Yves Shefner in Israel at War 2006

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

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!

100
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.

Shalom,

Yves

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.

Shalom,

Yves

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 :-)


Shalom,

Yves

PS. Thanks to Metz for your insightful comments!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The FIRST rejected passport photo and Thanks ElAl!


I finally found the first passport photo that was rejected by the Canadian passport services and am posting here. It was rejected because of the thin light grey shaddow to the left of Yarden's hair. The bureacrats back in Canada should know the kind of frustration, aggravation and ridiculous expense their petty rules and regulations are causing Canadians abroad.

As anyone can see, the photo is an excellent likeness of Yarden. The small dark flecks are from the scanner and not on the original photograph.

Thanks ElAl Israel Airlines! They have waived the $100 per-ticket cancellation fee because of the current situation. Other companies have been doing nice things as well. The cellular operators are giving half price SMS messages to residents of the north so they can stay in touch with their friends and families. Bank Hapoalim has set up an on-line bank for those whose beanches have been closed.

Shalom,

Yves

Monday, July 24, 2006

Day 13, No anger

19:42 PM

Today was relatively quiet. No sirens sounded until about 3 PM. I was giving a lift home to Dmitry again when we were about to stop for gas opposite Haifa Mall when I thought I heard a siren far off in the distance. At first we weren't sure if it was a siren or an ambulance. I hit the pre-programmed button for Radio Haifa and sure enough the siren was wailing on it.

Instead of pulling into the gas station I did a u-turn and headed back for the covered parking under the mall. There was a red light in between us and the mall and there were cars stopped in all directions. The siren was wailing and no one was moving for what seemed like a very long time. It was maddening. I was really tempted to run the light. I imagined a rocket falling out of the sky any second, spraying the car with shrapnel. Good for Dmitry who urged me to wait for the the light to change.

As I pulled in to the mall's parking lot I had no choice but to stop near the other gas station under the mall. Here is a dilemma one doesn't come across every day: where does one place his car in case the gas station at the mall take a direct hit from a Syrian missile and explodes into a fireball?

There was a short concrete wall between the parking lot and the gas station and I parked behind that as the least dangerous position, but I didn't think the odds were very good in case the worst happened. Other cars were looking, tentatively, for a safe spot as well. After the radio sounded the all clear we headed back on our way.

Not long after I arrived back home, the second and final alarm of the day sounded and I went down to the shelter. All the kids were there and three of the parents. Some parents are already back at work in spite of the risk of being exposed on the road. One mother came down with her three year-old all wet and wrapped in a towel. She had been taking a bath. Another mother who had done her army service in the airforce said that she had her kids do like they had to in the army: 3 minute showers. Another said she had her daughters wash their hair first and once that was finished, and there was no siren then they could go ahead and take a shower. Again, reducing the time they might get caught by a siren in the shower.

Both times the radio reported that nothing fell on Haifa today - although we heard a rumor of one missile landing next to Rambam hospital. I speculated that last night's incursions into Lebanon by the IDF may have caused Hezbollah to busy themselves with relocation of some rocket units and that was why there was nothing until late afternoon.

The mood in the shelter has been consistent for the last week or so. A serious but not panicked environment. Someone usually cracks a joke while others speculate about how far and where the missiles landed. We don't understand why the radio has to help the enemy by mentioning which neighborhoods or parts of the city have been hit.

The children get fidgety while their parents hush them because they are trying to listen to the radio for the All-clear. The moment it's given everyone is eager to head back for their respective apartments. I notice that the kids continue their play together upstairs in Dvir and Yulie's apartment. Dvir is a shift manager at a large electronics plant in Migdal HaEmeq, about 25 minutes from Haifa. The Bahats go to Tel Aviv for the day to enjoy themselves and come back to Haifa to sleep, and then leave again in the morning. Everyone has their plan.

One thing I noticed about the mood is not what's there but what is absent - Anger. It took a while for me to notice that none of the people I know or speak to are angry and outraged. No one is ranting against the lunatics that pulled them into this war, that is killing Israelis and hurting the economy. For Israelis, it's a given that we are surrounded by enemies who hate us so much that they want to destroy us. It's as if they all know, to the last man, woman and child that this was going to happen - again - sooner or later. It's as if there is perfect unanimity about what the armed forces (IDF) has to do now. No matter that it's ugly because they use civilians as shields, or that booby traps are waiting. Or that Nasrallah has promised more surprises (beyond the surface to sea missiles or the longer range missiles that can hit Haifa or Tel Aviv).

