Grief and fear, anger and humor in Israel

THE BALTIMORE SUN

To bring readers the words of those directly affected by the conflict in the Middle East, The Sun is presenting a series of brief essays, in this case by people writing from Israel. Last Sunday, this page presented the voices of people in Lebanon.

Naomi Ragen is a novelist and playwright in Jerusalem. This essay first appeared on the Web site of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

My son is in the army. He is not the type at all, believe me. Quiet, studious, a writer, a lover of Jewish history, Talmud, ethics. He spent two years in a pre-army program in the Galilee called Karmei Hayil. He made many good friends there from all over the country, and now he and all his friends are in the army.

One of them I know well. A bit chubby, with payot (sidelocks) and a great laugh. He and my son have become like brothers. While both of them tried out for the elite paratroopers unit, only his friend made it in. He and his unit are the ones in Lebanon. They were there over a week, fighting under horrific conditions, running out of food and water.

My son spoke to his friend yesterday, and this is how he described it: "The village looked empty, and then we heard noises coming from one of the houses, so we opened fire. But when we went inside, we found two women and a child huddled in the corner of the room. We were so relieved we hadn't hurt them. We took up base in one of the empty houses. And then all of a sudden, we came under intense fire. Three rockets were fired at the house we were in. Only one managed to destroy a wall, which fell on one of us, covering him in white dust, but otherwise not hurting him.

"I spent the whole time feeding bullets to my friend, who was shooting nonstop. We managed to kill 26 terrorists. Not one of us was hurt. Our commanding officer kept walking around, touching everybody on the shoulder, smiling and encouraging us: 'We're better than they are. Don't worry.' It calmed us all down. And really, we were much better than them. They are a lousy army. They only win when they hide behind baby carriages."

Terrorists and their supporters have lost the right to complain about civilian casualties, since all they have is one goal: This entire war is to target civilians. Every single one of the more than 2,500 rockets launched into Israel is launched into populated towns filled with women and children.

So don't cry to me about civilian casualties. Cry to those using babies and wives and mothers; cry to those who store weapons in mosques, ambulances, hospitals and private homes. Cry to those launching deadly rockets from the backyards of kindergartens and schools.

If you hide behind your baby to shoot at my baby, you are responsible for getting children killed. You and you alone.

Lisa Goldman's essay is reprinted from http:--onthe face.blogware.com.

The taxi driver who drove me to the studio where I was interviewed for Canada AM had the radio tuned to a satire show. In an exaggerated Tel Aviv clubbers' drawl, participants were issuing mock instructions to the city's residents in case the hundreds of missiles currently landing daily all over the north of the country reach the centre, as [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah keeps promising. "If you're told to take shelter, that means immediately. Do not stop for an espresso at Aroma or an almond croissant at Arcaffe. Immediately." Or, "In case of an attack, you must prepare yourselves for the worst possible scenario -- the cancellation of the Depeche Mode concert." And, "If a missile falls on your neighbour's car, run fast and maybe you'll get his parking spot." Mwahaha.

We do have a tendency to make dark jokes and satire when we're under stress. Basically, we don't really expect to be attacked -- but then again, you never know. We never thought that Haifa would be attacked, either -- until it happened. On the one hand I've noticed that strangers are gentler with one another in face-to-face interactions, but on the other hand the drivers are even more maniacal and aggressive than ever: Today I saw two drivers executing death-defying U-turns on North Dizengoff during peak rush hour traffic, and there seems to be a lot more overtaking and honking than usual.

Uri Dromi is director of inter- national outreach at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem and was chief spokesman for the Israeli government under Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. This is an excerpt of an article that first appeared in the Daily Forward.

Last Saturday night, 40 years after we graduated from the Israel Air Force Flight Academy, the class of 1966 gathered for a reunion. We met near Herzliya, on the lawn of the spacious house belonging to one of our number, Kobi Richter.

Kobi and I and our fellow graduates hugged each other warmly, admired the beautiful sunset and enjoyed the cold white wine. We had so much to catch up on, so many stories to be recycled, jokes to be retold, memories to be relived. Then we sat down on the grass, drank more wine and sang.

