Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yom Kippur: A time of reflection

Yom Kippur is an amazing day in Israel. It is the one day that no one goes anywhere. In almost all cities in Israel, cars don't move, taxis, buses - nothing. Everyone stays home or goes to the synagogue. It is the time we take out the past year, look it over, and do our best to make good on what we did bad; make better what we can; and beg...really beg...for the year to come.

Jews do not bow. We do not kneel on our knees in prayer; we do not lower ourselves to the floor...except on Yom Kippur. It is the one day we are brought to the ground before God, asking Him to help us, save us, forgive us.

During this time, we don't eat; we don't drink. We talk of solemn and serious things. We pray and spend most of the day in the synagogue. In 1973, on Yom Kippur, our enemies took advantage of our having pulled into ourselves and attacked our country.

To our great shame, we were not prepared for this treachery. We were naive in believing that no one would violate this holy day. We learned and we learned fast, though the cost was incredible. Our army consists of two main groups. There is the standing army - typically young men and women between the ages of 18 and 22 doing their national service...boys for three years, girls for two. Some choose to go in later, as Elie did, and so he'll finish the army a few months before his 23rd birthday, as his brother, already 19, will enter.

The second large group is the reservists. These are typically men up to the age of around 40, who can serve as much as a month a year. Up until the last war, these were the most experienced fighters; the ones who went to war. The standing army maintained; the reservists fought the battles. In the Second Lebanon War, things began to shift and in this past war in Gaza, the reservists were used less than the standing army.

When holidays come, the army does its best not to take the reservists from their families. And so, on that fateful day in 1973, most reservists were sent home...and it was left to the young soldiers to try to deflect the sudden and unexpected attack.

Israel learned - our holiness is not theirs; what is precious and honored here means nothing to our enemies. The war in Gaza began on Shabbat, our holy day. Why? I asked Elie - why did our army have to begin it on Shabbat and his answer was that it was because our enemies didn't expect it. We turned their desecration to our advantage.

This Yom Kippur, as the people of Israel begin our fast day, our holiest on the Jewish calendar, we are no longer naive, no longer fooled by the depths of evil our enemies can show to us. Two things will happen in the hours to come. Iran will begin war games and fire missiles that are strong enough to hit our country. They send us a message, they taunt, they dare.

The second thing that will happen is that our soldiers will go on alert. The majority will fast, where they are...and guard our borders while doing this. Elie is luckier than many. After so long in the army, he is one of the senior soldiers in his unit and so his position will place him inside an air conditioned control room for much of the time that he is on duty. Iran can threaten, but there is no fear here. Their threat is nothing compared to the determination we have, the commitment to our land, our faith, our nation.

And one more thought. There is a tradition, even perhaps a law, that a man puts on phylacteris (tephillin), each day (except Shabbat and holidays). These are small boxes, bound to the upper arm and the forehead during the morning prayers. (Some pictures of Elie and his brothers wearing tephillin).

The small box on the head contains four parchments; the one on the arm contains only one. I once heard a beautiful explanation of this. The head has four - to encourage us to think freely in all directions. The one on the arm shows us that there is only one proper way to behave.

The arm of Israel, the strength, is a combination of so much of what we are. It is our faith, our beliefs. It is the army, our sons and daughters.

Tomorrow night, we will enter the synagogues with our heads clear and focused. We will search inside ourselves, in all directions, through the months of this past year to find ways to be better, stronger, kinder. That is our job, this year and every year on Yom Kippur. And while we do that, the arm of Israel will act as it must. Iran will flex its muscles in the next few days, but that is nothing to what Israel will do in the next day or so.

Our sons and daughters guard our borders, protected by a God who has promised us this land again and again. A God who has seen us brought home after more than 2,000 years to a land that was always ours, and always will be. The greatness of that covenant makes a mockery of Ahmadinejad and Iran. They are nothing, their missiles a joke compared to the Might of Israel.

May God grant the people of Israel a good year. May we be inscribed in the Book of Life and may we be granted peace. May our enemies know of our great love of our land and our God...and of God's great love for his people Israel.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

PhotoShop or Flash?

On the way home from the army last week, I met Elie and drove him home. At one point, he asked, "PhotoShop or Flash?"

I was distracted. Work. House. Holidays. Family... and answered eloquently, "huh?"

"A course," Elie explained.

The army is many things in Israel - it is the greatest social integrator and equalizer there is. Rich and poor, religious and secular, kibbutz and city dweller, tall and short, fat and thin - all go into the army, into this great machinery that integrates them and often introduces them to elements of society that they may never meet otherwise. The boy in the bed next to you is as likely to be rich as he is poor, as likely to be religious as not.

After two years in the army, thoughts begin to shift to what the man will do when he is discharged and in this, the army becomes a facilitator. What will you do when you leave the army?

Many will go to university; many will travel, perhaps to try to find the time they lost in the previous years. Some leave, thinking they are invulnerable. Others want to go to the far ends of the world, away from the guns and the noise...only to find when they get there, that as beautiful as all these places are, there is no where else but home for them.

Still others go into trade or business, using the skills they learned in the army. To help these soldiers, the army offers them opportunities to enhance their skills. In Elie's case - computers. PhotoShop or Flash? He has but to choose and the army will send him to a week-long course.

Exciting because he'll learn something new. Exciting because he'll be able come home each night and sleep at home. Exciting because it means the end of the army is coming sooner, rather than later, and exciting because it is yet another indication of how much the army of Israel cares of the soldiers of Israel.

So - what do you all suggest? Please vote in the poll to your right ------>
(well, up there a bit...see it?)

PhotoShop or Flash? That is the question of the day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

A Shot in the Air

Sometimes, you measure your progress in milestones, ones you knew would come but forgot you were expecting. Actually, in all likelihood, this latest milestone has come and gone (I'll have to ask), but this is the first time I'm hearing about it, so it is new to me.

I drove Elie to my office today, there to wait an hour until he could catch a bus to his base. He surfed the Internet and played games at the table in my office; I sat behind my desk answering emails and planning my week. It was quiet, but pleasant as the moments ticked away. We'd talked quite a bit over the long holiday weekend; sometimes the quiet is a comfort.

Too often on this winding street where my offices have been for the last few years, we hear a screech of brakes and wait. Sometimes we hear a thud; sometimes we don't.

Today we heard a thud, both going quickly to the windows that overlook the street. We saw a woman with her hands held to her head, obviously distressed, run around the car. She got into the driver's seat and sat there. She was fine. No injuries; but clearly she was upset and from all that we could see, it was her fault.

We looked to the second car and at the people around the street. No one seemed concerned; no one was racing to help; I could tell that Elie was trying to determine whether there was anyone injured. The other car door opened and a man stepped out. No injuries, a fender bender.

Elie stayed with me as we watched. The woman got out of the car, walked across the street...and put on her shoes that were on the sidewalk. Huh?

