My Aching Muscles

My Legs will Never be the Same

Part of my tour guide course involves hiking some of the better and lesser known trails of the country.  You see, hiking for Israelis  is as natural as breathing.  Here, you don’t ask, “Have you hiked the Golan’s Yehudia canyon?”.  You ask how many times you’ve  hiked it and which trails you have taken.   You ask how old you were when you first  climbed the ladders up the rock cliffs guarding the Negev’s Tzin river bed. It’s just what we do. Now,I’m not the strongest hiker but when you’re thrown together with 44 other people, you lace up your boots, hit the trail and pray that you don’t make too big a fool of yourself.

Well, clearly, I did not pray quite  enough.

Best Way to Cool Off on a Hot Day Even in July it’s Cool

I did enjoy several beautiful trails that included natural pools and small but refreshing waterfalls, I didn’t completely reach  the “not making a complete fool of myself” goal .  I fell more than once, stopped to catch my breath as the thirty-somethings whizzed past me and reverted to sliding down rocks on my butt when I could not longer imagine hyper-extending my legs to make it down the next piece of rocky trail.  OK, I’ll be brutally honest. Pride be damned. Even the obese 60-year-old and the not so obese 50-something year old flew passed me as I cursed and sweated my way along the 5 kilometers of trail but, as my legs and lungs were about to surrender, I made it the end, dropped to the ground and poured a liter of water over my head to get the energy to stagger back to the bus.

So while I nurse my very aching muscles, hope you enjoy the pictures.

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Published in: on July 9, 2011 at 6:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

Apologies and New Beginnings

I hope that everyone is well 

I know it’s been a long time.  No excuses.  I don’t have any. But I can offer a bit of explanation. In October, the rational part of brain was taken hostage and, in a moment of temporary insanity, I returned to school to earn an Israeli tour guide license.  I’m not sure why I thought that age 49 was a good time to devote a good chunk of time studying in a language that I still manage to butcher daily (I mix gender-endings so often that even Netanyahu is starting to question his sexual identity) but it’s a decision I’m usually happy that I made. I’ve met the most wonderful people, none of whom I would have had the opportunity to meet if it were not the class. I can now include a Jewish man born in India, a pony-tailed man hailing from Mexico, a psychologist from Germany, and a remarkably bright theology student among my friends.  We are a microcosm of modern-day Israel.  If I get to class early, I’m privy to a cacophony of cell phone conversations in Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian, Spanish, Italian, German and Hebrew. 

Still, every class is a struggle. At 49, I’m glad that I remember my own children’s names. Seriously, is there any room for remembering who was the second Muslim caliph? Well, there will have to be. But despite returning to a world of tests and papers, I wouldn’t sacrifice the relationships I’ve made for anything.

But in returning to school, I’ve dropped an important responsibility. I’ve put the blog on hold. At first I thought, “I can’t continue the blog.  I’m working. I’m in school.  I have other responsibilities.”  Then, as multiple Arab states were literally going up in flames around us, I tried to write but was terrified of returning to the task. I cannot tell you the number of times I have sat down to write only to get up, “just for a minute”, call a friend,  run a quick errand or start dinner.  Anything to avoid facing the flashing cursor.

And then, of course, there were the joyous occasions I wanted to share.  Just last week, in preparation for the Jewish holiday of Shavuot which commemorates receiving the 10 commandments, our local school, with the help of some very good-natured parents, converted the local school yard into Mount Sinai complete with a bearded Moses receiving the 10 commandments while the Jewish nation (who coincidentally resembled a lot of my neighbors’ children) “quaked in fear” below.  A few weeks earlier, the mayor cycled his way around town wishing everyone a happy Passover holiday. But still, the writing terrified me and stuck I was. Good things or bad things; for the first time in a very long time, I couldn’t share.

