Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stomach Heading South...

My stomach headed south today. The darn phone beeped with a message that a soldier had been killed near Gaza in an explosion. Another soldier has been seriously wounded, two others lightly wounded. That was the first sickening jolt I felt. Israel was sending in troops to Gaza again, probably only for a brief incursion to track those responsible or to make sure nothing else was going to explode near the patrols. Whatever they were charged with doing, it was enough to cause my nerves to shatter.

"Elie, it's Ima. Did you hear what happened?"

"Yeah," he answered. Of course he did. He gets the same SMS messages to his phone that I do.

"If they call you, call me and let me know, ok?"

"Yeah, I'll call and see what's happening."

"Let me know," I said - terrified that it was all happening again.

Nothing has changed, Elie informed me later. They still have plans to go tomorrow to PaintBall and to the next training in the north soon after that. The Arabs again fired rockets at Israel - luckily they landed in an open field and luckily, Elie and his unit aren't in an open field now.

It took me a long time to settle today, to calm down enough to swallow. I sat at my client's computer and typed three documents. I talked to two engineers. I discussed issues with the new project manager and the whole time my heart was filled with dread. I haven't been checking the news obsessively for a few days. I've even left my phone in another room and not worried about missing a call.

Today, it was back to taking my phone to the bathroom with me, terrified that Elie would call and say he was heading back south.

"Why is Hamas doing this?" I asked Elie. "Could they have been more defeated?"

"We left too early," Elie answered. "They see that as a victory."

"How stupid are they?" I asked Elie - not really expecting an answer. How can they complain that everything is in rubble and yet continue to be so aggressive? They demanded that the crossings from Israel into Gaza be opened to allow humanitarian aide in - this was done already for days (actually, it was done throughout much of the war as well). They demanded Israel remove its troops - this we did (of course, their setting off a bomb next to our troops just ensured that we'd end up going back in, which is what happened today).

Tonight, three sets of parents have experienced the terror of getting a call that their sons were injured and another family is in mourning. The news stations are saying this is Hamas' way of saying that any ceasefire they offer will not include a cessation of attacks against our soldiers. Personally, I think this is Hamas' way of saying they are stupid.

I mean...been there, done that. If we could so easily beat a fully-armed Hamas...what makes them think they can take us on now when we have seriously damaged their infrastructure, depleted a fair amount of their weaponry and eliminated several important elements of their leadership?

Oh, they will rebuild - they will be re-armed by the Iranians and perhaps by others. But they have learned nothing because they will not use the money they get to build schools, but rather to re-arm. They will not use it for improved hospital equipment and healthcare - they will use it for rockets and mortars.

Gaza will be rebuilt and, if Hamas' leaders remain as stupid as they were today, Gaza will be brought down again. It took me a few hours to settle down, to accept that we might be headed right back into another phase of this war now instead of the reprieve I thought we'd have. But truthfully, no matter what tomorrow or next week brings, the one good thing that came out of this was the reality that Israel has reclaimed its army from its own political leaders.

The government may have succeeded in stopping the fighting before we achieved all our goals, but the army succeeded in showing Hamas that we know how to fight, that we will fight. We achieved a few days of peace for our southern residents, showered our soldiers with support and love, and convinced ourselves and the world that we will not allow Hamas to continue to terrorize us.

We may not have convinced Hamas of this - but if they come at us again, we will. We did not hesitate this time to defend ourselves against Hamas rockets and this time, for perhaps the first time in a very long, long time, if they attacked us from a mosque - we hit the mosque. When they attacked us from a school or a hospital, we attacked them back. If they do not hesitate to hide behind their women and children, they should no longer be surprised if we hit them back.

So, today I once again experienced that sickening feeling of dread that comes from knowing that we are, as we have always been, still stuck in this vicious, endless state of war. I had hoped for a longer period of quiet than a mere 7 days. I had hoped that perhaps we would have even up to a year, maybe, in my most desperate of dreams, I even hoped it would last up to 18 months. I held little hope for it lasting more than that.

Hamas has made it clear - they are not interested in peace nor do they particularly care about the comfort of their own people, let alone ours. A soldier died today - a Bedouin tracker, as it turns out, who chose to serve in the army and help defend this land. An officer was critically injured. Rockets were fired at Israel, more shots fired tonight.

And though my stomach headed south for a good portion of the day, leaving me nervous and worried, I dealt with it and functioned quite well (delivering no less than three documents!). It's 11:00 p.m. here in Israel. Elie went to bed a few hours ago, safe in his room, in his home, with his family.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring; if more rockets will fall, if Elie will go to the PaintBall place or be called south or north. But that has been a constant since Elie went into the army - that not knowing. Long ago, I resolved to take this army business one day at a time. Sometimes, for a stretch, I can handle longer periods. At the worst of times, I'll take it hour by hour.

No matter what happens, there is confidence that Israel will do what it has to do - that wasn't something I was completely sure about a few short weeks ago. We didn't do what needed to be done in Lebanon three years ago. We went in to get back two of our soldiers and lost too many in the failed attempt. We failed because the government held the army back, crippled its ability to act and react. We failed because the army never really accepted it was fighting a war because it waited for the politicians to decide how and what we were fighting. Hizbollah attacked our civilians, and we let them. Hizbollah won that war and for perhaps the first time in Israel's history, it was faced with a harsh reality in which the Arabs were led to believe they could defeat us.

This war in Gaza was a direct result of the Second Lebanon War. We fight a culture that relishes its enemy's weaknesses; one that gladly targets innocents and sacrifices its own for the glory of Allah and the ability to cry victim. That was what started the war.

What ended it was Hamas realizing that the Israel that came out of the Second Lebanon War was an angry one - both at the national level and at the military level. Our army learned the lessons of Lebanon and fought this war as wars must be fought - to win.

Our victory came because we did not listen to the politicians and we did not cave in to international pressure. Our people knew the truth; we've seen the rockets and mortars and missiles that Hamas and the Palestinians have been firing at us, and we know what these weapons can do.

So...whatever tomorrow brings, hopefully Elie will get his day with fighting with paint and hopefully those in the south will have quiet and perhaps, just perhaps, the Palestinians will use tomorrow to rebuild rather than restart a war they can't win.

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