Saturday, July 29, 2006

An Israeli Mother Copes with Soldier-Son at War

An Israeli Mother Copes with Soldier-Son at War

Elizabeth Levy
Special to the Jewish Journal-North Boston, July 28 2006
[Elizabeth is Dov Levy's daughter]

Elizabeth Levy After almost 25 years living in Israel, this is the first war in which not only do I have a son in the army but also most of the soldiers are my son's age, my son's friends and schoolmates, the sons of my friends.

My son graduated from tank training school in the first days of the war and was home on scheduled leave for the first week. Still, I am just as nervous and anxious about those other kids who are out there on the front lines. I feel that same pain in my stomach, the same fear about watching the news. And yet, I am unable to turn it off. Every time they announce another soldier wounded or killed, it tears me apart. Mickey is now back at his base ready to do what the army asks.

This morning, I drove my daughter, Jenny, into Jerusalem to the army office for her first call up. (Jenny begins her senior year in high school in the fall and during that year all Israeli kids have periodic pre-army service briefings and events.) Driving home, I noticed a huge sign that someone had hand painted and hung near the bus stop leaving town. The sign read, "Soldier, Thank you for protecting us." I cried.

Perhaps the way that the country pulls together during times like these is also making me mushy. Everyone is taking in families from the north. Everyone is making packages to send to soldiers and to kids in bomb shelters. Everyone is donating, volunteering, supporting and pulling together.

Many books have been written about the Israeli soldier during our many wars. Now I see it very personally, very close up, when these wonderful young men and women express pride for their part in the struggle to protect the country. Their camaraderie and their dedication to one another is amazing.

I am blown away by their desire to be on the front lines doing anything and everything that they can. On one hand, they're out of their minds, young and innocent, still naive enough to consider themselves invincible.

On the other hand, they feel so strongly about their country. Even more, they feel so close to their friends that they can't bear the thought of not being together in times like these.

It's as if we finally see that the education we worked so hard to give them — at home, in school, in scouts — has really sunk in. These are really good people.

Mickey told me that they don't think about getting hurt. They don't think about dying. They don't think about the fear or danger. (I always say, that's why they take 18 year-olds, before they start thinking!) They just want to do what they have to do. And not in the sense of doing it to get it over with. They do it because they believe in it.

I'm back to answering the emails that have piled up during the week. I have had so many letters of support that I haven't been able to keep up with answering them all. Still, I never tire of reading them although they all say the same thing. For a change, it's nice to know that most of the world is behind us. It's nice to know that people are thinking of us.

Elizabeth Levy is director of development for the Israel Council for the Child. She may be contacted at

Dispatches from Israel's Home/War Front

Dispatches from Israel's Home/War Front

Jewish Journal Boston North July 28, 2006

One truism about my friends in Israel during wartime is that they write. Here are some excerpts from my mail received since the war began.

One writer grew up in England, one in Belgium, two in Canada, the others in the United States, and all made aliyah after age 18. All the men and most of the women served in the Israeli army. Every one has children who also served, or are now serving, in the military; at least one lost a child in combat. They have lived in Israel anywhere from 20 to 45 years

"The situation is not good, but we have come through so many things 'til now, I'm sure we will weather this storm, too. Besides, we have no choice but to stand firm and 'hang in there.' I'm reminded of England during World War II, and the talk then of stiff upper lip, chin up, etc. It's a shame that we have come to this once again in our lifetime, but most people seem to be able to cope with it. Israel didn't get to this point in its existence by being weak and helpless."
— Woman, town west of Jerusalem

"We came back from the country's center a few hours ago, and are under steady bombardment. A number of blackouts have already taken place. I'm off to work in an empty hotel."
— Man, northern kibbutz near Kiryat Shmona

"My son is up north. He was visiting his girlfriend, hoping for a little romantic getaway. Then the bombs began to hit, one only a mile away. Both of them finally got out Saturday night, only to be called back to the Army on Sunday. He was on his way to his base when he heard that his girlfriend's uncle was killed in the Haifa train depot bomb blast. They went back up north to the funeral, amidst the air raid sirens."
— Man, town outside Jerusalem

"I was alone at home on Wednesday morning when the shelling began. It was a bit frightening, but not enough to send me downstairs to the mamad [bomb shelter] to sleep. In retrospect, I probably should have! The house was literally shaking at times. Nevertheless, things go on as usual. The news reports are always more horrifying than the reality on the ground."
— Woman, Maalot, on the Lebanon border

"The older I become, the more unbearable it all gets to be. It will never let up, not in our generation, and not in the ones to come. On the other hand, I am glad that war-mongering Hezbollah is finally going to get what has been long and painfully overdue. Among radical Muslims, only power speaks and engenders respect."
— Woman, Jerusalem