But recently,  the fear has abated.  Why?  I have some ideas but am not completely sure.  Maybe I am slowly (VERY SLOWLY) learning to balance the whole school-work challenge.  Maybe the class isn’t as scary as it was.  Or maybe, it’s a little of both and something else.  I’m hoping that the something else is enough to prevent me from sliding back.  What is the mystery ingredient?  It’s simple

Gratitude.  Grateful that we (Israelis) haven’t let the cyclones on every border destroy our quality of life. Grateful that I live in a country where I see that the remains of 6th century Byzantine churches and 8th century mosques are accorded the same respect and value as ancient synagogues.  On my first trip here in 1978, it didn’t seem like such a big deal.  Last week, traveling in the Golan just kilometers from the Syrian border, it seemed like a very big deal. And, on a very personal note, while grateful that Jonah is to be discharged in seven weeks, knowing that he wore and Rina is now wearing) the IDF uniform with pride.

So, I hope you’ll accept a very heartfelt apology and know that, while not daily, the letters/blog entries will be coming at a regular pace again.

Shabbat shalom

Onnie

 

Published in: on June 10, 2011 at 7:46 am  Leave a Comment  

When Israel Gets it Right (part 2)

OK. It’s true.  I have become one of  THOSE parents, clicking my Nikon at the most inopportune times; sneaking into areas I have just been asked to avoid because it affords a really good shot.  Rina probably praying that nobody realizes that I am her mom as I shamelessly push my way in front of other parents to get the best close-up possible. So what was the most recent excuse for my maternal insanity?  

Andy and I celebrated an Israeli parental milestone as we watched our daughter, Rina, take her oath of allegiance to the IDF (Israel Defense Forces)  at Sde Boker next to the grave of David ben Gurion (first prime minister of Israel).  The ceremony was modest by many standards. It even included a little humor.  The flag, proudly raised, immediately fell to the ground as the soldiers had not tied the rope  to the poll properly.  But, despite the mishap, the ceremony, atop the Negev’s massive fissures of Nachal Tzin, offered grand views and emotions.Even before this, Sde Boker held special memories for me.  I remember the first time we stayed at the field  school.  Arriving late at night, we found ourselves hopelessly lost and had to wake a less-than-thrilled kibbutz member to help us find our bearings.  The following morning, we stood in utter amazement as we walked behind the field school’s Spartan accommodations  to discover that we were standing on  magnificent cliffs that soar high above Nachal Tzin (wadi / water bed) where we would hike later that day.  Standing silently on the precipice, watching the ibex forage for breakfast while the inky purples of the massive rocks gave way to brilliant sunshine, I thought I would never feel such a sense of awe again.  My daughter would change all that.

But she had no idea what this day meant for me. Imagine, Rina had just started two years of service in a highly respected Israeli Intelligence unit. It was not quite the future I had imagined for her, but I couldn’t have been prouder. Andy and I sat in the bleachers, squeezing each other’s hand; hoping the pressure of skin to skin could express the feelings neither one of us had words for.  I didn’t know a single parent in the crowd but felt a special bond with them as I’m sure that they, too, felt that same indescribably pride. 

As I’ve learned over the years, the IDF is a continuously morphing maze of madness that even veteran Israelis cannot comprehend.  For the last year or two, our children’s day planners have been filled with dates for tests; intelligence tests, physical endurance tests, personality tests and sometimes tests that seemingly had no purpose at all.  And yet, they took care of it all without our help because, quite honestly, there wasn’t much help any of us could provide.  It’s more than a little humbling to know that at the ripe old age of 19, our sons and daughters have become far more proficient at negotiating the ins and outs of Israeli bureaucracy than any of us.

The Intelligence Unit is not a combat one, so basic training is mercifully short.  Yes, these soldiers endured sleep deprivation, emotional and physical exhaustion and the special humiliation that comes with feeling fairly clueless of what is expected of you, but the whole ordeal was less than 3 weeks.  Even at the beginning, the end was in sight. It was all manageable.  So why was this ceremony so emotionally charged for me?  Why were so many of the other parents smiling, cheering and crying as if their child had just one an Olympic gold? 

It’s hard to know that the army owns your child.  It’s hard to know that the IDF has complete control over your child’s life (my ever-increasing ice-cream addiction has shown just how hard it has been for me).   But when you wake up in the morning and you know that your neighbor, your bank teller, and your gas station attendant have all made, or will make, the same sacrifice, it makes it a bit more manageable.