So, the best we could figure was that the woman had pulled up to the curb to buy something in the coffee shop on the ground floor of our building. She must have forgotten to put the car in park (did I mention that my street is a hill, gently sloped?). We assume her car began to roll backwards; she watched in horror as it slammed into the back of a car that had just passed in the opposite lane. In her haste to get to her car, she must have kicked off her open sandals. A mystery solved - not even 9:00 in the morning.

They exchanged information; the excitement was over, thankfully, no one was injured. Back to the computers for a few more minutes. All too soon, it was time for Elie to leave.

He picked up his heavy backpack and swung it onto his back. Without thought, I leaned over and picked up his gun to hand to him. It seemed silly for him to bend with the heavy backpack on his back.

"You aren't scared to hold it anymore?", he asked, clearly amused.

"Well, it's not like I'm firing it," I answered back.

"Not like me last week, huh?"

Okay, this was new. We'd just spent the last four days together and I hadn't heard anything. As calmly as I could, I asked him to explain. No big deal, an ordinary event, Elie said. Too ordinary, too common. An Arab approached the checkpoint and was asked for his identification. He handed it over and it was clear that it wasn't his; he'd stolen it and was trying to cross into Israel illegally for purposes unknown. It could have been to could have been to steal, to harm, to kill. At that moment, it was anyone's guess...and you don't risk people's lives on a guess.

When the soldiers began to question him, the Arab took off. There are clear instructions on what to do in this instance...and who is to do it. Elie was the senior commanding officer at the checkpoint. He raised his gun, cocked it loudly, called out demanding the Arab stop, and then fired in the air. In the split second before the Arab stopped, Elie had already taken aim at the man's legs.

Thankfully for all sides, the man stopped and was arrested. My son shot in the air; as he was trained. That he was prepared to fire goes without saying. After two years in the army, my son is a soldier.

For a while now, I've viewed this soldier's parenting business much as a roller coaster. I can feel the times when I know I am climbing up this big hill, certain there is a fall ahead of me. I didn't know about the fall that comes after the climb at the beginning; the fall is that plunging fear that steals your sleep and leaves you wanting to cry. At first, I thought it was all about climbing, and learning, and then flat areas of calm and adjustment.

After the first few plunges, I realized this army thing was very much a roller coaster, each fall different in length and severity. There are great highs...not all followed by the fall, and sometimes, you can fall, even from the flat area of the roller coaster (which technically shouldn't be possible if you were following this analogy, but there you go).

Gaza was the greatest plunge for me, the deepest and the longest...and yet, I'd been in this wonderful flat zone until Elie called to tell me that where he was (in the center of the country) isn't where he would likely be in a few hours. That began my fall and it pretty much continued for the next several weeks.

Since the Gaza War ended, the last few months have been very much in the flat zone. I have even been playing with the idea that maybe I've passed my last plunge with Elie. Today wasn't a plunge - after all, no one was hurt; a warning shot was fired in the air. Nothing happened...except my son raised a weapon and fired it.

I guess it's a relatively new sensation - maybe I'll call it a hiccup. A little bump up and back into flat mode. Yes, that's, I experienced a hiccup.

Later in the day, my middle son called to tell me that a boy Elie had known for the last few years had been killed in a traffic accident. He had crossed a road last night and a car hit him; the funeral was today. Shmulik went - he was friend's with Elyassaf's brother.

A bump, a plunge, a climb, a flat zone, and a hiccup - I'll take them all and pray my sons and daughters remain safe.

May God bless Elyassaf and send comfort to his family. May they be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may they know no more sorrow.

Why I Never Liked Zbiggy

There are people who don't realize that the world doesn't really care about their opinion; that their day in the sun has come and gone. One such person is Zbignew Brzezinski. Brzezinski, who served in the Carter administration from 1977 to 1981, has been a "hasbeen" ever since. He campaigned most strongly for Barack Hussein Obama...but wasn't given a post because it was clearly recognized that his longstanding hate-affair with Israel would be too obvious an indication of Obama's future course.

The one thing Brzezinski never learned to do was curb his tongue. This is probably to our good fortune as it quickly disqualifies him from any assumption of even-handedness. Sadly, Brzezinski has chosen to open his mouth yet again, and, as expected, nothing worthwhile has come out.

According to news reports, Brzezinski has chimed in on what Israel should do about the nuclear threat to Iran. His answer, as always, has been...nothing. He is vehemently against Israel attacking Iran, lest it inadvertently damage the United States.

Gee, you idiot, I want to ask him, what about our safety? What about my children? What about our right to live in our country without facing a nuclear attack from a country that has, more than once, threatened to wipe us off the face of the world?

If and when Israel attacks Iran, it will be because the world failed to force Iran to back down from developing nuclear they once failed to stop Iraq and more recently, likely would have failed to stop Syria. The world has that option, but time is running out. Iran cannot go nuclear. That is a simple and logical fact that Zbignew Brzezinski ignores. The threat goes well beyond Israel's border. All of Europe can be reached by Iran's long range missiles; according to some maps I have seen, Iran could technically even reach Zbiggy's home in the US.

The US continues to talk of talk, in a situation that will not be resolved by words. The time will come, faster than the world is ready to accept, when a military strike will be required. Who will fly those jets is not yet certain, but if they are Israeli pilots, they will fly knowing that the safety and future of their families and millions of other people, will rest on the success of their mission.

It is a heavy burden, but one that our pilots have accepted in the past. It took the world 10 years to thank  Israel for wiping out Iraq's nuclear reactor. Perhaps it will take that long or even longer for the world to thank  Israel about Iran.

Israel has acted in the past, as any nation would, to protect its national interests. More - to protect the physical nation, not just its interests. We are talking about a direct, clear, and present danger to the future of Israel. No comment from Zbiggy-boy on that threat.

Iran has been warned, sanctioned, threatened more and yet continues to hurl itself, and the world, to a nuclear Iran. The United States, with Obama at the head, is once again willing to talk. If ever there was a man who failed to truly understand the Muslim world of which he is so enamored, it would be Obama. If there was ever a man so blinded by his hatred of Israel, it would be Zbiggy.

Now, Zbiggy has done it again. On the honor of the Jewish New Year, Zbignew Brzezinski has offered Israel and the Jews his advice. No, no greetings and best wishes, but rather, a warning: prepare to be destroyed by Iran, and if you dare to defend yourselves, expect to be attacked by the United States. That's right, he his charging the United States air force with flying against Israel in order to protect Iran. Yes, that is one bright idea, Zbiggy, one bright idea! Says Zbiggy:
“They [Israeli jets] have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch? We have to be serious about denying them that right. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not."
Leave it to Zbiggy to blame Israel and not Iran for this impending conflict. My only question is whether the genius of Zbiggy, which clearly leaked out of his brain long ago, thought up this bright idea all by himself, or if he got Carter and/or Obama to help him.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Return and Remember, Fear and Triumph

Last year around this time, Elie's division decided to send their soldiers to Jerusalem. I've written about what happened then (It Could Have Been Elie) , and this year when Elie joined his unit (We’re Brothers). Elie came home today for the Rosh Hashana (Jewish new year) holiday and we talked about several things. It had been a while since we talked, so it was nice to have this time as we did a quick shopping and drove home.

