palestinian officials said "at least 15 civilians were among the dead." The numbers reported indicate that there was no clear intent to inflict disproportionate collateral civilian casualties. What is critical from the standpoint of international law is that if the attempt has been made "to minimize civilian damage, then even a strike that causes large amounts of damage - but is directed at a target with very large military value - would be lawful."
  • Luis Moreno-Orampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, explained that international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court "permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur." The attack becomes a war crime when it is directed against civilians (which is precisely what Hamas does).
  • After 9/11, when the Western alliance united to collectively topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, no one compared Afghan casualties in 2001 to the actual numbers that died from al-Qaeda's attack. There clearly is no international expectation that military losses in war should be on a one-to-one basis. To expect Israel to hold back in its use of decisive force against legitimate military targets in Gaza is to condemn it to a long war of attrition with Hamas.

Israel is currently benefiting from a limited degree of understanding in international diplomatic and media circles for launching a major military operation against Hamas on December 27. Yet there are significant international voices that are prepared to argue that Israel is using disproportionate force in its struggle against Hamas.


Israeli Population Centers Under Rocket Attack

There are good reasons why initial criticism of Israel has been muted. After all, Israeli population centers in southern Israel have been the target of over 4,000 rockets, as well as thousands of mortar shells, fired by Hamas and other organizations since 2001.

The majority of those attacks were launched after Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. Indeed, rocket attacks increased by 500 percent (from 179 to 946) from 2005 to 2006.

Moreover, lately Hamas has been extending the range of its striking capability even further with new rockets supplied by Iran. Hamas used a 20.4-kilometer-range Grad/Katyusha for the first time on March 28, 2006, bringing the Israeli city of Ashkelon into range of its rockets for the first time. That change increased the number of Israelis under threat from 200,000 to half a million. Moreover, on December 21, 2008, Yuval Diskin, Head of the Israel Security Agency, informed the Israeli government that Hamas had acquired rockets that could reach Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, and even the outskirts of Beersheba.

The first Grad/Katyusha strike on Ashdod, in fact, took place on December 28. There had been no formal cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, but only an informal six-month tahadiya (lull), during which 215 rockets were launched at Israel.

On December 21, Hamas unilaterally announced that the tahadiya had ended.


Critical Voices

On December 27, 2008, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesmen issued a statement saying that while the Secretary-General recognized "Israel's security concerns regarding the continued firing of rockets from Gaza," he reiterated "Israel's obligation to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law." The statement specifically noted that he "condemns excessive use of force leading to the killing and injuring of civilians [emphasis added]."

A day later, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights "strongly condemned Israel's disproportionate use of force." French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, also condemned Israel's "disproportionate use of force," while demanding an end to rocket attacks on Israel.

Brazil also joined this chorus, criticizing Israel's "disproportionate response." Undoubtedly, a powerful impression has been created by large Western newspaper headlines that describe massive Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, without any up-front explanation for their cause.

Proportionality and International Law: The Protection of Innocent Civilians

The charge that Israel uses disproportionate force keeps resurfacing whenever it has to defend its citizens from non-state terrorist organizations and the rocket attacks they perpetuate. From a purely legal perspective, Israel's current military actions in Gaza are on solid ground. According to international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it (Israel is not expected to make Kassam rockets and lob them back into Gaza).

When international legal experts use the term "disproportionate use of force," they have a very precise meaning in mind. As the President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Rosalyn Higgins, has noted, proportionality "cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury - it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression."

In other words, if a state, like Israel, is facing aggression, then proportionality addresses whether force was specifically used by Israel to bring an end to the armed attack against it. By implication, force becomes excessive if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians. The pivotal factor determining whether force is excessive is the intent of the military commander. In particular, one has to assess what was the commander's intent regarding collateral civilian damage.

What about reports concerning civilian casualties? Some international news agencies have stressed that the vast majority of those killed in the first phase of the current Gaza operation were Hamas operatives. Ibrahim Barzak and Amy Teibel wrote for the Associated Press on December 28 that most of the 230 Palestinians who were reportedly killed were "security forces," and Palestinian officials said "at least 15 civilians were among the dead."

It is far too early to definitely assess Palestinian casualties, but even if they increase, the numbers reported indicate that there was no clear intent to inflict disproportionate collateral civilian casualties.

During the Second Lebanon War, Professor Michael Newton of Vanderbilt University was in email communication with William Safire of the New York Times about the issue of proportionality and international law. Newton had been quoted by the Council on Foreign Relations as explaining proportionality by proposing a test: "If someone punches you in the nose, you don't burn down their house." He was serving as an international criminal law expert in Baghdad and sought to correct the impression given by his quote. According to Newton, no responsible military commander intentionally targets civilians, and he accepted that this was Israeli practice.

What was critical from the standpoint of international law was that if the attempt had been made "to minimize civilian damage, then even a strike that causes large amounts of damage - but is directed at a target with very large military value - would be lawful."

Numbers matter less than the purpose of the use of force. Israel has argued that it is specifically targeting facilities serving the Hamas regime and its determined effort to continue its rocket assault on Israel: headquarters, training bases, weapons depots, command and control networks, and weapons-smuggling tunnels. This way Israel is respecting the international legal concept of proportionality.

Alternatively, disproportionality would occur if the military sought to attack even if the value of a target selected was minimal in comparison with the enormous risk of civilian collateral damage. This point was made by Luis Moreno-Orampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, on February 9, 2006, in analyzing the Iraq War. He explained that international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court "permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks [emphasis added] against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur." The attack becomes a war crime when it is directed against civilians (which is precisely what Hamas does) or when "the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage."

In fact, Israeli legal experts right up the chain of command within the IDF make this calculation before all military operations of this sort.


Proportionality as a Strategic Issue

Moving beyond the question of international law, the charge that Israel is using a disproportionate amount of force in the Gaza Strip because of reports of Palestinian casualties has to be looked at critically. Israelis have often said among themselves over the last seven years that when a Hamas rocket makes a direct strike on a crowded school, killing many children, then Israel will finally act.

This scenario raises the question of whether the doctrine of proportionality requires that Israel wait for this horror to occur, or whether Israel could act on the basis of the destructive capability of the arsenal Hamas already possesses, the hostile declarations of intent of its leaders, and its readiness to use its rocket forces already. Alan Dershowitz noted two years ago: "Proportion must be defined by reference to the threat proposed by an enemy and not by the harm it has produced." Waiting for a Hamas rocket to fall on an Israeli school, he rightly notes, would put Israel in the position of allowing "its enemies to play Russian Roulette with its children."

The fundamental fact is that in fighting terrorism, no state is willing to play Russian Roulette. After the U.S. was attacked on 9/11, the Western alliance united to collectively topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan; no one compared Afghan casualties in 2001 to the actual numbers that died from al-Qaeda's attack. Given that al-Qaeda was seeking non-conventional capabilities, it was essential to wage a campaign to deny it the sanctuary it had enjoyed in Afghanistan, even though that struggle continues right up to the present.

