Yves Shefner in Israel at War 2006

Life in Haifa and north of Israel during the 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Day 21 - The War from Hollywood

The trip I was working so hard to arrange for the last 6 months (readers of previous posts will recall it was delayed to the 13th of August because of Canadian passport issues) has finally happened. We got a call from the travel agent saying that we got through on the waitlist. I had 24 hours to arrange the trip. I got everything arranged and picked up Yarden. Luckily, he had come back from Tel Aviv the day before with his mother because things had quieted down and there was a cease-fire. We got on the plane just after midnight on the 2nd and arrived here about 22 hours later. We were in the air for so long that felt like we were still moving. I thought that they were having earth-tremors here. They’ve since gone away.

Although everyone was happy that we will be out of harm’s way, I felt very bad about leaving and I can think of a number of reasons why. The first is that I felt like it was my duty to stay, firstly to keep normal life going as much as possible. The north of Israel’s economy has been hit very hard and I didn’t want to hit it any harder. Second, I wanted to encourage others to keep on going by my own actions. Trends develop one person at a time, and I didn’t want to be part of the migration trend, I wanted to be part of the presevering trend. I also felt like I was leaving my fellow Israelis behind in the lurch. Not that I was providing any essential services or anything, just that you don’t leave your people behind when they are in trouble.

Yarden and I had planned this trip for so long and we both had gone to sooooo much trouble to arrange it – he had been really looking forward to it and the war had already scared him a little and put a cramp in his summer - that I didn’t have the heart to deal him such a large disappointment. I must admit, that while I was scared myself a few times being in the north, I tried to think things through calmly – there was little chance of harm – I am glad to have him out of harm’s way.

Then there is this Blog. I started to write it from the perspective of a resident of the north during a war that has so terribly affected the region. Now I will write it as someone who was in this region but is now enjoying himself at Disneyland. It sounds a little absurd to me – hopefully it isn’t and won’t be to the readers. What I will do however is continue to add postings for the next few weeks that we are here, based on what I hear from the friends and family I left behind and what I read in Israeli press, etc.

Bizarre Sensation
It is such a striking change from the sirens in Israel to the tourists at the Hollywood walk of fame, that I feel I have been teleported to another planet. Darth Vader, Charlie Chaplain and Mickey Mouse all wander around posing for autographs with the hoards of ahppy tourists. There is no hint of a war going on here except for the few gigantic American flags hanging at US customs. Yarden said they were a little intimidating.

Another absurd war note: we rested a little in the hotel room after walking around Hollywood and woke up hungry around midnight. We went out into the dark street to get a bite to eat nearby. What had been a nice street during the day was a little menacing at night. Maybe I had seen too many police shows on TV or too many action movies. We had to walk past a couple of empty lots and a small house with a huge chain-link fence around it that simply dwarfed it. There were bars on the windows and a couple of people that were drinking outside on the porch. There was a homeless person sleeping on a bench and a couple of other unsavory-looking types. I actually felt far more afraid right then and there, in Hollywood, USA, than I did for the last three weeks in a war zone! :-)

Perhaps the real irony is the town that has re-created so many wars and conflicts, is now scarier than the wars themselves.

Shalom to everyone back home! Our thoughts and prayers are with you. We pray for a quick end to this with minimum casualties - on both sides.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A little about the fear of rockets

August 1, 2006

It was a strange day in Haifa. Yesterday's announcement of a ceasefire brought a day with no rockets or even sirens. Not even a false alarm. After three weeks of almost constant explosions and dancing down to the shelter to the tune of sirens, it seems absent somehow. I and a couple of other people I spoke to have said that in a strange way, they miss it. I know it seems bizzaar, but I think that there is a certain thrill in the fear. There is something about those few minutes where, once in the shelter, you listen quietly for the rockets and measure, by the strength of the blast, how far away they are. You consciously know you are safe in the shelter and the odds are tiny that it will be hit, but you wonder anyway if it might happen. If you have experienced some close ones as I have, you respect the power of the rockets, and there is something in their threat (again, as remote a possibility as it is) of death, that reminds you that you are alive. ALIVE!