He told me about meeting his brother, and laughing at the soldier who didn’t know they were brothers. “You don’t look alike,” I said.

Elie dismissed that – as if the whole world should know. I loved the story of their meeting at the Kotel (the Western Wall, which is actually the retaining wall of the Holy Temple…and all that remains of it). I wanted to hear it from Elie’s side.

“How many went to the Kotel?” I asked.

“A lot of us. The g’dud Rav (the Rabbi of the unit) wanted to do something special since last year but nothing happened, so he decided this time a lot of us would go.”

“Did some of the same people from last year go?” I asked him.

He wasn’t sure about the ones who were injured, “but there was one girl who was there last year. She was really scared to go this time.”

They took them to the top of the Mount of Olives. From there, the view of the Old City of Jerusalem is simply breathtaking. It is, according to Jewish custom, from the Mount of Olives that the Messiah will come. The soldiers walked down the mountain, across the valley of Kidron, and up to the Old City walls.

I think that’s a triumph – to have these soldiers, from the same unit that was hit last year, walk to the Western Wall. There is a road that enables someone to drive right up to the very gates beside the Western Wall. There was no need to have these soldiers walk down the valley and back up…and yet there was every need.

As they walked, the commanders moved to the sides of the group. They kept with them light sticks and as they came to the roads, the commanders took up positions in the middle of the street, waving the light sticks to alert oncoming traffic. The soldiers passed in safety. I can’t imagine that the incident last year wasn’t in their minds.

Even now, a year later, as I pass bulldozers traveling slowly in the streets of Jerusalem, I think of the four times Arabs have used these bulldozers to ram into buses, cars, and pedestrians. It is an automatic thought that comes to my mind; how could the soldiers not have thought of what happened just last year, to their own unit?

And so they returned, remembered. They conquered whatever fears they might have brought with them to walk the beautiful streets of Jerusalem. There are major triumphs in life, and there are small ones that go unnoticed by most of the world.

A young girl, in uniform, walking amidst a large group of soldiers may not appear to have been triumphant. Had I witnessed her walking with the other soldiers, I never would have known, had Elie not explained. She was one of those who was in the attack last year; one who saw her friends hit by a speeding black BMW that wanted to kill them.

She saw the car, the bodies flying through the air. She saw the soldiers take aim and fire, stopping the terrorist from reversing and hitting the injured soldiers around her.

This year, she came with fear, remembering having been attacked last year while simply walking to the Western Wall. But she came anyway, and it is that silent bravery that touches my heart…that, and the commanders, my son…who guarded their soldiers with extra care this year so that their return to Jerusalem would be a triumph.

No newspaper did a story about their return; no radio announced it. No parents witnessed it; no one spoke of it. The soldiers of Israel came to the Western Wall of our Holy Temple, to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. They came, they saw, they returned in triumph.

Yashar LaChayal - Directly to the Soldiers

One of the things that happens when you become a soldier's mother, is that you begin to make connections with other families whose sons serve, other soldiers. You share their worries, their concerns, their pride. I've made so many connections over the last two years - a network of mothers and fathers here in Israel and around the world, even current and former soldiers. You learn very quickly that there is family beyond family; sons that become yours, concerns and realities beyond your borders. Along the way, I also began to work with an organization that takes helping soldiers to a whole new level. Please bear with me - I don't do this often, but this is so important.

Unlike most charity organizations, all the money this organization raises goes directly to the soldiers (thus the name Yashar LaChayal, direct to the soldier). They often assist in very personal ways, sometimes as personal as you can get. When soldiers went into Gaza and came out, Yashar LaChayal was there with clean underwear, deodorant, and even shampoo.

They gave gloves, long underwear, anything that was needed. They've donated refrigerators and washing machines to soldiers from needy families, send packages to lone soldiers, and so much more.Their site is full of all the ways they have helped soldiers since the organization was founded during the Second Lebanon War and so I won't list them here. On their website, they give an example of a simple mother's plea, and how they responded.

From Yashar LaChayal website: “My son is cold,” says one mother, and within days, her son’s unit was given thermal pants and socks.

A few months ago, they asked me to join the Amuta as a Board Member. It was an easy answer for me because I know first hand the work they do, and some of the people they have helped. Several years ago, I drove to the Lebanese border for this organization to deliver supplies to a unit that was just about to enter Lebanon. A few months ago, I drove south to deliver supplies to a unit stationed outside Gaza and experienced my one and only Color Red in Ashkelon on the way.

In the last few days, Yashar LaChayal has sent around this note about their work and the upcoming holidays. I'm posting it here because if you make a habit of donating a small bit of charity before Rosh Hashana, I hope you'll consider this organization and send aid directly to our soldiers:
Rosh Hashana is a time when we traditionally look forward and backwards. We close one year and look forward to the challenges that will face us in the future. It is hard to imagine that a year ago, we had only an inkling that Israel might find itself, yet again, embroiled in war. Now, as we close this year and welcome the new one, we once again reflect on Israel, where it is, what it has experienced this past year, and where we hope its future lies. We also do it with a sense of pride because once again, just as our soldiers were challenged to meet our enemies on the battlefield, our country was challenged to meet the needs of our soldiers, to show them that they are important to us, their concerns ours.

Israel has been, since its establishment in 1948, a nation at war. It asks, even demands daily sacrifices from its sons and daughters. If Israelis live relatively normal lives, going to work, raising their children, celebrating the milestones just as people all over the world do, it is because behind it...and in front of it...stands it soldiers. When all goes well, the soldiers provide for Israel's security and Israel provides for its soldiers.

This is where our organization has stepped in, again and again. The army simply can't meet all the needs and soldiers are forced to stand their ground or make do with what they have, Yashar LaChayal steps in. This was the case during the Second Lebanon War, and again during the recent Gaza War. This is the case on an almost daily basis, beyond the needs of war.

Recently when a lone soldier, someone whose family doesn't live in Israel, found himself without something as simple as army socks on an isolated base with no way to get off base to purchase the socks and no money even if he found the time, his mother was frantic. From somewhere in the middle of the United States, she contacted a friend in Israel, begging her to find a way to help her son. The friend turned to Yashar LaChayal, who immediately arranged a special delivery so that the soldier received not only the warm socks he needed, but a supply of other warm clothes for the winter. You can follow our progress at:

Yashar LaChayal is guided by one simple principle - all must go directly to the soldiers.