Is There Proportionality Against Military Forces?


And in fighting counterinsurgency wars, most armies seek to achieve military victory by defeating the military capacity of an adversary, as efficiently as possible. There clearly is no international expectation that military losses in war should be on a one-to-one basis; most armies seek to decisively eliminate as many enemy forces as possible while minimizing their own losses of troops. There are NATO members who have been critical of "Israel's disproportionate use of force," while NATO armies take pride in their "kill ratios" against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Moreover, decisive military action against an aggressor has another effect: it increases deterrence. To expect Israel to hold back in its use of decisive force against legitimate military targets in Gaza is to condemn it to a long war of attrition with Hamas.

The loss of any civilian lives is truly regrettable. Israel has cancelled many military operations because of its concern with civilian casualties. But should civilian losses occur despite the best efforts of Israel to avoid them, it is ultimately not Israel's responsibility. As political philosopher Michael Walzer noted in 2006: "When Palestinian militants launch rocket attacks from civilian areas, they are themselves responsible - and no one else is - for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli counterfire."

International critics of Israel may be looking to craft balanced statements that spread the blame for the present conflict to both sides. But they would be better served if they did not engage in this artificial exercise, and clearly distinguish the side that is the aggressor in this conflict - Hamas - and the side that is trying to defeat the aggression - Israel.

Tanks on the Move

I didn't get to see Elie yesterday. After he'd finished on the checkpoint, he was too busy with other things to find time to meet me at the front of the gate of the base to be filmed for his brother's bar mitzvah. The truth is, I think he was a bit relieved. He doesn't really know what to say about his brother. He loves him; but Elie has not yet developed the ability to be diplomatic. He's as likely to say his brother is sweet, as to call him a pest.

I didn't want to put more pressure on him so I let it be, hoping perhaps we'll find another way. We talked several times yesterday.

"Elie, just tell me where you are. I just need to know." Sure, I thought to myself, he won't tell me. It's a very Israeli thing to do - not to tell your mother. I found myself listening to him but also to what I could hear in the background. One explosion and I'd lose it, I thought to myself. I heard a lot of noise.

"Elie, what's that noise?" No, it didn't sound like an explosion. It was...loud voices, a lot of them.

"The guys are having a party, for Hanukkah." OK, I thought. Breathe and deal. And the truth is, I really am calm for the most part, at least where Elie is concerned. There are so many other things to think about - like driving in to work today and passing a long line of tanks slowly making their way up to Jerusalem. I know where they are going - to Gaza. And each will be filled with soldiers, sons. And I'm shamed to say that I gave a silent thanks to God that Elie is in artillery and even if he were ordered to Gaza, he would be positioned IN Israel.

To be the mother of a soldier in the tank division takes tremendous courage today; I feel a bit like a cheat when people write or call and ask about Elie. But I'll take it to mean concern for all of Israel's sons and, even for our citizens who remain under rocket attack.

As to the tanks, they were huge, as tanks are likely to be. They are impressive in size, determined weapons of war and they are on the move because no nation can be expected to accept daily rocket attacks without responding.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Table

I know this is silly and yet, since I've decided that I'll try to post in this blog real things that I experience, here's one. I have a dining room table. OK, a lot of us do, so I'll continue. We bought our dining room table less than a year after we were married. As a young couple, we were quite amazed to have this beautiful table with six chairs. Each week, my husband sat at the head of the table and I sat next to him. It seemed too far away and silly for me to sit at the other end of the table. When we had company, sometimes I sat at the other end and sometimes I stayed by my husband and sat others around. It stayed that nice compact size for many years. We had guests here and there, but each time the guests left, the table went right back to its six-seater size.

With the birth of each child, or more specifically when they got big enough to sit at the table, I slowly moved towards the end. It was easier because that way my husband could help feed and watch some children while I dealt with the younger ones.

We moved to Israel with three children and still the table stayed small. We had a fourth child, our third son and finally after a little over a decade of marriage, we had filled the table to capacity. By this time, my husband was firmly at the head of the table; the two older children sat near him and the two younger ones sat near me. Or, if we had company, sometimes the younger ones would sit near him so that he could feed them and entertain guests. Either way, I had firmly established myself at one end of the table.

After our fifth child grew large enough to actually sit at the table, we entered a new reality - one leaf was almost a constant in the house and we now had a table that seats eight comfortably. So, for the next few years, the table would grow to 10 and shrink to 8. There was never a reason to go back to its 6-seater days - our family alone was 7 and I was most definitely at one end with my husband far away on the other side.

Then less than two years ago, my daughter got married - that put us up to 8, but with her marriage, she moved out and so we were sometimes 6 and sometimes 8. Two weeks later, Elie went into the army and so we were sometimes five, sometimes six and sometimes 7 and sometimes 8 and the weekly dance of the table begins. When we are only 5, the 8-seater table is too big and the 10-seater is simply huge.

Sometimes, most of the time, we leave the table at 8 and all sit at one end or spread out, as the mood comes. I'm often sitting next to my husband again in this smaller configuration. And each Saturday night, as we put away the Shabbat dishes and special plates and things we use, I look at the table and decide what will be the following week. If we will be four or five and sometimes even six, I might decide to fold the table to its smallest size and enjoy the intimate feel (and the extra room the rest of the week). And sometimes, if I don't know, or I believe we will be six or seven or eight, I'll leave the table ready for eight. It's a silly thing - it takes only moments to change in any direction and yet, it's almost like a preparation for the Sabbath to come, a bit of anticipation that even though the peace and quiet of the Sabbath is leaving us, already, we are thinking about the one that will come soon.

This past Shabbat, Elie was in the army, but my daughter was here. One meal we were 5; one meal we were 7. We left the table at eight and after Shabbat went to my son-in-law's parents to have a Hanukkah party. Between the news and the time, I just left the table as it was.

This morning, as I put the final things away, I looked at the table and realized I don't know what to do. Such a silly thing, I thought to myself. They are bombing Gaza. Schools in the area are closed. The Home Front has issued warnings. Depending on how close you live, you should be ready to enter safe areas in 15 seconds, 30 seconds or 45 seconds, and I'm looking at my table! Maybe it's a mental breakdown, but I can't think what next Shabbat will bring!

If Elie goes north, he was supposed to be home next weekend - so I'd probably leave the table because he likes extra space and that puts us at 6, just one guest and I'll have to open the table again anyway. My daughter and her husband were here this weekend and probably won't come next time - maybe fold the table. Elie said if they stay on base where they are now, even though he isn't coming home today as planned, he probably won't be home. We could be down to 5. If my second son is in Yeshiva, we'll be four - a table that seats 8 would be cold and huge when we want our Sabbath meals to be intimate and warm. Whatever my reasoning, what I feel is that it's too big a decision, too much to concentrate on. Folding it means I really think Elie won't be home and I don't want to deal with this now.

