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

Top Blogs eXTReMe Tracker

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Some answers

I'd like to relate to some questions which came up in comments to this blog

Isn't killing innocent children, women and the elderly an attack of terrorism?
No, not when
a) there's no intention to kill innocent civilians and considerable care is taken to limit civilian deaths and injuries. Even though 450 Lebanese civilian deaths are terrible, this is a very small number considering that the Israeli Aif Force has made over 2000 bombing sorties against the Hezbollah since the start of the war.
b) those civilians are aiding, abetting, supporting and hosting terrorists firing dangerous weapons at innocent people. Let's remember that Hezbollah is intentionally and exclusively targeting the Israeli population and that 100% of deaths and injuries on the Israeli side from Hezbollah rockets have been civilians .

The media keeps on saying how the Israeli army has warned the citizens of Lebanon to flee their homes because the army will be dropping bombs. Where are the citizens going to flee to? Some can't even get passed the check points.
Indeed there have been reports that in some places the Hezbollah prevented Lebanese civilians from leaving their villages. The Hezbollah seem perfectly prepared to sacrifice Lebanese lives so they can use civilians as human shields. I call that moral blackmail and we cannot play along. However, this was not the case in Qana where the civilans stayed without coercion. It is, of course, desparately difficult for poor people in a severly bombed war zone to find refuge. We hope that as many as possible will find some way of distancing themselves from the Hezbollah fighters, even if it is in the fields and orchards of the villages.

Is it illegal for Israelis and Arabs to meet ?
80% of Israelis are Jews and 20% are Arabs and there is no limitation of any kind for Israeli Jews and Arabs to meet. My point was that, by and large, Jews and Arabs don't mix socially especially in Israel's major population areas. Ironically, in the north of Israel which has a considerable Arab population and where people are holed up in shelters for the last two weeks, there is much interaction - mostly at work, less on a social level. Before the Palestinian Intifada and suicide attacks in buses, shopping malls and other civilian targets, over 100,000 Palestinians came into Israel each day to work. Israel has built a wall to protect itself and there is no vitually no contact between Israeli civilians and Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza.

- David

The tragedy at Qana (revised)

Let there be no mistake. The Israeli Air Force intentionally bombed the village of Qana from which 150 Katyusha rockets have been fired against northern Israel. The killing of 28 civilians (not 50 or 60 as previously reported) in the Lebanese village of Qana was however a tragic miscalculation. Israel did not intend to kill innocent civilians.

It is a tragedy that innocent civilians get killed in war although this has been happening since the start of time. The citizens of Qana received clear warnings (through dropped leaflets) that the Israeli Air Force would attack because Hezbollah has been firing from there. There are many proven cases of the Hezbollah firing Katyusha rockets from within civilian homes and those civilians sometimes pay the deadly price of hosting (in their homes) terrorists who are firing rockets against population centres in Israel. It is a tragedy that the Hezbollah cynically uses the civilian population as human shields and prevents some of them from fleeing and saving their lives. It is a tragedy for the citizens of southern Lebanon that they support an organisation that wants to eliminate its powerful southern neighbour.
If you were being fired on by someone who hides among women and children, are you sure you would desist from responding? Terrorists like Hezbollah know that we have more inhhibitions than they do and they blackmail our morals. 28 civilians killed tragically in the course of a legitimate response to attacks is not a massacre whatever the inflamed Arab media may say.

Israel is well aware (at least after the fact) of the adverse effect on world public opinion of the pictures of childrens' bodies being removed from the ruins of a building. We in Israel have much criticism of Israeli intelligence for not having known there were civilians in the building because, if they had, they would have desisted. I also criticise the government for not thinking that a tragedy like this might happen i.e. of not weighing correctly the benefits to the risks. I shared with many people my concern about another tragic incident on the Israeli side.

Life will be forever changed for some families in Qana and the question is what will happen in the wider picture. It is a terrible shame that the Israeli military has not suceeded more against the Hezbollah and has taken many Lebanese lives. The Israeli government has been weak and ineffectual. Let us hope that the suffering on both sides will not be in vain.

Morning concert

My Dad is 95 years old and immigrated to Israel 3 years ago from England to spend his latter years with his family in Israel. He was a bomber pilot in World War 2 and has seen a thing or two in his life. He doesn't get particularly upset in the current war, definitely not for his personal safety. At his age, it's unlikely that he'd die from a Hezbollah rocket.

Every day (not only in wartime) he calls me at 9 a.m. to check how we are and to ask if I can come to him for lunch. This morning he called as usual and asked and I reminded him that we are in Tel Aviv - we stayed over at my daughter Daphnie's apartment. "Oh", he said "so that means you missed the morning concert - we had 3 alarms since 7 o'clock in the morning". "You see, when you leave Haifa, you miss all the good stuff". Humor definitely helps. I'm actually quite surprised that he heard the alarms this morning. Usually he doesn't unless he has his hearing aid (I almost wrote raid) turned on.

Yesterday 90 rockets fell in the Galilee, 100 on Saturday, 120 on Friday. Is this sign of a decline? Maybe, maybe not - too early to tell. The daily average since the start of the war is 100 a day. Varying the frequency may just be part of a Hezbollah policy to keep us confused and on edge.

Irit and the war

My beloved significant other Irit is a wonderful woman whom I admire and love enormously. She works as the principal of a Special Education school in Haifa for emotionally and psychologically disturbed teenagers. Most of the kids in her school come from broken homes with dysfunctional parents - some of the kids are violent and they need and get a lot of loving care.

Irit has to manage a complex and difficult environment and she does it admirably. She has a lot of common sense, she has her feet on the ground and functions well even when those around her are very stressed. At the start of this war (this is our first war together) she told me "You should know that I don't do wars very well" and indeed she has been edgy, worried and angry since the war began. Every time there's a siren she runs down with our dog to the shelter at lightning speed and when we emerge she always turns on the TV to see if there are any news reports about what happened.

I thought it might do us some good to do what many others (who can) have done since the start of the war and that is to move down to the peaceful centre of the country. More of that in my next report.

Sin(ema) City

A few miles north of Tel Aviv on the Tel-Aviv Haifa highway, near a hush-hush installation, lies a huge entertainment complex called Cinema City with 21 screens, a food court with Pizza, McDonald's, Chinese food and ice-cream.