The number of soldiers we have touched in the last year easily reaches into the tens of thousands and we have so much more we would like to do, that we need to do. As the New Year approaches, we hope you will investigate our worthy organization (our website is: and join many others who have come to support our efforts. Please take a moment to write to friends and family and ask them to support Yashar LaChayal as well.

May you and your family, and all of Israel, be granted a year of health and safety, happiness and peace.

Monday, September 14, 2009

We're Brothers

There is a custom to say special prayers before the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). The holiest place in Judaism is the Temple Mount in Jerusalem – the location where our holy Temples were built and destroyed. Today, the Temple Mount is in Arab hands; our Temple yet to be built. What remains to us, then, is the Kotel, the Western Wall. There our people gather almost around the clock. Rarely will you find a time when someone isn’t there praying, beseeching, asking for blessings.

Last year, before the new year arrived, my husband and I decided to take a few days in honor of his birthday. We do this once in a while, steal some time to remind ourselves that we are not only parents, but a couple as well. We drove down to the beautiful southern city of Eilat, went to dinner, and learned that Elie’s unit had been involved in a terror attack (It Could Have Been Elie).

Elie wasn’t there when it happened; he was at a checkpoint. His unit had traveled to Jerusalem for these special prayers (slichot). I spoke to Elie in the middle of the night after hearing about the attack. Only when I spoke to him did I begin to understand that it was not just an artillery unit, but Elie's unit that had been attacked. Elie's unit, Elie's friends, but not Elie.

This year, as the new year approaches, our middle son went to the Western Wall for these special prayers. The first thing he noticed was that there were many, many soldiers. The second thing he noticed was that they wore the turquoise beret of the artillery unit.

Shmulik’s friend started to argue that they were not artillery, but Shmulik stood his ground and pointed out the color of the beret. Shmulik is officially a soldier now; but he has joined a program that combines military service with religious learning so that his entry into the army is technically delayed until March. He has a military ID, military dog tags, but has not been issued a uniform, rank, or responsibility.

So last night in Jerusalem, standing beside the Western Wall, Shmulik looked around and saw that most of the soldiers were wearing the same color berets as the one Elie wears. Artillery – once again at the Western Wall for these holy prayers. As he looked around him, my middle son noticed that most were using the berets as head coverings. This meant that most were not religious, while one was wearing a yarmulke (skull cap) of the modern Orthodox, his beret attached to his shoulder.

Shmulik looked at the soldier – it looked…just like…Elie. They greeted each other. I didn’t have the nerve to ask if they hugged; it’s a mother question; something not volunteered in the telling of the story and therefore an interruption. Shmulik continued explaining what had happened, oblivious to my wanting to know how Elie looked, every little detail, and yes, if they greeted each other with the hug and back slapping I see in my mind.

The two brothers met and spoke for a while. I love the picture in my mind of them standing there talking; Elie in uniform, both surrounded by soldiers, Shmulik’s friends, hundreds of others, the towering Western Wall, all that remains of our Temple, standing majestic and beautiful in the lights that flood the area each night.

While they talked, Shmulik explained, two of Elie’s soldiers came over to Elie and noticed Shmulik. One turned and told him what a great guy Elie is.

“Yes,” Shmulik agreed, “I’ve only been talking to him for 10 minutes, but he seems like a nice guy.”

Elie apparently said that he too had been talking to Shmulik for 10 minutes and thought Shmulik was a great guy too. The second soldier promptly agreed. Elie turned to them and laughed, “you idiots, we’re brothers.”

Shmulik told me this story, laughing as he did. I can see them there, the two of them. They are so different in appearance that I would never peg them as brothers. Elie’s hair is brown; Shmulik’s almost black. Elie has blue eyes; Shmulik’s are the darkest of browns. Elie is taller; Shmulik thinner. They are both so beautiful, so strong, mine.

The picture is there in my mind and it brings smiles to my face and heart. My sons, brothers, soldiers of Israel.

“We’re brothers,” said Elie – a bond from birth that will follow them all their lives.

A Son of Israel and America Falls

Asaf Ramon died today in a training accident. His F16 plane crashed in the hills south of Jerusalem. These are the words that describe what happened; but there are feelings that threaten to cripple a mother's heart. Six years ago, Rona Ramon learned that her husband, Ilan Ramon, would never return. He'd flown to the stars and beyond, further than they had ever imagined when he joined the NASA team going into space.

It had been Ilan's dream to be an astronaut, Israel's first to enter space. He took with him the pride of his nation and symbols of his heritage. Rona left her home in Israel to help make Ilan's dream come true and when he died, she made the courageous decision to uproot her children and return home, to Israel.

Ilan was a hero - not just for the flight he took to space, but for what he had done in the air force years before. Ilan flew to Iraq as part of a mission to destroy a nuclear reactor that was being built. It was a threat to the country he had promised to protect and he returned home, his participation in the mission a secret known by few until his death.

Ilan's son Assaf was 15 years old when his father died. A difficult, impressionable age to lose a father. Assaf stood by his mother at Ilan's funeral, looking lost and sad and yet already he was planning, thinking, growing. Assaf returned home to Israel and chose to follow his father's path. He entered the air force and graduated from the top of his course.

Yesterday, on a solo training flight, Assaf died. People will investigate to determine why but it matters little right now. All that matters is Rona and her children, their family, and a nation in mourning for the loss of a son. Israel does not have a royal family or celebrities or sons loved more than others. But in this our leaders are correct. This is a tragedy that breaks the heart.

Assaf lived in America for several years and then came home to the land of his birth. Yesterday, Israel and America lost a son. May his memory be blessed and may his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may they know no more sorrow.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

When right seems wrong...

I called Elie today. I've been missing him a lot, which is, of course, silly since I just saw him last weekend. Life is particularly pressured right now and it seems to have manifested itself in a number of ways, including this feeling of being out of touch. So, I called with a ready excuse about the cellular phone company service. Elie asked me if I was near a computer and when I told him I would be in 5 minutes, we agreed that I would call him back after I got home.

He guided me to a website - "Go to YNET," he said, explaining that I needed to go to the Hebrew news site and not the English one. "click News."

He guided me to a news article and asked me to capture the video. It took me a while to understand the story and what the video was showing. The story goes like this - at least the published one:

An Arab truck driver pulls up to a checkpoint at 6:30 a.m. with proper paperwork. His truck is filled with rocks designated for building. The soldiers inspect the truck and ask the truck driver to dump his load so they can check under the rocks. The truck driver complies. The truck is emptied. The soldiers don't find anything and allow the truck driver to continue. However, in order to continue, he must now hire a tractor to pick up the rocks and put them back into his truck. This is at his expense and his lost time.

"How can we live this way? What kind of life is this?" another Arab tells the camera.

I watched it a few times and then called Elie back. What am I missing, I thought to myself. This doesn't make "us" look good.

