Israel-Hezbollah War

A view of the July-August 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war from an Israeli living in Haifa (under Katyusha rocket attack)- send personal comments to david2@lisbona.com

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Saturday, August 19, 2006

The shock

33 years ago I immigrated to Israel from the UK. Israel seemed to me an exciting place with warm people where I could feel at home being a Jew and not in any tension or dissonance between my national and my religious/cultural identity. For 29 years I lived in or near Tel Aviv which is the largest metropolitan area. That’s where the jobs and most of the action are, and where most of my friends and relatives lived. Four years ago I moved 100 km (60 miles) up the Mediterranean coast to Haifa, “only” 40km from the Lebanese border. It would never have occurred to me that I was moving from a “safe” part of the country to a war zone but that is what Haifa, and the rest of northern Israel has become in this war. Not that there is anything that intrinsically protects the centre of Israel from rocket attack. The Hezbollah in Lebanon have long range rockets which could hit Tel Aviv. They are fewer in number, more expensive, more complicated to deploy and therefore more vulnerable to Israeli Air Force attack. That's why they were used less or not at all. The Syrians and the Iranians have long-range missiles which can hit most of the population centres in Israel.

This time it is us in Haifa and the other intermediate towns in northern Israel who have got a resounding wake-up call as to our vulnerability. I never imagined that I would be under rocket attack and I assure you that it’s very unpleasant. I can (and do) rationalize about the limited danger to myself and my loved ones from the 3500 Katyusha rockets that were fired against Israel this last month “only” 50 civilians were killed . But that’s not the point – it’s the sudden (and frightening) realization that we (the Jews, the Jewish State of Israel) are definitely not wanted around here, and that there are enough groups around who want to hound us out of here. For the vast majority (about 7 million) of us Jewish Israelis , we have no other home. Going “back” to Poland or Morocco where our parents and grandparents were born is not an option.

It is human nature, and quite healthy in many ways, not to think about dangers around us. If we spend the whole time thinking about the purity of our drinking water, pesticides in our food and the dangers of an earthquake , we’d enjoy life much less. But there are times, like with air raid sirens going off, that we suddenly wake up to those dangers. It’s not clear yet what we, as a family or a people, are going to do about it but we can’t ignore the danger any more. Life is going to be different.

To see pictures of the war’s effects on Israel, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/dlisbona/sets/72157594242301485/ (updated)

Seeing for ourselves



As soon as the cease-fire went into effect on Monday (14 Aug) Irit suggested that we drive up for a few days to the Galilee (northern Israel) which bore the brunt of the 4000 Katyusha rockets that were fired at Israel from 12 July – 14 August.

We drove up on Tuesday and were amongst the very first visitors after the war. It was a fascinating trip and I have a lot to report, which I’ll start tomorrow. Meanwhile you can take a look at the photos I took on that trip. They are in http://www.flickr.com/photos/dlisbona/sets/72157594212420512/ . For those that relate directly to the war, see http://www.flickr.com/photos/dlisbona/sets/72157594242301485/ (will be updated in the next couple of days). Thanks for your patience. The picture on the right shows one of many tracts of land in northern Israel that were burnt by brush fires caused when Katyusha rockets landed in open spaces.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A trip to the war zone


Tuesday 15 August
Irit and I set off for a few days to visit the north of Israel that's closer to the Lebanese border and which suffered the brunt of Hezbollah shelling during the Israel-Hezbollah war of July-August. There's some discussion in Israel whether this was a "war" or a "operation" - I'll call it a war because of the significant consequences and the many lessons to be learned.

We decided to take this trip for several reasons:
We wanted to see with our own eyes the extent of the damage caused by the 4000 rockets fired by Hezbollah against Israel. Irit was convinced from TV reports that the damage was extensive. She imagined that we would find the northern town of Kiryat Shmona bombed out with barely a building untouched. I was sceptical - either way, we wanted to see with our own eyes.
During the war, even though it was no fun in Haifa, we were well aware that it was much worse for the far north of Israel where normal life had been completely paralysed for a whole month. The beautiful Galilee which depends on much of its income from tourism had a very hard time. We wanted to show the northerners we feel for them and we wanted to spend some money there to help, in a modest way, to revive their flagging fortunes
After being cooped up for a month in Haifa waiting for the air raid sirens (with occasional escapes to Tel Aviv) we wanted a bit of a vacation - the north of Israel is beautiful.