Irit and I are "on vacation" in Tel Aviv for a few days to get away from the air raid sirens and rocket attacks in Haifa. As part of this vacation in a "normal" part of the country we decided to go to the cinema last night to see a new Israeli film (Aviva, my beloved) and that's what brought us to Cinema City. We knew that life in the sin city of Tel Aviv (compared to the provinciality and respectability of Haifa) was normal but we didn't imagine that it could be this "normal". We stood in the foyer of the cinema complex after the movie and gaped at the attractive young folks in their microskirts, deep tans, spiky shoes and and streaked hair enjoying entertainment like on any summer evening in a prosperous Americanized society.

Someone from another planet coming to Cinema City could never guess that an hour north of here people hear air raid sirens several times a day and that 2 hours north of here soldiers are fighting a bloody war and civilians have spent over 2 weeks in air raid shelters. I have very mixed feelings about this "normalcy". On the one hand, I'm happy that over two thirds of Israel's population have no first-hand experience of the war (yet) and continue their working and partying lives as usual. On the other hand, I wonder if this isn't yet another symptom of disconnect in modern (Israeli) society. Irit's daughter, Yael, who works as a psychotherapist in Tel Aviv reports that all her patients/clients are just talking about their personal issues and not the war. As we watched the happy filmgoers last night, Irit and I wondered whether all of them know about the war. For some of them, maybe it's just another action movie and they're waiting for the bad guy to go down in flames and the good guy to go off with his girl. And then they'll move to another channel.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Ballistics experts

We've all suddenly become military experts. The Israeli Air Force supposedly attacked a Hezbollah command centre in Tyre a couple of days ago which controls the despatch of rockets towards Haifa and indeed it has been quieter with rocket attacks in Haifa since then. The rocket attacks continue on the Israeli towns and communities closer to the Lebanese border - Naharia, Kiryat Shmona and others. For years Israelis such as Irit and I heard about Katyusha attacks on Israeli towns near the border and in the last 6 months we have been hearing about daily Kassam attacks from Gaza on the southern town of Sderot. But the truth is that either we are egoistic or lack imagination to understand what it feels like to be under daily rocket attack. Now we understand real good and it's not going to make us any more pacifist. I am a great believer in understanding the pain and problems on the other side by talking to ordinary people and that's why I've been involved in the last 4 years in the very unconventional activity (for Jewish Israelis) of meeting Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and it has opened my eyes. Now my eyes are being opened by the real threats from and aspirations of the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

There weren't any sirens in Haifa this morning (thank you Nasrallah for giving us quiet Saturday morning) and at lunchtime Irit and I drove to Tel Aviv a few days vacation. We heard that there were 3 false alarms in Haifa this afternoon.

Yesterday Hezbollah fired (for the first time) a more powerful rocket against the Israeli town of Afula - not far from the biblical site of Megiddo (Armageddon). Fortunately there were no injuries but Hezbollah leaders threaten to fire rockets at the big cities in central Israel.

At least people like Irit and I will know what to do if we hear an air raid siren while we're in Tel Aviv but I don't wish the experience on those who have been saved it so far. As it is, we are all ears for the possible sound of a siren. At the time of the first Guld War in 1991 it took us months after the war ended not to tense up when we thought we heard a siren. And in that war there was only about one air raid siren alarm per day.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The tragedy of Lebanon

As an Israeli, I cannot visit Lebanon although it is supposed to be a beautiful country and it is only an hour's drive from my current home. Before 1948 Palestinian Jews and Arabs would travel to Beirut to enjoy its nightlife and to the Lebanese mountains to go skiing. There used to be a railway line from Haifa to Beirut. The railway tunnel from Israel to Lebanon has been cemented up since 1948.

Lebanon is the home to many ethnic groups - Sunni and Shia moslems, Druze, Christians of various denominations - it also has a tiny but aged Jewish community . Some of my relatives were born and lived in Lebanon.

Lebanon had a sort of power-sharing arrangement between the various groups which collapsed during the Lebanese Civil War that lasted (on and off) from 1975-1990. PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) terrorists attacked Israel repeatedly and Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1978 and again in 1982 when the PLO was forced to flee Lebanon. In 1985 Israel retreated to a security zone in the south of Lebanon and retreated unilaterally to the international border in May 2000. The optimists in Israel (me included) thought that finally we would have peace (or at least quiet) on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

During the good years Lebanon was the playground of the Arab Middle East. During the bad years of 1975-1990 there was terrible destruction. Since 1990 Lebanon started to rebuild and rehabilitate and now once again there is death and destruction . My heart weeps for all the innocents who have suffered so much.

To stay or to flee

My beloved Irit and I are undecided about staying in Haifa or fleeing temporarily like many others to somewhere in central Israel. We have had offers from family and friends in Tel Aviv, Kfar Shmaryahu and Jerusalem to host us and also from Arab friends in the village of Faradis and the town of Um-El-Fahm (more of that in a separate post).

Unlike the refugees in Lebanon for whom the very act of fleeing is fraught with dangers (from Hezbollah or the Israeli Air Force), we can take the car anytime and go somewhere in Israel beyond the current range of the Katyusha rockets. We do it from time to time - a couple of days ago we visited some frends from Canada who are staying at a holiday village on the beautiful coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa (see picture) . It is quite surrealistic to come from Haifa - where the streets are half-empty and the shops shut - to central Israel with the beaches full and traffic jams abound.

We somehow don't feel at ease in an environment which seems to be functioning as if there is no war on. We hear that people are going out less and reactions seem to depend on the age group. From what we hear from our anxious, liberal friends our middle-aged generation seems more concerned or at least more verbal than the 20-somethings who are more detached. Now that many more reserve soldiers are to be called up, that may change.

No diplomatic option now?

Further to my previous post, my friends tell me that there is no diplomatic option now, that Hezbollah will not agree (as of now) to leave south Lebanon, and that no international force will agree to come there and confront them. None of us know what Hezbollah's real position is and they may be more conciliatory in private diplomatic discussions than in their public pronouncements. I hope anyway that Israel is testing the diplomatic waters all the while. In truth, it is difficult to imagine an international force taking risks, absorbing casualties and being effective.

