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Survival of a Nation

Reader comment on item: "Transfer" the Palestinians? Reasons Against
in response to reader comment: Rebuttal

Submitted by Rochelle Michaels (Canada), Feb 28, 2009 at 14:26

Jinn 'n' Tonic, thank you for your comment.

I saw an original film clip of Rabbi Kahane interviewed on the streets of Israel. He said he understands why Muslims could never accept a Jewish State as their neighbour...and it was with this respect, he knew they must leave.

I will copy a letter (below) which illustrates how very complex the situation is in Israel [and has always been]... Jews are a decent people and it will break our hearts when a decision will need to made to "crush the will" of those who want to destroy us.

again, thank you...... rochelle


Subject: a summary of our recent trip to Israel - Written by Larry Kleinman

I thought that I got it. But I didn't. I mean, I've been a supporter of Israel my whole adult life. I've gone to I-don't-know-how-many rallies, parades, and demonstrations to show my support. I've argued with people who consider Israel racist and repressive and all that. I've sent each of my kids there for a summer, one of those summers being the summer of 2006 during the war with Lebanon . I'd gone there three times myself, and I'm sitting in the Tel Aviv airport right now, having concluded my fourth trip. I mean, I get it, right? No, I didn't get it.

You know who gets it? Benny Vaknin, the mayor of Ashkelon, a city in southern Israel that is something like 15 miles from Gaza . He gets it. A couple of days ago, he told me and the eight others with whom I was traveling that he has been friends with the mayor of Gaza City for years. That he used to send his city engineers to Gaza City to help develop better municipal sanitation systems. Of course, he told us this while we met with him in a concrete bunker several stories underground, the place from which he is now running his city because the city that his friend used to run is now being run by people who are trying to kill the citizens of Ashkelon with missiles.

The nurse in charge of the trauma room at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba , another city in the south of Israel , also gets it. She met with us in her trauma room, a 6-bed unit that, unlike any emergency room that I've been to, needs large steel doors, an air lock entry, and reinforced concrete walls and ceilings, so that it can be sealed off from the rest of the hospital (and world). Soroka Hospital is just a few minutes by helicopter from Gaza , which is a good thing for the soldiers who are severely wounded in Gaza and are brought to the trauma room there. It is also 30 seconds by missile from Gaza , which is not a good thing for the nurse and everyone else who lives there. The steel doors, concrete, and air lock are there to keep the room safe from missiles that might carry a radioactive or chemical warhead. The nurse told us that a doctor saved a soldier's life the previous day by literally cutting him open and, in order to stop the bleeding, sticking his finger in the hole that shrapnel had made in the soldier's heart. She also said that they have done similar things for Palestinian patients. She said that it is her job to help save lives, and whose life she is saving is of no concern. Oh, she gets it all right.

I started to get it a little bit three days ago. Having arrived late the previous night from various parts of the US , the nine of us left our hotel in Jerusalem around 7:30 in the morning and headed west toward the Mediterranean coast. Although nobody talked about it, I think that we were all thinking the same thing. We'd all been to Israel before, some of us many, many times, some of us had even lived there for a year or more, and we'd all been on a tour bus with an Israeli guide pointing out various sites before, so it was all quite normal. And yet, we were heading to the area where missiles have fallen every day for the last two weeks, and we knew that this trip was going to be anything but normal. We were on what is called a "solidarity mission" – a trip taken to show the people of southern Israel who have been under attack that we haven't forgotten them. After about a half hour, we stopped at some 7-11 kind of place, and the guide said that we stopped here because once we passed this spot we'd be inside the 40 km zone which has been the range of the Hamas missiles. He said that stopping here would give us a chance to enjoy our coffee without worries. He also said that this was the first time he'd ever taken a tour group into a war zone, and as if that were not enough, he added that in the event of a siren – "siren" is the word that we would later discover seems to be preferable to "attack" – we would have 45 seconds to stop the bus, crouch in the aisle using the seats as protection, and put our hands over our heads as most of us had done during the drills that we did in elementary school in the 1950s. Funny, for the last 50 years I've been making fun of those drills – oh yeah, if the Russians drop an atomic bomb on us, crouching with my head covered by my hands will be a big help – and now I was trying to remember exactly how to do it and wondering how fast I could do it.. Yes, I was getting it a little bit. So much for the worry-free coffee.

Another person who gets it is the guy who runs the North American desk at the Israeli Foreign Ministry. When we met with him at the Ministry in Jerusalem toward the end of our trip, he told us that when he was a kid during the Six Day war in '67, he and his classmates would write notes of support, put them in little boxes along with some cookies, and send them off to the soldiers. Later, when he was fighting in Lebanon in the 80's, he would get those boxes sent by school kids. Today, he said, he has his own school age children, and now they are sending boxes to soldiers. His great fear is that one day his children will be receiving those boxes.