Our first stop was Savyonei Yam, a suburb north of Haifa which had suffered several direct hits by Katyusha rockets but we couldn't find any damaged buildings. Next was Nahariya http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nahariya , the most northerly town on Israel's Mediterranean coast which also suffered many Katyusha hits. Here we saw a few damaged buildings www.flickr.com/photos/dlisbona/218531655/in/set-72157594242301485/ but life seemed to be returning to normal. Apparently 70% of the population of Nahariya and other northern towns fled to the centre of the country for the duration of the war. I thought we would encounter a lot of traffic of returning residents on the roads but, if anything, there was less than average traffic. From Nahariya we drove to Maalot and from there to Tsfat (Safed) , both of which had suffered many Katyusha rockets but we didn't see any damaged buildings, only patches of forest that had burned as a result of Katyusha fires. We had lunch in the historic resort town of Rosh Pina http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosh_Pina - the restaurant was full of soldiers and media folks http://www.flickr.com/photos/dlisbona/218530357/in/set-72157594212420512/

On the way to the northern town of Kiryat Shmona we drive to the holiday village in Kibbutz Gonen, a very pleasant place to stay for a vacation in the Galilee http://www.flickr.com/photos/dlisbona/218529223/in/set-72157594212420512/ . The north of Israel has many tourist attractions, both historic and scenery and the area is usually full of Israelis with their families during the summer school holidays. There hasn't been a single tourist here for over a month. We come to the reception of the Gonen Holiday Village and find the door locked but Tsubik the manager soon appears. It seems we are the first tourists to visit after the war and we get the royal treatment. Apart from the locals, the only others around are soldiers, conscript and reserve, lots of them, and media people. Later we get to Kiryat Shmona where we see far more damaged buildings http://www.flickr.com/photos/dlisbona/sets/72157594242301485/ . We see damage in 2 shopping malls and have an excellent coffee and cake in the Alon Cake Shop in the "Heart of the North" mall which also suffered a direct hit. We see lots of people greeting each other. This town of 20,000 souls had been a ghost town for a month. 70% of the population fled to the (safe) centre or south of the country and 30% stuck in out living 24 hours a day in public shelters. Slowly the town is coming to life again. All the cakes in the cake shop were freshly baked this morning.

Walking free

Before the war…..it sounds strange saying that as if this “little” war has changed everything. OK, not everything but a lot in our consciousness. We (Irit and I) lived in the apparent illusion that we are living in a reasonably normal Western country and that our lives and those of our children are fairly safe. That might sound ridiculous to the average American or European reader who sees images of war and suicide bombers on television and thinks that we live our whole lives with a helmet on our heads dodging the bombs.

But the reality of everyday life for most Israelis is pretty mundane except in times of war. Most of us have jobs, we have families, we going shopping in supermarkets and malls. And I go jogging a few times a week in the pleasant streets of hilly Haifa and sometimes in the beautiful Carmel forest. But I haven’t done this for a month now – Irit wouldn’t have wanted me to be outside when Katyusha rockets were falling, and I accepted that it was better to be safe than sorry. This morning, 24 hours after the cease-fire went into effect, I went out jogging with our dog for the first time in a month. It’s amazing how we don’t appreciate enough what we have until it’s taken away from us. I certainly hadn’t appreciated what a privilege it is to be able to go out for a walk without fear or tension. Soon we’ll all forget again and take everything for granted. Or maybe not. Many of us (in Haifa) feel a lot less secure than we did before.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Assessment at 08:00

At 08:00 this morning Israel and Lebanon time the cease-fire called for in UN security Resolution 1701 entered into force. Here then is an initial assessment of the current situation from my/our (Israeli living in Haifa) point of view.

A respite from the Katyusha rocket attacks and the attendant air raid siren alarms will be very welcome. We had about 10 alarms yesterday in Haifa, some in very close succession and it’s very wearing. Many Israelis and Lebanese have suffered.

Will the ceasefire hold? Maybe, maybe not, but the more meaningful question is whether the other clauses in the latest UN Security Council Resolution 1701 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4785963.stm will be implemented. If the previous UN Security Council Resolution 1559 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/3623956.stm had been fully implemented (including the dismantling of the Hezbollah military) this war would never have broken out. We find it difficult to believe that the ineffectual, inexperienced and underfinanced Lebanese army will be able (even if they want to) to engage with the highly trained, highly armed and fearless Hezbollah fighters. According to the Lebanese constitution, the Lebanese army answers to the Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, a staunch supporter of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime. Are they going to disarm Hezbollah? Are French, Italian and Turkish soldiers going to risk their lives to confront Hezbollah? I’d like to believe it but I’d be surprised.