I'm smart enough to know that deep inside of me, the table symbolizes so much more. It's my family - will we be together? Where will the pieces of my family be? Two rockets have hit Ashkelon and two more have now landed in the Ashdod area. That's the farthest north they've hit so far and brings tens of thousands more into danger.

Last week we made plans - Elie would be home. His grandparents would come visit. My son-in-law and daughter would come as well. Today I should have been opening my table to ten. I'd even thought about cooking a whole turkey. We'd all be home for lighting on the last night of Hanukkah and my son-in-law would film a clip of Elie talking about what a good kid his brother is. It's the final clip we need to finish off the video for my youngest son's bar mitzvah next month. At first, when we realized Elie couldn't come home, my daughter said that it was just getting too late and maybe we'd have to close the film without Elie.

That was more than I could handle; I'm way too superstitious to deal with a family video without Elie in it. Just no way, I told my daughter, just I can't. She understand but was concerned about the upcoming event and the video being ready on time, and so I told them I would drive to his base and film him there for a few minutes. They talked and my daughter and son-in-law said it was OK and asked if I could give my son-in-law a key to our offices so he could work late hours. I felt so bad asking him to do this, but he was wonderful and agreed.

They'd hold the film until Elie came home this coming weekend. It's cutting it close because Haim needs time to work with the clippings, but they understood. Now Elie probably won't be home; I'll probably go and film him just in case he is sent up north or down south. I don't want to risk his not being in the film so I'll call him soon and coordinate when he's off the checkpoint and ask if I can come down and film those few minutes.

And then I'll try to figure out what to do with the table.

Dawn

I barely slept last night; my stomach remains tied in knots. It's a "national" thing now, not a "maternal" thing. Elie is safe, tens of thousands of citizens in Sderot and areas close to Gaza are not. Our soldiers are not. Throughout Israel, Arabs threw firebombs, rocks, and more. An Arab attempted to run down a policeman in Jerusalem - even a car and a tractor have been turned into weapons here. My middle son drove into Jerusalem to drive my daughter and her husband home after the Sabbath. Rocks and firebombs were thrown in the village that overlooks the old road and so I told him to take the new tunnel road, built as a by-pass option.

I went to sleep and woke to the news that the world, or much of it, rushes in to condemn. Our enemies claim deaths in the hundreds without bothering to explain that these are the very gunmen who have aimed rockets at our cities for months. They will not clarify that most of these deaths are the very ones who brought about this military action. Did they think they could shoot at us without our hitting them back? Obviously, they did.

I spoke to Elie late last night. Essentially, he knows nothing. Where he will be sent in the next few days is anyone's guess, including his. Ground forces are amassing on the border with Gaza, according to early morning news reports. Mothers all over Israel know little of where their sons are. The illogical part of my brain wants to ask how they can take a son without letting us know. Silly - it has been part of Israel's reality for 60 years and less than a generation ago, when there were no cellular phones, mothers knew nothing at all.

I can call Elie and he'll probably answer. But he'll tell me what he told me last night. He's safe on base; he doesn't know more than what he knew last night. In the next days, he was to have moved north for training. He might still go north, though now there is the question of what Hizbollah will do, if anything, and so the north doesn't seem quite the same as it did before. A week ago, there was a tiny part that of me that envied him. It snows in the north; bitter cold this time of year. But they give them very warm coats and Elie has a hat and gloves and how I love the snow. It is one of the few things I truly miss about America.

Now, the north doesn't seem so ideal a destination, but it is still preferable to Gaza. That is the mother in me and shames me when I think of all the mothers who have sons already stationed near Gaza. They know, as I do, that anyone stationed near Gaza is within rocket range. As an artillery soldier, Elie will likely never leave Israeli soil. What he needs to do, he can do from here - every combat mother's dream. But our enemies like weapons that fly over the heads of our ground troops and slam into civilian areas. They know our greatest secret is that we are a nation commanded to choose life. We don't relish death; we don't worship it; we don't crave it, sanctify it, or work towards it.

Our goal is to teach our soldiers to defend, and return, to be safe. No operation is planned without a counter plan to get out safely. Elie told me once that this is something Syria, for example, doesn't do. Our soldiers know that our success in a military campaign is directly tied to their returning home safe. We do not target civilians in war, as we do not want our civilians targeted. We do not launch rockets into areas where high concentrations of civilians live and so our enemies insidiously hide their weapons and rocket launchers in these very places, in hospitals, in schools, in mosques. How wonderful it looks when they can claim that we targeted a mosque...so if you hear that we have done this, ask yourself why. The answer will be found in the size of the explosion when the mosque is destroyed. It will be in the explosives they hid there, the rocket launchers they pulled out from inside.

Their weapons reflect their culture - a rocket that cannot be aimed. It is as likely to hit a school as a military base - more likely because we place our military bases far from civilian areas while our schools are in the middle of their primary targets - our cities.

"Why would they want to aim at a small base in the middle of no where?" Elie once asked me when we talked about Gaza and rocket fire. He's right though that doesn't help much because they simply point and launch those things and then, like us, wait to see where it hits.

So dawn has come to the Middle East. Israel is calling this a military operation and not a war. The difference in a name is defined by how long it will take. As I lay in bed listening to my husband getting ready to go to work, fighting off the need to get up and check the news for just a few minutes more, I wondered what name would be given to such an action. They are calling it "Operation Cast Lead" after part of a Hanukah song. Today is the seventh day of Hanukah, a holiday in which we celebrate our military success against an enemy so much more vast than we were.

But I think the government was wrong to go with the poetic when they should have gone with what is so real. It should be named "Operation Stop the Rockets" or "Operation Protection" or simply "Operation Rockets." Because that is what this is about. The Arabs will try to twist this around, and there will be nations and people who will fall for this. But this began because they chose to fire rockets at our cities and our children and no nation can allow this.

Dawn is usually a beautiful time, peaceful and quiet. Israel is not peaceful or quiet today, but it is beautiful. Outside my window, the sun is just touching Jerusalem in the distance. The mountains outside my dining room are somewhere between gold and orange. And I know that today, people will die. Palestinians will die because they chose to elect Hamas, a terrorist organization that cares more for power than for its people.

I can pray for them, but only that they do what is right. Let the civilians move out of the areas we are likely to target - they are really simple to identify. The infrastructure of the government they elected; the areas from which they target out cities, known addresses of their leaders and their gunmen.

For now, I will pray for our people. For those who will spend the day in or near bomb shelters, for our soldiers, our pilots, our sons, my son.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Going to War

My phone beeped no less than 10 times over the Sabbath. At one point, it was several times in one hour. A man in uniform was seen driving quickly out of our neighborhood this morning. This is not a regular occurrence in this area, where cars rarely travel. All in all, it meant something was happening.

