Ruby Jewsday

Walter posts from Haifa

Walter has been posting updates from Israel at his Ruby Jewsday site. However, his latest report (which he also emailed) is not yet posted at RJD so I'll put it up here:

Yesterday was one of the most exhilarating and profoundy depressing days of my life. I spent the day in Haifa--my beloved hometown where I spent the best years of my life as a young reporter 1976-79, and the city yesterday was achingly beautiful from the vista of Yefe Nof Street--I had forgotten just how beautiful is, but it was almost dead. Hardly any traffic, the port was empty.

A visitor does not see physical destruction, until they take you to a few of the houses that were blown up. I accompanied a group of Hadssah women from the U.S., first to Rambam hospital and then on a tour of the city--which was cut short by air raid sirens again and again. The first siren came when we were inside the hosital, but they insisted that we go inside the conference room where we had been scheduled to go anyway, but a little later, because it is the most secure spot in the hospital. We spoke to several soldiers who had been gravely wounded in Lebanon whose lives were saved by the wonderful; doctors there.

It turned out a rocket had landed a kilomter away friom us, but it didnt explode. Then we began a tour of the nearby Bat Galim neighborhood which was abruptly cut short by another siren and we rushed into the shelter of a nearby rundown apartment building. The shelter was tiny with maybe 30 people crammed shoulder to shoulder in a small space--verry hot and smeeled bad.

Residents of the house were sobbing--a young single mother cradled her 2 year old and said, "I cant take this any more...its been going on for weeks and my nerves are snapping." I asked her why she didnt evacuate to Tel Aviv or somewhere else safe and she replied, "I already went there, but I couldnt impose on people any more, so i came back. I have no money now and nowhere to go". Her car was destroyed in a boming attack. Her mother wailed, "What is goping to happen to us...Please help us."

After we left there we went into another shelter in a parking lot underneath a kenyon (mall) where a mixed group of Jewish and Arab kids were being entertained by musicians beating drums. One Arab counselor shouted, "The jews and Arabs of Haifa stand together. We wont let Nasrallah tear us apart." By the way, everyone I spoke to--mostly non-Russians had learned from Russian-Israelis via the media the meaning of "Nasral" pa Russki and had a good laugh from it. Calling him "shit"is one of the few bright spots of the "matzav" (situation) here.

I saw young Israeli girl soldiers working with the Arab and Jewish kids, helping them to laugh and sing and those girls were so wonderful that at that moment I vowed to myself somethign I havent vowed in 25 years--that I intend to come back and live the remainder of my life in Haifa, where I can make a contribution for the sake of my own people, the Jews, and also for the Arabs and for the peace of the sacred Land we both love and cant manage to share.

I kept breaking into tears throughout the day, but felt uplifted and hopeful. Then on the long bus ride to Jerusalem, my spirits flagged and I felt a sense of hopelessness as i heard of the decision of the cabinet to go on to the Litani--nothing but death and destruction as far as the eye can see. My friends, understand me, I devoutly hope it works. The Israelis have convinced themselves that is the only way and I pray with every fiber of my being that Olmert and company are right and I am wrong. But hevreh, it is so FUCKING painful here, you have no idea. I love Haifa and the people of Israel so much and their world is failling apart. If you are up there, Hashem, get your ass in motion and save the people of Israel, save the world and stop this killing now.

Walter's Israel journal (Part 1): At Kibbutz Afeq

Ruby Jewsday blog.

I was having lunch with my 87 year old aunt Pnina, her daughter Raya and son-in-law Amiram in the communal dining room on Kibbutz Afeq, listening to Pnina reminisce about how her husband, 89-year-old family patriarch Ze’ev, a refugee from Hitler’s Germany journeyed to the Land of Israel as a teenager in the mid-1930’s and, together with other members of his Zionist youth group, helped to found the kibbutz and to plant orange groves on land located on the coastal plain between Haifa and Acre that was then mostly sand dunes and malarial swamps.

Penina talked movingly about how she herself escaped the Nazi invasion of Poland as a young woman by fleeing to Soviet Russia, where she was interred for several months in a prison camp in Siberia before being allowed to emigrate to Palestine. Finally she spoke about the desprate struggle for survival that was Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, and how Ze’ev and other members of a platoon from Afeq took part in house to house fighting in the battle to capture the ancient seaside city of Acre from Arab forces during the 1948 War of Independence.

Suddenly my absorption in Pnina’s narration of a piece of our family history I have heard many times before but which never fails to fascinate me, was pierced by the unmistakable wail of an air raid siren. Manifesting no discernable sign of alarm, Penina said, “OK, we’ll finish our meal in a little while, but right now we need to get up and walk quickly to the shelter”. So I followed my dynamo of an aunt and about 30 other kibbutzniks out of the dining room and down a flight of stairs to a smallish space underneath the stairwell of the building; an alcove which, it appeared to me, would offer only minimal protection to its occupants in the event of a direct hit by a katushya missile.