Yesterday Lebanon’s Prime Minister Siniora called a meeting of his government to discuss the disarming of Hezbollah. The Lebanese chief of staff declared that he’s not going to send his troops into the south unless Hezbollah is disarmed first. The Hezbollah members of the government said that disarming Hezbollah is out of the question (although it’s part of both above-mentioned well-intentioned UN resolutions) and walked out of the meeting. It’s not so simple in the Middle East –this isn’t Switzerland or Norway.
“Oh ye of little faith” I hear some of you cry at Israeli skepticism. Believe me, we will be more than happy to be proved wrong. The residents of northern Israel have been in air raid shelters for a month and over 100 Israelis have been killed. We’ve had quite enough, thank you.

The Israeli government has accepted the UN Security Council resolution and is prepared to give it a try. Between us, even if the implementation is 80% and not 100% that will be liveable with too. But if it falls through, we’ll be back to square one and back to war.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Killing civilians

I read with concern 2 recent reports
http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2006/08/12/israel-our-pride-that-we-only-hit-hezbollah/ and
http://www.richardsilverstein.com/tikun_olam/2006/08/11/idf-approves-refugee-convoy-from-merj-%e2%80%99uyun-then-attacks-it/
about the Israeli Air Force attacking Lebanese civilians nonchalantly or by mistake.

A few comments
1) When we feel under attack (as we in Israel do these days) even the most liberal, empathetic and peace loving amongst us are much more concerned about ourselves and or loved ones than people on the other side. These are simply survival instincts.
2) If an enemy fights from within a civilian environment, civilians are going to get killed. I know of no other military that gives warnings to civilians to leave battle areas and we can only regret if civilians don’t get out in time. To the best of our understanding the majority of the population of south Lebanon support the Hezbollah, Supporting on the one hand and saying we are helpless victims doesn’t work.
3) I seem to remember that most of the free world supported the Second World War against the Germans and the Japanese. I also seem to remember that rather a lot of innocent German and Japanese civilians were killed, many in the intentional bombing of cities by the Allies (that’s you) in order to break enemy morale. I don’t seem to remember any great outcry.
4) It’s really easy to criticise when you’re sitting comfortably in Europe or North America. I suggest you spend some time in a war zone and then we’ll talk about your empathy for the people on the other side.
5) In a previous post I mentioned a survey ttp://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/748012.html in which 91% of the Israeli public justify Israeli Air Force attacks even if they destroy infrastructure and cause suffering to the Lebanese. As we continue to be attacked, and let’s remember that the Hezbollah aims only at the civilian Israeli population, that percentage is not going down.
6) Israel has expressed regret at the deaths of innocent Lebanese civilians and I am sure that no Israeli would target them intentionally. I can’t seem to remember any Hezbollah expressions of regret at Israeli civilian deaths, except for those of Arabs. By them, it’s just great when Jews get killed.
7) Accidents happen in wartime and one has the impression, from the endless reporting, that the Israeli military has had too many foul ups during this war. It is therefore unfortunately quite possible that Israeli planes attacked a convoy whose movement had been coordinated with the relevant people in the Israeli military. It shouldn’t happen but anyone who has served in the military knows that there’s a lot of confusion and mistakes during war. I don’t condone these mistakes and I hope command and control will improve.

A Katyusha day


Well, I had the feeling that the Israeli army announcements yesterday about their elimination of more Katyusha rocket launchers were premature. We’ve definitely had a Katyusha day today (about 11 alarms so far and the day is not out yet). Nasrallah showing us that Hezbollah is definitely not yet down and out. The count so far today for the whole of northern Israel- about 220 Katyusha rockets landed, I person (innocent civilian please note) killed, 73 injured. One rocket landed in a open space next to a neighbouring suburb to where we live. A friend of a friend said that he saw the smoke cloud from his porch.

3 times this morning I started to walk our dog Sushi and each time I had to return home because the sirens went off. Maybe that’s why she couldn’t hold her water when the sirens went off in the afternoon. Or maybe she’s just getting more afraid. She wouldn’t be the only one. I know some young people who didn’t go down to the shelter when the sirens went off in the first two weeks but do so every time nowadays. Others just don’t believe that it could hit them so they go on driving and walking as usual.