So it seems that meanwhile Israel's only other option is a massive all-out attack against the Hezbollah in southern Lebanon and thereby against southern Lebanon itself. Israeli newspapers report this morning the call up of "tens of thousands" of reserve soldiers including probably Irit's son-in-law who told us last night that he expects to be enlisted. It is sad, it is painful, it is frightening. We seem to have gotten ourselves into a situation where we must "win". Let's pray that we do and that the price will not be heart-rending.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Israel's two options

As we speak, Israel is at a crossroads in this war. The militarists, the right-wing say "Put massive ground forces in, we must win", the liberals and the pacifists say "Get the beast diplomatic agreement we can".

The Israeli government should indeed coldly evaluate and choose clearly between one of these two options. Choosing a wishy-washy option may be worse - there will be no chance of a significant victory while Israel remains so sensitive to its own and Lebanese civilian casualties and to world opinion.

Let us understand the two options. The first is total determination for a significant victory against the Hezbollah, even at very great cost. This option means calling up thousands of Israeli reserve soldiers and sending a massive force to re-invade southern Lebanon (Israel did this in 1982). The Hezbollah guerilla forces have shown themselves in the 1990's and already in this war as being brave, well-armed and effective fighters and they may cause the deaths of hundreds of Israeli soldiers. To increase its chances of success Israel would have to be merciless, killing everything that moves in southern Lebanon to beat Hezbollah. Israeli planes have dropped leaflets over southern Lebanon telling the civilian population to flee but , contrary to Israel's "humanitarian" intentions, many have not. The Hezbollah is ruthless, including the cynical use of the civilian Shiite population. If Israel is to have a better chance against the Hezbollah, in this option, Israel must be ruthless too, impervious to the killing of thousands of Lebanese civilians and to the inevitable international reaction. Israel should cut off Lebanon's electricity which will hurt all the Lebanese people but also the Hezbollah acting in their midst. Israel should use carpet bombing, maybe even napalm, without compunction. If Israel is crazy and ruthless enough, the Arab world and Iran will take note. If Israel causes sufficiently massive destruction and suffering in Lebanon, it will "succeed" (at least for now) even if it doesn not succeed in severely disabling the Hezbollah fighting force.

The alternative is to realise that Israel does want to maintain some humanity, morality and international legitimacy, to realise that if one wants to limit one's own and the other's civilian casualties then there's a price. The price is one's pride and one's feeling of security. The last days of war have shown the Hezbollah fighters to be effective fighters who fear nothing while the Israeli army leadership suffers from fear, poor intelligence and ineffective management. Israel has wreaked enough destruction already in Lebanon for there to be an improvement for Israel by diplomatic means. Israel has flexed its power of destruction enough. Please let's go the diplomatic way as soon as possible.

A must-win situation?

In his today's article in Haaretz , the newspaper's veteran military commentator Ze'ev Schiff expounds a widely held view among the Jewish public in Israel that Israel must "win" (my quotation marks) the current war with the Hezbollah. This declaration usually goes along with the declaration that Israel had no choice in starting this war.

Israel did have a choice how to react the the Hezbollah border raid on the Israeli Army patrol and it chose massive retaliation as punishment, deterrence or both. In the far distant past of 2 weeks ago, our (Israeli) leaders spoke (with much macho) about eliminating the Hezbollah, teaching them a lesson and restoring Israel's deterrent power. As of today none of these objectives seems achievable. Israel's leaders took the gamble (maybe they didn't have any doubts, which is probably worse) that the most powerful army in the region could achieve an overwhelming victory aganst the Hezbollah guerilla forces. The gamble was that the benefits of a military action would outweigh the suffering on the Lebanese and Israeli sides and international disapproval. So it's not we didn't have a choice but either the assessment of the chances and risks of different courses of action was wrong or wasn't made. To say "we didn't have a choice" is really to say "Sorry, we made the wrong choice".

Now let's look at this current declaration that "we must win". What does it really mean? When we say "I must stop smoking" or "I must go on a diet", we mean that we know we should, it would be good for us, some part of us wants to and another part of us is holding us back. The declaration "we must" is used to encourage ourselves but we have doubts. If the consequenses of "losing" (I really don't like this childish, competitive, losing and winning way of looking at things) are really so bad, then we have to chance the rules of the game - carpet bombing of southern Lebanon, destroying their power supplies, killing thousands of civilians, risking hundreds of Israeli dead.

To summarise, if "we must win" is a way of encouraging ourselves when we are either unsure of our motivation, legitimacy, courage or ability, we are not in good shape. If "we must win" is an excuse for doing terrible things because of our fears, then that is terrible. I'd feel much happier if we said "We decided what we decided - now let's simply try and get the best diplomatic solution we can. We have shown our destructive power enough for the world to realise the necessity of new security arrangements in south Lebanon".

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Katyusha graph

This is the graph (scanned from today's Maariv newspaper) of the number of Katyusha attacks on Israel each day by the Hezbollah. In spite of the Israeli bombardment of Hezbollah launchers and ammunition respositories, there's no apparent decrease.

Top Personal Blogs

The accidental war

Leader in the July 20 edition of the The Economist magazine

The war that has just erupted apparently without warning between Israel and Lebanon looks miserably familiar. The wanton spilling of blood, the shattering of lives and homes, the flight of refugees: it has all happened in much the same way and just the same places before. In 1982 an Israeli government sent tanks into the heart of Beirut to crush the “state within a state” of Yasser Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organisation. A quarter of a century later, Israel's air force is pulverising Lebanon in order to crush the state within a state established there by Hizbullah, Lebanon's Iranian-inspired “Party of God”. That earlier war looked at first like a brilliant victory for Israel. Arafat and his men had to be rescued by the Americans and escorted to exile in faraway Tunis. But Israel's joy did not last. The war killed thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, along with hundreds of Israeli and Syrian soldiers. It brought years of misery to Lebanon—and, of course, no peace in the end to Israel. The likeliest outcome of this war is that the same futile cycle will repeat itself.

