Monday, July 31, 2006

The War Fever

Moments after the abduction of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah it was clear that outbreak of war on Israel's northern border was inevitable. I anticipated the unleashing of the Israel's military might, not because I willed destruction but because I saw no other alternative. The simple and logical Israeli conclusion is that Hezbollah is a fundamentalist terrorist organization who had infiltrated into our sovereignty, captured two of our boys and killed eight more in the battle that ensued. We had not provoked Hezbollah, we were not occupying Lebanon and therefore there could be no plausible justification for their actions… so they must be punished.
However, after what seems to be an eternity of combat on the northern border, I have reached the sobering conclusion that there is a point where justice transforms into vengeance and vengeance cannot be justified. To vengeance there is an alternative. As the war wears on and casualties on both sides accumulate each us must take a moment to ponder at what price must justice be served. How just is the displacement of over half a million Lebanese civilians? If we tear an entire village to the ground, even if it does harbor terrorists, is that justice?
The public consensus in Israel is quite simple – yes. Security above all else. Sometimes I wish that current surge of patriotic pride would overtake but regretfully I see the ongoing conflict in blinding shades of gray.
I cannot help but wince when I see my city adorned in billboard signs proclaiming "WE WILL WIN" – a national rally cry to a war that can bear no decisive winner. I cannot rejoice when I hear of a successful air force operation that wiped out an entire neighborhood in Beirut. I cannot miss the irony that this Lebanon war followed the retreat of Israel from Gaza, which many Israelis viewed as a national weakness, much like the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 took place only two months after the evacuation of Yamit, the largest Jewish settlement in Sinai, which was returned within the framework of the Israel-Egypt peace accords, also objected by many in Israel.
In this part of the world war has become routine. Exerting your power is seen as the only means of survival and showing restraint is an unquestionable weakness.
Israel is caught up in war fever. An understandable phenomenon, as we are constantly rushing into bomb shelters and our loved ones are called up to fight against the source of all this chaos. I absolutely relate to the fever but I cannot march blindly to its beat. I shiver with each news report of another salvo of katushya launchings into Israel, another air force bombing in Lebanon, another action, another reaction and who will remember who started it all when we are busy counting the dead.
My greatest fear is that the democratic values, on which we pride ourselves, will also come under the threat of the war-fever. Ninety people protested in Haifa against the operations in Lebanon last week. They endured verbal and physical abuse from a much larger group of onlookers and were ultimately arrested for conducting an illegal protest. I did not attend nor witness the protest, I am not brave enough to voice anti-war sentiments at a time when the country is fighting what the public perceives as an existential battle for existence, but I believe its outcome serves as a warning. Even in times of national adversity, we must not sabotage the democratic foundations of Israel and not allow ourselves to be drowned in patriotic sentiments. It is crucial to take a moment to listen to the other side, what he says might actually make sense.
Opinions like mine are marginalized in this fever-ridden country. I thought I was a traitor for thinking what I thought. Maybe I am a traitor but at least I know that here I can publish these thoughts without fear of being arrested for treason and this is a point the Israeli populace must fight with equal passion to preserve… even in times of war. – Tel Aviv, 29 July

by A. Werner

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Thoughts of reason

Nighttime, 45 minutes past 2 AM. 9th day of combat with Hezbollah.
I lick my dry lips to moisten the bruises from standing all day in the sun yelling commands to my soldiers, and quench myself from losing temper. After another 2 hour artillery siege on terrorist villages, the battery finally gets command to cease fire and call it a night.
Two single minutes have not past before my whole platoon is sound asleep, reclining one on top of the other inside the Howitzer cannons, squeezing their sweaty, gun powder stenched bodies on the crew cabin floor. Obviously, as being lieutenant, I have to sacrifice these small pleasures for my subordinates' sake and sleep on the turret shelf, cramped between the anvil and the bombshell compartment. "Indeed some sleep would be bliss", I think to myself as I take position in my steel pillowed bed. But I've gotten acquainted with myself well enough during my former army duty to know that I can't fall asleep in these situations. I'm an introspective individual. These surreal situations always send my mind through a vortex of thoughts: thoughts about the essence of living, thoughts about my friends and loved ones, thoughts about the Lebanese civilians who perished in this unnecessary conflict, and thoughts about all of the soldiers' mothers who can't find serenity to sleep calmly inside a bomb shelter in Haifa while their boys, the best boys of our state, are lying in the mud of some god damned trench in southern Lebanon. But it doesn't stop there - being in combat for so many days, all the plots get twisted, all the maps lose a logical scale, and all blockades in your brain disintegrate. Sanity becomes but a mere memory of your life 10 days ago, quietly sitting in a café in Tel Aviv drinking your espresso, responsible for nothing but your own life. Left becomes right, right becomes wrong, and every thought you can imagine becomes reasonable. "Who are we firing at, why are we fighting them?" , "I'd give my left eye to lay in a hammock between the palms of Cancun with a cocktail in my hand right now" , "How does it feel when a bullet hits you and splatters your guts all over?" , "Why in the hell didn't the army manufacture shoes with ventilation openings so that my feet won't burn from the bombshells" - these are just some of the hallucinatory images that pass through your head at these times.