A lot of people went to work today and there even reports of heavy traffic downtown. It seemed that life in Haifa seemed to return to normal. Almost. In addition to the missing of the sirens by some of us, we were also grateful for the quiet and what it meant - no one will be hurt or killed today. At least not in Israel. As I also drove through the city streets doing some errands, I didn't trust the quiet. I was sure that at any moment I would hear a siren and have to brake quickly and run into a building to wait it out.

I try to tell people who are really afraid of the rockets in Haif to look at it coldly. Statistically, I am sure one has more chance of dieing in a car accident than being hit by a rocket. I have said this to a few people, who listen to me very impatiently when I say it. The fear for them overrules cold logic. In a very tragic coincidence, today's Yediot newspaper front page has the story of a 16 year-old who came south to Tel Aviv from a kibbutz in the north. He was killed in a traffic accident.

May the quiet last on both sides and let there be peace.


Sunday, July 30, 2006

Terrible tragedy at Qana -where should the rage be directed?

Thanks to Die Muräne from Switzerland for comments expressing impatience with Israel. I really am glad to hear your opinions of all shades. Early this morning an Israeli attack on Qana, a small Lebanese town near the border with Israel, killed over 40 people. So far, reports say that over 27 bodies of children have been pulled from the rubble. The story is that the building hit was storing Hezbollah assets. Tragically, women and their handicapped children gathered together in the building so that it would be easier to care for the children.

How it played out in the news
Israeli spokesmen expressed deep regret at the loss of life, especially that of children, and had the air force known that the building was full of children, the mission would have been aborted. I know I cried when I saw the pictures of limp children being carried in the arms of Red Cross rescuers, and I must admit that now, I too wonder if Israel can continue this way. I know most Israelis are crying about this tragedy. One cannot be a parent in Israel and not cry at the loss of innocent children. I wish there was some way we could show our solidarity with the poor innocent victims. I wish Israel would do more in the way of humanitarian efforts, in parallel to conducting the war. - whether the Lebanese hate us or not, whether they want to kill us or not. I don't care. We must remain faithful to humane ideals. At least if we are forced into this war, then we should be doing everything we can to help those who must necessarily suffer. I know it won't hurt us to do so proactively. It is not enough to allow a few red cross truck through. The IDF must also take on some relief efforts.

Israeli IDF spokesmen stated that Arabic language pamphlets were distributed to residents throughout the region instructing them to leave or risk injury in the hostilities. Reports by soldiers fighting at Bint Jbeil who asked local people why they did not leave, say that Hezbollah forced them to stay behind. Lebanese and Arab spokesmen claim that Israel has bombed the bridges and roads making it impossible for people to leave. The journalists claim that the people have no money to travel and support themselves in other places and prefer to stay in a familiar area with their livestock.

This morning, CNN and Sky News journalists were asking an Israeli spokesman if he was afraid of war crimes trials after the conflict. I was outraged that they did not see that Hezbollah must obviously be putting people in harms way. Period. End of discussion. This is the most cynical manipulation and slaughter of a weak population by a terrorist group. Just look at the terrorist formula (used by Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others): Place a rocket launcher near women and children (schools, hospitals, apartment buildings) and then fire. If Israel attacks and innocents die, the terrorists win the propaganda war and the international community pressures Israel to stop. If Israel holds back, then its own population comes under fire. Either way Israel loses. Where is the outrage at this war crime of the first degree? Why aren't Hezbollah spokesmen being asked if they are afraid of war crimes?

Israel said it would investigate the tragedy quickly because this is not the moral code of Israel or the IDF, and it owes first itself an answer, and also to the international community, as to why this happened.

Today, Jack Straw, former foreign secretary to Tony Blair, announced after 3 weeks, that Israel's response was exaggerated. Please note all: Jack Straw was recently demoted by Prime Minister Blair and has a large Muslim constituency in his home riding - two very strong motivations to revolt against his boss and come out against Israel. This was a self-serving statement that seeks political profit from the poor Lebanese children and is not helpful in changing the situation on the ground for the people of Israel or Lebanon.

In recent discussions I've had with two friends of mine who have strong pacifist (called leftist on the Israeli political spectrum), both wondered if Israel's response should have been much more restrained. Then perhaps, Hezbollah would not have started their barrage of rockets. They feel that we are strengthening Hezbollah within the Arab world; this is undoubtedly true according to all reports. Even the positions of so called 'friendly' nations like Egypt and Jordan have shifted. They started off by blaming Hezbollah for starting the conflict, now they are blaming Israel. I presume that after today, this trend will escalate. For every one hundred or one thousand minds they turn one or two will become militant.