Like other Haifa residents, I have started to listen to our local Haifa radio station Radio Haifa. I’m not normally very taken by their programming but they do have the best reporting about rocket hits and casualties in Haifa and the area. It’s also good to listen to them when one is driving because they’re the only radio station that broadcasts the sirens. If you’re driving with the windows closed and the air-conditioner on (it’s summer and all cars in Israel have conditioning) and the and one of the national radio stations on, you might not hear the siren. Radio Haifa has a jingle proclaiming that they’re the only radio station with online alarms. It’s definitely got them new listeners.

You too can listen to Radio Haifa via the Internet http://www.1075.fm/ although it gets a bit overloaded (at least during peak shelling time 9am – 8pm Israel time = 2am – 1pm EDT) . Who knows, maybe this will really be the last day of shelling, this time around. Tomorrow morning the cease fire is due to go into force. After a day like today, it’s difficult to believe that it might all be quiet in our home town from tomorrow. For the meantime.

Who won in this war ?

Neither side – it’s pretty much a draw. Each side can claim victory – the Hezbollah paralysed normal life in Israel for a month, killed 50 civilians in Israel and survived as a fighting force. The Israelis showed that it won’t turn the other cheek when attached, destroyed quite a lot of the massive Hezbollah military infrastructure in Lebanon and created the conditions for change in Lebanon. Both sides suffered losses and the war raises many questions for the Israelis and the Lebanese.

Interestingly and worryingly enough, Israel seems to be much more concerned with the question “Who won?” There seems to me to be something very immature, almost childish about this psychological need to say I won, he lost. There’s a lot of (false) pride and honour here, traits that we in Israel usually equate (with disdain) with the Arabs. But isn’t that what the psychologists say? – that we scorn in others those traits we will not admit in ourselves?

Hassan Nasrallah, in his televised address yesterday didn’t say that Hezbollah had won – he was his usual, calm, matter-of-fact televised self. Meanwhile the knives are being drawn in Israeli politics and media to find who is to blame for the failure. This while the official spokespeople keep claiming that Israel won. It’s time to stop playing cowboys and Indians, heroes and villains and just learn instead of looking for scapegoats and false victories. There’s a lot to learn and improve.

Almost over

Well, it seems this war is almost over and soon everyone will go back to their daily business – that is all those who were not directly affected and those are very many, in obviously differing degrees.

This morning we had 5 air raid alarms in Haifa in the space of half an hour – part of a last volley of rockets before the cease fire is due to be implemented. Yesterday only 68 Katyusha rockets fell inside Israel – the Israeli army says that the reduced number is a result of their extended ground operation in southern Lebanon. But that’s what they would say of course. They have a lot of lost credibility to regain in the eyes of the Israeli public and it doesn’t hurt to justify the ongoing land operation with its heavy toll in lives of Israeli soldiers. Let’s hope that Nasrallah doesn’t prove them wrong with a final dramatic firework display before the ceasefire is implemented.

Friday, August 11, 2006

An ordinary war day in Haifa

The day started (not particularly early - thank you Nasrallah) with an air-raid siren . It caught Irit just while she was exercising , but, no choice, we run down to the shelter. We've tidied up our shelter and put in some more chairs because we're expecting the visit of Irit's daughter-in-law, Einat and her 3 children. Irit's elder son has also been called up into emergency reserve in the army (we now have 3 family members who've been called up) and Einat doesn't feel comfortable staying alone in their apartment with 3 children (including a 6 week old baby). They are, as it were, internal refugees in Haifa. We are happy to have them stay with us - it's nice to have children around the house.

They come at about 10 a.m. and soon afterwards the siren goes off again and 8 of us rush down to the shelter - Irit, Shiri (from the upstairs apartment) , Einat, her 3 children, me and the dog.
The next alarm catches me outside walking the dog. I find shelter but our dog, Sushi, gets rather nervous when we hear a rocket explosion not that far away. So as not to give the Hezbollah aiming information, radio and televsion no longer announce the precise landing spots of the rockets in and around Haifa. But we all have friends all around Haifa so after a few phone calls we find out that one of the rockets landed near the coastal road (to Tel Aviv). That's scary because we use that road sometimes. At lunchtime I pass by there and see police cars and workmen repairing the road.