Being a true left-wing adherent, I surprisingly find myself filled with hatred and wrath, fighting my emotional reactions, trying to replace them with common sense and logic.
I didn't want this. My people, my country – we didn't want this. War has been imposed on us by fundamentalist, fanatic Muslim guerilla terrorists who are nothing but blind to any living creature that doesn't have Allah written on its' forehead. We are left with no other choice but to return the token.

As I keep on wondering into the night, my pupils narrow and widen to the changing shades of light cast upon my face by the clouds crossing the moon. At 3 AM the alarm goes off again. "Matrat Sollela!!!" (fire alert in hebrew) I bellow with all that's left of my lungs to wake everybody up as fast as possible. "We have to shoot in exactly 40 seconds or else our infantry forces will be hit!!".

The camp awakes to life, and havoc re-conquers the night. The command center transmits the Hezbollah targets to all crews and my men start to mount the explosives. Seconds from fire authorization, a 60mm enemy mortar shell explodes smack in the middle of my platoon, single meters from my feet, the thrust sending me flying in the air crashing against a pile of ammunition.
Forget about all the thoughts I just mentioned – these are all silhouettes of what we try to percept as an ordinary reality, which are dwarfed at times of war in front of the call of duty.
Only two thoughts now dominate my consciousness – how do I serve my country the best, and how do I accomplish this without getting myself and any of my soldiers killed?
Morning, 9:30 AM. The alarm clock went off for the third time now – I fight my urge to slam the snoozer button again and conclude that it's my queue to get up. As I drag myself to the bathroom I realize it was all a nightmare. Thank god! I've been granted another beautiful morning! No cannons, no booms, no guns – just me and my plain simple life. As I finish brushing my teeth I run back to my room to pick up the ringing phone…
"Good morning, this is the reserves relations office. By government orders, we are drafting your battalion under regulations of national emergency. You are to report to Amiad army base by 14:00 sharp for arming and briefing".

by G. Dotan

Monday, July 24, 2006

A Slumbering Zionist Awakened

Tel Aviv – Following a week of active reserve army duty in light of the ongoing conflict in Lebanon, I enjoyed my first moment of peace on the balcony of my Tel Aviv apartment. The air was typically damp but the streets of the city were conspicuously silent. The current war engulfing our small country has even managed to alter the ambience of the increasingly detached and apathetic generation of 20 somethings residing in the safe havens of Tel Aviv. This simple silence speaks volumes of Israeli perception of the conflict.
Tel Aviv is a refuge for waves of young adults recently discharged from the military seeking a certain normalcy to their lives that only the city can offer. A place where the complicated reality of Israel does not confront you at each corner, a place where you have the freedom to occupy yourself with petty personal matters and shut your eyes to everything else. For their “selfish” ambitions the young residents of Tel Aviv are often the target of criticism for being indifferent of national affairs and isolated on their island of sanity. However, the silence I noticed below my apartment epitomized the old Israeli credo that when push comes to shove, even the most alienated and frustrated Israeli willingly demonstrates his allegiance.
My generation was born into an Israel still trying to make sense of the infamous 1982 war in Lebanon; we grew up in the shadows of the first popular Palestinian intifada in the late eighties and were directly enlisted into an unprepared IDF trying to contain a fiercer and deadlier intifada, which erupted in 2000. My generation has grown wary of the politicians and has become dangerously ignorant of the ideology, which our parents’ generation embraced. The constant grief broadcast on the hourly news reports have become a mere nuisance drowned in the parade of sounds and colors that Tel Aviv offers. We have all served proudly in the military but then just as quickly as we entered, we abandon the uniform to fulfill our personal aspirations of living for ourselves. The individualism that my generation exudes has often made it the target of resentment. This is the burden of living in such a complex society.
In my opinion, the recent conflict and my generation’s instinctive response to the national call to arms nullifies the perception of us as a lackadaisical band of wanderers but rather reassures the public that when the cause is just and the threat imminent, the 20 something civilian backbone of the reserve units are ready to step up.
It is ironically sad that Israel has had to endure the most aggressive attacks on its home front since the war of independence in order for my generation to realize the instability of the country. But the resilience of my generation demonstrates that it is no longer necessary to live in a constant state of fear or dwell on the news reports each hour brings because Israel’s existence is a well established reality and our deeply embedded Zionist ethos will prevail once called into question.

by A. Werner