No one is saying it (there is no bravado talk... just bravery) but the attitude seems to be, "Let them do their worst and we'll do what we have to do to stop them". That's all. No one is yelling "Death to Arabs!" or even death to Nasrallah. No one is foaming with hatred. People's attitude seems to be saying, "We know they hate us and we accept it as a fact of life". I am sure some people, somewhere in Israel are yelling terrible things, but I have not heard it.

I suspect that part of the source of this attitude is the confidence that people here have in the ability of the IDF. In spite of the missiles which do have some people terrified, no one thinks that we might be invaded or destroyed as a country. Most people expect the IDF to be able to take a significant chunk out of Hezbollah though it is beginning to dawn on us that it's not going to be easy or as quick as we first thought. I think that is empowering and precludes a sense of helplessness. The IDF is an army of the people - almost everyone here above the age of 18 has served, so we know everyone in it is doing their best to protect their families and friends and their country. Even though no one can stop the rockets themselves (for now, at least), Israelis are taking precautions by going down to the shelters - that in itself is empowering.

What can I say is that it fills me with an overwhelming, over-brimming(?) sense of pride in the confidence and dignity of these people who do not hate their enemy. Who inside, are crying also, not only for what is happening to them and their country, but also for the poor, innocent Lebanese who, like us, have been pulled into this conflict against their will.

Golda Meir once said something like, "We can forgive our enemies for killing our sons, but we can't forgive them for turning our sons into killers." I get the feeling that these people can forgive their enemy even that.

Again, I pray that this ends quickly with as little loss of life on both sides.

Shalom,

Yves

PS Thanks to all of you who have been posting comments and sending emails. It's been very encouraging. Keep them coming.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Day 12 - more sirens, 2 dead

Day 12 – July 23rd 2006

Another day, another 10 sirens. However this time, only the second alarm brought loud explosions. At least 8 or 10 very loud ones. Two of our fellow Israelis died today in rocket attacks. One was a carpenter caught in an open workshop, another was a driver whose car was sprayed with shrapnel from the missile.

While there was just myself and Yomi (the foodstore owner) during the weekend, everyone was back in the building today – if only for a while. The Bahat family that arrived this evening from Tel Aviv, are going back in the morning. I heard that last night there was a huge traffic jam on the highway leading back into the city. I presume that people understand that they need to return to their day-to-day lives. Perhaps they were encouraged by the quiet Saturday or they realize they simply need to earn a living. Shimon Peres has proposed legislation in the Knesset to compensate business and workers who have lost income, but it is not clear. Israelis have been called back to work today.

Dmitry, the software programmer who works for my company, came to work - in spite of the risks of arriving to work on a scaled back bus schedule that took over an hour to bring him. He also mentioned that is was onerous being home all week. I brought Dima home by car this evening, though it was still light out. I thought it is not fair that he should be at risk while coming to work for me. I took the southern winding road by Beit Oren out of Haifa thinking it is less likely to be hit. It is the northern part of Haifa that has been getting most of the missiles.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The case for Israel's operation

Here are some myths about the war in Lebanon.

Disproportionate response. This is what a lot of European officials and others are saying about Israel's reaction to the killing and capturing of Israeli sodiers and rockets being fired by hezbollah. This is to deliberately misunderstand Israel's position which is not to retaliate but to go in and cause a major change in Hezbollah's power in Lebanon and restore the Lebanese government's control over that area as called for by UN resolution 1559 (which provided Israel UN guarantees 6 years ago that this would happen). Perhaps UN Secretary General Kofi Anan who has been in office all this time, should address this failure to live up to guarantees when he calls for a ceasefire.

The continued existence of Hezbollah's military wing after 1990 also violates the Taif Agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war, which requires the "disbanding of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias" and requires the government to "deploy the Lebanese army in the border area adjacent to Israel."

Israel is destroying all the infrastructure of Lebanon:
Infrastructure that can be used by Hezbollah (like roads and airstrips) to restock weapons or remove the captured soldiers are being targeted. However, I noticed that they did not hit the airport terminal and 5 planes were able to take off one day after the runway was bombed. The Israeli forces avoid vital civilian infrastructure like hospitals, schools, electricity networks or water plants.

Israeli attacks are not targetted or surgical and are not considerate of civilian casualties: Considering the massive firepower available to the Israeli forces, this is a restrained operation and is very careful about minimizing civilian casualties. They are going against a a well-armed and well-trained rogue Guerrila army with 10,000 rockets and missiles. Israel could have retained the element of surprise, used massive, indiscriminate firepower and finished by now, saving more Israeli lives, but at a great cost to Lebanase lives. They did not do this because this is not who we are and as an open democracy the Israeli public would not allow it.