"Why didn't you shut your phone?" my daughter asked after another beep. I couldn't possibly when Elie was on base and I knew that Israel would, at some point, react to the constant rocket fire.

"Maybe it's Elie," said my middle son, making my heart skip a beat.

"Why do you say things like that?" I asked him and though he didn't mean anything and I didn't either, he apologized. The phone quieted down later in the afternoon and I began to think that maybe what I'd heard was a clock alarm that kept sounding, though that didn't make much sense. Finally, after the Sabbath ended, I checked my messages.

The first talked of more incoming missiles; then the announcement that Israeli planes were hitting targets in Gaza; then more announcements of rockets hitting Ashkelon, Sderot, Netivot. A man was killed when his house was hit, others were injured. Claims by the Palestinians of over 195 killed and 300 wounded. Claims, never substantiated, but enough to bring condemnations from many sources - the Italians, the United Nations, the Iranians.

Egypt and the United States have released statements saying that Hamas' endless rocket attacks brought on this reaction from Israel. Egypt wants it to stop, as do others. The Syrians, the people who butchered 30,000 of their own people, have called Israel's retaliatory operation, "barbaric."

Most of this is just static for us now, outside noises that we can't let distract us. I called Elie as soon as I could.

"Have you heard?" Well, that was a dumb question and I knew it before I had even finished asking.

"Where are you?" I asked him. He laughed a bit and told me he's "around." For now, Elie remains where he has been stationed. The Defense Minister says this operation will not be short or easy. So far, it is limited to an air offense; ground troops have not entered (yet). I feel so many emotions now. There is no panic, but there is a dull sensation in the pit of my stomach that I can't quite name. There are so many possibilities for the days ahead, that I couldn't begin to name them.

For now, I can only question those governments that call on Israel to show restraint, and yet failed to call on Hamas in the past weeks and months and years. If London were being bombed, would Tony Blair call for restraint. What utter nonsense that he calls on Israel to show restraint now - where was he last week and the week before?

Italy's foreign minister, Franco Frattini, did condemn the rocket fire, but called on Israel to beware of civilian casualties in Gaza - and again, where was Frattini last week and the week before that when Hamas AIMED at our civilians. We will do what we can to minimize casualties - we always do.

Egypt has said they will open the Sinai border to allow wounded Palestinians to cross into Egypt for medical aid. How about opening the border for Palestinian civilians to get out of the way? During the Second Lebanon War, Israel warned the civilians to move out of certain areas where Hizbollah is active and there too, Palestinians have to know that we mean to do what we must to stop the rocket fire.

For now, the best way for a civilian in Gaza to avoid being injured is very simple. We are using targeted weaponry, unlike the Palestinians' use of the katyusha and kassem rockets. Their weapons of choice cannot be aimed and therefore have no real targets at all.

Their goal has always been first and foremost to terrorize. Last year, Abu Ahmed, Palestinian Islamic Jihad spokesperson said "The rockets have become accurate, they hardly miss, and most important - they manage to disrupt the Israelis' lives...We definitely planned to increase the rocket fire when the school year opened." Of course, he was completely lying when he said the rockets are accurate and yet he was completely honest when he admitted that their goal is t0 disrupt lives. The reality is that these rockets cause terror and harm, mostly because they are so inaccurate. Anything, anyone, can become a target.

By contrast, Israel has already released numerous announcements and pictures showing that we are hitting pre-selected targets. These are military installations, areas used to launch attacks against Israel. If you are in Gaza and don't want to become a casualty, you are lucky. All you have to do is make sure you aren't near a rocket launcher. In fact, you are safer than tens of thousands of Israelis who are sleeping tonight in or near bomb shelters.

No nation can allow its citizens to be bombed regularly. No nation can withstand what we have taken on a daily basis. Whether Israel's leaders can withstand the storm of international protests is yet to be seen; whether it will finally act to defend its own citizens is unknown.

What is known is that Israel's soldiers are ready and want to see this done correctly. They are not celebrating this offensive, as Palestinians have celebrated successful terror attacks in the past. Rather, they are glad that finally, the government has given them the right to do what they have been trained to do. Tonight, Elie sleeps at the base where he has been for the last few months. I do not know where he will be tomorrow or the next day. It could be south to Gaza; it could be north in anticipation of Hizbollah causing trouble on the northern border; or it could be staying where he is while other troops are moved around.

I'm not sure how I'll know, if I'll know, and that is one aspect of what scares me. It's so interesting how quickly the sense of calm can fly away. Tonight, being the mother of an Israeli combat soldier is a very scary thing, but then again, being an Israeli living in Sderot and Ashkelon and Netivot and so many other places has also been unbearably frightening lately and maybe this action will help.

The news just said Israel is moving tanks into the area. Perhaps the ground forces will move in sooner than I'd thought. This was a huge mistake Israel had made in Lebanon, waiting too long to send them in. In the meantime, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said today:
"There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting, and now is the time for fighting. The operation will expand as necessary. I don't want to mislead anyone. This won't be easy and it won't be short, but we must be determined. The time has come to act. We do not go to this clash gladly, but neither are we afraid of it. We will not let terrorists hurt our citizens or soldiers. We will do what is necessary. For weeks Hamas and its affiliates lobbed Qassams and Grads and mortar shells on the towns and communities of the South. We have no intention of allowing this situation to continue."

There is a time for calm, and there is a time for fighting, said our Defense Minister. As much as I could wish he was wrong, I know that in this, he is right. It is long past the time to have stopped these rockets and missiles and mortar shells, long past the time that diplomacy has failed.

May God bless our air force and our tank division, our navy and our artillery and our ground forces. May each unit be protected, as it seeks to protect. May it accomplish its task and return home safe and whole. May God bless our sons and daughters and keep them safe. The time has come to fight.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Life is Never Boring

So, it seems that the southern area of Israel is "heating up." Yesterday, more than 60 rockets and mortars were fired at Israel. Fifty-seven people were taken to the hospital suffering from shock - half of these were children. The High Court is preventing Israel from using artillery into Gaza. Artillery is, for the most part, if done correctly, accurate. But the definition of accurate in the field is different than in the city. A little bit off may still be considered a direct hit, but in a crowded city, this could even mean the house next door.

One could argue and say that if you know your neighbor is firing missiles at a civilian city and you know that city is in a country that has one of the strongest armies in the region, if not the strongest, you probably should consider leaving your home for a while. Possessions are all well and good, but at the end of the day, it is your family that matters. Stop your neighbor, or leave.

But the High Court doesn't think this way, the way of human nature. They bow before the greater force of international pressure, as does our government and many of our political leaders and so artillery may not be used in the military operation the army is no doubt planning. As I explained to Elie, for years Hamas and other terrorist groups have freely shot rockets and mortars at our cities, but soon the government will be forced to respond. Not because it is the right think to do - if that was the reason, they would have done it years ago. No, the government will finally respond because we are in the midst of an election and they don't want further evidence of their inability to stop the rockets.