So Israel does this one right. These ceremonies are public and a strong thread in the fabric of Israeli society.  There isn’t a boss, co-worker or teacher who would ask you to miss one when it’s your child’s turn. Because, sitting in the blazing sun with Russian mothers, French store owners and South American doctors, you know that your individual sacrifice has helped build a remarkably vibrant and resilient whole.

Praying that all of our children enjoy a year filled with happiness, health and security,

Published in: on September 12, 2010 at 4:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

When Israel Gets it Right (part 1)

 I lied to someone last week. On Wednesday, I was asked to come to an 8:30 AM meeting. I told them that I had an urgent matter to take care of and couldn’t possibly attend. No, my “urgent” matter was not a doctor’s appointment and nobody was asking me my opinions regarding the latest round of “peace negotiations” (although they would have received quite the critical earful if they had). The kids are fine and the clogged pipe that sent water dripping down my newly painted walls has been repaired. But still, I had something I just had to do and Wednesday morning was the only day I could do it. September 1 heralds the start of a new year in elementary schools across the country and as many of my friends had children starting first grade, I knew the ceremonies marking this occasion were not to be missed. Yes, I’ve written about the first day of first grade before. And, yes, Israel’s education system is unimaginably disappointing, especially when you consider that this is the homeland of The Jewish People, often referred to as “the people of the Book” But the excitement surrounding the beginning of formal academic instruction here is palpable and it’s not limited to individual families. It’s an event that brings the country together. It’s an occasion marked on the neighborhood, municipal and even national level. Drive passed any elementary school and you’ll see large (often hand-painted) banners welcoming first-graders. In many cities, mayors can be seen accompanying students as they walk through the school gates to start the new year. Even our president, Shimon Peres, is out helping first graders cross the street as they begin a new chapter of their lives. Stepping onto the grounds of my local elementary school, I felt like I was at a community celebration. Blue and white balloons were dancing in a rare September breeze as moms and dads hugged and kissed their children before they crossed the physical and spiritual threshold. But it didn’t end there. Chattering parents gathered on the black top trading stories on how easy (although more often how difficult) it was to get their sons and daughters into bed on the previous night. Babies struggled to get out of their stationary strollers and toddlers pulled on their father’s, hoping to be scooped up onto broad shoulders to get a better view of what was about to occur. Cameras, serenading us with a symphony of clicks, beeps and buzzes, worked overtime to capture these moments for posterity. After 15 minutes of anxious waiting, the new first-graders, each escorted by a “big kid”, (usually a sixth grader) lined up. Soon,the piped in music sounded through the loud speakers and the festivities began. The new students marched in passed proud imas and abbas (moms and dads) and then took their place under one of three large talitot (prayer shawls). The crowd sang a song that consists of the blessing that Jacob offered Joseph thousands of years ago and that children often sing today before they go to sleep at night. The shofar, traditionally sounded each morning during the Hebrew month of Elul reminding us that Rosh Hashanah will soon arrive, sounded loud and clear. As these children, slightly excited; slightly bewildered, took seats on the ground with their new classmates, another group; smaller and sometimes older, marched in. Thirty children from Australia, America, Canada, England and France were cheered as they marched with an Israeli flag. These 30 children were olim (new immigrants) and they were given a special welcome by a crowd who often knew, by personal experience, how particularly exciting yet challenging the coming year would be for these students as they begin to create the reality of their parents’ Zionist dreams. The principal, her voice brimming with excitement, welcomed the children with a short speech, invited another group of students to put on a short dance performance in honor of their younger siblings and then the ceremony was quickly over We all went off about our day, but I couldn’t help but think that the morning proved that Israel really gets a lot of things right. We all should be celebrating our community’s newest students. They represent all that we have accomplished and all that is still possible. In a country whose existential threats are as real as the kitchen table, I’m glad we know just how important this day is. Shana Tova to everybody. I hope it is a new year filled with happiness and good health. And a dose of a first grader’s natural sense of wonder.

Published in: on September 12, 2010 at 1:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Israeli Apartheid?

