Monthly Archives: August 2006

Kav Imut, part 6

It’s deja vu all over again: In a parallel move that caught at least four people on this planet by surprise, Hezbullah retakes all of their launch positions (and a few new ones), and Kofi Annan makes it clear that UNIFIL troops will basically stand around with their thumbs up their proverbials. Well, like we didn’t see that coming. And this morning, Iran tests a surface-to-surface missile, just to make things a bit more interesting…

It is clear to almost everyone with a higher-than-room-temperature IQ that we are perched on the brink of another war, or perhaps just the continuation of this same war that has been raging on and off since before our independence. All the chest-beating and finger-pointing in the world is not going to stop Hezbullah from firing rockets at us and crossing our borders to kidnap people, or stop Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups from firing rockets at us and crossing our borders to blow us up. Unfortunately, discussion, negotiation, and diplomacy haven’t worked yet, so why do Rice and Annan think that it is suddenly going to work now? What is different? What has shifted in the universe?

More ketusha-peepers: Hundreds of residents from the center of the country come north for the weekend to tour ketusha strike sites. Home Command issues stern warnings (to the effect of, “What, are you knuckleheads stupid or something?!”) but this does not deter the tourists. When I mention to Gill that I need to assemble a birthday package for my sister, he suggests including a piece of shrapnel as an interesting gift. I’ll pass, thank you. I’m delighted that our mayor has the crews working top speed to fix all the damage, though I do hope that our kikar habonim sculpture is allowed to remain in its slightly battle-scarred condition.

Big is back: Big Center, the largest shopping complex in Karmiel, is back to normal, with jam-packed parking lots and long lines at the cafés this motzei shabbat (Saturday night). We go see the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, which proves to be just the ticket for some delightful escapism. (I can’t help grinning when I think of the Disney executives who almost wet their pants when they first saw Johnny Depp’s interpretation of a pirate.) After the movie, we grab a bite and enjoy sitting outside. The conversations swirling around us are still flavored by the war, as people relate their own stories, but things are definitely getting back to normal.

Nadine is using her Death Stare on me, a feline mind-control technique that usually results in tuna. I am a slave to my cat…

Kav Imut, part 5

We’re through the looking glass now, pal: Lech Walesa doesn’t want to play with Nobel Prize-winner Guenter Grass anymore. Why? Grass, the long-time darling of the critical German left, and famous for his books’ anti-war themes, confesses last week to being in the SS. (Yes, Virginia, that’s Hitler’s SS, not Social Security!) Oh, but that’s not the juicy bit: a poll reveals that most Germans reacted favorably to Grass’s exposé.

Continuing our left-is-right and up-is-down theme, an unidentified layout maven created this little gem of political commentary:

Don’t cry for me, Venezuela: President Hugo Chavez continues to pander to the Moslem world. After his infamous “IDF = Nazi” quote, Chavez now stirs the pot with his new “charity” fund. “I ask everyone in the country to give what we can for this fundraising campaign for the reconstruction of Lebanon—destroyed by the genocidal and fascist hand of Israel, and its masters, the U.S. empire.” Atta boy, Hugo. Don’t let a little thing like your own country’s long history of military dictatorships get in the way of some politically-opportunistic chest-beating.

Costa Rica, a long-time ally, moves its embassy to Tel Aviv in an attempt (according to President Oscar Arias) to “mend ties” with Arab countries. Arias is honest enough to admit that the driving force is economic, not political, as Costa Rica has been boycotted by Arab countries because of its friendly relations with us. This leaves El Salvador as the only country in the world that recognizes Jerusalem as our capital. Trivia question: what other country in the world does not have its capital recognized by the international community?