For Elie, this probably means little. His unit is shortly shifting back to training and will likely not be involved in Gaza, even if an artillery unit is chosen to backup ground forces going into Gaza. But life in never boring in Israel. Each time I've thought Elie is going into a "worry-free" zone, something happens to change the zone, change the worry, or up the "free."

I thought Elie would shortly be going into training. I was worried about the cold more than anything, but even there, was relatively calm. Yesterday, the Lebanese army came across eight Katyusha rockets aimed at Israel. The timers were set to go off automatically late Thursday night. Whether by divine intervention, luck, or an intelligence leak, the Lebanese found and de-activated the rockets. This could be an isolated incident, or it could be the beginning of Hizbollah's attempt to once again open up a second front and force the Israeli army to divert or at least divide its attention from Gaza alone.

If something happens in the north in the next few weeks, this is solidly where Elie will be and so the worry-free is gone. Not yet replaced by worry, certainly nothing beyond it. All it means, as it has really meant from the first day I drove Elie to Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem to catch to the induction center in Tel Aviv, is that nothing is for certain, everything and anything can happen when you have a son in the army. So, today is Friday, tonight we will light the sixth Hanukkah candle. Elie will not be home. We'll celebrate the holiday as we always have, minus a part of my heart and my eldest son.

Shabbat shalom, Elie and chag samayah - happy holiday. May it come in peace and pass in peace, this day, this week, this month, this year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Where You Light a Candle

There is a commandment, during Hanukah, the Festival of Lights, to light the menorah. It's a message of triumph, of hope, that we renew each year, night after night, building the excitement with each new candle. Hanukah is the story of a miracle, of impossible becoming reality because of faith, God's help, and hope. It is a story of triumph - the weak defeating the strong, and a story of endurance, of a simple, small jug of oil that should have lasted only 1 day lasting 8 days until a new supply of oil was available.

All these miracles are made known to the world, simply by placing a menorah in the window and lighting it. It brings joy to those who walk down the street and look, window after window, at the beautiful candles.

We light the menorah in the window facing the street so that others can see. Tonight we light the third candle and three of my children will be home. My daughter has her own home. I miss having her with us, miss having her menorah burn with the others, but there is no sadness there. She is with her husband; there they will light in their own home and begin creating their own joys. I cannot feel sadness that she isn't at home even though a part of me wishes that she was still the little girl whose hand we held as she guided the shamash candle to light the others. And so, as often happens, my thoughts go to the child who is not a child, to the boy who won't be home tonight and who won't be in a home of his own. I have two emotions in my heart right now - pride and disappointment.

Elie was home for Shabbat, going back to the army Sunday morning. That meant he was not home even for the lighting of the first candle. There have been times over the years that one or more of my children wasn't home on a particular night. They might have taken part in lighting at a friend's house or at a yeshiva or at school, but there has never been a time when a child of mine missed every night, not being home at least once during the whole of these eight nights of Hanukah.

Elie missed the first night and was to have missed the next six, but he was scheduled to come home on Sunday, thus joining us for the final candle lighting, the most beautiful and glorious of the nights - when the menorah is full and the window reflects all the burning candles. And so, I am disappointed. He called to tell me that the plans have shifted; no surprise there. He's not unhappy because he'll be home the following weekend, and soon for a week's vacation from the army as well.

But his not being home on Sunday was a surprise, though balanced a bit, by what he just told me on the phone. There is a chance, just a chance, only a chance, that the army is organizing something for the parents to be with their sons one night this week. I'm waiting to hear, hoping it's true.

And the pride. "Elie, did they give you a menorah to light?" It's a silly concern. The commandment is one that can be performed by a single person for a room of people. One must light; the others must see. Judaism is a religion that focuses on life, reveres life, commands one to choose life and so the guarding of life is of paramount importance. The commandment to light candles is secondary to what Elie does on the checkpoint. Even if he can't light, he has done no wrong...and yet the mother in me wants to know that he did, if at all possible, fulfill this commandment too.

Many families only light one menorah for the whole family; in our home, each person lights their own. We stand by the window, filled with so many candles and listen as each says the blessings. We sing together and enjoy dinner together. In Israel, there is a custom of eating jelly donuts, and so the first night and sometimes others as well, we share in this as well.

So, I asked if perhaps Elie had his own menorah - as he does at home, and did they let him light it. He laughed a bit and then told me that when the time came to light, he was stationed at the checkpoint. So, they closed the checkpoint for the two minutes it takes to light. They took the menorah into a small shelter they have there. The shelter has a window facing the checkpoint.

There, Elie and his soldiers lit the menorah, said the blessings and then, leaving the menorah in the window to announce the great miracles God performed for the people of Israel in their time of need, Elie and his soldiers returned to the checkpoint. I asked Elie to take a picture of the menorah, and if he does, I will post it here. But if he doesn't, than maybe you can close your eyes, as I can, and see the scene.

Elie and his soldiers stand by the road, slowing traffic and checking the cars to make sure they aren't smuggling weapons and things that can endanger our people. They are taught how to stand so that each is protected and protecting; all eyes aware and alert, and in the background to the side, there is a small shelter with a window, and a menorah that my son lit, and candles burning there in the dark.

I am so proud of him, so humbled by him. I'm sorry he wasn't home to see us light our menorahs in the window of our home but somehow I think his menorah may have even more meaning. My son is a protector of his people, and last night he and his soldiers took a moment to recognize the greatest Protector of all, and the miracles that He does each day.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Preparing for Change

It was another weekend to cherish with Elie home. The whole family wasn't together, as my daughter and her husband were visiting friends and my middle son was at his yeshiva, but still, it was nice, it was quiet, and it was fun. Elie was in a great mood most of the time, talkative, laughing, teasing. Pure Elie.

There were times where we all laughed hysterically, and serious times mixed together. Fun, when he started to explain that we are nearing the end of this latest rotation. Apparently, the efficiency of the army is a much overrated concept and as Elie started to explain, he looked at his shirt, realized which one he was wearing and turned around to show me the design on the back. It showed a tank and the route it had taken to get to where it was on the back of his shirt, but the route bounced all over back and forth many times in an illogical path.

It is so common as to become an accepted and comfortable joke. There will be, in the next few weeks, a "shake up." The army will shuffle its pieces, throwing it all into a mix and settling it all back down, some in the same place, some in other places. To get there, many units will be ordered to one place, ordered to another, returned to a base, moved forward, backwards and more. One could argue that it is accidental; one could argue it is on purpose to teach the soldier something. Be ready, always to move at a whim. Forget logic, forget plans, sometimes, you are ordered to move and you move, only to get there and move back again.