"Where you there?" I asked Elie. I had looked each of the soldiers carefully, but I didn't see Elie. Then again, some were turned away and from the distance, it is hard to tell.

"No," Elie told me. "But they're my soldiers. I can tell who they are, and even who isn't in the camera but was there."

"Elie, what's the story here? It doesn't look good."

That's when Elie explained. The driver isn't so innocent. He's known to the soldiers. The fact that THIS TIME his truck wasn't carrying anything that he wasn't allowed to transport, doesn't mean he wasn't caught in the past. More important that the story, for the soldiers in Elie's unit, were the comments. Almost 70 of them, "and Ima, all of them are good. They all understand."

Yes, they are supporting the soldiers and that is what made Elie happy.
  • Don't surrender to them. Much honor to the army.
  • And what would you say if between the stones, you found explosives?
  • it's difficult to stand at a checkpoint and spend hours guarding for eight hours and have people come and question all that you do. As one of those who examine the merchandise and goods that are brought across checkpoints, I try also to do the best I can for each side. It isn't easy to sleep at night knowing that you could end up passing through explosives or the next suicide bomber. So to all those who have a complaint against the army or the soldiers, keep it to yourself. (Signed a Soldier on a Checkpoint).
  • Nothing wrong with what was done. If they let them pass without being checked, then I would say that there is a problem. Kol Hakavod (all honor) to the soldiers for doing a great job, protecting all the people who sit in Tel Aviv and always complain.
  • It is obviously a security issue. A full truck comes to a checkpoint. How is a soldier supposed to know that there are no explosives inside? It's obvious the rocks aren't the issue. It's something I learned as a soldier. If we don't check, the Arabs learn and bring in explosives. It doesn't matter that in this truck, there was nothing. Now they see us checking and won't bring in explosives that harm our civilians. Kol Hakavod to the soldiers.
And on it went, comment after comment. What the soldiers did was correct. This time, the truck didn't have explosives; this time, nothing was hidden under the rocks. On the same day this happened, several knives and firebombs were found at other checkpoints. Perhaps this wouldn't have made the news if something had been found. Yes, the driver was inconvenienced; yes, it is a sign of the situation in which we find ourselves.

And as the many commentators wrote...and as our soldiers read - all honor to our soldiers. So many times our soldiers feel that the world doesn't understand their work. This time, they understood, they read. The article wasn't very positive, trying, as YNET often does, to paint our soldiers in a bad way and yet the readers proved to the soldiers that what they did was correct.

THIS time, the truck had nothing on it so the driver will go on his way. But just as important, many other drivers who might have thought to smuggle something through that checkpoint will understand that the soldiers are checking. A friend, who daughter was killed several years ago in the Sbarro pizza bombing attack once yelled at a reporter who was concerned about the conditions under which the Palestinians live and the damaged "quality of life" they may experience because of the security situation.

"Don't you dare talk to me about the quality of their life," the bereaved father answered, "when my daughter has no life."

Sometimes, what seems wrong, is really right and what is right, seems wrong. I am often told that peace will come to the Middle East when the Israelis do certain things. Stop the occupation, they say, and there will be peace. But there was no peace in 1966, before the so-called occupation began. All the return of the refugees, people say - but we too had hundreds of thousands of refugees and we took them in, gave them homes and a land and a part of our future.

There are so many issues in the Middle East that can be summed up very simply, though the world likes to make it complicated.

On Friday, Israel launched artillery into Lebanon...yes, it's true. But the artillery was in response to two katyusha rockets fired at Israel. The katyushas were fired at our cities; the artillery was fired at the launching ground of the katyushas. Had there been no rockets launched at Israel; there would have been no artillery being fired. The UN promptly stepped in and, once again, made fools of themselves by asking for a cessation of violence.

Idiots, I want to tell them. Don't you see? Stop the rockets, and there will be no violence, no artillery. Stop the smuggling and attempts to blow up our civilians, and there will be no need to search your trucks.

Sometimes, when right seems wrong, it is because you aren't looking at the whole picture.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ron Arad, Gilad Shalit, Ehud Barak and Israel

I've been thinking a lot about Gilad Shalit for many months which. considering he's been held by Hamas for more than three years, isn't unusual. Gilad Shalit's situation is every soldier's mother's nightmare. Only death can be worse than what the Shalit family has endured and there are times when I wonder if even death is worse.

So many say to me, "Come on, you don't really believe he is alive, do you?"

I have to confess, I do. I have no evidence, no strong believe, no facts on wish to base this presumption. I recognize that it is an emotional decision - it hurts to much to think that once again this is only the twisted tortured workings of Hamas, though I know that they, Hezbollah, have done this very thing countless times so successfully.

It is Hamas that continues to violate international law without punishment or even large-scale condemnation from anyone but Israel and a few stragglers. Certainly the Red Cross has taken no action; the UN has predictably done nothing. Silence reigns from the majority of European leaders. To their collective shame, no international representative has been allowed to see Gilad, to check on his condition, to demand regular contact with his family. And worse, no sanctions, no demands, no punishment, no real consequences have been levied against Hamas for this indecency.

This is so different from how Israel treats Palestinian prisoners, so different from the college degrees many of them are earning, so different from the regular visits they receive with their families. And yet, Israel is afraid to trigger the anger of the world by even temporarily suspending the rules that Hamas has systematically and completely ignored for years. Why does a Palestinian sitting in our jail for security crimes, even murder, have the right to see his family, to hear of his children and his parents, while Gilad gets nothing, sees nothing?

The case of Gilad Shalit reminds us too clearly of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, and yet the differences are startling and have to be mentioned. There was clear evidence that at least one of the two soldiers had died during the cross-country attack on the Lebanese border, and that the second would have been, at best, in critical attention. Knowing how the Arabs, Hamas, Hezbollah, whatever, focus on causing injuries rather than healing them, it was always doubtful that any surviving soldier would have received the necessary treatment to survive.

Beyond all corruption, beyond all hatred and friction they caused in our society, I find no forgiveness for the simple failture of the Olmert government to prepare us, the people, to accept the very real possibility that both soldiers had died in the raid and all the moment when we would be faced with bodies and not live soldiers. The army and government only really tried to make us believe this towards the end, almost two years and a war later. By then, we were no longer ready to really accept it. A humiliating prisoner "exchange" was agreed upon and there was a collective gasp, when Israel first saw the coffins and realized we had been praying and hoping for two years - all in vain.

All indications are that Gilad Shalit was taken alive. Common sense says the conditions under which he has been held have likely been barbaric, that Hamas certainly is not interested in his comfort. Bargaining tool or not, Gilad remains a soldier of Israel, a child of our hearts. And herein lies the second worry I have. There is a scene in my mind that I know Hamas will never let us play out.