Tommy Lapid former head to the secular Shinui (Change) party, talking on Fox News was asked about Israel losing the support of the international community. Visibly angry, as Tommy often is, he said (I'm paraphrasing)"As long as Jews are losing, the international community loves us. Then you will be glad to build orphanages for Jewish children in London", he said, referring to Britain's taking in of Jewish children during the holocaust. But when Jews are attacked and fight for their right to exist and live in their own country, the world turns against us!" Tommy, it's not just us, the world just loves the underdog in every conflict.

People in the West are swayed by the mere numbers of deaths without understanding the realities and say the response is exaggerated. The fact that seven times more Lebanese have died means to people that Israel's reaction is disproportionate. This position falsely assumes (and strongly so implies to those watching and trying to make up their minds on the issue) that Israel's goal in this operation is revenge or to teach Arab extremists a lesson. That is not the case. Retrieving the captured soldiers, either through direct military action or through setting the stage militarily to negotiate the release is the goal. But even that goal has taken a back seat to the goal of disarming Hezbollah. This goal has recently been downgraded to weakening them (and at this rate, soon to be adjusted to just giving them a good kick in the shins) and the threat of 8-10 thousand more of their rockets being aimed at us.

Media must maintain moral parity
This is truly the moral dilemma of kill or be killed for which there is no happy answer. But there is no doubt that Hezbollah shares most of the blame for starting this conflict, and for making cannon fodder of the weakest, poorest people, and most helpless people - handicapped children and their mothers. To their credit, journalists, for the first time in my memory of the media covering terrorist conflicts, do actually mention that innocents are put in harm's way - but the impression I get is that it is also quickly dismissed by them. It must be so obvious to them that terrorists are barbaric and liars and commit atrocities and there is no one for them to even address this issue to - they can melt away into the population while Israel, as a legitimate society has to have it's defenders smeared with implications that what they are doing is a war crime. It is time that the media maintained a single moral standard for all parties in this conflict, on not one for terrorists and one for Israel. I think that will keep make Israel's response look more proportionate.

The fallout
This incident is similar to another campaign in Lebanon some years ago (I think it was in 1996) where Israelis accidentally bombed a shelter housing hundreds of innocent civilians killing more than 100 people. The incident caused an outcry and led to International pressure that stopped Israel's operations. Today's tragedy at Qana may have the same effect. Prime Minister Siniora has already cancelled his planned visit with Condoleezza Rice due to the tragedy and has temporarily derailed the diplomatic efforts.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Life and death dilemas now part of daily life

After the Israeli Home Front Comand announced that most Israelis can go back to work if they have a protected workspace, some workers are faced with a real dilema. Some are simply too frightened to venture out during the day when nearly all the rocket and missile attacks have occured. In addition, since children are off school and most of the day camps and child care have been cancelled. parents understandably don't want to leave their kids alone. They have been told that any time they take off from work after last sunday will come out of accumulatd vacation time.

One friend of mine living in a suburb of Haifa works as a senior manager in a large company in the Western Galilee region. She was asked by her boss to return to work this past week. She has to pass Maalot and Carmiel on her way to work, both of which have been hit with up to 40 rockets per day. The industrial park where she works has been hit by rockets as well. Her 45 minute journey is through mainly open fields and forests. Unlike commuters who work in the city surrounded by buildings , if a siren sounds while she is on her way to or from work, she has no where to stop the car and take cover in a shelter. She is the mother of a 10 month-old boy, whose day care is now indoors all day in a shelter.

My friend called me from her commute, outraged, frightened and screaming at the fact that they are pressuring her to come back to work. Her office is not really protected and she has to sit next to a large window at ground level. She feels it is completely immoral. She literally feels like she is risking her life by going to work and feels like she should be with her son right now.
I agree. While it is very important for the country that as many people who can go back to work as soon as possible, no one should be pressured or economically forced into taking a real risk with their life.

Other people who have fled the north of Israel find themselves staying in hotels that have hiked prices beyond peak season rates, instead of offering discounts. Some families are emptying their savings account simply by paying for accomodation away from the line of fire. One man told a news crew that he had to work 4 days for one night's accomodation.