We talked long and hard about the situation in Gaza - everyone knows it can't go on. "The government can't send in the artillery without the court giving them permission," Elie said in disgust.

I felt older and wiser and infinitely more cynical. The government is in the midst of an election, I explained to my son. They can't be seen as weak, and only a weak government will sit by and do nothing while its citizens are hit with mortars and rockets (15 rockets, 26 mortars yesterday alone). Houses are damaged, cars, buildings - how long will it go on? Each day a rocket hits, thinks the government, a voter decides to try someone else, someone less weak, someone not willing to sit back and do nothing.

The government will have two options - to defy the court (and who was the idiot who asked the court in the first place?) or to go in without artillery. Much can be accomplished without the artillery - bombs can still be dropped, missiles launched. And if there are more ground troop casualties, the government can blame the courts...or perhaps the courts will realize the idiocy themselves and release the government. If our enemies are free to act without caring about innocent casualties, shouldn't our own government and courts at least seek to minimize our losses?

There is nothing that Elie can do about this situation with the rockets except wait until the government or army decides that artillery is a necessary component of whatever operation they will launch.

Meanwhile, we talked about his work at the checkpoint. He told me that during the recent Islamic holiday, Israel allowed free flow of traffic into and out of Kalkilye as a show of good faith. What went in that shouldn't have, will try to come out again later, and the army will catch it then. What came out that shouldn't have, will try to go back in, and the army will catch it then.

During our conversation, Elie mentioned that he stopped one Israeli Arab driver who, as it turned out, didn't have a driver's license, was in an area he should not have been in, and had someone else's car.

"Why did you stop him?" I asked.

"Because I didn't recognize him," Elie answered. He's been at this checkpoint for several weeks and knows almost all of the Arabs that pass through on their way to wherever they are going. This statement of his was very telling and very important. It is very easy in this world not to recognize others, not to pay attention to who they are as individuals. Too often, I find myself entering a mall and only after do I realize that I didn't look AT the guard. I opened my bag, perhaps I greeted them, I usually do, but I didn't look at them and copy their faces to my mind. A few minutes later, I could pass them in the street and never remember having seen them.

This could easily be true at a checkpoint, where so many pass each hour, each day. The fact that Elie notices an individual as a person says much about him, and his training.

In the meantime, winter has settled back into Israel, at least for a few days. It's getting colder, the skies are much grayer than before. Last winter, the thought of Elie being in the desert at night, cold and in the dark, was almost enough to bring me to my knees. I was scared, even though I knew it was irrational. Elie thought it was a bit funny, but he tried to reassure me. He told me that he was the one with an M16 and that I had nothing to fear. It didn't help much.

The picture of him wandering in the desert, alone, cold, was so strong even though my rational brain knew it was not a true image. He was never alone, he was never wandering, and thanks to the thermal undershirts, extra layer of pants, the exertion, and the warm tea waiting for him around the bend, he was more exhilarated than cold.

I can laugh now, but then I was worried about wild animals and thieves in the night. I was scared he would get lost, scared he would fall and get hurt. A year later, as I knew winter was settling back in this week, I asked him if he had enough thermal undershirts and that was the end of the discussion. Many months ago, after Elie ran off into the darkness to help with a traffic accident, leaving me stuck in traffic and worried, he asked me, "Ima, don't you trust me?"

At the time, I thought his question was wrong, that he didn't understand. My fear was an expression of my love, not my lack of trust. Now, while I still believe that fear was born out of love, I think, in hindsight, that I hadn't yet learned to trust this man that has emerged from the son I brought into this world.

I loved the baby, I loved the boy and now I am learning that beyond loving the man, I am learning to trust him. With that trust, I am so much more at peace with those things that surround him. I am slower to fear, slower to worry. Of course, this great sense of calm is working today and I am not foolish enough to assume it will be here tomorrow.

What still holds true is that with the setting of the sun each day Elie is in the army, it is another day I be grateful for, another day I can pack away. Change is again around the corner, but we've been this route before. Elie goes off the checkpoint and back into training as an artillery soldier. I'll find new things to worry about, new fears to conquer, but I'm liking this feeling of trust and calm I have inside me too, so maybe I'll hold on to that as well.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Fixing Things

Elie came home from the army, helped me pick up crutches for his brother, and ran a bunch of errands. When we got home, we noticed that the crutches had to be adjusted for his brother's height.

Elie loves fixing things - it comes from his father. So Elie found the tools and proceeded to try to adjust the crutches. This is where I have to explain that Israel has an incredible organization known as Yad Sarah. They "own" an incredible amount of medical equipment, ranging from the very simple to advanced medical devices costing thousands of dollars.

For a minimal deposit, you can "rent" this equipment for long periods of time. And so, we "rented" these crutches for up to three months. They are rather worn and in attempting to unscrew the bolt to make the adjustment, it simply shattered in Elie's hands. Elie, like his father, is a fixer, and so he went into the bomb shelter (guess that's another reality we have here that we take for granted), where my husband stores his tools, found new bolts, and fixed the crutches.

It wasn't long, however, before Elie and his youngest brother found that crutches can be used not only to help someone with a broken foot, but they can, in the mind of a boy become a weapon, a super-powerful, semi-automatic machine crutch! So there they were, the boy who in a month will become bar mitzvah, a celebration of his passing into manhood, and the man who still has the boy inside him, having a shoot out in my living room.

It was one of those priceless moments, as Elie aimed the crutch. By the way he stands, you cannot forget that he knows how to aim a weapon. There is no hesitation, no question in the way he holds his head and sites the "target."

He pulled the "trigger" and simulated the kickback of the weapon before taking aim again. They dived for cover, took up new positions behind the chairs, as shots bounced all around them (while the rest of us sat peacefully and safely beyond their imaginary world).

And while I watched them and laughed, I thought about his real gun, locked in his room. Elie would never wave his real gun in the air and point it at his brother. Not even as a joke. It's never happened and I can't imagine that it ever would. The "gun battle" raged in my living room while we all laughed, including Elie.

At one point, Elie grabbed both crutches and was suddenly Rambo shooting in all directions. There might be others who would say this isn't a joke or perhaps a soldier shouldn't pretend so easily, but I was happy it had happened. I love the fact that Elie is so responsible with his weapon, but I also love the fact that it hasn't consumed him. He is not what he does. He is a soldier, tasked with responsibilities, but he can discard that with his uniform and his gun. He'll come home, quickly drop his backpack, change out of the uniform, stow the gun safely away, and come downstairs and blend back into the family.

When things are quiet, he'll talk about the army, things that have happened or might happen soon. He'll tell us about some of the other soldiers, about what he did or where he patrolled. But more and more, I like seeing him put the soldier away for a few hours at a time. This time, it was to have a crutches battle with his brother. And the best part of this gun battle of the crutches was that this time, they didn't break the vase or the candlesticks or the pictures on the window sill.