In the afternoon we only have one air raid and in the evening my 94-year old father and another elderly relative come for dinner. As I take them home, I wonder what I and they should do if they're an air aid while we're in the car. If driving when an alarm goes off, one is supposed to stop the car, get out and run for shelter. But this doesn't seem a very practical odea for the over 8o's and 90's . I don't have a satisfactory plan but fortunately it doesn't happen.

As I said, just an ordinary war day in Haifa.

From the Press

From the leader in The Economist www.economist.com of Aug 5: "It is sometimes no bad things to end with a draw. Lopsided victories, like the ones Israel won in 1948 and 1967, can leave a residue of hubris on one side and shattered pride on the other that block peacemaking for decades. By contrast, the war of 1973, which both Israel and Egypt claimed to have won, restored Egyptian honour and persuaded Israel that it was worth exchanging the Sinai peninsula for peace with its strongest neighbour." I think I'll buy that. Since the start of the war I've been hoping that both sides can declare that they've won. If indeed a cease-fire is close, Hezbollah can claim it has survived, fought heroically against the Israelis and injured Israel with its incessant barrage of Katyusha rockets. Israel will be cable to claim that it has changed (hopefully for good) the situation where a heavily armed militia (that does not accept Israel's exisitence) sits on its border and attacks it.

In a survey published in this morning's Haaretz newspaper more Israelis see the result of the war as a draw or a failure than a victory, and that presages a lot of political mud-slinging, and hopefully some serious soul searching and lesson learning once the fighting is over. The implications of this war, which is the first for over 50 years to be felt painfully by Israel's civilian population, will be enormous.

On Wednesday the Haaretz newspaper www.haaretz.com reported the resignation of veteran Arab affairs journalist Faiz Abbas from the biggest daily newspaper Yediot Achronot www.ynetnews.com because of an article by the newspaper's editor. Faiz Abbas lambasts the Arab affairs commentators on the Israel TV channels for wishful thinking and totally misrepresenting the mood in the Arab world. Without knowing (like 95% of Jewish Israelis I know very little Arabic) my guess is that he is right. The commentators and Arab affairs analysts tell their masters and the viewers what they want to hear and we do not really understand the Arab mindset. We are playing at being a prosperous, democratic, consumerist, fun-loving country in the middle of 100 million under-achieving 3rd world Arabs who don't want us here.

In another article in Wednesday's Haaretz, the virulently pro-Palestinian columnist Amira Hass writes "Israel is convinced that in Lebanon, as in Gaza and the West Bank, its unlimited power to destroy is both a deterrent and a spur to political change............... the Palestinians and Lebanese fortitude grows in lockstep with our strengthening powers of destruction". I suspect she is right. Against all Western logic the Palestinians are showing remarkable (some would say masochistic) powers of endurance in seeking what they see as absolute justice and honour. Destruction and revenge do not work - they are also morally repugnant. But pacificism and soft talk is no alternative. There are too many Moslems who want our elimination. There has to be a middle way.

Every month the Steinmetz Center of Peace Research conducts a survey among the Israelis public. In the survey conducted at the beginning of August http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/748012.html 91% of the public justify Israeli Air Force attacks even if they destroy infrastructure and cause suffering to the Lebanese, and a small majority defines the national mood as good. Well, the mood is not so good now and one wonders what alternatives can be found to the use of force. Israel feels frustrated, unloved and afraid but powerful and that's a very problematic combination.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Extending the war

At the time of publishing this post, there seem to be renewed possibilities of a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah and I would be very happy for that (not just because of the rockets on Haifa and the north of Israel).

Yesterday, after a 6-hour meeting, the Israeli cabinet yesterday approved extending the ground war against the Hezbollah by giving the Israeli military the go-ahead to advance 20 km (to the Litani river) in Lebanese territory. However the implementation has been suspended to give more chance to the diplomatic process.

It's understandable that the decision to purseue the ground war was taken (with many reservations) and it's understandable why it took 6 hours.
In spite of the reputation of the all-powerful and over-proportional Israel military it has not succeeded in inflicting a resounding defeat , or even a significant weakening of the Hezbollah.