Israel has dropped hundreds of thousands of leaflets warning non-terrorists to leave the area. Not even the US or UK forces did this in Iraq.

Does anyone seriously doubt that any European power like England or France would show more restraint if 1500 rockets landed on its shores? They could not afford to lose the deterrence and the public would demand it. Remember the reaction of the UK to Argentinian aggression on the Falkland Islands?

Another problem is that rockets, weapons caches, and even Hezbollah operations centers are not placed away from civilian infrastructure - they are placed on purpose in places where, if we have to hit them (like in homes and mosques) there will be maximum Lebanese casualties and turn world-opinion against us. One has to despise this cynical use of innocents as human shields. This is not propaganda - I know it from personal stories of many soldiers (friends) who were there before 2000. Just today, Fox News reported Israeli troops found a weapons cache in a Mosque. CNN's Christiane Amanpour showed the same weapons cache but neglected to mention that it was found in a Mosque.

The sides should sit down together to talk to resolve this: When the destruction of Israel is at the very core of Hezbollah's beliefs there is no room for negotiation. They believe that all of Israel is occupied territory. The fact that that we are here, just breathing, is reason enough for them to try to kill us.

There should be an immediate ceasefire: As Secretary of state Rice said yesterday, this would only allow Hezbollah to reload and bring us back to the same situation we are at now unless Hezbollah is significantly weakened. That would lead to even more violence and unnecessary deaths.

There are many more myths but it is late so I will add to it tomorrow. In the meantime I, like many Israelis, pray that the deaths and causualties, ON BOTH SIDES, will be as low as possible and may this operation end soon. As one woman recently told me, we are shooting and crying.

Day 11, July 22. Haifa eerily quiet

23:30 PM

Was very tired after the last couple of stressful days of running around trying to arrange Yarden's passport - I was feeling very discouraged. I only slept 4 hours last night. But I managed to sleep a little this afternoon and am feeling better.

I arrived back yesterday from Tel Aviv and as I was driving up the hill, I heard the radio announce incoming rockets and looked for a place where I could pull over and take cover. I went into a covered parking lot. After about 15 minutes and not hearing any rockets I got back in the car and drove back to the house.

As I got out of the car, I again heard the slow wail of the sirens. There are a few that we can hear and when they stop, they don't all stop on cue. One trails off, and then the other, like uncoordinated ghosts. I went from the car straight to the shelter in the basement.

Waiting there, visibly stressed by the danger, was the only resident of the building left in Haifa. Everyone else has left. Avi is a nervous 38 year-old store owner. He said one rocket blew up on building away from him. One of his employees went into complete hysterics.

Calanit, my usually calm and cheery assistant called me today to see how I am and to tell me that she is leaving on vacation a week early. Her voice also audibly shaky. She has been at home for a week with her two kids, her British husband Bill, and her mother.

At dusk, I went for a walk with the dogs. The streets are nearly empty and deafeningly quiet - ahuge contrast to the normally boistrous typical Israeli street. My impression is that it is mainly men who are left behind. The parks and school yards in the neighborhood are completely empty. On Friday nights, the park accross the street is usually full of rowdy teenagers. Last night it was deadly still. In fact, I haven't heard a child's voice in Haifa in days. That is, in some ways, an improvement over the heartbreaking crying of children as they run down the stairs to the shelter as I hear at the beginning of last week.

Bizzare nature note: One smart street cat (or cat with street smarts) has learned to run into the shelter when the sirens go off.

The sirens went off about 8 times today and we heard the stragely low vibrations of rockets falling. Each time I went into my safe room or went down to the shelter. It becomes very hard to get anything done.

I find myself now constantly thinking where will I go for shelter if the sirens go off while I am out in the street.

Shalom,

Yves.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

Is Israel love-fest hosted by George Bush and Fox News a problem for Israel and the war on terror?


Or:
Is the west making the same mistakes with fundamentalist Islam as it did with Communism?


All my life I have been watching the news media, taking a great interest in attitudes towards Israel. Sometimes, the US took anti-Israel positions (even if they may have been more pro-Israeli behind the scenes) but most of the time has tried to be even-handed with us and the Arab countries that surround us. Frustrating as this was for me, this kept the US as a credible third party in helping us try to resolve the very complex issues that we have in the region - it also kept precious oil-supplies flowing.

When George W. Bush started to show open support for Israel at the beginning of the intifada, I could barely believe my ears. All my life, I had been waiting to hear a US president finally say out in the open what most of we Jews and Israelis feel to be the right position. I actually jumped out of my chair and cheered when he pinned the blame on terrorists and not implicate us in some moral or practical equivalence that so-called fairness seems to require (this is a common trap that journalists usually fall into as well).