Why it started
As in 1982, it started with a pinprick. Then, it was a Palestinian assassination attempt on an Israeli diplomat in London. This time it was the decision of Hizbullah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, to send his fighters on a cross-border raid into Israel on July 12th, where they killed several soldiers and captured two. This was, as Israel complains, an unprovoked attack on its sovereign territory. Israel says the timing—three days before the G8 summit in St Petersburg—was no coincidence, that Iran was using Hizbullah to deflect attention from its fishy nuclear programme. An equally plausible explanation is that the war is the product of a mistake.

In launching his raid Mr Nasrallah was in fact doing nothing new. In recent years, Hizbullah has mounted several similar raids into Israel. It got away with them, even when Israel was led by Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, tough prime ministers who had been war heroes too. Their reactions were astonishingly mild. The reason for this, as Mr Nasrallah constantly boasted, was his arsenal of around 12,000 Iranian and Syrian rockets and missiles. With these as a deterrent, Mr Nasrallah felt free to pursue an intermittent cross-border war against his much stronger neighbour, piling up prestige for resisting the Zionist “occupier”—even though, in point of fact, Israel withdrew from all of Lebanon's territory six years ago, and has a certificate from the United Nations to prove it.
This time, too, Mr Nasrallah may have expected the usual tokenistic response. If so, he miscalculated. Shortly before the Hizbullah raid carried away two Israeli soldiers, the Palestinian Hamas movement had mounted an equally daring raid into Israel from the Gaza Strip (another place from which Israel had completely withdrawn), killing two soldiers and nabbing another. Perhaps precisely because his non-military background required him to look strong, Israel's new prime minister, Ehud Olmert, decided that this double humiliation was more than he could survive or Israel could bear. So he has chosen to go to war (see article).
To much of the world, that looks like a crazily disproportionate response. And so it is, measured against the offence. But measure it against the threat that Israel feels from Hizbullah and it may not be. From that perspective, this war did not spring from nowhere, even if its timing is an accident. The conditions for it have been building, in slow motion, for years.
In the decades since Israel's invasion of 1982, Hizbullah has emerged as the strongest local military force in Lebanon. Since last year, when Lebanese public opinion and forceful diplomacy pushed out the Syrians, it has been the strongest force, period. It certainly cannot be disarmed, as Israel says piously it should be, by the official Lebanese army. And Hizbullah has shown little interest in Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls equally piously for the disbanding of all Lebanon's militias (there is in fact now only one) but suggests no way of enforcing this. Hizbullah is a political party, with representation in Lebanon's parliament and government, but its militia does not take orders from that government. It almost certainly pays more attention to the ideological and tactical advice it receives from Iran, its chief armourer and mentor.
The untidy political arrangements of its neighbour might be of no interest to Israel but for the fact, now being underlined daily in fire, that by giving Hizbullah all those rockets and missiles Iran has transformed a small militia into a strategic threat to the Jewish state. None of the strong states on Israel's border, such as Egypt or Syria, would dare to plaster Israel's towns and cities with rockets. A non-state actor such as Hizbullah, inside a weak state such as Lebanon, is much less easy to deter. Hizbullah retorts that it needed all these weapons as a deterrent of its own. Israel did after all invade Lebanon and occupy bits of it for 22 years. But it was utter hubris for Hizbullah to believe that, with its rockets in reserve, its fighters could keep crossing into Israel with impunity.

How to end it
A war that starts by accident is not necessarily easy to end. This one is what Israelis call a “war of choice”. Mr Olmert did not have to react the way he did. But now that he has, the stakes could hardly be higher for both sides. It is no longer a matter of wounded pride or the fate of the kidnapped soldiers.
If Hizbullah is beaten, it risks losing its position as the strongest power in the fractious Lebanese state, with damaging consequences in the region for its Iranian sponsor and Syrian ally. If Israel falters, many of its people think, the iron wall of military power that has enabled it to win grudging acceptance in the Middle East will have been seriously breached.
It is because the stakes are so high that both sides have rushed so fast up the ladder of escalation. Israel's aim is not just to even the score by hurting Hizbullah and then stopping. Before stopping, it says, it wants to deprive Hizbullah of its power to strike Israel in future. That means destroying Hizbullah's rocket stores even if they are concealed in villages and bombing its command bunkers even if they are located under the crowded residential suburbs of south Beirut. It also means cutting off Hizbullah's resupply, even if the subsequent blockade by land, sea and air brings Lebanon's economy to its knees. If hundreds of civilians are killed, and hundreds of thousands put to flight, so be it: in war, under Israel's philosophy, moderation is imbecility. Hizbullah is no different, and in some ways worse. The “open war” declared by Mr Nasrallah consists chiefly of firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel's towns. Israel says it is killing civilians by accident, but the disparity in firepower means the Lebanese still suffer much more.
This is madness, and it should end. It is madness because the likelihood of Israel achieving the war aims it has set for itself is negligible. However much punishment Mr Olmert inflicts on Hizbullah, he cannot force it to submit in a way that its leaders and followers will perceive as a humiliation. Israel's first invasion of Lebanon turned into its Vietnam. It is plainly unwilling to occupy the place again. But airpower alone will never destroy every last rocket and prevent Hizbullah's fighters from continuing to send them off. No other outside force looks capable of doing the job on Israel's behalf. At present, the only way to disarm Hizbullah is therefore in the context of an agreement Hizbullah itself can be made to accept.
George Bush is in no rush to rescue Hizbullah. And why, he must wonder, should he? This organisation killed hundreds of American marines in 1983. It is part of an alliance, consisting also of Iran, Syria and Hamas, working against America's interests and friends. Pro-American governments, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, bluntly blame Hizbullah for this latest wasteful war. Israel is asking for more time, perhaps another week or two, to complete its demolition of Hizbullah's arsenal and create a new order in Lebanon. Though Condoleezza Rice, Mr Bush's secretary of state, says she is bound for the region, there is no concealing the American temptation to dawdle.