It is of the tens of thousands who would line the streets to welcome Gilad home, the outpouring of a nation, the tears of all mothers. What wouldn't we do to have Gilad home...and doesn't Hamas know this.

In the days before Purim and Passover and the High Holidays each year, we know that our enemies will attempt to launch an attack. Our joy is an insult to them, our happiness their undoing. They will not want us to celebrate Gilad's homecoming and they will do something, anything, to prevent that. More than what Gilad has endured in the last three years, the next few weeks and months may well determine his condition.

And that brings us to Ron Arad. This is the other extreme. We know he was taken alive; we know he survived in captivity for some time. Just as we failed to bring Gilad home, we have failed Ron Arad and his family. Today's news report that Arad died in captivity, some 9 years after his capture, feels like a knife to the heart. Deep in my soul, I doubted that he could have lived this long, and wasn't even sure I wanted to imagine a life time of waiting to come home for him. And yet, thinking of him dying alone and seemingly abandoned brings no comfort either.

I am not an advocate of releasing prisoners at all cost. Returning Ron or Gilad in exchange for future kidnappings and more terrorist attacks has never called to me. But where each Israeli government has failed is in the effort to make the world fight this battle.

Magen David Adom should not be part of the International Red Cross and no representatives should be allowed to visit or work in Israel until they make an effort to see Gilad - a real effort that includes threatening the Red Crescent with expulsion and a cessation of all aid and work in Gaza. People say this is collective punishment - has not our nation been collectively punished by suffering three years without Gilad?

The United Nations should not be allowed to continue operations. Immediate work by UNRWA should be stopped immediately until Gilad is brought home. Let the schools close, the camps shut down. No food, no medical aid. Nothing. The world will say this is unfair but what has been done to Gilad and his family is not fair either.

International leaders want to meet with the Palestinians - they should refuse to do so until it is clear that the Palestinian leader is ready to release a statement against violating international law - including the one that requires Hamas to have Gilad examined by international representatives.

Finally, I'm left with sadness when I think of Ehud Barak's recent words. Ill-timed though they were, insensitive to be sure. Ehud Barak is correct - we cannot pay any price for Gilad Shalit. But his mistake is in talking to Israelis when he should be talking to the world. He said, "We are not in western Europe or North America.' This was his way of saying that Israelis must deal with living in the Middle East and the enemies that we have. He is correct - which is why he SHOULD be talking to the Europeans and Americans.

We know where we live and it is natural to agonize for our missing son. Noam Shalit said it best - stop talking, Defense Minister Ehud Barak - at least stop talking to us. Tell the Europeans to stop sending in aid, until Hamas sends Gilad out. Tell them that we understand a prisoner deal must be made and we are ready.

Not to release murderers - because we aren't asking for a murderer. Not to release terrorist masterminds, as we too are not asking for this. We will release as many innocent prisoners as we can - those who perhaps violated the law by being where they were not allowed to be and perhaps those of that sort - all in exchange for Gilad.

No, it won't be thousands, possibly not even 450. But it will be like for like, as is the only way to ensure future kidnappings aren't encouraged. No, the Arabs won't be happy with this but they will accept it - because they need UNRWA schools which should be closed; they need Red Cross assistance, which should be stopped; and they need money from the European Union, which must be delayed. They will not risk international isolation over the life on one soldier, one boy. Gilad isn't worth that much to them - only to us.

Gilad Shalit is not Ron Arad...not yet. But he could be if our governments fail to demand that the world recognize what we already know. We are dealing with an organization that does need international support. Shut it down or force it to comply be refusing any more aid and support now...and Gilad will come home.

Home and About

Elie came home on Thursday. I had a full day of work, a project to deliver, and a seminar I was presenting in Herziliya. The earliest I hoped to get home would be around 7:30 p.m. Summer has all but slipped away. Each of us feels it in some way...except Elie, I think. For my oldest daughter, she is on a break from university, but soon that too will begin. For my youngest children, school has started again, with the daily routines of lunches and buses and homework; my middle son has started his final semester before he too enters the army.

Elie is in the same cycle he has been in since the beginning. He is on army time, army rotation. We were able to coordinate a short family vacation with him this year, where last year we couldn't, but it still seems strange that another summer has come and gone. This was one of those good weekends - until the army shifts Elie again, he's on a rotation that brings him home every other weekend, and it's even coordinated with my other son and opens the opportunity for us to gather all the children - as we did Thursday night.

Thursday morning, as I was driving to work, Elie called to tell me he was on the bus home and asked if I wanted him to do the shopping. I had to drive to a seminar I was presenting late in the afternoon, so I arranged to pick up my middle son in Jerusalem on the way home. We'd organized a barbecue, which essentially ended up having Elie do most of the work. By the time I got home, exhausted and barely able to talk after a week of working, barely sleeping, and getting everyone back into routines, I just wanted to sit and do nothing.

By the time I got home, Elie had also already started the barbecue and was cooking away. At some point in the late afternoon, I realized that I'd eaten almost nothing, so food being ready was a definite plus. He did all the cooking outside; I threw together a pot of noodles and pulled out some salads from the refrigerator,my two youngest set the table - a family barbecue was born.

The next morning, the week continued to take its toll and I begged off the morning routine. My husband took the morning shift making the younger children food for school (something he's been doing regularly this week), and Elie drove them while I tried to grab an extra half-hour of sleep. By the time I pulled myself into the kitchen, Elie had already put the chicken in the oven and was working on the soup. He did most of the shopping (maybe even all of it, now that I think about it), went to the bank for us, and the post office as well.

By late afternoon, when we were all tired, he took some time for himself and whenever we called upstairs, found that he was constantly on the phone. At some point, Elie tried the front door bell (no idea why) and discovered it wasn't working. He then set about resetting it - it's one of these fancy electronic ones where you can pick the tune. There seem to be more than a dozen and Elie treated us to each of them several times before picking the most hilarious sound. We just have to remember it's the door bell.

Showers and a few hours later, we were ready to sit down for the Shabbat meal. Since we've moved to our new house, we have discovered the joy of eating outside on the balcony. Each night we begin to set the table in the dining area. It's more formal...and then the balcony calls to us. It was a wonderful meal, quiet, good food, relaxing.

The Sabbath passed quietly for all of us: sleep, food, going to synagogue, more sleep, more food. As soon as the Shabbat ended, my youngest daughter remembered that she had an assignment - she had to make her notebook look "like it was really old; like from the time of Abraham."

Apparently, what that meant was that she was supposed to burn the edges. My husband suggested she leave the notebook out in the sun. My daughter took that to mean closed and in the shaded area between the window and the wall. After several days there, the book still looked decidedly modern. We were now forced to go back to the original idea of burning the edges.

I tried matches...I considered. Elie came out from yet another round of phone calls and took over. He is, at heart, a closet pyromaniac, as I think most young men are. He took a camping burner, turned up the flame and began burning the edges. He did a great job; my daughter was enthralled, "wow, it looks really old."