Sacré bleu! The French, after making light of our concerns over the safety of our northern residents, assure us that international troops will take care of everything. Then, in one of the fastest retreats since the Maginot Line, France back-pedals about contributing any soldiers to the UNIFIL forces. Only after some late-night UN meetings (in which I would like to believe that the French minister is severely beaten about the head with a stale baguette) do they agree to send 50 soldiers. Whoo-ooh! Now we can all rest easier in our beds…

Scandal central: Justice Minister Haim Ramon plans to resign Sunday over a sex scandal. Ramon is charged with (get ready for it) kissing a woman on her last day of work. Granted, it was a tacky, sloppy, unwanted kiss, and Ramon should be reprimanded, but resign? I guess Ramon didn’t want to hang around with the other half dozen politicians who are currently undergoing investigations on charges ranging from abuse of power to financial wrong-doings. Trivia question: how many leaders in fundamentalist countries are ever investigated or charged with anything by their own people?

It’s only another war: Ever-reasonable Yair Lapid’s urge to get some perspective is now available in English. Lapid has been brutally critical of the media, particularly competing TV channels, in their inappropriate handling of the war coverage. In addition, Lapid remains one of our greatest unsolved mysteries: how does an psychotic little troll like Tommy Lapid produce a tall, handsome, articulate, and rational son? Scientists are still working on it…

It’s toooooo hot: It hits 37 C in Tel Aviv yesterday (that’s about 97 F for our American friends), which, when coupled with 70% humidity, translates to Hideous on the International Weather Scale. Luckily, I am able to flee Tel Aviv before I start growing gills. More drivers on the road exhibit signs of cooked brains: an underpowered van cuts me off and then wobbles uncertainly onto the shoulder; several ketusha-peepers (my term for tourists from Tel Aviv who come up north to look at impact sites and shrapnel damage), speed up and slow down, making it impossible for anyone to pass. A pickup truck spills a few dozen watermellon on the tiny excuse for a road that winds through Kfar Manda. Exhausted, hot, cranky, and starting to see double, I stop for the restorative properties of Dr. Lek’s ice cream at Alonin. Diet be damned…

Home again: It is nice to be back. Nadine hozeret l’shigra (returns to normal) and relaxes in the early-morning sunlight. Gill reads the paper. I think about a workout in our nice air-conditioned gym (which reopened this week). Another lazy Shabbat with no sirens, no explosions, no dire warnings. Yes, Home Command warns us not to go near or touch any ketushot that we might find, and to report them immediately. We’ll probably be finding unexploded rockets for months, if not years, to come. (People still find mines and mortar shells from the ’48 war of independence, and every once in a while a cow on the Golan Heights wanders into a mine field.) But for now, all is quiet.

Kav Imut, part 4

Sleepless in Tel Aviv: It is 03:30 here and I finally give up trying to sleep. Hot and sticky at the best of times, Tel Aviv turns into a sauna with today’s heatwave. On the drive down, my car’s air conditioning labors pathetically. It is like the dreaded Quality Triangle, only instead of choosing two from a menu of fast, cheap, or good, I get to pick one of AC, speed, or torque. I have visions of Jeremy Clarkson savaging my poor little Ignis on the track, all the while making nasty comparisons to a cement breadbox.

The drive down from Karmiel is relatively smooth until I hit the outskirts of Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv. Here, traffic is snarled to a standstill, though that doesn’t stop the intrepid Israeli driver (motivated more by testosterone than brains) from trying to ooze into the ten centimeters between two car bumbers. I scan the radio stations in hopes of hearing a traffic report, and am assaulted by a rap cover to Shlomo Artzi’s Cham Yuli Ogust. Oh, this is so Not Right. Think 50 Cent doing a cover of the Carpenters. It is so wildly ludicrous that I giggle and forget the traffic jam (at least until the next knucklehead tries to merge into my back seat).

If you ever forget what a tiny corner of the earth we inhabit, just turn on the radio. Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, French, Amharic, and English (and every type of music imaginable) all jostle each other on the airwaves. It is quite common to pick up stations from Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and at certain times of the day, in certain areas, you can hear Greek and Turkish programming from Cyprus. When we go to visit Gill’s father (who lives on a kibbutz near the Kinneret), our cell phones sometimes get confused and tell us that we are in Jordan.