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I had meetings at two local hospitals yesterday; Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera (just south of Caesarea) and Meir Hospital in Kfar Saba, immediately east of Raanana. By chance, I had my camera with me.  Take a look at “Israeli apartheid”.  The photographs won’t win any awards, but as the saying goes, a picture, even a mediocre one, is worth a thousand words.

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 1:37 pm  Comments (1)  

Why Israel is Good

Today is Tisha B’Av, the day that commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. For me, as many of you know, Tisha B’Av has great personal meaning for me.  My mom died on Tisha B’Av. For the past few weeks, I have struggled with how to honor her memory this year.  Yes, there is the admirable tradition of donating to charity in the deceased’s name.  OK, that’s nice but it just didn’t seem to be enough.

My mom passed away unexpectedly after Andy and I had taken her to The Women in Green’s annual walk around the Old City walls after a reading ofEicha (The Book of Lamentations traditionally read on the eve of Tisha B’Av).  I thought that  joining the marchers once again would be an appropriate way to honor her. Under a strong police presence,  they march along the exterior of Jerusalem’s Old City walls, including the sides that abut Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem.  She loved that walk.  While we, with the help of a lot of strangers, pushed her wheelchair up and down the hilly terrain, she marvelled at the Jewish history that surrounded her.  But, you can’t go back.  Yes, I did participate in the walk last night.  But most of the marchers adhered to a political stance far to the right of my own. Though I loved seeing parts of the walls I rarely visit, I left not with a sense of  honoring my mom but more a sense of betraying my own political views.

But I think I found a better way to honor her.  On Israel Independence Day, I listed, often with some humor, the fun side of life here.  Tisha B’Av, with its emphasis on coming together as a people, requires a more serious tone. So to commemorate our national/religious tragedy, as well as my personal sadness, I will try to list, in no particular order, the goodness of the modern State of Israel.

1.  Childhood is valued.

Play is not a four-letter word.   I don’t think I ‘ve ever walked more than a kilometer in any city or town without spotting at least one playground.  They may be small with just a simple swing or slide but they’re ubiquitous.  Whenever we have visitors from abroad, they always comment about how refreshing it is to see children playing outside.  We nourish our future.

2.  Political activism starts early. 

I didn’t plan on it but I found myself attending a public Eicha reading in the “Release Gilad Shalit tent” erected outside the prime minister’s residence.  The tent was plastered with placards from schools and youth groups expressing wishes for Gilad’s release from his  1,486 days in Gazan captivity.  Maybe it’s just because we’re a small country and it’s hard to ignore the political realities of the day. Maybe it’s because youth groups played such a pivotal role in the early development of the country  Maybe it’s because parents, faced with limited budgets, find themselves dragging their children to events to eliminate babysitting costs.  Or maybe it’s because more than in most places, we want out children to understand that despite the beauty we have created on this sliver of land, we really live under existential threat.  I don’t know what the reasons are.  But I do know that you’ll always see a remarkable number of children, adolescents and teenagers attending, and often leading, political rallies throughout the country.

3.  We don’t use government weakness as an excuse.

Right now, government  ministers are fighting over who was and wasn’t treated fairly during the last round of budget discussions.  Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu is just the latest party to threaten leaving the coalition unless certain demands are met. Tzipi Livni’s Kadima party seems mostly concerned with determining  how best to exploit possible coalition vacancies.  But despite a Knesset that is often ripe with scandals, the country is determined to grow and flourish. When the government did not act quickly enough to resettle people fleeing from Hizbullah rockets in the North, people opened up their homes.  When Sderot’s economy was paralyzed by Hamas rocket attacks, people travelled from their own communities to shop in Sderot.  When theat became to dangerous, people in towns far away ordered food from Sderot take-out stores that was delivered by truck in order to keep Sderot residentws on their feet.  This is not meant to be an attack on the Knesset as much as it is an acknowledgement to the Israeli mentality that says, “You’re not going to help?  Fine, I’ll do it myself.”  We never knew how to take “no” for an answer.