There are, as we would come to discover, different degrees of getting it. The Foreign Ministry guy, who is afraid of history repeating itself on his children, is at one level. Some of the parents that we met in a waiting room at Soroka Hospital are at a different level. They aren't afraid for their children's future; they are afraid for their children's present. One father – his son has been in a coma for four days since he took some shrapnel in the left side of his brain – talked to us for a while. His grief was unimaginable – as only a parent could put it, he talked about the difference in his feeling between his own service in the Yom Kippur War in '73, and his son's today. He looked directly at me – I'm about his age – and said something that indicated that I would obviously know about war since I am an American so I had been in Viet Nam, and that of course we would endure this awful experience – we, he said – because, just as our fathers had to do, fighting a war is something that we all have to do for the survival of our country. But please, God, he seemed to be saying, not our children. With tears coming down my face, I said nothing to him – for the first time in my life I felt ashamed that I never served in Viet Nam – and just gave him a big hug. He asked us to pray for his son's recovery, to ask God to "allow him to see his son's bright blue eyes again."

Another father, who could not speak English well, was only able to ask us to pray for his son. He said that all that can be done for his son now is what it says on an American dollar – "In God we trust." I hugged him, and as I started to walk away, I remembered that I had some of the dollar bills that people at home had given to me to give as tzdekah (sometimes translated incorrectly as charity). I gave him one, pointed to the "In God we trust", read it very slowly to him and pointed at the words hoping that he might understand me, and gave him the dollar. I'm not sure what he said back to me but I think he told me that he would keep it and give it to his son when his son recovers.

Unlike Soroka Hospital , Barzilai Hospital , in Ashkelon , does not treat the serious cases, but we found some parents worried about their children there as well. These are the mothers of premature babies, some weighing less than two pounds. The neonatal intensive care unit is on the top floor of that hospital, but since the hospital was not built to withstand a missile hit, most of the patients in the hospital (including Palestinian being treated there) had to be sent home. The babies in NICU can't be sent home, so they were moved to the basement, where a dozen or so women sit with their babies in an open, non-sterile, make-shift nursery (through which we also walked).

Israel , to say the least, has been getting a pretty rough time in the press. Pictures of dead children in Gaza are heartbreaking and it is pretty easy to portray Israel as a nation of barbarians. The Foreign Ministry guy told us about the efforts that Israel has been making to get the world to understand that they are not trying to overthrow Hamas – he said that Israel has no right to determine who the government of its neighbor should be - and are certainly not trying to kill innocent Palestinians. As an example of the kind of press that they have been dealing with, he showed us a BBC interview broadcast a few days ago in which a BBC correspondent asked a Foreign Ministry spokesman if Israel wanted to apologize for "stopping medical aid from getting to children who had been trapped in their house destroyed by Israeli bombs with nothing to do for two days but stare at the corpse of their mother," and then added "How in the name of humanity can your government do that?" Yes, it is true that Israel has had far fewer deaths than have the Palestinians, but this is due in part to the fact that Israel has taken better precautions to protect its people. Nearly all Israeli apartments and houses built since the first time that Israeli civilians came under fire - in the Gulf War – have a "safe room," a room made of concrete and steel that can be sealed against explosions as well as radiation and poison. Meanwhile, the Palestinians tend to win the media war – more deaths equals more sympathetic coverage.

But there is a great deal of suffering in Israel , and it tends to go unreported. At a Conservative synagogue in Beersheba , a young rabbi there talked to us about what it had been like to live with the rockets, and how much stress people there are dealing with. Everyday things, not something that one would think of, and not something reported in the news, but real, nevertheless. Schools have been closed since there is concern that there would not be enough time to get all students into a shelter. Even if that could be fixed, there is the concern that getting to and from school – when kids might have as little as 45 seconds to find shelter once the siren goes off – is too dangerous. As such, parents have to rearrange work schedules to take care of kids not in school. She herself has an extra burden – she has twin one-year-olds, and no "safe room" in her house. One of her neighbors has a safe room, but the 45 seconds of warning is not enough time for her to run to the neighbor's house carrying one child, run back, and then run again with the other child. As such, two adults have to be with the kids at all times. She also told us that the rockets have taken a terrible psychological toll on kids. They are all scared to death, and something like 50% of all 9 year olds in Beersheba are wetting their beds. Then she said something that seemed to summarize both the incredible Israeli stoicism, and the terrible-ness of the situation. She said that after all, "this is these kids' first war." Their first war! She said it as if it is a rite of passage, the way that we might say that this was one of our kids' first skinned knee.