The rap song segues into an old Dionne Warwick classic, leaving me once again nonplussed at the eclectic tastes of the Israeli DJ. Such a tiny piece of land, yet blessed with such vibrant variety.

Kav Imut, part 3

Urban renewal, Hezbullah style: The New York Times and other mainstream media start describing Hezbullah as the rebuilders of southern Lebanon. Why do I have a problem with this? Well, imagine if CalTrans employees started shouting “Death to non-coastal states! Wipe Nevada off the face of the earth!” while wielding rocket launchers as passing motorists. Now imagine that the press takes flattering photos of them repairing highways, and completely avoids mentioning this other (and very dramatic) behavior. (Disclaimer: I have nothing against CalTrans employees. I’m sure they are all very nice, hard-working men and women who risk their lives every day wearing those dorky orange vests. I am not suggesting that they are terrorists or that they derive any sadistic pleasure in tying up traffic on the 101.)

Livni speaks out: Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni wants UN forces to patrol the Syrian border to stop the flow of weapons to Hezbullah. “Nobody can talk of disarming Hezbollah when meanwhile we can see a process of rearming Hezbollah,” she tells reporters. She’s building up a major fan base by being articulate, hard-hitting, and yet significantly more polished and polite than many who’ve filled that post before her. She’s even starting to win me over…

Who are you calling an ass? The donkey-powered Bedouin is back. There are a few Bedouin communities near Karmiel, and sometimes individuals cut through my neighborhood (particularly one older guy with his donkey). We are also the preferred shortcut for moving livestock, so every once in a while there is a goat-jam on the highway. A few years ago I came home on my birthday to find a calf in front of my house. For a split second I thought it was a creative present from Gill, or that he had just become tired of mowing the lawn, but then sanity kicked in. I called the city’s hotline to report it. The conversation went something like this (albeit in Hebrew):
Me: Hi. I’m on (street name) in Givat Ram, and there’s a calf by my house.
City employee: What color?

Ho hum. Another day, another cow…

The house returns to normal: The other day I finally roll the blast door back into its storage slot (getting some lovely bruises and completely destroying the shutters in the process). The bedding on the floor of the meimad is now put away. The emergency supplies are back in their proper cupboards. The Home Command instructions have been removed from their place of prominence on the fridge door. Nadine returns to basking in the dappled sunlight.

A friend told me that she was having trouble enjoying the normalcy, because she was sure that it is just a temporary phase, and that we will be embroiled in this mess for a long time. I can understand that. A cousin reminds me of the quotation that “survival is a form of victory.” But I disagree. Mere survival is not victory; we must thrive—live with gusto and joy… Oh, please stop me before I turn into a beer commercial.

Kav Imut, part 2

Not-so-quiet on the northern front: Several distant booms today make me stop mid-sentence. Ketushot? Artillery? Construction? The news is coyly silent, so I have to assume that nothing major has happened.

Getting back to normal: In addition to gung-ho gardening, carousing kids, and bustling businesses, a not-so-welcome sign of the returning normalcy is the evening gunfire in the villages across the road. Despite the blatant illegality and obvious danger, many Arabs continue to celebrate weddings by firing automatic weapons into the air. Last year, someone in our neighborhood was hit by a stray bullet while sitting in her living room, and every year a few wedding guests get injured or killed when the bullets fall back to earth. (“Whoops!” says the bride’s father, “My bad!”) Perhaps Newtonian physics isn’t part of the Arab school curriculum. And hey, great way to celebrate your love, anyway. I am all for religious freedom and respect for other people’s cultures, but please!

Ari Shavit, a columnist for Ha’aretz, weighs in with his analysis of the war and how we got into this mess in the first place. It is a very thought-provoking piece that accurately reflects what I’ve been seeing and feeling for the past 15 years.