4.  A news item in today’s Jerusalem Post does not represent an isolated event.

Two weeks before an attack by a Hamas terror cell which resulted in the death of 39-year-old police sergeant Yehoshua Sofer, “a leader of the cell accompanied his daughter to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem where she underwent surgery to remove an eye tumor.  The surgery was funded by an Israeli aid organization.”  It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last.

5. We know we don’t have a future if we don’t preserve our past.

My nephew just returned to the U.S. from his first visit to Israel.  His first few days here were spent enjoying the beaches of Tel Aviv.  After noticing the glass and steel skyscrapers not far away, he commented to his mom, “I thought Israel was older than this.”  Well, in more than 3 weeks of touring he discovered not just Israel’s antiquities but how well we preserve them.  Andy and I were in Barcelona last summer and we noticed old buildings repaired with material that was convenient and cheap to acquire.  It doesn’t work like that here.  We’re obsessed with preserving our antiquities; documenting them, cataloguing them and, when necessary, repairing them but not without indicating what was part of the original structure and what represents rebuilding.  Great care is taken to preserve the original integrity of our ancient finds.  We know that if we can’t appreciate the value of what we had and portray that value to the world, we’ll put our future in jeopardy.

6.  We love beauty!

Read the history of eighteenth and nineteenth settlement of the Land of Israel and you’ll read tales of disease, poverty and heartbreak.  But you’ll also read about local theater companies, dance troupes and art schools.  We understand that building and maintaining a country is not always about the fight but about the ability to enjoy life where you are. Even during times of war and food rationing, we always understood that if we can nourish our soul, we’ll be more willing to build and defend the country.  Even Sderot has a film festival. The kibbutz movement gave birth to one of the best dance companies in the country and even small towns offer local art exhibits and symphonettes.

9. We’re “The Little Engine that Could”

We forget that we’re a microscopic dot on the map.

Oh, it’s the 1920s and people are contracting malaria because of the swamps.  No problem. We’ll plant eucalyptus trees to drain them.  We don’t have them?  No problem. We’ll import them from Australia.  Remember this was almost 100 years ago and not so easy to do.

Oh we’re in the Middle East but we don’t have oil to support our economy?  No problem, we’ll build a high-tech industry that rivals the United States.

Oh, we have too much arid land?  No problem.  We’ll develop drip irrigation and make the desert bloom. Then we’ll teach the world to do the same.

Oh, we’re on the African continent and we don’t have a safari park? Unacceptable.  We’ll build one in Ramat Gan just outside of Tel Aviv.

There are no problems.  Only challenges and Israelis thrive on a good challenge.

8. Talk to the Sudanese Refugees working in Eilat hotels.

Israel is a popular destination point for immigrants fleeing national civil war and strife.  We don’t always treat them well.  Wander the streets of South Tel Aviv and you’ll see that we have a lot of work to do in this area.  But we also have a lot to be proud of.  Our Eilat hotels are filled with Sudanese refugees trying to start a new life.  Yes the work is hard and the wages are low but these people risked capture by the Sudanese and unsympathetic Egyptian governments to reach the only destination in the Middle East where they had any chance of building a new life.

9. We Don’t Wear Rose-Colored Glasses

We may be the most self-critical people I know.  While we’re brimming with confidence that we can get the job, any job, done; we’re still always questioning our policies, our value and even our self-worth.  How do we relate to the outside world?  How to we relate to diaspora Jewry.  Are we doing enough for the Ethiopians?  How do we forge better ties with the Palestinians?  Can we ever live together?  How can that be achieved.  I’m frustrated by a world that demands more of us than of most other nations but if you step back, nobody demands more of us than ourselves.   I don’t always like the popular positions but we are very, if not painfully, aware of our warts.

10. We can laugh at ourselves.

Did you here the one about the polite Israeli?  No, there are no polite Israelis. We’re opinionated, nosy, loud, rude and bossy.  But nobody knows it better than we do.

Ten is an acceptable number for a list, so I’ll stop here.  Mom, you were its inspiration.  I hope you feel honored.

Have an easy fast.