The government has not made things much easier by waiting a very long time to address this issue at all and then providing mixed messages about what kind of compensation people will get. Th uncertainty of their economic futures is causing a great deal of unneccessary stress among ordinary Israelis. Some form of government-sponsored accomodation should be provided for families in too much danger or simply too afraid to return to the north. This conflict is far from over, and it could last a while.

51 Israelis have been killed since July 12th, 1093 injured, 41 remain in hospital.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Bizarre war tidbits

Dr. Nasrallah
Rambam hospital in Haifa is the main trauma center in the north of Israel where victims of terror attacks and rockets, as well as wounded soldiers are brought. The hospital has a staff of doctors and nurses that represent the northern region's ethnic diversity. This includes Muslims, Druze, Christians and Jews. Recent victims of Nasrallah's katyusha attacks in the north were surprised to learn that one of the trauma doctors is a Muslim Arab whose name is also Nasrallah (Nasrallah means guardian of God). As one patient put it, "I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. First Nasrallah blows me up, nows he's putting me back together again!"

Hezbollah coming to you abroad
I heard reports that the Montreal Gazette newspaper interviewed one of the Canadian-Lebanese refugees coming out of Lebanon. The woman who arrived with her four sons told the Gazette reporter that she didn't know where her husband was since he was fighting with Hezbollah. She brought her four children to Montreal to grow up safely so that they can return to Lebanon and fight Israel (and presumably whoever else they will be fighting at the time - this might include Canadian peacekeeprs). Free speech issues aside, I think Canada's anti-hate legislation needs to include speech and other activities promoting terror, to formally recognize Canada's anti-terror position.

Palestinian authority sought to use foreign infrastructure grants to set up electronic eavesdropping on Israel
A former Ericsson employee was hired by the Palestinian authority a couple of years ago to set up a cellular network using grant money from donors abroad. The Cellular network was to serve the Palestinian people for civilian purposes. However, this engineer was constantly instructed to design a network that would only eavesdrop on Israeli cellular networoks for military purposes. To his credit, he resigned his position. Although there is nothing new about Palestinians using foreign aid for terror activities, I was "pleased" to be able to have first-hand testimony to this.

Early morning siren
Yesterday, the sirens went off unusually early while I was still asleep. Instead of going down to the shelter, I padded off to the downstairs bathroom next to the stairwell. I sat down in the shower stall to wait it out. Next thing I knew I woke up about an hour later!

That's the total number of books translated to Arabic by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from all languages, in the last 100 years. The total number of books translated every year into Arabic (nearly 1 billion people speak Arabic around the world) according to a 2003 G8 report: only 330. By contrast, over 1500 books per year are translated into Greek - only 11 million people speak Greek.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Winning the Hearts and Minds of the Muslim World - The long view

I think the case can be made that the reason extremist forms of Islam are spreading is because the Western, democratic world has been losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world. I have no proof, but I have this impression that at the end of World War II and for a couple of decades following it, America was the much admired liberator of Europe and the Far East. Hollywood propaganda saw to it that the American dream was what much of the world aspired to. But things started to take a change for the worse.

A scant 34 years later in 1979, the Shah of Iran, a US ally and corrupt dictator, was overthrown by radical Shia clerics and Imams (most notably the Ayatollah Khomeini), seeking to create a theocracy from what was considered a fairly liberal (for a dictatorship, that is) and cosmopolitan regime. Since then, radical Muslim fundamentalism, with a strong hint of anti-Americanism, has spread to almost every country in the Muslim world and to diaspora populations of Muslims in the non-Muslim world.

Some of the groups affected by Islamic fundamentalism were social reform movements liberation movements like Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the occupied territories.

How do they do it?
One of the main reasons that extremist Islamic groups have been so successful is that they prey on poor and uneducated people's fears and insecurities. They spread messages in Mosques during services, setting up some foreign power as Satan. This is usually the US which is commonly known as Big Satan, or Israel which is known as Little Satan, or sometimes other smaller countries that momentarily step out of the Muslim clerics' favor - Denmark for example which did not behead the editor of a magazine for printing an image of the prophet Mohammed, is now known in this part of the world as Tiny Satan.

Some of these fears being implanted in the poor underclasses of the Muslim world aren't very logical to many people outside these countries, but they sure are to millions of people who have little or no education, health care and barley enough food in the cupboard to see them through to next Friday's prayers.