In any case, getting back to normal is going to take some time. My accountant’s bookkeeper calls to discuss more forms and red tape; value-added tax, only recently lowered from a whopping 17% to 15.5%, will probably jump back up to about 18%. (Next time you feel like complaining about the price of gas or the 11% sales tax you pay on your purchases, try paying 50% more for both on about half your current salary, and you’ll get an idea of what we cope with!)

1701? We don’t need no stinkin’ 1701! Hezbullah refuses to disarm or withdraw to north of the Litani river, despite UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Oh, such a surprise. Nasrallah tells us that his buddies in Iran have missiles with a range of 2000 km, so we had better look out. Meanwhile, Lebanese newspaper al-Mustaqbalbet reports that Druze leader Walid Jumblatt says, “We will never surrender to Assad or to Nasrallah’s conditions.” (The Druzim are a minority religion much persecuted in Moslem countries, but enjoying full rights and citizenship in Israel. In fact, many Druzim serve in the IDF. Most Druzim live in norther Israel, southern Lebanon, and Syria.)

A bedtime truce: We have now had two nights of peaceful family togetherness. Our north-facing bedroom, abandoned during the war, once again becomes Shluff Central, as Nadine blissfully settles down between us for long, leisurely baths. Normal people might object to being kicked in the head by an obese, clumsy cat, or woken at 1:00 AM to the sounds of energetic shlurping, but it is music to our ears. We may still have a difficult path ahead of us, but for the moment, all is well, and I scoop my little dumpling up and let her purring lull me back to sleep.

Kav Imut, part 1

A cautious return: Home Command tells us that we can cautiously begin to return to our normal lives, but all of us above the kav imut—this invisible line that runs from Akko and Karmiel all the way up to the border—must remain close to shelter. The first few times I hear the instructions (over recorded phone messages and radio announcements), I think that they are saying kav yamut (line of death), and I think, sheesh, the Home Command doesn’t mince words, eh?

But kav imut actually means the demarcation line during warfare, indicating areas that can come under fire. Boring, perhaps, but equally dangerous when it means that you can be hit by a ketusha.

Why am I still writing? One friend told me that it would be an act of “criminal negligence” (her words) if I stopped posting. Perhaps she, too, fears that this cease-fire is tenuous, and anything could happen at any time. More to the point, we still have thousands of soldiers risking their lives to keep Hezbullah out of southern Lebanon, and until UNIFIL troops are in place, our death toll will continue to mount. This harsh reality is brought home to us yesterday evening when Gill must cancel a bike ride to rush off and attend a funeral of a young reservist, the son of one of his clients. Every day more faces and names appear on TV and in our papers.

The mole people emerge: Actually, we are not poking our heads out cautiously and blinking in the sunshine like a bunch of moles; rather, we are bounding from our holes like hyperactive prairie dogs. I decide to take a very long walk specifically during the “high-barrage window” (most of the sirens and strikes during the war occurred between 10:00 and 15:00). The first sign of renewed life is the sight of five city employees tackling the bombed traffic circle two blocks from my house. I watch them dig out the destroyed irrigation system, replace pipes, and plant fresh flowers. Someone has stuffed a flag in the sculpture’s hand, and it flutters there against the shrapnel-scarred backdrop.

I follow the city’s main street, a wide, winding thoroughfare that runs like a backbone from the entrance of town all the way to our neighborhood. Everywhere I see activity; city crews are out by the dozens, sweeping, cleaning, and mending. Median strips and parks, overgrown and shaggy with neglect, are being groomed back into shape, and my nose prickles with the tangy smell of fresh-cut grass. As I climb the first hill and feel the breeze on my face, the smell becomes mingled with lavender and wild sage. What a beautiful place this is…

My muscles, stiff and uncoordinated at first, start to limber up, but I become aware that my face is aching. It takes me a few moments to realize that I am grinning like an idiot, and that these muscles, mostly unused for the past five weeks, are getting every bit the workout that my legs are.