That is a mistake. Hizbullah cannot be uprooted. It is not going formally to surrender. Its past struggle against Israel has won it the fierce loyalty of many Lebanese Shias, and its present one will add to their number even if it comes off worse. Israel's security will not be enhanced by destroying the rest of Lebanon. By weakening the Lebanese state, and its fragile but well-intentioned government, Israel just weakens the already feeble constraints Lebanon tries to impose on Hizbullah's actions.
What is needed now is a way for both sides to climb down. Israel must get its soldiers back, Hizbullah's departure from the border area and an undertaking that Hizbullah will not attack again. The Lebanese army or a neutral force should then man the border. Hizbullah needs to be given a way to consent to these changes without losing face. Squaring this will take time, ingenuity and the full engagement of the United States. It will not bring peace to the Middle East but it might silence a dangerous new front. America should start its work at once.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Unrealistic expectations with multiple constraints

Reading an article "Not dying in vain" on the webiste of the excellent Israeli newspaper Ha'artez made me think about the strange attitude of the Jewish Israeli public to war these days.

At the beginning of this war there was a lot of fighting talk in Israel about "teaching the Hezbollah a lesson", "wiping the Hezbollah out", "making the Lebanese government understand that they have to take responsibilty", "let the Israeli army win".

On the other hand, there is an expectation, or rather a constraint, that there should be few Israeli casualties or fatalities. If, God Forbid, there should be many casualties , the public , through the medium of an agressive and accusatory media will look for those who are to blame. There's a very mixed message here "We the public want a quick clean war which you the politicians and generals guarantee we'll win".

The Jewish Israeli media (and public) altogether behaves in a very strange way. At the beginning of the war they group together in a fawning national concensus where they accept without question the meaningless platitudes and cheerleading from commentators and military spokespeople. But, if and when things start to go wrong then they will suddenly start to act like hungry wolves looking for prey, someone to blame, as if war is supposed to be a risk-free enterprise with the good guy winning like in a 195o's Hollywood cowboy movie.

The other serious constraint to the Israeli Army's freedom of action is the desire to limit to a resonable number (what a terrible thought) the number of civilian injuries on the Lebanese side. It is unclear to what extent this is motiviated by true humanitarian concerns and to what extent by the possible adverse reaction in the world if many Lebanese civilians should be killed. The Israeli Army well remembers the miserable incident in Operation "Grapes of Wrath" in 1996 in which Israeli bombs mistakenly killed over 100 Lebanese civilians seeking refuge .
International reaction forced a premature cease-fire on Israel.

These constraints pose severe questions about what could be achieved by Israel in the current operation all the more so as the Hezbollah are fighting very effectively. Expectations were clearly unrealistic.

Fewer rocket attacks?

For regular readers of these reports, I apologise for dwelling on the rocket attacks on Haifa. But if you were here, you'd understand how these have suddenly become an important parameter in our lives. However both Irit and I are more concerned about the general situation (more of that in a separate report) than the specific threat to us from rockets on Haifa. Both Daphnie and some good friends of ours have offered us a deluxe option to stay with them in Tel Aviv or nearby but we still prefer to come home to Haifa. Today we were most of the day in Tel Aviv (Irit baybysat her 3rd grandchild) but in the evening we came back to Haifa. The nights so far have been quiet (no rocket attacks) - it is believed that the Hezbollah believe thair launch sites can be more easily detected at night.

Irit's older son, Ofer and his family have been in Tel Aviv with Irit's older daughter, Yael, since Friday. Good friends of ours are with their daughter in Ra'anana. Many people in central Israel have offered to take in complete strangers and the Russian-Israeli millionaire Arkady Gaydamak has financed the building of a tent city on the southern coast which is already accomodating 3000 temporary Israeli refugees from the north of the country. He is providing meals and entertainment for the children so, dor the meantime it's apparently a bearable temporary solution. A newspaper report today said that the tent city is being expanded to accomodate up to 3000 more people.

On our way back to Haifa today we heard a radio report about the difficulties faced by working mothers (why does the burden alway fall on the mothers?). On the one hand the Civil Defence authorities encourage people in the intermediate danger zone (between Haifa and Carmiel, say) to go to work if there is a bomb shelter in the workplace. On the other hand all the creches and public child-caring facilities and summer camps have been closed down since the start of the attacks have been closed down, so in any family with small children uusally one of of the parents has to stay home with the children. In better times one might rely on neighbours or grandparents, but parents are understandably worried about the children when rockets are falling from time to time. May people are not turning up for work and employers (who are losing lots of money eanyway because of the situation) are applying pressure on their employees to come to work and threatening them that, if they don't, they'll have to hire someone else. The brunt is being borne by the working mothers.

Altogether the economic impact of this war within Israel is going to be considerable. These months of July and August are the school summer holidays when most people take some vacation. Thousands of Israelis (and foreign tourists) spend time in the beautiful north of the country but right now there's not a single vacationer around. Hoteliers, bed and breakfast places, restaurants and shops have zero income while having to pay their fixed costs. All self-employed people in the north are suffering seriously from a loss of income. The plight of salaried employees, many of whom are unable to get to work, is still in the balance.

One of you has asked me whether there is a decline in the number of rocket attacks on Haifa. The answer is no although the numbers vary greatly from day to day. Last Thursday there were none, until a rather close one on Friday lunchtime. Yesterday there 14 rockets landed on Haifa, killing 2 people but most of the rockets fortunately either land in open spaces or just cause some damage to buildings. It is important to understand that the rockets are a weapon to terrorise us by frightening us and disrupting our daily lives and sense of security - far more than the actual damage and killing they do. As part of this psychological terrorising war by the Hezbollah on the Israeli public it makes perfect sense from their point of view for there to be some days with many attacks and others with none which might lull us into thinking that things are getting better. It's a bitter pill and we have seen the ability of terrorists around the world to disrupt the lives and strike fear into the hearts of ordinary people.

How our lives have changed in the last week

For those of you who have just joined this "blog" or series of reports about what is happening in the Israel-Hezbollah war and in our lives in particular, here's a summary:

On Wednesday morning July 12, guerilla fighters from the Hezbollah organisation launched a dawn raid on a routine Israeli Army patrol inside Israel near the Lebanese border. The Hezbollah killed 8 Israeli soldiers and took 2 prisoner whom they spirited over the border into Lebanon. This incident happened about 10 days after a raid by Palestinian guerillas on an Israeli army outpost in Israel (near the Gaza strip) . The Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah wanted to use the captured soldiers as bargaining chips for the realease of Lebanese prisoners in Israeli jails. The Israeli government decided it would not be extorted and would react with force against such unprovoked agression across an agreed international border. Within hours Israeli Air Force planes started pounding Hezbollah and Lebanese infrastructure targets with the aim of neutralising (as much as possible) the Hezbollah's offensive capabilities and to cut their supply lines.