Generally, the big fear implanted in these people is that all these Satans from infidel countries are mounting a modern-day crusade (the Richard the Lionheart kind, not the Billy Graham kind) and invading Muslim lands to convert them to Christianity (or Judaism), make them eat Big Macs, and generally rearrange their centuries-old way of life into something very foreign and very infidel. For reference, imagine telling an Oklahoma cattle rancher that he will have to forego T-bones and eat French Brie cheese on baguettes with Foie Gras (ground up duck liver), washed down with a hardy, yet fruity Bordeaux. Most people don't really like the idea of change. Yet for some reason we just think they should become more like us, and we tell them so.

When you look at all the Muslim countries Big Satan and Little Satan have invaded - Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon's south, Syria's Golan heights, and oh yeah, all of Israel - you can see that's it's not hard to make a case that there really is a crusade going on.

Another thorn in the side of the Muslim world, and something preying on the clerics is the immense wealth and technological advantages to be found in the Satanic Crusader camps. Since they naturally feel that Islam is the greatest religion in the world (and I'm not saying it isn't), those who adhere to the prophet Mohammed's teachings and the way of Allah, should be the most powerful and wealthy people in the world. But aside from a few wealthy oil sheikhs, most of the people in the Muslim world are really very poor. So, we in the West must be destroyed in order to prove the power of the Muslim faith.

When you have so many poor people living in truly wretched and desperate conditions, as the majority do in most Muslim countries, blaming the government isn't really possible. Individuals do so very tentatively and secretly because this activity usually leads to very severe punishment (e.g. disappearing in the middle of the night, torture, having your tongue cut out, etc.). Corrupt governments whose leaders line their pockets with billions of their people's money, can't very well blame themselves. They have a need to blame some outside party as the source for all the ills of their societies and relieve some of the social pressure that builds up against them from time to time. Again, Big Satan and Little Satan and their crusades are very handy scapegoats.

Radical Islamic movements in these environments do something very effective to win the hearts and minds of these poor people. They look after them. Hezbollah for example runs 4 hospitals and 12 clinics in southern Lebanon. They provide money for education (albeit the radical Islamic kind - high on religion, low on practical skills - that keeps the poor people right where they want them). Hezbollah also provides financial assistance and operates a construction company that goes around after bombings, with trucks full of replacement windows, calling out from a megaphone for anyone who wants their windows replaced. Hezbollah even picks up the garbage. Being a simple man myself, I know all that would make me extremely grateful if I was two days away from starvation with a street full of uncollected garbage and broken windows through which I could smell it.

This is not a new technique. The every communist movement from North Korea and North Vietnam, Mao Tse Tung in China, and Christian missionaries have all used it. It just works.

It is really immportant to stress there are a lot of moderate and tolerant-minded Muslims in the world, both in the west and in Islamic countries. They are our friends and we need to work with them and listen to them. Moderate Muslims, like my friend Mohammad in the UK can also be our links to defusing radical, extremist Islam.

Coming soon to a neighborhood near you

It's not just in Muslim countries that radical Islam is spreading. The Philippines is not a Muslim country and yet has a growing radical Muslim movement that has kidnapped foreign tourists and committed atrocities. And it is getting closer and closer to home. You might be surprised to learn that in the US, radical Islam is spreading among poor urban blacks, especially in prisons. Louis Farakan is the most prominent black Muslim leader, famous for his anti-Semitic remarks. Muslim leaders in the US are famous for cleaning up tenements and making them safe from gang violence. Again, they are doing what governments should be doing for the weaker segments of the population.

How to win back the minds and hearts of the Muslim world
The west has plenty (thousands) of public communications academics (my sister is one of them), experts and consultants who study the diffusion of new ideas in the third world. They have a lot of experience in this field and there is really a whole lot of knowledge on the subject. They are already out there improving the lives of very poor people, in many different ways - through maternal care, reducing the spread of AIDS and other vicious diseases and parasites, etc. Many of them are in Muslim countries (remember, most Muslim nations are among the poorest in the world).

Now, I'm not writing this because I want to find more work for my sister but because I think that it's time that many of these experts need to be redeployed to boost poor people's awareness of the damage that intolerance and extremism can do on the one hand, and the benefits of accepting others with differences.