Traffic darts past. Taxis and busses are once again impatiently zipping around traffic circles. Two little girls cross the street ahead of me, holding hands and chattering. As my walk progresses, I see more children, more families returning, more dogs being walked, more signs of life.

The shops are opening. As I pass the first commercial cluster, I watch shutters being raised, windows being washed, and goods being placed artfully in front displays. The nut and spice shop is open, and the smell of cumin and tumeric follows me down the sidewalk.

Karmiel is shaking off the dust and debris. I wait endlessly at the bank, but nothing can irritate me today. Even the cluster of hygiene-challenged old men who turn the mall into their impromptu social hall, blithely lighting their foul cigarettes under a large no smoking sign, look endearing. Tomorrow I’ll probably loathe them again, but for today

Under Fire, part 48

Is this the sound of a cease-fire? After a tense night of waiting for some horrific final barrage (hey, it wasn’t just my paranoia—all the news pundits and analysts were saying the same thing!), we wake to a quiet, albeit smoky, morning. I can’t wait to get out of the house and take a long walk. After what feels like 33 days of virtual house arrest (apart from my few escapes to the center of the country to conduct training sessions), I feel stir-crazy and jittery. I wonder if my gym will open again by tomorrow. (More to the point, I wonder if I can still fit into my workout clothes…)

Use it or lose it: Yesterday’s 250 ketushot fired by Hezbullah at our northern communities was a daily all-time high since the start of the war over a month ago. One person was killed, many wounded, and lots of damage done. We got through the day making bad jokes about boys and their toys, but the most commonly reoccurring thought was that in every war, there is always the first killed and the last killed. I figured that with my luck, I would be the one to get that final ketusha. That thought kept me running to the meimad each time the siren went off, right to the end. And run we did! As yesterday rocket count was a record, so was the number of siren warnings.

The cost of war: The Finance Ministry estimates that this war will end up costing us NIS 23 billion; that’s about $5.2 billion (USD), in case you were trying to figure it out in “real” money, as one of my friends grumbles when he gets his NIS (New Israeli Shekel) paycheck. The estimates are as follows:

  1. 7 billion = defense spending
  2. 5 billion = direct and indirect damage (infrastructure, private homes, etc.)
  3. 9 billion = the 1.5% loss in gross domestic product
  4. 2 billion = emergency aid to local governments in the north and emergency services

But all of these are just numbers. The impact will be felt by every single person here. Some, residents of the center of the country, may feel an increased tax burden, while others here in the north must face rebuilding their homes, trying to rescue their small business, helping their families cope with the psychological damage, and, for many families, trying to get on with their lives after the loss of a loved one.

Anyone who has had to deal with insurance companies after a car accident or a household loss knows that the red tape can be exhausting, frustrating, and demoralizing. Now, add in the fun dimension of insurance companies claiming that you are not covered for acts of war (check your policy, Bubba!), new government agencies set up to cope, more forms to fill out, more hoops to jump through, and then multiply that by the millions and you will get a general idea of what we are facing in the north. (I’ll be delighted to be proven wrong on this one.)

I dearly hope that this will be the last post for Under Fire, and that I can start a new blog thread on a different topic. However, I won’t hold my breath.

I want to take this opportunity again to thank everyone who has called, written, emailed, blogged, or just thought of us during this incredibly difficult time. May you all be blessed with peace, health, love, prosperity, and an abundance of plump cats and good chocolate.

Peace out…

Under Fire, part 47

Going out with a bang: Hezbullah makes a concerted effort to use up as many of their remaining rockets as possible. The sirens go off every few minutes this morning, making work (or anything else, for that matter) difficult. Since the Home Command instructs us to remain in our shelters for 15 minutes after a siren, and since the sirens are going off with only a few minutes in between, we never really reach the official “all clear.”