Elie was interrupted many times by the phone. It got me thinking. Maybe there was someone special? Shouldn't I know if there was? WHO was he talking to so much...after yet another call, I asked him. I figured he could choose to tell me or not. I like the relationship we have now - it's open and it's good, so...

He's got 10 new soldiers under his command. These are married men who have entered the army at a later stage in their lives. Nine even have at least one child at home. They'll be in the army for 6 months. They've completed their basic training and the army has decided that they should experience life on Israel's front lines - the checkpoints, during their brief army stint.

One soldier has a brother in the hospital. The brother is apparently also in the army - imagine having two soldiers at one time. Yes, I know there are people who do...even one who reads this blog who has had three at one time...I am so grateful I'll have one and then just as my second one goes in, Elie will be coming out...

So the brother is in the hospital with some sort of infection that responds briefly to anti-biotics and then acts up again. Elie's soldier asked for time to be with his family. He was scheduled to have vacation time, but Elie managed to turn it into a special dispensation so that he can be with his family and still have vacation coming to him. That was one call. The brother isn't better. Elie gave the soldier until Thursday with an extension and said they would talk later in the week to decide what to do next.

Another call had to do with schedules and assignments. Elie's group is connected to the city of Holon. Basically, the city has adopted this unit and so, the unit has adopted that city. What does that mean? I asked. Elie explained that a few times a year, soldiers go there and do whatever is needed. They clean the streets, they visit with people. Two soldiers went to an old woman's house and helped her move her refrigerator out of the house and move a new one in place. A few other soldiers helped an old man throw out a couch. Whatever is needed.

This week a bunch of soldiers are again going there and so Elie has to organize who will be manning the checkpoints and doing the "ordinary" work. Oh, and on Friday, Elie got another call. It seems that a young man volunteered for the ambulance duty on Shabbat, but he isn't 18 yet and so by the rules of the ambulance squad, he isn't allowed to be on call from 10:30 p.m. until 7:00 a.m. They asked if Elie could be on call and so he did that too.

At around 2:00 a.m., Elie was called out, went with the ambulance, took someone to the hospital, can came home and went back to sleep. Tonight, after Shabbat ended, he began preparing to go back to the army. This seems to have been a week where we needed more help than usual from Elie and somehow I feel like we deprived him of a break. He doesn't seem to have minded but I wish he could have had days off in which he did something fun.

In all the world, I wonder if 22-year-old men aren't more free with their time, more selfish, more free to do what they want and not what we - family and country need. It's something to think about, something to get depressed about, if I let it. Elie chose to serve in the ambulance squad and could easily stop any time he wants to. He chose to get up and start the Sabbath meal cooking early Friday morning, I didn't even ask him to do it. But he didn't choose to be in the army. It is something he has known he would have to do. Of course, there are many that find ways to avoid it and I guess he could have attempted one of those routes as well. But he didn't opt out.

There are burdens we place on our children - sometimes without meaning to, sometimes knowingly - with or without a choice. Our nation has placed a tremendous burden on our young people - and even when they are off, they are still called to solve problems that arise. Elie could have opted out of the Commanders course he took too, choosing to be a regular soldier for the three years of his service - at least then, when he was home, he wouldn't be trying to coordinate all sorts of things back on base. But, all these things make him what he is and have gone into building the man he has become and will become in the months and years ahead.

I don't regret who he is, what he does, or where he will be for the next several months of his life. It's a momentary lapse as I think about the last day or two...a regret that life can't be more fun at an age when life should be simpler.

At 22-years-old, I was finishing college, madly in love, and at some point during that year, planning my wedding. I knew nothing of security fences, explosives, and guns. I'd never heard an explosion, never seen or smelled death and war. I'd never gotten on a bus worried it might explode; never looked at my fellow passengers with suspicion. I'd never been on patrol, or in a field wondering if Syrian planes were about to fly overhead.

I want all my son has for him...but I want I just would give him the beaches and the mountains and the freedom too. I guess it's a weight we carry around - as Israelis, as Jews. When my oldest children came to Israel, I watched as they went to school and were taught things they didn't learn in America.

The weight of history and the world seem to be placed on our children from a very young age. Children in California are taught from the youngest grades, what to do in case of an earthquake. It is survival. There is no option to wait until an age when they might be a little less scared or traumatized.

In Israel, children are taught what to do in care of an attack, of missiles and more. There are earthquakes, but they are rare and barely felt. They are taught what to do, but somehow it seems less pressing than other threats. Since Israel built the security fence - the one that Elie often guards, terrorist attacks have been thwarted and are down over 90% in frequency. Even those that do happen tend to be lone attackers using primitive weapons - knives, firebombs, even tractors.

My youngest son and daughter have grown in the last few years relatively free of the anxieties my three older children experienced. By contrast, .Elie came of age and joined at a time when there were huge numbers of terrorist attacks - sometimes weekly, certainly every month. For all that there are those who condemn the security fence, no one can doubt its effectiveness. Roads once not traveled are busy again; cafes are full; buses are busy and most of all, our children don't look at people wondering if they will blow themselves up. Elie goes "on alert" when he sees something suspicious. He follows with his eyes until he feels comfortable with the situation. That too, I would spare my children if I could.

It is a burden I carry around, wondering about how free they would be, how much lighter, if they didn't live under the tensions we sometimes feel here. My middle son loves animals. He is strong, perhaps even stronger physically than Elie and yet while Elie was saddened when our family dog died, Shmulik cried and mourned. Soon, Shmulik will be handed a gun, as Elie was. Soon, Shmulik will learn to go on alert, as Elie does. I don't know why this has come to burden me now, but it's there.

No, there is no place else I would dream of raising my children, no other land anywhere we can call our own. What burdens we place on our children will remain theirs and will likely be passed to their children. I guess it is another thing I'll learn to live with and perhaps someday, not even feel even the tiniest bit of regret. But I can't imagine I'll ever get to the point where I don't wish that Elie could have gone on a hike tomorrow instead of back to base...

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Of Those Who Disagree...

There are those who think to challenge me with "ah, as i thought. you won't post any reply that object your opinion. clasic." Beyond the spelling mistakes and problem with the Shift key, the person, once again an "Anonymous," has a point. Do I want to post messages that contradict my own...well, who does? No, that's not a sufficient answer, because I have posted some, so let's look into it.

No, I don't want to post your message that says, "no, thanx. not interested." to my request that people join in a campaign to free Gilad Shalit. How anyone can justify what has been done to this boy is beyond me, beyond humanity. But then again, what was I thinking? It is obscene to put the words "Hamas" and "humanity" in the same sentence. Just as it is obscene not to demand Gilad Shalit be granted basic human rights.