The services these public communications experts are currently helping to provide, which are supported by USAID, some monumentally wealthy charitable foundations and non-governmental organization (NGOs) should start coming with pro-democratic, pro-tolerance messages. It will be the role of the international community to get together to pressure these countries along a slow and steady and intelligent path to tolerant, pluralistic democracies. The need for change should be balanced with the need for social stability - something we learned from Iraq, that dictators can provide.

Instead of declaring war on the governments (or pseudo governments like Hamas or Hezbollah)that promote religious extremism, the West should be conducting a communications war. Governments should be isolated for not conforming to certain standards or for not having a real plan for social reform. If they resist international pressure, a communications war, not a real one, should be waged. Pro-democracy groups and pro-social reform groups should be encouraged from within the intellectual or other inclined ranks of the country.

We need to create high-quality, entertaining, local-language TV and radio programming that actually competes with local, state-sponsored programming. Leading directors and producers, combined with exiled actors, should be recruited for the effort, much in the same way Hollywood was once recruited to sell war bonds. In extreme cases, we should jam local programming and override it with our own. We should drop leaflets from the air and use the Internet to deliver positive messages (maybe in the form of amusing email attachments that we all get) that the experts will formulate.

The West should come up with better, more realistic plans for dictatorial regimes to follow along the road to social reform. Invading a country (Iraq) obviously doesn't work, neither does assassinating its leaders (just ask the CIA for the list - preferably someone with a lot of years of seniority).

The US has tied a lot of its foreign aid and other incentives to promoting civil rights in countries like China and Russia. I think the connection between foreign aid needs to be made even closer. For example, donated bags of rice should come with pro-reform slogans or cartoons printed on the side. Cereal companies put games and nutritional information on their packages and milk cartons have the faces of missing children, so too donated foods could have pro-western, pro-social reform games and information printed on them.

The problem with the above suggestions, is that they take many years of consistent effort with a lot of trial and error. It is a less expensive solution than war and it can save thousands or millions of lives. It is a long-term solution that could work eventually turning some of the poorest countries into valuable trading partners. On the other hand, going to war costs many times more money and is a short term fix whose duration could be timed to be coincide with a 4 or 8-year election cycle.

The above is a good argument for all Western governments to invest in effective social programs abroad. For the US in particular, which has the most to gain, it is also a good reason for its government to improve the way it cares for the needs of the weaker segments of its population. Because if it doesn't, Louis Farakhan will.



Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Day 15 - Are we at the front of a religious world-war?

July 26th, 2006. 23:18

I managed to catch up on some sleep this afternoon and woke up to watch a few of the really excellent Israeli news shows. They go into much more depth, intellectually and emotionally, than the major networks. I was really saddened to learn that we lost nine boys today in the heaviest day of fighting so far. Probably they are from the Golani brigade, Israel's elite fighting unit. Generally, they are among are best men. Many more soldiers were wounded.

Today over 150 missles were fired on the north - the most ever in spite of intense Israeli fire for two weeks. Somewhere between 10 and 20 fell in Haifa and suburbs. There are some injured, but no dead. We woke up this morning to promises by Nasrallah that he would fire missiles even south of Haifa. Iran's president Ahmedinejad told the press that this war was the beginning of the end for Israel. I started to worry (not very rationally) for Yarden. Chances are that missiles that can reach Tel Aviv from Lebanon will be shot down before they get there. They also have bunkers in Tel Aviv and will have more time to get there than we do in Haifa.

A lot of people are dismayed at how hard the battle on the ground is turning out to be, while others are wondering why our initial entry into southern Lebanon seems so tentative. Israel has overwhelming military force and manpower and yet is not using it. Instead of a few thousand, we could be sending in 50,000 or 250,000. Instead of just a couple of towns, we could be flushing all of southern Lebanon at once. It's not like the international community and the US will give us all the time we need.

I would like to give the IDF and the government the benefit of the doubt and say that they are building the model for attacking Hezbollah from their experience in Bint Jbeil. Normally, Israeli military strategy has been to strike very quickly and deeply into enemy territory, cutting communications, surrounding or passing towns and villages allong the way, but not occcupying them. The effect of this strategy, developed by Moshe Dayan in Israel's war of independence, is to cause panic and confusion in the enemy. However, what the IDF is doing now, is clearing out the territory of terrorists. Perhaps, it feels it needs to do this in order to clear the way for multinational peacekeeping troops to take over the buffer zone.