If anybody gets it, the people of Sderot get it. Sderot is about a mile from Gaza , which gives its citizens less than 15 seconds to get cover. And it hasn't been under attack for just the past two weeks. Hamas has been firing missiles at Sderot for eight years. Eight years! Something like 6,000 missiles in the past eight years. Do the math. How many times a day in the past eight years has a siren gone off? How many times have people had 15 seconds to save their lives? How many times have senior citizens – who can't even get out of a chair in 15 seconds, much less run to a safe room or down a flight of stairs to a shelter, sat helplessly where they are, wondering if they were about to die? How many times did a mother with more than one child have to choose which child to carry to a shelter and which to leave behind? (Yes, that is really happening.) We met the mayor of Sderot - of course, in his underground command center – and he is an amazing person. He told us that half of his town is deserted, that those who have someplace else to go – relatives or friends in the north – have left. The nine of us already knew that without having to be told. We were there on a beautiful, warm, sunny day. The playground was deserted. The streets were deserted. The houses were deserted. The stores were nearly all closed. It looked like a ghost town, which it is rapidly becoming. Of those people still there, 70 percent of them need psychological help. If there is someone from whom you would expect to get a "kill the Arabs" rant, it would be him. And yet he said no such thing to us. He said that he had no animosity toward the Palestinians. He said he felt sorry for their deaths. But he was absolutely clear in his support for Israel 's attacks on Hamas. He wants the attacks on his town to stop. He wants peace.

The mayor of Sderot isn't the only Israeli who feels for the people in Gaza . We visited two college girls in Beersheba in their typical student apartment – lousy section of town, hand-me-down furniture, clock made of a beer can. Both spoke excellent English (turns out that each has one American parent) – and in many ways could have been typical American college kids. Except that in addition to talking about classes, friends, parties, etc, they also talked about how they were afraid to take a shower since they might not hear the siren. One of them, when she was asked how the typical Israeli college kid is viewing the "situation" – nobody here says the word "war" – said that she has to put her typical feelings on hold. I asked her what she meant by "typical feelings" and she said, "Oh you know…war is bad, people should all get along. And I know that Palestinians deserve the same things that we do – water, electricity – but we are fighting for our survival now. I can't let those other feelings get in the way."

An Army captain who talked to us in Sderot made the situation pretty clear. Gaza asks for ordinary items – pipes for plumbing in houses, fertilizer for farmers to grow food, gasoline for cars and tractors. Israel can't prohibit this "humanitarian aid" from coming in. Hamas, however, cuts the pipe into two foot sections, fills them with fertilizer and sugar and a few other easily obtained ingredients (just like the ingredients used in the bomb that blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City), and uses the gasoline as propellant. Oh, and they throw in ball bearings and whatever other metal fragments they can find (anything that can become lethal shrapnel once the fertilizer explodes), and fire the whole thing off aimed at Sderot. (The Israelis know this is happening because they have begun putting certain marks on the pipes being sent to Gaza , and these marks are now showing up on the missiles lading on Sderot.) Of course, the missiles are fired about 30 feet from a school or mosque or someone's home. The Israelis see the launch and fire a bunch of mortars at them. They usually hit the target and kill the terrorists. Sometimes, though, they miss by a little – say, 30 feet, and now it is not only the terrorists who are dead…it is the innocent people in the house, school, or mosque next door. .

Just about every Israeli we talked to cared about what the world thinks of them and doesn't understand why they are being portrayed as they are. I remember one in particular. He was a kid, about 19, wounded in the fighting in Gaza , but only "lightly wounded. (Lightly wounded, by the way, includes such things as losing a toe.) We met him in the hospital where he was recovering. We talked for a little while – what sports he likes, what music he likes, the usual stuff that teenagers care about – and as we were leaving he looked at me and said "Represent us well in America ." I told him that I would. I hope I am.

Without fail, every person that we talked to – the Foreign Ministry guy, the mayors, the college kids, the rabbi, people on the street and people in stores – thanked us for being there and told us how brave we were. It is hard to describe how ridiculous this felt. People living for weeks, and in some cases, years, with their lives in danger, thanking us for spending a total of maybe 12 hours doing that. But nothing was as gut-wrenching as getting thanks from the soldiers that we ran into about a mile from Gaza . There were about 100 of them, resting in a field and waiting for the command to go back into battle. We had brought some neck warmers with us – they are apparently loved by the soldiers because they not only keep them warm at night, they are apparently a cool fashion statement. (Remember, even though they are soldiers, we are not talking John Wayne here – we are talking 18 and 19 year old kids, whose wardrobe, even when 99% of it is a uniform – is a big deal.) They were incredibly appreciative of them, as they were of the cookies that we had also brought (18 year old boys tend to eat a lot) but when they found out that we were Americans, that we were only in Israel for a few days, and that the reason that we came was to show support for them, they fell all over themselves thanking us. How do I describe the feeling – embarrassment, maybe? – when a kid who, unlike my kids, is not going to a party or going to a bar, is going to war, makes a big deal about my bringing him cookies. I told them this – that my little act of handing out cookies pales in comparison to what they have been asked to do. I told them that they are kids and should not be asked to give up their kid-hoods, and for the first time they stopped laughing and smiling. A couple of them grew serious and told me that I am right, that they shouldn't have to do this. They don't want to be in danger, and they don't want to put the people in Gaza in danger either. But what alternative do they have?