Monday, December 15, 2008

In Good Faith

It's hard, as a mother of a soldier, to believe that your son is offering three years of his life to ensure the safety of our nation, while our own government does things that seem to counter this very notion.

A Kassam rocket launched by terrorists in Hamas-controlled Gaza landed and exploded in an open area next to a Jewish community in the Ashkelon Coast Council region Monday evening. (Israel National News)
Today, our country decided to release 277 security prisoners. Our government said it wanted to strengthen Abu Mazen, leader of the Palestinians who lost an election to Hamas in Gaza.

....148 of the 227 terrorists released on Monday were convicted for attempted murder.
In the last few days, Israel has confirmed that we've been hit by more than 10,000 rockets and mortars in the past few years. For the last 6 months, Hamas has alternated between claiming that there is a cease-fire, and firing rockets at us. The 6-month "trial" cease-fire that they supposedly declared back in June or July ends later this week. Hamas has announced that they won't renew it. I'm not sure that this means that "tomorrow" we will be hit with more or less rockets than today.

I've never quite seen "cease-fire" defined this way. I've never quite understood "in good faith" to mean taking actions which endanger your people, all for nothing at all. As those who were released today celebrate with their families and the Palestinians claim victory, I have no doubt that Israel will continue to be attacked by rockets and mortars.

Hamas says the "cease-fire" will end soon - perhaps the Israeli government could be even half as smart and end the "good faith."

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Distraction

I called Elie today to tell him that his youngest brother was fine but had fallen and probably broken a bone in his foot. Elie asked the how, the when. We talked and then said goodbye. Nothing more than that; a simple, normal conversation.

We didn't talk about guns, about war, about missiles. We didn't talk about checkpoints, about rocks and firebombs. It was a conversation any mother would have with any son and it was very nice.

He wasn't home this past weekend. Had he been, he would likely have known what to do with his brother long before we figured it out (ice, elevate, wait). Instead, he will be home at the end of this week, hopefully by the time his brother is back on his feet. Things are quiet - routine. These are the quiet times for a mother; times when where he is are quiet (or at least I don't see the names of Arab villages that are near his base in the news).

It seems like I mostly write when I'm worried or amused by things happening with Elie. Tonight, I decided to do something different - to write about what happens the vast majority of the time, and that is simply nothing. In the scheme of things, this is the norm for most families and truthfully, I have come to enjoy these times too. I don't mind that there is little to write about because in all things that happen during these three years that Elie is in the army, there is really only one thing I want most out of his years, and that is him. I want him safe. I want him whole. I want him healthy.

Beyond those basics, I'd like him to be happy; I'd like him to feel fulfilled. I need him to know that what he does is important and that he is appreciated. But most of all, I want, I need him to be safe and that's what a boring, no-news day means. So I'll take that over all other days. He might find it boring, as most boys his age would. But someday, God willing, he too will have a son in the army and it will be for these days he will pray as well.

So, may God grant the soldiers of Israel (and America) a most boring day filled with nothing exciting, nothing to shoot at, nothing shot at them. May they be blessed with a cool breeze during the day, a restful night, perhaps even a soft pillow when they lay their heads to rest.

And may God bless the mothers of soldiers - all soldiers everywhere, that this day and this night, their sons are safe and at peace.

Monday, December 8, 2008

What are you looking for?

Security is a fact of life in Israel. So much so, that we sometimes take it for granted. We automatically open our purses as we enter public buildings; we stop to explain and let the security guard analyze our risk factor. They are experts - it takes them mere fractions of seconds to determine whether we are likely to explode ourselves and kill those they are charged with protecting or if we too may pass through his gates and become one with those he watches.

There is no time to be polite or socially correct here. We are a nation that would rather not insult people, but we understand the most basic of truths - better to insult than bury your dead. Better to delay a few, than deal with the horrible aftermath of a security check gone wrong. Because we understand this, we are, for the most part, very understanding about the delays. An intelligence warning that a suicide bomber is en route to one of our cities, will cause traffic jams for hours. I've missed personal events because I was stuck sitting in a car waiting to slowly go through, car by car, a checkpoint. Each car was searched, each person understanding the alternative would be so much worse.

Yesterday, Elie and I drove to the mall. A few weeks ago, we had been there to drop off something that needed to be fixed and yesterday, we decided to go and pick it up. Last time, as the guard approached the side window, I went to pop the trunk of the car with the internal lever near the driver's seat. At the same time I was bending down to pull the lever, Elie pulled out his army ID card. As I pulled the lever, the security guard looked at the car and said, "Shalom, Achi." Achi means "my brother," and is not just a greeting between boys, but an incredible thing that I love about Israeli society and culture. It means we are connected; it means, I know you as my brother. It's another one of those very Israeli things, like the slaps on the back between soldiers, the handshakes and the quick hugs.

So, with a flash of an army identity card and one quick "Shalom, Achi", we were passed through. No additional security check was needed. I laughed as I drove through and asked Elie why he didn't tell me he was going to do that. The trunk was now bobbing in the back window, needlessly opened because the guard didn't need to check beyond the fact that I had an armed soldier in the front seat.

The trunk bounced a few times as I drove up the ramp and parked the car. That time, the army ID card was Elie's way of showing the guard that he was legally allowed to carry the gun. And with that card, all manner of assurances were wordlessly exchanged. The car is safe. I'd know if there was anything wrong.

"He didn't check anything," I commented to Elie as I went to close the trunk.

"What's he going to check for?" he replied rather smugly. "I have an M16 and I showed it to him."

Good point. OK. So yesterday, I pulled into the underground garage with Elie sitting in the front seat beside me, in uniform, with his M16 leaning on the floor against his leg. As he did the last time, Elie pulled out his army ID. The guard looked, then asked us to open the trunk.

"What are you looking for?" Elie asked him, clearly astounded that his card wasn't working as expected this time. "All you are going to find is a backpack filled with dirty army uniforms. The gun is here."

"I know," said the guard. "It's dumb," he continued as he moved to the back of the car. He opened the trunk, looked around as they always do, gently closed it, and returned to wave us on.
"That makes no sense," Elie said to him again. "What are you looking for?" The guard couldn't really give him an intelligent answer. Certainly not before Elie continued, "A nuclear bomb? What do you think you are going to find, when I have a gun right here?"

"He doesn't really have a choice," I told Elie, but we both agreed it was kind of dumb to focus on what someone might be hiding out in the open in their trunk when he's got a semi-automatic machine gun (is that the proper description of an M16?) within reach in the front.

We parked the car and went inside. There are things that make no sense in life and Elie still has no patience for them. He has never been one to suffer fools or foolish things lightly. Many months ago, Elie watched as a guard was talking to someone else. Israelis are accustomed to automatically stopping, automatically waiting until the guard gives them the required attention. We'll open our purses before being asked, place our keys and phones and metal objects on the table to be searched before the guard can open his mouth.