He was 19 years old, a relatively new soldier in uniform, standing in our land, when he was attacked, beaten, dragged across the border and shoved down in some underground hiding place from which he has likely rarely been removed. Two other soldiers were killed in this unprovoked attack. It's been more than three years since Gilad has spoken to his parents; more than three years since he has been home.

He committed no crime, unlike the Palestinian prisoners whose freedom you demand (yet another comment, "bring palestinian prisoners home!"). He didn't attack anyone, infiltrate anywhere, terrorize any place. He fired no rockets, no missiles; he threw no firebombs. By international law, he has the right to see, at least, a Red Cross representative who can verify his condition and make sure his basic needs such as food and medicine are being met. Not once in three years has he been given this right. At the same time, those Palestinian prisoners have visits with their lawyers, their families. They can talk to them. They even have access to sun, recreation - some are even getting college degrees - can you imagine?

But let's move on because "Anonymous" has been busy (so busy, perhaps he/she/it forgot his/her/its name). Another comment said, "sorry, but what your son and other idf soldiers are donig won't bring the peace with palestinians. Remember latest war crimes from gaza?" I'll take the liberty of assuming you mean what the IDF is DOING, not donig and answer.

No, my son and the IDF are not committing war crimes. You say, in yet another post, that "palestinians have right to defend themselves, too. But you probably won't be brave enough to post this reply anyway... " (You really have to learn how to use the Shift key.)

So you were wrong, again. I was "brave" enough to post this. Once your son goes to war, you'll find you fear little else. Posting comments doesn't take bravery - it simply requires a decision. Do I have the energy to answer yet another attempt to blur the truth, or do I delete it and just leave it alone.

You caught me on a good day - I've decided to answer.

Yes, absolutely. The Palestinians do have a right to defend themselves. But so does Israel. Those so-called war crimes you are referring to are a perfect example of the self-defense you would deny to Israel. Understand - if you shoot thousands of rockets at a country, you have to be dumb, stupid, and about a dozen other adjectives I won't waste time writing, to think that the country won't respond back. And when they do, don't cry "war crimes" and "massacre." Neither of these things happened in Gaza (or Jenin several years ago when people like you used the same words back then). There was no massacre and there were no war crimes. The opposite is true. Israel went out of its way to avoid civilian casualties. I have a leaflet that Elie brought me that had blown with the wind from Gaza to his position (and yes, I realize that he was that close).

The leaflet was dropped - along with tens of thousands of others - warning the civilians. There are people shooting rockets from your area. Move, leave, get into a secure place because we have no choice but to stop the rockets. Dan Gillerman, our ambassador to the UN during the Second Lebanon War, said it beautifully, "When you sleep with a missile, sometimes you do not wake up in the morning."

Israel showed restraint in Gaza. That was, in my opinion, stupid. Yesterday, two rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza. Israel so far has done nothing. I think that is a mistake, and clearly, so do you. We too have a right, as you so clearly indicate, to defend ourselves and yet we didn't send two rockets flying towards some city in Gaza, did we?

You remind me of the little kid who goes up to the big kid and stomps on his foot, again and again. Finally, the big kid pushes the little kid away to make him stop, and everyone yells at the big kid. What, in God's name, WHAT did you think was going to happen when Hamas sent endless rockets into Israel? What do you think we are going to do if the Palestinians don't return Gilad Shalit and stop the latest round of increased rockets? My bet is that even now, Israel is formulating a plan to go back into Gaza. If one of those rockets hits a school or major commercial area...Israel will not have the luxury of restraint.

What is happening now, in the last few days, is clear. Hamas is sending more rockets, daring Israel to respond. More than any other signal we have, this shows that they fear a deal to trade Gilad and want to make sure it doesn't go through. They'll do this by shooting rockets at Israel, forcing Israel to respond. To them, it is a game. But the game they play, is over the heads of our civilians, at the expense of Gilad's life and his human rights. We all estimated the "relative" calm would be temporary. We knew that on January 18th, when we pulled out.

Of course, one could easily argue that a period of 226 days in which 239 rockets were fired is hardly "relative calm" but this seems to be an acceptable pace to the world. The world isn't upset if Gaza "only" fires one rocket a day...though hopefully we in Israel will soon send the message that even this is not acceptable.

Though Israel has not yet responded to yesterday's attacks, the day before yesterday, a rocket was also fired at our civilians. After that attack, Israel responded by hitting the launching point of the rocket, but not Palestinian cities. Of course, you don't see it that way, do you? You wrote, in yet another comment, "last attack on gaza was not self-defence, it was pure agression".

I didn't post it because I wasn't sure which "last attack on gaza" you were referring to. Of course, it really doesn't matter because all attacks on Gaza have been the RESULT of attacks on Israel. If you want to stop Palestinian suffering, the formula has been in front of you for the last 60 years. Stop the violence. Stop the terror. Stop the rockets. Stop the suicide attacks. Stop attacking and you will, miraculously, bring peace to the Middle East - faster than a bullet, faster than superman, even faster than Barak Hussein Obama, because the formula for peace has always, always been the same. Stop the war, and you'll have peace.

It may be a warm peace, a true peace, even a friendship, as Israel has with the United States. It might be a warm-ish peace, as we have with much of Europe. It might be a kind of peace, as we have with Jordan. It might be a cold peace, as we have with Egypt. It might simply be, for the first few years, simply a cessation of violence. But the amazing thing is that even with a cessation of violence, we can all live.

I was brave enough to post all your anonymous comments (even offered to correct the English on many of them). Now let's see how brave you are. Are you brave enough to demand peace from the Palestinians? Are you brave enough to demand that THEY stop attacking Israel? Are you brave enough to see that keeping a young man away from his family for three years is wrong and that Gilad should be home?

No, I don't expect that you are...after all, you weren't even brave enough to post your name, were you?

So Mr/Ms Anonymous, let me make it clear. Israel has the right to self-defense.

If you send rockets against our cities, we have the right to respond (and we will).

We have the right to hit Gaza for many reasons. Chief among them is the fact that Gaza freely elected their government of Hamas. They chose these people to represent them and polls show they overwhelmingly approve of Hamas firing rockets at Israel. Since our answering those rockets is a natural and proper response, I wonder if we could say the people of Gaza approve even of our operations there to stop the rocket fire? No, I guess that would not be a logical conclusion, but then again, logic has no say here, does it?

If it did, you would logically care about Gilad Shalit. You would logically understand why Israel has a right to defend itself against rocket attacks; and, you would logically understand that when Palestinians stop firing rockets, throwing firebombs and rocks at our civilian cars and buses, etc...then, and only then, can all the Middle East begin taking those first important steps to peace. But you aren't brave at all, are you?

No - it takes no bravery to shoot a rocket into a city; no bravery to throw rocks at cars as they zoom by. There is no bravery in throwing firebombs, walking onto a bus and exploding yourself. No...none.

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