Channel 1, the state TV channel, had a forum of academics and retired generals discussing the situation and have thrown a whole new light on the war for me. At least concentrated the different diffuse lights into a much clearer one.

Critically, the whole world is watching us. In 2000, when Israel decided to unliaterlly withdraw, Hezbollah declared vitory as the only arab force to ever defeat Israel and liberate southern Lebanon. Iran is watching us very carefully now. Hezbollah only needs to hold on for a couple of weeks in order to declare another victory against us. This will be a tremendous recruiting draw, not only to Hezbollah but for a new and energized Jihad (Holy War) from the whole Islamic world. They will start flowing into Lebanon from all corners of the 52 muslim nations to liberate Jerusalem.

Iran and Syria are also watching very closely our resolve and success in fighting Hezbollah. Aside from the immediate rocket attacks which are threatening the north and the ones that are still continuing in the south (from Gaza). One retired general stated very clearly that Iran has declared defacto war on Israel (through their prozy Hezbollah) and, as its president has declared a few times, with the intention to wipe us off the map and we have no choice but to recognize this fact.

Unlike Hezbollah, Israel must clear out Hezbollah completely from the territory in order to declare a victory. From this point of view, Israel has no other choice but to win this war and do so very decisively. The problem, as we know from Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, is that such a war may be impossible to win.

Not reacting, or simlpy reacting mildly to the attack and kidnapping by Hezbollah is also not an option. Like appeasing Hitler, it would have the same dangerous consequences, emboldening and encourage Iran even further.

It is currently suspected by Israel that Nasrallah is commanding the war from a bunker in the basement of the Iranian embassy in Beirut. If we can confirm this with solid evidence, Israel will be sorely pressed to bomb the Iranian embassy in order to kill Nasrallah. Since an Embassy is considered to be the sovereign territory of the nation that operates it, it would be considered a direct attack on Iran itself. The generals feel that fighting Iran directly would give Israel the advantage by making use of Israel's superior traditional military force. This would open a third front (Gaza is the second) with Syria and Iran, a powerfull enemy with a huge arsenal of more powerful and more accurate long-range Scud missiles.

This point of view is a very dangerous one - but hard to ignore if you remember that in our enemies' eyes, we have no right to be here at all. Israel is at risk of finding itself at the very front of a religious world-war fighting for its very existence and as a proxy for the US and perhaps the rest of the west if they ever wake up to the truth of religious extremism. Religious wars are the worst and bloodiest kind, and must be avoided at all costs.

The US, being mired in Iraq and Afghanistan have emboldened Iran and Syria - they know that if Israel decides to attack them, we are going it alone. They have been accused of wanting Israel to fight their war with Iran, but given their economic interests and reliance on foreign oil, of which Iran is a major producer, I really believe they want this fight to be limited to Lebanon only. They could also lose some valuable allies.

What about our partners in peace Jordan and Egypt? I know they blame Hezbollah for this and now doubt believe Iran is behind it all. Egyptian and Jordanian media report having been caught off-guard with this war and have not known how to frame it and what vocabulary to use. They are taking the official line which is not to call it a war. The main stations like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya have incensed many of their viewers by putting Israeli politicians on the air, even though one interviewr said it was hard for him to resist the temptation to "scream, "sut up you liar!" :-) Nasrallah, has asked the leaders of the rest of the Muslim world to simply stay out of the battle and not fight them. They are in a very difficult position. They have their own extremist elements to fight in their own countries and need to walk a fine line between them and their own secular intersts. A war with Iran and its rhetoric could seriously destabilize them, risking that they too could fall into chaos or radical muslim control.

The Palestinians are watching and learning too. Nasrallah has grown to be very popular among the Palestinians. They are waving flags and holding demonstration in support of Hezbollah. At the beginning of the conflict, seeing the strength of Israeli repraisal for the kidnapping, they started coming up with proposals for releasing the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, that they captured. Now that we are having a tough time, those moderate tones have stopped. Hamas already received support and training fom Hezbollah, and has found itself in Palestinian government, much like Hezbollah. The success of Hezbollah would push them even further towards the unholy Shia Hezbollah/Syria/Iran alliance.