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 2:20 pm  Comments (1)  

What We’re Made Of

Andy and I just said good-bye to family who had come here to celebrate our nephew’s bar mitzvah.  I’ll write more about that experience in a separate e-mail as it is too rich a subject to combine with anything else.  But I will mention this; in describing what it’s like living here, I summed it up this way: Israelis are not polite (I’d enter that observation  in the next Understatement of the Millennium contest), but they are warm. That warmth displayed itself on a national level during the last two weeks and I think it’s worth describing.

On June 25th, 2006, two months shy of his 20th birthday, Gilad Shalit, a corporal in the Israel Defense Corp’s Armoured Division, was abducted by Hamas terrorists in a cross-border raid near the Kerem Shalom (ironically, the Vineyard of Peace) crossing between Gaza and Israel.  Four years later, he is presumably still in Gaza although no one, including the Red Cross, has been allowed to visit him.  Members of last month’s “Freedom Flotilla” refused to carry a simple letter to him and no one; not the French* who have made an anemic attempt to advance his cause; not the Americans; and not even  the Israeli government has achieved his release.  Despite round-the-clock efforts to rescue their son, Noam and Aviva Shalit have endured more than 1,470 days of agony knowing that their Gilad is in constant danger.

And so, after 4 years, the Shalit family literally took to the streets.  With the support of family, friends, neighbors and strangers they embarked on a 12-day, 120 mile journey from their home in Mitzpe Hila, a small bucolic town nestled in the Western Galilee overlooking the Kziv Stream and the Montfort Crusader Castle down toward Herzlia, then on to Tel Aviv and finally arriving at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem where they have vowed to stay until their son comes home.  As the throngs, reaching into the thousands, entered cities carrying banners, sporting “Free Gilad” tee-shirts and chanting slogans, police cordoned off highways and local streets to give the marchers easy passage.  Already congested highways were brought to a standstill, but on this rarest of occasions, few Israelis complained.

Because, for once, we all agree on something. We all want Gilad home.  Rare unanimity. But there is no national consensus as to how to achieve that goal.  Do we support Aviva and Noam who understandably demand that the government bring him home their son at any price?  Some say yes.  It doesn’t matter if Hamas is demanding the release of thousands of prisoners, some with gallons of blood on their hands.  Israel has had a policy of “no man left behind” and Gilad should be no exception. Others, such as Prime Minster Netanyahu argue that some prices are, in fact, too high.  We have suffered the deadly consequences of freeing convicted murderers in previous prisoner exchanges and we cannot subject ourselves to those risks yet again.

It would be easy if we could say, “Well,  it’s sad that Gilad was captured, but he’s just one soldier. Time to move on.”  We can’t do it.  We’re not wired that way. Because Gilad may be just one son but for the 5.7 million of us** living in a land of mandatory military conscription, he is our son.    Our greatest strength is our greatest vulnerability.  For us, losing one citizen is one too many.  There is a Hebrew expression “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh (All Jews are responsible for one another).  Hamas understands this one is trying to use it to the best of their advantage.

I don’t know how this tragic chapter in our history will end.  Hopefully, in triumph.  Hopefully, the Shalits will once again be a complete family.  I don’t know.  But I do know we’re made of tough stuff, and we are not going to stop championing the cause of Gilad’s freedom.  I just hope the price is not too high.

*He has French citizenship through his father.

** Number of Jews living in Israel according to the 2009 census.

Published in: on July 12, 2010 at 1:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

What’s Next?

As of this writing, it is unclear if the Rachel Corrie ship carrying supplies from Ireland will attempt to dock in Gaza. Some planners report that, due to mechanical problems, the ship will need to remain in Cyprus until necessary repairs can be made before continuing the journey.  Others claim that Israel has sabotaged the passenger and press boats accompanying the  cargo ship.  In either scenario, it is not clear when the flotilla will make its way toward the Gaza coast. 

So, what’s next? I hope that the “mechanical problems” are a ruse for not continuing the journey; that the cargo is unloaded in Cyprus, sent by air to Ben Gurion and then transported, by land, to a Gaza border crossing where it is re-inspected and then sent to the people of Gaza.  This would be an expensive undertaking for Israel but it is one that would not risk loss of life; would not feed the media circus and probably the best way to get the aid to the people of Gaza; the  “stated purpose” of the cargo flotillas.