Almost immediately the Hezbollah responded to the Israeli attacks by launching Katyusha rockets (which can each destroy a house and kill up to 10 people) against towns and communities in the north of Israel near the Lebanese borders. Many of these towns, such as Kiryat Shmona and Naharia had known many such Katyusha attacks by the Hezbollah in the past.

On Thursday evening July 13, those of us who live in the north but not in the border region, in our case the city of Haifa experienced something we hadn't known before - a single Katyusha rocket landed in Haifa, fortunately injuring noone and causing limited damage (see picture) . The optimists, like me, thought this incident was a unique aberration but on Sunday morning July 16 a barrage of Katyusha rockets landed, without warning, in different places in Haifa. One of these rockets killed 8 railway workers in a maintenace depot. Since then the rocket attacks have continued on Haifa and since last Sunday afternoon we (usually) have a 30-60 second warning - before impact - by the wail of air raid sirens. We had a 36-hour lull at one point when there were no attacks or sirens but after that the attacks resumed with anywhere from 1-10 air raid warnings per day.

Since Sunday July 16 the streets of Haifa are almost empty in contrast to the centre of the country (Tel Aviv, Jerusalem) where life continues as usual. Irit and I have driven down to Tel Aviv several times in the last week and we continue to be amazed how people are leading their normal lives elsewhere, walking in the streets, going to shops and cafes. It's good that we can take a break from the war atmosphere in Haifa from time to time (a great privilege compared to the suffering in south Lebanon) but it feels rather surrealistic.

For other reports on our life and our musings in these crazy days, see the other reports in this blog. Best to you all
- David

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Rockets on Haifa today

So far at time of writing (7 p.m. Israel time) we in Haifa have experienced about 9 air aid warnings and 14 rockets that have landed on Haifa today. The worst attack was at about 11 a.m. when we heard sirens which gave about 60 seconds warning. I was in my car at the time (on the way home from a gym class) - I stopped my car and sought shelter in someone's garage. It had rather a flimsy roof but almost certainly was a better option than staying in the car.

A car driver not far from our home was killed in that first attack (see picture) as was an Arab worker in a carpentry workshop who was working with earplugs (against the noise of the machinery) and didn't hear the sirens in time. Later there were several alarms without any rockets falling . Ans also several rockets that landed in Haifa without any alarms going off. Evidently the alarm systems are far from perfect.

The Air Raid experience

Most of you have probably never heard a real air raid siren - see picture -(and I wish for you that you should never have the experience). You may have heard sirens in WW2 films about the London Blitz.

Anyway so you can know how it sounds, click on and imagine that going on for about a minute and a half. The siren starts with a low-pitch whine which rises in pitch and volume and then oscillates between a low and high pitch. In our house we can hear the sirens quite loud and Irit has developed a seventh sense of discerning the siren's wail within 3 or 4 seconds of it starting even if we're asleep. That doesn't happen often - one morning there was an alarm at 05:30 that woke us and nowadays we rarely rest in the afternoon which we often used to do. One becomes very sensitive to any sound which might be an air-raid siren. The screech of a lorry's brakes today made us think it was a siren. Ever since this war started we can hear the noise of (Israel Air Force) planes flying overhead - day and night - but, in this crazy world, for us that is a good noise (not so for the residents of southern Lebanon).

So the sirens go off, we rush downstairs to our shelter with our dog. Normally our shelter , like most people's is used as a storeroom but now we've spread a carpet and put a couple of chairs in it. We get into the shelter and wait for the sounds of the explosions. Sometimes there's one , sometimes several - of differing loudness depending how close they've landed. The nearest so far to out house has been about 2 kilometers away but we can hear the explosions quite clearly. Sometimes you hear several "booms" for one explosion because of the echo from surrounding valleys. Sometimes there's no boom at all - it was either a false alarm or fell out of our earshot.

The nearest rocket fall to us was on Friday (about 800 metres from where my Dad lives) on a large block of flats. The mother of a friend of ours lives in that block of flats but in another entrance. The parent's of the girlfriend of Yoav, Irit's younger son, live in a flat on the other side of an adjoining valley several hundred metres away but some of the round shrapnel pellets that are packed in the explosive head of the rocket fell on their balcony (but caused no damage or injury).

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

War dairy (3)

So far today 6 rockets have fallen on Haifa – there were no sirens for some of the attacks – we just heard the “booms” of the explosions from inside the house. It’s not very loud (say, like a supersonic boom of an aircraft) but that’s because all the rockets that have landed so far are rather far from our house – at least 4 or 5 kilometers. We spoke yesterday to good friend of ours from Carmiel, a town further north in the Galilee, who told us that a Katyusha rocket landed 2 days ago 150 metres from her office and that the whole building shook. She meanwhile has taken refuge with her daughter in Tel Aviv. Another friend from Rosh Pinna, also up in the north has gone to stay with her sister near Netanya. Back in 1991 when Israel suffered Scud missile attacks, there was a lot of ambivalence about whether it was “right” for people to move away from the worst areas and seek refuge in safer pastures – many did and many didn’t. This time there seem to be no such hesitations – whoever feels they want to get away , and they can (they have family or friends in the centre of the country, they can afford it) does. We hear on the news that the hotels in Eilat have are very full (and have put up their prices) but it is unclear how many of the guests are from up north or just tourists who have gone down south because nobody is vacationing in the north.