Israel's war against the Hezbolah was launched in the shadow of 2 incidents in which the Israeli military was caught ill-prepared - the raid in Kerem Shalom (near Gaza) where 3 Israeli soldiers were killed and one was captured (the Israelis say kidnapped) and the Hezbollah raid where 8 soldiers were killed and 2 soldiers were captured. And this in the wake of intense frustration at being unable to stop the daily barrage of primitive (but deadly and terrorising) Kassam rockets from Gaza. It should be mentioned that all these attacks aganst Israel are across internationally agreed borders - but that doesn't seem to stop those who hate Israel.

After 4 weeks of fighting and Israeli air raids on Lebanon, Israel has still has not managed to stop Hezbollah's shooting over 100 rockets per day into northern Israel. The extension of the land operation is both a gamble and a tactical move. The gamble (vis-a-vis the Israeli public) is if the military will succeed in "significantly diminishing" the number of Hezbollah rockets without too many casualties amonst the Israeli soldiers and the local Lebanese population.

There is both an individual ego-play and a regional deterrence game here. The Israeli military has been made to look foolish and ineffectual while its leaders have boasted about "teaching the Hezbollah a lesson". Their personal honour, pride and credibility is at stake. The deterrence issue is a more rational and less testosterone-filled argument. I am convinced that power and strength play very very important roles in the patriarchal Arab psyche and that Israel cannot afford to look weak. As it is, the Palestinians and the Hezbollah view Israel's exit from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza last year as signs of Israeli weakness and as encouragement for their belligerency. However, if Israel is indeed to restore its power of deterrence, it had better be 200% sure that it's going to suceed. Otherwise the attempt will be a greater failure than not having tried at all.

The fighting in Lebanon is very tough (more of that in another post) and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is said to be worried about the extent of Israeli and Lebanese casualties. This is not weakness but caution and I don't envy him these decisions right now.

We don't know of course whether the current diplomatic efforts will yield fruit and Israel should continue applying pressure (and fighting the Hezboollah) in order to improve the diplomatic outcome - that's the tactical move. Let's hope the diplomats come up with acceptable solutions soon , otherwise there'll be a lot more suffering on both sides.

On the use of force and violence

Israeli society is probably by Western standards , and definitely by Middle Eastern standards, a fairly peaceful one. I am almost certain that the number of murders or wife/child-beating per thousand of population in Israel is less than in Russia or the USA, and definitely less than in Egypt or Lebanon (in peaceful times). I'll be happy to bring you precise statistics.

That being said, violence in Israel (within families, by schoolchildren) is said to be on the increase. Liberal psychologists have ascribed this to the force used and lack of respect by Israeli soldiers towards the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

If you would ask 100 Israelis in the street whether they believe that the use of force and violence is an acceptable way to solve problems, I believe the vast majority would give a resounding no. However, if you would ask those same Israelis whether the use of overhelming force is acceptable against the civilian Palestinian or Lebanese population, far more would approve, some even enthusiastically.

I wouldn't call this racism but I would admit that Jewish Israelis are culturally conditioned to fear and distrust Arabs. Almost 100 years of violent Arab opposition to Jewish settlement and independence in the historic Land of Israel/Palestine doesn't help. There is also an old trusim in Israeli society that "the Arabs only understand power". Certainly we in Israeli society believe that power, force and violence and much more respected, accepted and used in Arab than in Western society. The Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 (in which 2 million people ! were killed) and the current interethnic carnage in Iraq seem to support this thesis.

Right now many Israelis are very angry and very frustrated at the lack of success in curbing the incredible power and arsenals that Hezbollah has accumulated in southern Lebanon. We are very afraid of the threats being made against our existence. Like any other species (human or animal) we value more highly the lives of our species than that of competitive ones. In existential crises, we get into the mindset "It's either us or them". So, amazingly and terribly, talking to otherwise liberal and pleasant Israelis these days , you will find not a few who propose razing Lebanese villages (including their remaining residents) to the ground if Hezbollah fighters are shooting from there.

Israelis are,by and large, a peaceable and fairly tolerant people. Our fear and frustration is driving us to contemplate terrible things. Nobody will risk extinction in order to remain humane - survival is the ultimate primal instinct. A lot has to be done to calm Israeli fears - unfortunately Jewish history and the behaviour of our Arab neighbours reinforce our fears.

Another visit to hospital

I took the picture on the right a few days ago when Irit and I went to visit a friend whose father is terminally ill in Rambam hospital in Haifa. It's not that clear from the picture but the sight we saw as we approached the main entrance of the hospital were tens of stretcher beds and wheelchairs outside the emergency room waiting for the injured, either from rocket attacks in Haifa or injured soldiers from Lebanon.