But while revelations of terrorists and weapons aboard the “peace-loving” Mavi Marmara continue to surface, I still believe that supporters, crew and passengers of the Rachel Corrie will try to reach Gaza.    In true, I hope that Israel stands firm without becoming confrontational.  It’s a tall order.  Tensions are high; temperatures are very high and levels of distrust are very, very high. It’s not hard to imagine a situation where people become violent. But I hope that our leadership displays the necessary level of perseverance without becoming retaliatory. 

What does that mean for me?  Well, I hope we do not let the Rachel Corrie dock in Gaza.  The Israel blockade, as well as Egypt’s, is not random.  These blockades  were ordered to prevent the flow of goods into a territory who, in 2007, voted in a terrorist organization, Hamas, to run their government.  Yes, the list of contraband needs to be reviewed. I would like our government to explain why fresh coriander and chocolate, among other things, is a threat to my security. But  Israel cannot afford  any activity that will strengthen Hamas rule in Gaza. Allowing the import of seemingly innocuous cement would, as history has shown us, allow the expansion of tunnels which act as a conduit for smuggling weapons from Egypt into Gaza.

I hope that we continue to offer the possibility of docking the ships in the port of Ashdod, just a few kilometers to the north. Then, under supervision from an agreed-upon flotilla leader, the goods could go through security screening and then transferred to a land crossing into Gaza. This option would allow the fastest transfer of cargo without compromising Israeli security concerns.

But what if the Ashdod offer is rejected again?  Then what?  As tragic as it would be to see cargo come so close, Israel cannot allow the blockade to be broken now.  Yes, ships have gotten through before but the media hype is so high right now that any weakness will  cause an armada that will reek havoc on the safety of Israeli citizens.  Already, Kassams are flying again into Negev towns. So, assuming that the passengers are truly non-violent, as was the case in 5 of the 6 ships that tried to reach Gaza earlier this week, we should offer to refuel the ships if necessary so that they can return to Ireland, provide food and medical supplies to prevent any more “martyrs” if they choose not to turn around, but stay strong in our resolve to treat Gaza as a terrorist haven and not let the flotilla reach Gaza.  I hope we can achieve this without deaths on either side.

Published in: on June 4, 2010 at 3:10 pm  Leave a Comment  

Meanwhile …

Andy and I ran to the mall this evening to run some errands.  After parking the car, we ran into our friend, Avi*. After a bit of back and forth,  Avi commented that the good thing about malls  is that there’s no news there.  I knew what he meant.  I certainly needed a respite from current events and was glad that my greatest concern for the next hour was whether I’d find everything on my shopping list.  Wandering the aisles of Home Center and searching for enough matching drinking glasses, a lovely young Arab woman in a traditional head scarf helped us find the set we were looking for and even fetched a large shopping cart for us so we wouldn’t have to sweat getting to the check-out aisle with our purchase in one piece. We chit-chatted over nothing more intellectually stimulating than the funky shape of some of the glasses, wished each other a good night and went our separate ways.  A few minutes later, as the cashier scanned our purchases, I “flirted” with a little Arab boy whose proud young father  scooped him up and put him on his shoulders as if he were king of the world.

Life goes on.

*name changed to protect confidentiality

Published in: on June 1, 2010 at 7:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ask the Questions that Need to be Asked

Questions. So many questions.

Watching the news of the Mavi Marmara unfold yesterday, it became clear that reporters were interested in reporting a story, not facts.  And boy, what a story: Israeli commandos storm a ship carrying humanitarian aid in a middle-of-the-night raid. A classic tale of innocent freedom-lovers standing up against the big, bad Israeli army.  Michael Moore must be drooling for the movie rights.