Oh, they get it.

And then there is the mother, father, and grandmother of Alex Mashvitzki. I don't know if they get it. It might just be too much for them to get. Alex, a 21-year old soldier, was killed in Gaza about a week ago, and his parents ended shiva the first day that we were in Israel . We went to visit them and there is no way that I can do justice to the pain in that house. His mother and father seemed cried out. They just sat there, looking blankly, and answering questions in a monotone. The father played a PowerPoint that Alex's fellow soldiers made, showing a montage of pictures of Alex – baby pictures, bar mitzvah pictures, high school pictures, and IDF pictures – with Eric Clapton's See You in Heaven as background music. His grandmother was not cried out at all. I wound up sitting next to her, and she did not stop crying for the 30 minutes or so that I was there. She kept saying "Life is cruel," "He was only a baby," and "How can I go on?" One of my many character faults is that I am simply awful at relating to older people. In fact, I have to admit that if I had seen her before I chose my seat, I would have sat somewhere else. And yet, I found myself not only relating to her, but I think I actually was able to give her some comfort. She reminded me of my own grandmother – her sense of sadness, of being punished by God, was overwhelming. She told me that she had been a partisan fighter against the Nazis, and then told me that she was from Bialystok ( Poland ), where my grandmother was from. For some reason that hit me hard and I started to cry. We sat there for a few minutes holding each other's hands crying, until I was able to pull myself together. Then she showed me an album filled with photos of her Alex, and pointed him out in every picture. When it was time to leave, I didn't want to go. I had to bend almost in half to hug her – she is tiny, maybe four-six - but was surprised that she hugged me back. Someone in our group later told me that I was amazing with her, and he is right. The amazing part, though, is that I know that I helped her in a small way, and I know that I have never been able to do anything like that before. Maybe I was getting it. In a place where people are often called on to do things that they aren't comfortable with, but do it because it has to be done, I had played a very small role, but I had done something to help. It is a feeling that I will never forget.

In the last few days, we've been in range of the Hamas missiles for a total of about 15 hours, during which time something like 25 missiles were fired. Incredibly, we were never in the city at which they were fired. We would leave Ashkelon to go to Sderot, for example, and an hour after we left, a rocket would hit Ashkelon . Then, after we left Sderot, a missile would hit there. The radio was always on in the bus (in case we did not hear the siren), and many of us also had Blackberries, so we were constantly hearing about an attack in the place we had just been. It was eerie, and although we kept joking about it (we are being watched over, we are bad luck charms, we should split up and go over the whole country so nothing will get hit, etc.), I know that at least some of us had mixed feelings about not actually experiencing a siren. I know that I do. Of course I am happy to have made it back unharmed and yet the purpose of this trip was two-fold. We wanted to reassure the people of the South that we have them in our thoughts and prayers, and we accomplished this. But it was also to understand as best we could what it is like to actually be living in those conditions, and then report this back to everyone that we can here.. So many things that were only vague concepts to me before – what a half empty town looks like, what a hospital in a war zone feels like, what soldiers who are about to go into battle say or do – are now solid images in my memory. And yet the worst part – what must be moments of sheer terror as the siren goes off and you have those precious few seconds to find a place to keep yourself alive – is as much a mystery to me today as it was before I came. Saying that I am disappointed would not only be plain stupid – who could possibly be disappointed to have avoided such danger – it would miss the point. A more accurate phrasing, I think, would be to say that my experience was not complete, and 90 percent of me says thank God that it was not. But only 90 percent.

A few hours ago we came back to Jerusalem to pack up our stuff, check out of the hotel and leave for the airport. But before we did, the nine of us got together to "debrief" each other. The intention was for each of us to share his or her feelings about what we had seen in the past three days. Not one of the first three people to speak – including me – got more than a few sentences out before we started to cry. As it turns out, we were the only ones able to hold it together enough to even get those few sentences out; nobody else said anything.

I think we all got it. I can't really say for sure what "it" is – I think that it is something that we all will work out for ourselves – but it is certainly about the terrible sadness that we had just seen, about things that should not have to happen, about the world working the wrong way. Children not able to be children. Parents burying their children. People living in terror. And generation after generation after generation of people hoping that theirs will be the last generation to live this way, and fearing that it will not.

Yes, I think I get it now. What can I do so that you get it.


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