So far the southernmost points in Israel which have been bombed by the Hezbollah are Haifa and Tiberias (on the Sea of Galilee) – see map at ( has a lot of info on the situation) . Hezbollah apparently has some longer-range missiles which could reach Tel-Aviv or even beyond. So far there have been no missile attacks on Tel Aviv (where my 2 daughters Daphnie and Tami live) and there life continues pretty much as normal with everyone going to work and cafes, shops and restaurants full as usual. Haifa, by contrast, is rather quiet – most workplaces, shops and restaurants are closed and there’s little traffic on the streets and only one couple we know has left Haifa so far. However many of the towns further north, especially those which have had many rocket hits like Naharia, Tsfat, Carmiel are apparently like ghost towns with residents supposed to stay the whole time in air-raid shelters. A resident of Naharia came out for a bit of fresh air yesterday and was killed by a direct hit. Irit’s eldest son wanted to take his family today to Tel-Aviv for a break but heard that there was an alert in the centre of the country for a suicide bomber – with lots of roadblocks and traffic jams – so they found somewhere else to get away for a few hours.

Several of you have asked how my Dad (will be 95 in September) is doing in all this. Well, he’s doing pretty well. He and those of his generation have suffered worse stuff in their lives and they seem to take it in their stride. Irit and I go almost every day to eat lunch with him in the beautiful assisted living apartment block in which he lives. Two days ago the air raid siren went off when we were in the restaurant there and I was pleasantly surprised by how calm most of the old folks seem to be. Today the siren caught us in the car on the way to my Dad. I stopped the car by the side of the road and Irit and I rushed into the garden of a nearby house hoping to find cover. But there was none and Irit was rather upset. Nothing happened to us and of course rationally I understand that, at the present rate of shelling (that sounds bad..), it’s very unlikely statistically that we would be hurt. But it can happen, and if the sirens go off, it’s definitely preferable to be in an enclosed space, ideally a concrete air-raid shelter. On the other hand, one feels very cooped up staying at home all day and being afraid to go out. It’s very weird how, suddenly, usually banal decisions like going out to see my Dad can become major decisions. I have already mentioned previously that the air-raid sirens are a mixed blessing since they raise fear as well as helping decrease risk – furthermore in the last couple of days we have witnessed more cases of hits without alarms or false alarms than real ones.

Like in the Gulf war one tries to find a logic to the time of day or intensity or location of the rocket attacks but there seems to be none. Israeli TV reports that the air force is pounding Hezbollah launching pads, units, munitions depots and supply lines but to date we cannot feel any significant let-up in the number of or fatalities and injuries from the rocket attacks. We just heard that 3 people (2 of them children) were killed by a rocket attack on the Arab-Israeli town of Nazareth. What irony for them to die in vain at the hands of their Arab brethren. It’s pretty amazing that there have been quite a few rocket attacks also on other Arab communities in Israel – either they can’t aim or they don’t care.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

War dairy (2)

The big picture
It’s difficult to believe that all this started only 6 days ago when Hezbollah fighters mounted a daring (and unprovoked) border raid against a routine Israeli army patrol apparently with the express purpose of capturing an Israeli soldier for bargaining against Lebanese guerilla fighters and terrorists in Israeli jails. From Hezbollah’s point of view, they want their boys back. From Israel’s point of view, the Lebanese that are held in Israeli jails, if released, will go back to planning or making war against Israel. The last time around an Israeli businessman (with strong military connections) and 3 Israeli soldiers were kidnapped, Israel agreed to a very disproportionate deal of releasing hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners in exchange for the “businessman” and the bodies of the 3 soldiers who had been murdered. A lot of people in Israel felt uncomfortable at the time about that deal and it almost certainly encouraged the Hezbollah into more kidnapping in the belief that the weak-kneed Israelis would again pay a huge price to get our people back. Israel’s Prime Minister Olmert seems very determined to push through the message that Israel won’t play that game anymore and will not tolerate aggression across agreed International borders.

The Israeli public is now keenly aware that the Hezbollah is but the well-trained, well-armed and well-financed local arm of the Iranians who are happy to stir up trouble in Israel/Palestine while continuing to strive for their own nuclear arsenal. Hezbollah is reputed to have over 13,000 rockets that can be fired against Israel. In the last 6 days Hezbollah has fired 816 rockets into Israel in the last 6 days killing 17 civilians and injuring over four hundred. The Israeli Air Force has carried out over 1000 sorties against targets in Lebanon in which 206 Lebanese fighters and civilians have been killed. Many millions of dollars of damage have been caused in Lebanon and over half a million Lebanese have fled their homes at least temporarily. In absolute terms the Lebanese people, particularly in the south of Lebanon where most of the Shias live are going through a terrible time. Most of the Shias support the Hezbollah and many Shias have offered shelter for Hezbollah fighters and weaponry.

The small (but personal) picture
Yesterday 20 Hezbollah rockets hit Haifa, most causing minor damage but some causing direct hits on buildings and injuring people. The air raid sirens went off six times, the first time at 6am and the last at about 10pm. Every time Irit and I rushed down with out dog to the shelter we have in the basement. I just realised the most of you (living in the peaceful Western world) don’t know that Israel not only has public air raid shelters but , for the last 30 years or so has required all new apartments and houses to have one room – with 30cm thick concrete walls and a steel door – which can act as a family shelter in the case of bomb attacks. For people with larger houses (like ours) the shelter is used normally as a storeroom, others use them as work spaces or spare bedrooms. After the first massive rocket attack on Haifa on Sunday (in which 8 railway workers were killed) the civil defence authorities sound air raid sirens when rockets are flying towards Haifa – and these give us about 40 seconds warning before the first impact (often several rockets land within a few minutes of one another). When we see (later) the pictures on television of direct hits on homes and the destruction they wreak, we realize that, in the very unlikely case of a direct hit on one’s home, it’s definitely a good idea to be in the shelter which gives more than adequate protection. On the other hand, hearing the wail of the air raid sirens and knowing that you might get hit in the next few minutes is pretty scary. Yesterday afternoon Irit and I wanted to rest a bit, and 3 times in the space of an hour we were raised from our bed and ran down 2 flights of stairs to the shelter in the basement. The last time we were in shelters was in the first Gulf War in 1991 when Scud missiles were fired from Iraq against Israel – that wasn’t much fun either although the damage and injuries inflicted were much less than this time. After the 3 alarms yesterday afternoon, Irit and I decided to drive down to Tel Aviv for a few hours to visit her elder daughter. Tel Aviv is (so far) out of the range of Hezbollah rockets and unlike Haifa, life there continues as usual. In Haifa most shops and workplaces are closed and the streets are fairly empty. We just heard the muffled sound of a siren (one’s ear gets very attentive to it) – might be in a neighbouring area – otherwise it’s been quiet since last night.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Katyusha Rockets on Haifa

I never thought I would be reporting to you that missiles are falling on Haifa where Irit, I and my father live. But so it is.