Yesterday evening Irit and I went again to Rambam hospital (to visit the same friend) but this time, things looked much worse. There were far more stretcher beds waiting ourside the emergency room, several TV outside broadcast vans (aiting to broadcast about injured) and we found that many of the regular wards had been relocated in the concrete basement of the hospital. Our friend's father had been moved out yesterday to another hospital and it was clear that the hospital is on a war footing. They are obviously preparing themselves for the possibility of many more dead and injured . Emptying wards of non-critical patients and moving the remaining patients underground is not exactly a hopeful sign either.

The Israeli cabinet yesterday authorised a massive expansion of the land operation but it has been put on hold. Prime Minister Olmert is actiong very cautiously and known to be very concerned that hundreds of Israeli soldiers might be killed in such an operation. As terrible as any casualties are, so far casualties on both sides are limited. But it isn't over yet, and for Israel (and the Palestinians) it may never be over.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Getting used to the air raid sirens

We are in the 28th day of the war and Haifa (where my beloved Irit and I live) has experienced air raid siren alarms for most of the last 24 days. I have written before http://hezbisraelwar.blogspot.com/2006/07/air-raid-experience.html about the air raid siren experience but it's time to write again. These alarms (and the occasional rocket explosions we hear) are the way in which we personally are experiencing this war. There have been a few days that have been completely quiet, on other days we have had 8-9 alarms a day.

First of all, to get a feeling of what a real-life air raid siren sounds like, click on http://www.airraidsirens.com/mp3/uvfrsd10.mp3 . I don't recommend doing it near someone anxious or someone who's been in a war - Irit's daughter (who lives in Tel Aviv) turned as white as a sheet when she heard it, even though I told her it was just me. Israelis have a lot of fear.

When we hear the air-raid siren at home, Irit and I rush down to the shelter we have in the basement with our dog Sushi. In the first week, we kept Sushi's leash on during the whole day so it would be easier to lead her down. This is no longer neccessary - she has become perfectly conditioned and waits at the door to the basement as soon as the siren starts. Yesterday we visited some friends here in Haifa who told us that their dog is the first in their protective space when the alarm sounds. The alarm is supposed to give us up to 1 minute warning and we stay in the shelter for a few minutes after the alarm stops.

The alarms are a very mixed blessing. On the one hand, they do give warning although there have also been many cases of false alarms. Everybody who has taken refuge in a shelter has escaped injury even when there has been a direct hit . One couple were in a protective space (with concrete walls) when a Katyusha rocket hit and completely destroyed their home -apart from shock they were OK. There have been tragic cases where people were in a shelter, heard a rocket explosion, left the shelter to see where the rocket landed and were caught outside, and killed by a second rocket attack a few minutes later. So every sensible person with common sense takes shelter when they hear an alarm. That does not include those macho Israelis who think it's cissy or pointless to take shelter. They will say (and they have a point) that -on average- only 2 Israelis have been killed by 120 rockets each day over the small whole of northern Israel so the absolute risk isn't that great. Some people are fatalistic and say that if a rocket has their name written on it, then it will find them shelter or no shelter.

Fatalism or not, the alarms do have one major downside - they are in themselves very scary. Imagine if you heard a certain , very definitive loud noise several times a day bearing the message "Look, mate, you may die in a minute or so if you don't take shelter". One elderly lady already died from cardiac arrest on her way to the shelter. It's not surprising that some people prefer denial. The residents of Kiryat Shmona , an Israeli town of 20,000 people only 10 km from the Lebanese border who have suffered the worst Katyusha shelling by far in the last 10 days have only had alarms since the last few days. Before that they had no warning -residents there are supposed to stay in shelters 24 hours a day. But you can go crazy having to sit around all day in a confined space and probably more and more people have been going out for a breather. The army used to say that they couldn't provide warnings for the short-range Katyushas (like those that hit Kiryat Shmona) but now they do, and the locals are hearing 20-30 alarms a day as well as the deafening explosions when the rockets hit the ground or a house and the incessant artillery barrages from Israeli guns. God knows what this is doing to their sanity.

In Haifa, where the situation is much much easier, we are getting used to the alarms. Human beings are remarkably adaptive and somehow we are accepting these alarms as part of our current daily lives.