Suddenly, from the south, a formation of attack helicopters arrived. We watched these war machines crawling slowly up the coast, heading toward Lebanon, thinking about those flying the helicopters, who in 30 minutes would be in harm's way.

We, the class of 1966, are too old now to put on our flying suits, take off and go kick butt. Our children have taken the torch from our hands.

I was sitting next to Hanoch, a laid-back kibbutznik, who was singing as off-tune as could be possible. Forty years ago he had impressed me with the meticulous and patient way in which he prepared huge sandwiches for breakfast. Now he told me calmly that as we spoke, his son Yahel was flying a reconnaissance aircraft in the most dangerous of missions.

I turned around and looked at my friends. We have all gained weight and lost hair, and our best years are probably behind us. But we're still alive and kicking.

We sang again the old, beloved songs of our youth. Suddenly, a distant noise came from over the hill. We turned our heads. The helicopters were back.

It's the old habit of anxiously counting comrades when they return from a combat mission. One, two, three, and then, after an agonizing delay, four. We resumed the singing with renewed vigor.

"This summer you will dress in white," we sang, "and pray for better days."

Ellen M. Heller, president of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, returned yesterday from a four-day fact-finding mission to Israel. She is former administrative judge of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.

We navigated the steep steps down several landings in the Jewish/Arab Hadar neighborhood -- one of Haifa's poorest -- and came into an underground, hot room filled primarily with elderly and children. The shelter's air was fetid, and the people were covered with perspiration. The children sat with sullen, dazed expressions next to thin foam mattresses spread on the floor. These people had not been out of this "shelter" for 20 days.

More than 500,000 Israelis are living in bomb shelters. Only one-third of these shelters have air conditioning, and most are poorly ventilated and cramped. Most of those in the shelters are Israel's most vulnerable. The very old and families with children are unable to flee to the central region.

In one shelter, a 5-year-old child stood anxiously next to her grandmother. They had just immigrated to Israel from Siberia five weeks ago, and spoke only Russian. Both were bewildered and scared. In another shelter, a mother sat crying with a baby and two toddlers. The children had returned from a one-week "respite" visit in the south but were filled with fear from the constant "boom, boom, boom." One old woman was found hiding under her table with a pot on her head frozen with fear. A volunteer took her to his home.

During this crisis, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee's massive aid efforts include the delivery of meals, emergency kits, medications and home care to children, elderly and disabled Israelis. Our assistance is targeting all of Israel's citizens: Druze and Bedouins, Arabs and Jews. Israelis are strong and resilient, but not immune from what has been a long siege of missile shelling.

Lisa Katz of Jerusalem is a poet, the translator of "Look There: Selected Poems of Agi Mishol" and a teacher at Hebrew University Her e-mail is lisa_is@yahoo.com.

By accident of fate, or not by accident, if you don't believe in them, I live in Israel. I am an unsentimental, secular Jew, a supporter of an Israeli state for all its citizens, regardless of ethnicity or religion, like the America I lived in until age 33 -- imperfect but democratic.

I live in Jerusalem, which is quiet even now, in a Jewish neighborhood adjacent to an Arab one on the 1967 border (inside the old borders of Israel). I am horrified at the destruction of south Lebanon by the Israeli army, but I am also terrified of the bombs that Hezbollah is lobbing inside Israel.

I believe in a political solution, but unfortunately the world doesn't seem to work like that. It is important to remember that all sides are wrong in all their pigheaded dispute over this land, as if national borders were decided on the basis of justice.

It is so beautiful here, and the people are so terrific (really). The biggest secret, which people outside our borders often don't have a clue about, is that Palestinians and Israelis get along great when given the chance.

We love the same landscapes and cultures. We accept each other's differences, in the main. But it seems that those impure hearts who make claims for historical justice will not allow us to arrive at such a humane solution. They prefer war, and, I'm sorry to say, there must be a universal psychological element in this too. So war is what we have.

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