The press was having a field day. The Palestinian Legislative Council’s Hanan Ashrawi and Hamas leader Ismail Haniya stated 19 activists were killed and reporters from CNN, BBC and France 24 jumped on those figures.  Today, there is still disagreement over the number of casualties, but no one is stating that the numbers are still disputed.  The news agencies report a number s if it was confirmed. This leads me to believe that news agencies were more interested in creating the story instead than reporting it. Who needs to verify facts?  Reporters announced that the passengers on the ship were taken by surprise. The fact is that 3 hours before the commandos descended on ropes, the IDF alerted the captain that he had a choice:                

1.Head to the port of Ashdod where arrangements would be made for cargo to be transferred to the residents of Gaza via one of the land crossings or

2.Risk IDF boarding of the ship 

The flotilla consisted of 6 ships.  Five were taken without incident; only the Mavi Marmara erupted in violence.  Why?

It’s a very complicated question, and it will take time and meticulous investigation to adequately answer it, but here are some issues to consider.

Were the 581 passengers spoiling for a showdown?  After all, the Israelis had, on numerous occasions offered to allow the flotilla to dock in Ashdod and,subject to security inspections, transport the reportedly 10,000 tons of goods to the people of Gaza.  This, in addition to the 15,000 tons of goods that Israel transports through land crossings to Gaza each week.  If their only purpose was to bring relief to the people of Gaza, why didn’t they accept this offer? And if they didn’t trust the Israelis, why didn’t they accept the earlier Egyptian offer to dock at El Arish in Sinai and allow the Egyptians to transport the goods?

And, if IHH (Istanbul-based Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief) passengers were so peace-loving, why did their organizers refuse requests earlier this week from Noam Shalit, father of Hamas-held Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, to bring supplies to his son? 

Was it the fact that, unlike the other ships, the Mavi Marmara was sponsored by the IHH?  The IHH is an Islamic organization that was founded in 1992 and registered in Istanbul in 1995 to provide aid to Muslims in Bosnia.  While it has provided needed humanitarian supplies to people in Pakistan,  Indonesia, Ethiopia and Iraq, as well as Gaza,  the IHH has long had ties with Hamas.  During a 1997 raid in their Istanbul offices, police found weapons, explosives and bomb-making materials.  It has a history of weapons trafficking and has had links to a Montreal terrorist cell. The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center has evidence linking IHH to various humanitarian efforts AND to global jihad networks. I did not see any reporter asking about IHH’s exploitation of legitimate charity to work to facilitate arms distribution across continents.

In August, 2008, Israel allowed 2 ships flying under Greek flags to dock in Gaza with humanitarian supplies.Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Aviv Shiron said: “They wanted provocation at sea, but they won’t get it. We know who the passengers are and what they are bringing with them and so we have no problem letting them through.”  What made the Mavi Marmara different?

First-hand accounts from Israeli commandos state that they were immediately met with armed resistance.  Descending from ropes attached to helicopters, they reported that passengers tried to attach the ropes to the ship in an attempt to bring down the helicopters. Commandos were met with passengers swinging bats, knives and metal bats.  Initially responding with paint ball guns (in an effort to minimize casualties, they reported that they only used their pistols after asking for permission once they had been attacked.).  Filmed footage seems to confirm these reports although the tape does not preclude the need for a thorough investigation.

I have utmost respect and admiration for the commandos.  These young men endure intense physical and mental training, and risk their lives every time they are called to action. For their future safety, and the safety of all Israelis, I wonder what alternatives to boarding this ship, if any,  were discussed? For example:

1. Instead of announcing that they would board the ship if it did not head to Ashdod, could Israeli boats have blocked the ship from moving forward?

2. And, if it was deemed necessary to board the ships and,  as Israel argues, the passengers on this particular ship were dangerous, were our soldiers adequately prepared to control an angry mob of almost 600 people?

3. Could stun grenades been used to disperse the crowds before boarding the ships?

 

The  questions go on and on.  I hope that we all start asking them.  While there’s no doubt that people in Gaza are suffering,  Israeli citizens of Sderot, Ashkelon and Ashdod suffered for years because of Gaza-based violence.  Israel’s fears of increased terrorism from Gaza are real and based on tragic experiences. And the young men who risked their lives yesterday need to know that the orders they are given are the ones that will provide the greatest security for Israel with the most minimal loss of life.

 

Published in: on June 1, 2010 at 9:37 am  Comments (1)