Someone asked me why the sirens are stressful. That is sort of like asking why so many people enjoy the taste of chocolate. It is obvious, isn’t it? But, as it was clearly not obvious (at least to this one person), I hereby offer this list of reasons:

  1. The sound itself is a horrid, mournful wail of some impending catastrophe. Not quite as bad as fingernails on a blackboard, mind you, but still pretty far up there in the Annoying Sounds category.
  2. In many cases, the siren is accompanied by a barrage that hits the area, but the inconsistency and uncertainty only go to strengthen the conditioned response (anyone still remember Behavioral Psych 101?).
  3. The siren tells us that someone is trying to kill us. Try listening to that warning without feeling something!

It’s this “duh!” factor that makes it so hard to answer these questions. “Why do you need to eat protein?” “Why is clean air important?” And now, Norway’s Jostein Gaarder asks whether Israel has a right to exist. What?!

Everything changes: The world we live in is in constant flux. One decade’s enemy becomes the next decade’s ally. Even harder to swallow is the reverse: that a former ally can quickly become a virulent enemy. We rely on our past experience and ignore the current reality, and then are surprised that the same actions produce different results. Jews, who risked their lives to march shoulder-to-shoulder with Blacks during the American Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, are now perceived by the next generation as the enemy. The peace movement and much of the Left has gone from visions of progress and equality to slogans of hatred and death.

Here, we fall into the same trap. The tactical reality of the Hezbullah rocket installations in southern Lebanon is completely different from the 80s, when we were last forced to go in to protect our northern communities. Those strategies no longer work. And the nation’s report card for our prime minister is certainly going to reflect that.

So here we sit, perhaps just hours from a cease-fire, and I wonder what has changed, what will change, and what will never be the same again…

Under Fire, part 46

So much for a quiet Shabbat: At 14:05 the sirens start up for the first time today. No booms around us, but a few minutes later we hear that there have been strikes (and injuries) in Kiryat Shemona and S’fat.

It reminds me of a friend’s quip about the UN’s plans to disarm Hezbullah: “A month ago Hezbullah had over 10,000 rockets and missiles, and they’ve shot about 3,500 at us, so you see, they are disarming!”

So my day of rest and recouperation might not be completely stress-free. After two days in Tel Aviv (and nine hours of training), I want nothing more than to laze around with the weekend papers and (if I suddenly feel terribly daring) trim Nadine’s nails.

Against this backdrop of the war, daily dramas are played out: Yesterday, Gill gets a call around noon that his uncle has passed away after a long and difficult illness; he rushes from the house to drive to the center of the country for the funeral (thus missing the heavy afternoon barrages that shake the north). All around us, babies are born, people pass away, weddings are planned, bar mitzvahs are held, and life goes on. Dod Micha z’l was the last of his siblings and the end of an era. May his wife, his children, grandchildren, and many nephews and neices all find comfort in their memories of more joyous times.

Under Fire, part 45

Is there an end in sight? On Friday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopts a resolution calling for a cease-fire. (You can read the draft resolution here.) However, until the details are hammered out, I remain leery.

As if sensing that the end is near, Hezbullah blankets the north in some of the heaviest barrages yet. They fire one of the huge Hiber-class missiles (carrying an 80 kilo payload of explosives), which slams into the main highway next to the Matam industrial park in south Haifa. Many of my clients are there. You can see that and other sites targeted on Friday in this video (just grit your teeth through the ad for some rehashed action movie that precedes the news clip). Luckily, many of the employees at these companies have located to other facilities, and most don’t work on Fridays, anyway, so there were miraculously few injuries and no fatalities.

Bovine bravery: As exhausted milu’imnikim(reservists) plod along next to the border fence, they are accompanied by a young cow. Note that the soldiers are not running, waving their arms, or in any way trying to disturb or herd the cow, who appears to be placidly leading the way. This unidentified bovine is making a mooooving statement about war. This is no posed, cheesy publicity shot, and we certainly aren’t going to milk it for all it’s worth, because that would be udderly unfair. OK, I’ll stop now…