This guard was busy looking in the other direction talking to someone and Elie (while not in uniform but carrying his M16) just walked right through the metal detector up to the door of the mall with his gun. I was behind him and realized right away that the guard wasn't really paying attention. The metal detector went off and the guard turned.

"It's too late," I said to the guard. "People could have died because you weren't looking. Someone with a gun just got to the door." Yes, the gun was from the Israeli army; the man carrying it was a soldier. This time, I told the guard and others behind me agreed. Of course, I wasn't thrilled with Elie either - what if the guard HAD reacted? With the arrogance of youth, Elie tells me that he was prepared for that.

The consolation for the guard, despite a bit of public embarrassment, was that Elie didn't want to kill anyone, but really, the truth was that there are others with guns who would quickly have stopped an attack. That is what happened in Jerusalem when the Palestinian rammed his car into the soldiers from Elie's unit, when two Palestinians drove tractors into buses and people in Jerusalem on two separate occasions this past year. Quick-thinking civilians and security personnel stopped them.

Elie has little patience for fools and a guard looking into a trunk after already being told that there was someone with a weapon in the car seemed utterly silly. But the truth of Israel is that I'd rather have the guard be over-cautious. I'll take the guard who looked in my trunk any day compared to the one who carelessly let an armed man (not dressed in uniform) approach the doors of a shopping center.

What I realized, in watching Elie's impatience, is that with age comes the ability to accept what is fundamentally illogical. What is one more thing in the scheme of things we accept? Elie is still at the age where he fights against this, where he still believes that logic will prevail.

It is not logical for the guard to search beyond the front seat of the car when the person in the front seat already possesses in his hands the ability to cause great harm. A person who has a bomb in the trunk shouldn't have a gun in the front seat and so a person who legally has an army-issued rifle in the front seat, by extension, probably doesn't have a bomb in the back. Elie wore the uniform of the army of Israel. That means he has promised to protect; it should have been clear to the mall guard, or so Elie and many others assume.

Some guards, like the one who said, "Shalom, Achi" understand and so they do their jobs logically, quickly and efficiently eliminating the need to search everyone. All benefit because the line goes more quickly and the job is still done. Others, like the one who insisted on opening a trunk with dirty laundry, follow the rules set for the job.

It reminds me of a story my mother told me. She was in Germany, waiting to pass through security to travel to Israel, and the guards chose her for the advanced security check. They didn't want to insult anyone, so they applied this security check not based on perceived threats but on random numerical selections of people in line. She was chosen.

In astonishment, she turned to the guard and asked, "How many 67-year-old, Jewish grandmothers hijack planes?"

There is no logic in having searched my mother's suitcases; no logic in demanding to search my trunk the other day at the mall. In a place where decisions must be made in seconds, we often don't have time for the politically correct. If a certain profile has a much higher likelihood of carrying out terrorist attacks, most of our security guards will not spend more than a fraction of a fraction of a second on a 67-year-old grandmother (Jewish or otherwise).

That is security; that is the way of things in this day and age. And so, there will be days when the lines are longer and slower, but again, the main job is still done. People pass through the entrances to the malls safely and are able to shop in relative peace. Both types of guards, those who search all equally but slowly, and those who focus on the most likely to harm, are integral parts of our nation and I accept each as I pass through yet another security check.

With age, Elie will learn to be less astonished by those who defy the logic that is obvious to him. But watching him in any number of situations, I have no doubt that he will be a "Shalom, Achi" person; he already is. He won't search those who do not need to be searched; he'll check and be careful, but he won't follow the rules without following the logic upon which the rules were based.
For that too, I love him.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

HELLO? Ima, I’M the artillery!

Elie came home today and since he was arriving in Jerusalem around the time I was finishing work, I picked him up and we agreed to drive straight down to the mall to do a quick errand. On the way down, we spoke of many things, including the ever present rocket attacks against Israel. Twenty over the weekend, another seven today.

"The government is stupid," said my son. Hard to disagree. What other country would put up with these daily attacks?

"They don't know what to do. They'll have to do something," I responded.

"Ima, they went to the High Court and it ruled they can't use artillery. What country asks the High Court if they can use their artillery against an enemy who's firing rockets AT them?"

Well, he's got me there. Of course, the High Court ruled that they can't use artillery and so Elie is stationed far away from where the rockets are hitting.

"Maybe they'll send in ground forces," I offered.

"They'll have to send in ground forces, but first they need the artillery. Or, if the ground forces get in trouble, they'll need the artillery there too."

"Well," I said, trying to think like the government, "maybe the artillery is there. Waiting."

And then he said it, with the most wonderful tone filled with irony and frustration that I wish words could portray, "HELLO??? Ima, I'M the artillery and we aren't there." Had he not been driving, I have little doubt that he would have been waving his hand vigorously as he said the HELLO part!

So, my son knows how to stop the rocket attacks that send our civilians running for cover. It's actually a lot less complicated than it seems. Our civilians hear the "Red Dawn" siren and know they have 15 seconds to find cover because someone in Gaza has fired a rocket or mortar. They run, as this thing flies through the air. Sometimes, it will land in Gaza; sometimes in open fields. Sometimes it will land next to a house and blow out the windows. More than once it has landed in a school yard, once killing a small boy - the dream child his parents had waited more than a decade to conceive. Sometimes, all the time, it terrorizes the mothers and the children. Grandparents tell their families not to visit them and teachers worry about letting the kids play outside.

All of this is an affront to the soldiers of Israel who take it as their responsibility to protect the nation.

HELLO??? My son said in frustration to his government. In a democracy, the army is a tool of the government and no matter how much it wants to act, it must wait for the orders of the politicians. Well, today Israel was hit by seven rockets. Yesterday and the day before as well. Once again, children go to school in fear and mothers don't let their children play too far from their homes.

Stop and look at a clock - watch the second hand race forward and count off 15 seconds. How far can you run in that time? Where would the rocket catch you? Imagine walking down the street doing your shopping while also calculating safe spots, "I need to buy milk today -oh, and there's a good place to hide." How can anyone live this way? And how can any soldier not feel that he is failing his people when they must think this way?

No, I don't want my son involved in war and I don't want him firing artillery into Gaza, but I don't want Israelis in Sderot and Ashkelon living in terror and I don't want the army of Israel to believe it cannot fulfill its most basic directive - to protect.

My son's unit is waiting for the orders to do the job they were trained to do. All Elie needs the government to do is deliver his message, "I'M the artillery." Stop the rockets, he wants to say to the government, by showing our enemies that we are ready to use our army. Stop the rockets, and the artillery won't be used. Or, fire on our civilians, and the artillery and ground forces will have to move closer. It is their job, to protect, so that no mother has to wonder if her child is more than 15 seconds from shelter.

"HELLO???? I'M the artillery," my son told me today. If only the government would listen.

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