"Thursday afternoon we were downtown in Jerusalem. Shops and cafes were busy. I'm wondering to myself, 'Don't they know there's a war going on?' We went to see a movie at the Israel Film Festival — very crowded. Last night we were invited out for Shabbat dinner, and the war did not dominate the conversation. Yes, it was mentioned in passing."
— Man, Jerusalem

"We do feel the tension. It is uneasiness, not knowing where and what will happen. But war is nothing new."
— Woman, Jerusalem

"In Haifa nothing much is moving; there is very little traffic and most people are home, We can hear planes overhead all day (too high to spot) and helicopters fly up and down the coast, which we can see from our living room window. Several people who live in the south have called and offered us refuge, but neither of us is interested in leaving."
— Woman, Haifa

"I don't think we should leave out the fear factor, especially now after so much escalation with over 700 bombs exploding inside Israel. On one hand, life goes on here — and that's important to know — but on the other hand, it's damned terrifying!"
— Woman, town near Jerusalem

These messages from Israel's home front are not about great heroism, but about great steadfastness; not about ideology, but about maintaining the nation; and not about despair, but about determination.

Monday, July 17, 2006

What in the World is Israel Doing? Saying: "Enough!"

What in the World is Israel Doing? Saying: "Enough!"

Jewish Journal Boston North July 14, 2006

Israel has been flexing its muscles in the weeks since two Israeli soldiers were killed and a third, Gilad Shalit, 19, was wounded, kidnapped and taken over the border into Gaza.

At first, Israel's Prime Minister Olmert warned Hamas to release Gilad unharmed. When their response was negative, Israel unleashed air strikes against Palestinian targets in Gaza, followed by sonic boom flyovers in Syria, over the country residence of President Assad.

The point of this warning to Assad was that Syria's harboring of Khaled Mashal, the Hamas official who ordered the kidnapping, could be dangerous to Assad himself and to his country. The Israel Defense Forces then entered the West Bank, arresting dozens of Hamas operatives, among them more than 20 elected members of the Palestinian Parliament.

Criticism of Israel's actions has been relatively muted in the United States, more outspoken in Europe.

Sure, many will think Israel's swift response was disproportionate to the "small" loss of a single soldier. But everybody should understand by now that Israel, unlike the Palestinians who send young suicide bombers to die, cares about each and every soldier and civilian.

This column offers no advice to Prime Minister Olmert. I simply want to give you, dear reader, my take on what I think the Israeli government's response means.

Israel is saying to the Palestinians, "Enough is enough." If you, Hamas, think you can take over the Palestinian government, maintain a belligerent position towards Israel, call for our destruction, allow and encourage and assist your citizens in lobbing rockets from your soil to ours, to cross the border to kidnap Israelis, to train and send suicide bombers — well, now we are saying maaspeek. Enough.

We Israelis won't continue to be your targets in a war of attrition; we won't let this go on for more years and decades. You think time is on your side; we grant you no more time. We will not allow you to send people on suicide missions hoping that one teenage Palestinian boy or girl will kill five or 10 or 50 Israelis. We will not allow rockets from your soil to kill our citizens. Enough is enough.

All Israel's efforts at a negotiated peace have failed. It didn't work because Israel is more valuable to the Arab leadership as an enemy than as a friend. The Saudi, Syrian, and Iranian dictators have Israel to point to as the enemy, the source of all Arab hardships and misery in the Middle East. These leaders can explain the frustrations of their citizens over the lack of work, education, money, material progress of all kinds, by charging Israel and covering their own dictatorial desire to maintain the status quo and keep their nations' wealth for themselves.

Similarly, the Palestinian leadership has done quite well by stealing money, building villas, visiting the world's showplace cities, AND sending their wives and children to London and Paris for school and shopping. Why in heaven's name would they be interested in a peace where a Palestinian government would be held accountable for progress, where stealing foreign aid monies might land officials in jail?

Hamas, newcomers to electoral victory, have their own agenda, which may or may not include raping the treasury. But, up to now, it surely continues its pledge to wage war against Israel.

Israel will soon be pressured by western governments to cease and desist. They will argue that all of Israel's actions and Palestinian actions are just part of the ongoing cycle of violence that has been going on since 1948.

The wisest response is from Charles Krauthammer: "Gaza is free of occupation, yet Gaza wages war. Why? Because this is not about occupation, it is about Israel's very existence."

Krauthammer explains how the cycle of violence ended, or should have ended, when Israel withdrew from every inch of Gaza. The Palestinians could have developed the land and lived in peace. But they allowed and even organized incursions and rockets from Gaza into Israel. This is not a cycle of violence, it is a new war begun by Palestinians.

And from where I sit, it looks as if Israel aims to finish it now, unless Gilad Shalit is safely returned and the Palestinians end their aggressive actions from Gaza to Israel.