On the other hand, Yossi Beilin, leader of our leftist pacifist wing, was on hand to sensibly remind us that what Israel is fighting for, will eventually be the best negotiated settlement we can get and that unliateral pull-out, without negotiation - whether from Lebanon or Gaz - is a mistake. But he always says that. When you don't have a partner in peace, everything you do, whether pulling out or staying, is unilateral. On the other hand, the Israeli generals, while I would never characterize as war-hungry, nevertheless see solutions in terms of military victories.

It's hard, in the midst of battle, to re-frame one's political point of view. Beilin has always been the voice of moderation and compromise. The problem is there is no one who wants to sit down and compromise with us. Another problem, is that sitting down with Hezbollah, would be another victory for them, giving them even more legitimacy and power. It's like quicksand, if you step in it you sink, if you struggle, you sink faster. The only thing that can save you is a branch or vine to hang on to - and in this situation, it means changing the rules of engagement and taking a whole new approach in order to avoid the forces that really do see their fate in a religious world war. It means a concerted effort on the part of the rest of the world in order to win the hearts and minds of the muslim world. Besides all-out global religious war, that really is the only solution.



Day 15 - Odd way to celebrate 10 years in Israel

Two days ago, July 25th, 2006, was exactly 10 years to the day I got off an ElAl plane at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv arriving with little Yarden in my arms and Sari. I was looking forward to a real adventure and a good place for Yarden to grow up. I go an adventure alright :-)

Today the radio is playing mainly quiet and sad songs in honor of the fallen soldiers and the mood is more somber than it was last week while Israeli jets and artillery were attacking from far away. People are realizing that this might be a harder war than we anticipated and we will likely lose many more men. It is an odd contrast to the 10th anniversary celebration I was planning - which included inviting a lot of friends to a garden barbecue and toasting the fact that I not only survived here but also thrived.

In the last 10 years:
  • I went to the "ulpan" (literllay studio) for learning Hebrew and sat there every day for 5 hours or so, for four months, in a class mainly filled with new Russian immigrants.
  • I made new, close, friends.
  • I did part-time marketing consulting work for Israel high-tech companies
  • I separated and divorced from Sari
  • I got a job as sales director for a internet security firm and began travelling all over South America and Europe for business and meeting all kinds of wonderfull people from all over the world.
  • Five years ago next month, I started AltimaOne, a high-tech distribution and R&D firm which has been growing and thank God, has been profitable for the last 4 years.
  • I won a court case to spend more time with Yarden which has had a great impact on him and our relationship and was one of the best things I ever did.
  • I learned to play guitar - again.
  • I survived a couple of minor surgeries which didn't feel so minor. I also survived a car crash and a couple of broken bones.
  • I took a course in Spanish.
  • I joined a competitive tennis league, for the first time in my life.
  • Other, more personal things that I'd rather not mention here :-)

When a Jew immigrates to Israel, it is called Aliyah, which literally means going up. Emmigration from Israel used to be called Yerida, or going down. Which shows the state of optimism of the early Zionist idealists. Today, it is not politically correct to use the word Yerida, but Israelis still hang on to the word Aliya. One old-timer who fought in Israel's war of independence, told me once that one day in Israel is worth a hundred years in the diaspora.

While I arrived with other motivations, I really have gotten so much out of my experience here, though not what I expected. The T-shirt is right, life is what happens to you while you are making other plans.

A lot of people ask me if I ever plan to move back to Canada. Frankly, I can't see myself going back after living here. While there are a lot of wonderful advantages to living in Canada (peace, and relative prosperity for example), there are ones here - some of them less tangible.

The weather and the view is better from Haifa than it is from Mount-Royal, I'm 10 minutes from a dip in the Med and 5 minutes away from a hike in the beautiful Carmel mountains. There is way more to see and do in this country than I remember in Canada and I am two hours away from Skiing in the Golan Heights (when there's snow).

I also like the warmth and directness of Israelis - even though it often seems rude.. I like that here, political correctness is still a guideline and not grounds for shunning. I like the feeling of everyone pulling together in hard times and that they enjoy the same fate together.

I also find it hard to imagine myself starting over in Canada when I have so much here. But then again, who knows... It's nice to know Canada is still there. It actually gives me strength to continue here in these hard times :-)



PS. Thanks to Metz for your insightful comments!