They are being fired at a range of targets in northern Israel by the Hezbollah, a Lebanese Moslem Shia political party and terrorist organization which has been outlawed by the USA and some European countries. The Hezbollah is basically Iran’s agent on Israel’s northern border, see and
The rockets that are being fired at Israel are Katyusha rockets – see and which the Hezbollah has had for many years and used often against Israel’s northern towns and settlements. The innovation in the current conflagration is the use of longer range Iranian- and Syrian-produced rockets which have ranges up to 75 kilometers enabling Hezbollah to target larger population centres including Haifa, Israel’s 3rd largest city.

How this war started
Israel has intermittently had problems with guerilla or rocket attacks from Lebanon since the early 1980’s and Israel first invaded Southern Lebanon in 1982. Israel retreated to a 20km-wide security zone next to Israel’s border in 1985 but guerilla attacks on Israel continued until May 2000 when Israel withdrew completely from Lebanon. The Hezbollah kidnapped and killed 3 Israeli soldiers in cold blood in 2002 but the then Israeli government chose not to counterattack. Last Wednesday Hezbollah mounted a border raid against Israeli soldiers on patrol , killed 8 and captured 2 for bargaining against Lebanese terrorist detainees in Israeli jails. The Israeli government chose this time (with the massive support of Jewish Israelis) to react severely and to try and cripple the Hezbollah fighting and rocket-launching ability, hopefully for once and for all. The Egyptian, Jordanian and Saudi governments have severely criticized Hezbollah. Their only supporters are Syria and Iran who have supplied them with their incredible arsenal of short-,medium- and long-range missiles.

What’s happening on the ground
The Israeli Air Force is bombing hundreds of Hezbollah targets (and some infrastructure targets in Lebanon) with much damage and regrettable loss of life also of civilians.
Since Wednesday Hezbollah has launched over 1000 (one thousand) Katyusha rockets against population centres in Israel, mostly the smaller towns and villages close to the Lebanese border. On Friday one “Katyusha” landed in Haifa (causing some damage but no injury – we didn’t hear it, it wasn’t close, we heard about it on the TV news. It showed that the Hezbollah have the capacity to hit Haifa and this morning (Sunday) just after 9.a.m. we heard a number of “booms” which were evidently Katyusha rockets hitting the ground. In that first attack of the day on Haifa 8 railway workers were killed. Later in the day we were told on TV that air raid sirens could give 1 minute warning of impending strikes and 3 times Irit and I rushed down to the shelter in our basement and within 30 seconds we heard several “booms”. All this of course reminded us of the Scud missile attacks on Israel from Iraq in the first Gulf War in 1991.

I didn’t believe that rockets would land on Haifa, and, when they did on Thursday evening I was sure it was a one-time event. Irit’s elder son and daughter-in-law were wary of coming to us for dinner on Friday evening and asked if our shelter was clean and could hold several people. I though they were being ridiculously hysterical. Once we had 12 rocket attacks on Haifa today I’m not so sure. My common-sense tells me it’s unlikely there will be more attacks on Haifa now that Hezbollah’s capabilities are being seriously attacked. Rationally I know the chances of a rocket hitting any one house or family are very small, and yet it’s scary. We are fine, nothing has happened to us (and I hope nothing will) and I’ll keep you posted.

Hoping for a quiet night and a quiet tomorrow

Thursday, July 13, 2006

A word about Haifa and our roots

My beloved significant other Irit and I live in Haifa, Israels' 3rd largest city, on the Mediterranean coast about 100km north of Tel Aviv, Israel's main metropolitan area. You can see Haifa's location in the top centre of the attached map. The Lebanese border is about an hour's drive north of Haifa.

The population of Haifa itself is about 270,000 people, probably about half a million with the surrounding towns. Haifa itself is very hilly with the ridge of Mt. Carmel running from south-east to north west. There are magnificent views of the harbour and the bay area from Mount Carmel . Haifa is much more easy going and provincial than the cosmopolitan hedonsitic atmosphere of Tel Aviv. Historically it is known as a worker's town with a lot of industry in the nearby bay area. Haifa has a reputation for moderation and peaceful co-existence between the Jewish majority and the Arab minority. Before Israel's War of Independence in 1948 there were many more Arabs but they fled (to Lebanon and Syria) during the fighting and the capture of Haifa by the Jewish Hagana forces. The Jewish narrative has it that the (Jewish) mayor appealed to the Arabs to stay even though may of their leaders had left and much of the Arab media was exhorting the Arabs to leave until the troubles were over. The Palestinian narrative is one of ethnic cleansing - you can read it at - the "truth" is probably somewhere in between. I doubt the Jews actually expelled the Arabs of Haifa (they definitely did in some other places) but they almost certainly weren't sorry to see them go.

Irit's parents immigrated to Mandatory Palestine (the precursor to modern Israel) in 1933 and settled in Haifa in 1934. I immigrated to Israel in 1973 from the UK and lived in the Tel Aviv area until 2002 when I moved to Haifa.


Palestine (region)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Israel-Hezbollah War

My name is David, I'm 57 years old, I live in Israel's 3rd largest city Haifa on the Mediterranean coast which has been hit by tens of Kayusha rockets in the war between Israel and the Hezbollah and Lebanon which erupted on Wednesday 12th July.

Politically I would call myself a liberal Zionist in the sense that I believe in the right of Jews to live in peace and security in our historic homeland. I abhor war and wish that humanity would find other ways to resolve its differences. I realise and accept that in the last 100 years Palestinian Arabs have suffered a lot. No one side in this 100 year conflict is "right" or "wrong", all good or evil and we have to find the way we can all live together.

Most of this blog will be devoted to reports from the Israeli side of this latest eruption in the conflict. Some will relate to the reality of daily live in a beautiful (and normally peaceful) city, Haifa that has suddenly become part of the war zone. Other reports will try to decipher what all this is all about and where it is leading. Let's hope that some good comes out of this in the end.