We stood against the walls of the shelter for about five minutes, with the kibbutzniks socializing and discussing the latest developments in the war, and then, without waiting for an ‘all clear’ signal, walked back up the stairs and concluded our meal.

As we tarried over coffee and ice cream, I asked Pnina how it felt to have survived the onslaught of the Nazis and the rigors of a Soviet prison camp; to have experienced seven Israeli-Arab wars, including the 1973 Yom Kippur War, during which one of her three children and her her only son, Avinoam was killed; to have participated in the building of a kibbutz from swampland into a thriving entity and to have watched her beloved Israel grow from a struggling entity of 600,000 Jews to one of six million, only to find herself having to run to an air raid shelter in the sunset of her life.

She paused for a moment to consider the question in all of its weight and then said, “Look, I don’t appreciate having to run for the air raid shelter five or more times a day as we have been doing here for the past three weeks, and sometimes I ask myself why I bother to take shelter at all, because I am going to die soon enough anyway. But then I say to myself, ‘I don’t want to give those Hezbollah bastards the satisfaction of killing me.’ So I get up from whatever I am doing when the alarm sounds and head for the shelter.’”

Walter's Israel journal (Part 2): War analysis

Part 2 of Walter's report contains his observations on the political and military situation.

Pnina’s response (see previous post) seemed to me axiomatic of the trademark ain breirah (no alternative) attitude manifested by most of the Israelis I met during a week-long sojourn in the Jewish state during the second week of August, both in the so-called ‘red zone’ in the northern part of the country where the missiles have been falling in great numbers, as well as in the remainder of the country where life has continued more or less normally; except that every family seems to have a son or daughter in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) serving inside Lebanon or providing logistical support on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

On one hand, Israelis are tough and resilient and determined at all costs to survive and thrive, despite the difficult challenges they are now confronting. On the other hand, there is a palpable sense of frustration that their vaunted IDF, which destroyed the armies of three Arab states in seven days in 1967, has been unable to break the 3000-strong Hezbollah militia in the course of over a month and has taken heavy casualties; and that the overpowering Israeli bombing of southern Lebanon that caused hundreds of Lebanese civilian deaths and caused sharp international criticism of Israel, has not succeeded in preventing Hezbollah from lobbing missiles across northern Israel, with the largest daily number of missiles hitting northern Israeli cities like Haifa, Nahariya, Safed and Kiryat Shmona on the last day before a shaky cease-fire was declared.

Unlike past wars during which Israelis manifested an almost breezy sense of self-assurance, today a visitor feels from Israelis from all walks of life a palpable sense of insecurity and even of existential dread; a sense that in the cohorts of Hezbollah, Israel has finally met its match; coming up against an implacable Arab foe that, impelled by an intense Islamic faith, might prove impossible to eradicate. If that is truly the case, and if the élan motivating Hezbollah and Hamas spreads and fires the rest of the Arab world with the spirit of Saladin, then the very survival of Israel is at risk.

Walter's Israel journal (Part 3): Haifa under seige

The strain on the Israeli populace is evident on another day with bombs falling.

After leaving Afeq, I spent the following day touring Haifa while covering the visit of a Hadassah solidarity mission to the city. I relate to Haifa as my hometown, since I spent two years living there as a would-be new immigrant 30 years ago, when I was in my mid- 20’s. Haifa was and remains, Israel’s most liberal and secular city, with a community center called Bet Hagefen (House of the Vinyard), where members of the city’s Jewish and Arab communities meet for cultural events and rap sessions.

The day we were in town we found counselors from Bet Hagefen entertaining Arab and Jewish children in a stifling parking lot underneath a kenyon (shopping mall) in the city’s ethnically mixed Wadi Selib section, that is serving as a large bomb shelter. Amidst a deafening clamor as children banged away on drums and danced to Middle Eastern music, an Arab youth leader named Shadi Alowia shouted into a microphone; “The Jews and Arabs of Haifa stand together in this crisis as we always have. We won’t allow Nasrallah to drive us apart.”

The severe impact of the ongoing missile barrage on Haifa’s civilian population hit chillingly home for myself and members of the Hadassah group, when an air raid siren sounded as they were reboarding their buses; compelling them to take shelter in the basement of a 1950’s era apartment building in the seaside Bat Galim section that had clearly seen better days. As the groups filed down the narrow staircase, they ran into a middle aged woman, screaming incoherently and banging on the walls. Moments earlier, the woman’s husband had rushed into the street, shouting that he would rather be killed than go back into the shelter. Several of the Hadassah ladies tried to console the woman, but she was sobbing uncontrollably, saying; “The idiot will be blown up by a missile. He cares only for himself. What will happen to me if I am left alone?”


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