Today I was watching Fox News' coverage of events here. They have shows called "No-Spin Zone" claiming fair and balanced reporting. I find myself watching Fox more than the other stations. Then I realized because they just LOOOOVE Israel. How could I not watch it! I personally, love their point of view.

A look at their website shows the Studio B programme with Sheppard Smith (Yeah, like that's a real name) covering 6 stories on the middle east. All but one were about Israel's side of the story. The remaining one was a story about a Palestinian woman, not Hezbollah or the suffering in Lebanon. Most of the commentators that appear are now pro-Israeli and there are very few Arabs at all (generally aid workers).

Another Fox program this evening had US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, seated on a stool with a microphone, talking with an audience of about 50 or 60 people in a very clean-cut, very white audience and two FOX commentators/hosts. They were obviously very well screened. The segment had the look and feel of an infomercial selling the latest vacuum-packing, car-washing, wall-painting, vegetable slicer. The audience cheered everything he said. They started their questions with remarks like, "We know you are the right man for the job" (Bolton hasn't been confirmed by the Senate yet).

Even the skinny blond half of the hosting team could not help joining this love-fest by saying something like "I know we are fair and unbiased but we think you're the greatest!" to more cheers from the audience. I found my intelligence insulted in much the same familiar way it is when I watch other infomercials (But wait! There's more! When you block the UN and the G8 from condemning Israel, you'll also get a braaand new, cleaner, shinier Middle East!).

Most of the questions had to do with how can the US support Israel more than it is already supporting it. Many people are apparently eager to get US forces alongside Israel's on the ground in Lebanon - something Bolton said - to his credit - was inappropriate since this is Israel's fight.

Last night, Fox's Bill O'Reilly, one of the most insufferable, biased people on TV (he should ask his guests if they know whether it is rude for them to talk while he is interrupting them) lashed out at the pope and a guest Catholic academic apologist for criticizing Israel's position.

For years, Israel struggled with one public relations nightmare after another and could never get a break in the media, the left wing of anywhere, a student campus in Europe, Canada, or you name it. Now it is an Israelstock love-fest on Fox and in the US in general, including the Bush administration. Fox's international News network, seen by hundreds of millions of people, has volunteered itself to become Israel's biggest, best and most powerful propaganda weapon far beyond Israel's wildest, public-relations dreams!

Even other media like CNN and BBC have become more Israel-friendly in this conflict. It seems obvious to many that Israel needs to deal with Hezbollah in a permanent solution.

Though I love both Fox News and Bush' pro-Israel (or should I say anti-terror) point of view, for some reason I became uncomfortable with it. I wasn't quite sure why. Do I have some form of Stockholm syndrome - after so many years of being captive to anti-Israeli media, I have finally begun to identify with them? I didn't think so - anti-Israeli media still annoys me.

Maybe it was simply anti-climactic? After waiting and hoping for so many years for the world to see things our way, and now that they do, what next?

Perhaps my discomfort with Fox's and Bush's openly pro-Israel stance bothers me because it signals a whole new shift in the world. All of a sudden, after years of patience, understanding, and most importantly neglect, terrorist organizations are learning from us that terror is immoral. Such pro-Israel propaganda is coming with an implied moral judgment of Islam attached, shutting out other important stories. It plays well with the people at home and the undecided and uninformed in the rest of the world. But it wont do anything for the war on terror except encourage brute force as the solution. Just ask yourself, if some outsider was judging your beliefs, would you say "Oh yeah, you know what, you're right, we are evil, ignorant and misguided."? Probably not.

Don't get me wrong, I support Israel's current military campaign. There's no other choice at the moment. I think they are doing it in as humanitarian and moral way as possible and I am proud of Israel. However, I think, in order to find a solution to this problem, a lot more about Lebanon and the subject of extremism needs to be understood. Just like we needed to understand what made people become Nazis or extremist communists in the past, we need to ask tough questions like:

  • What makes Nasrallah and Ahmedinejad tick?
  • Where did they grow up?
  • What turned them into the terrorists and international bullies?
  • How did they get to where they are?
  • Who are all the other influential players in this conflict that are not getting air-time?
  • What really makes someone become an Islamist extremist?
  • How can we fight the growth of extremist Islam in a preventitive way?
  • Can we beat them in the war for the hearts and minds of the Islamic street?
  • Can the American (now Western) dream of prosperity and democracy compete with fundamentalist Islam?

These questions are not being asked in public discussion. It is a lot less exciting, and more difficult, to deal with the underlying social problems in Islamic societies that lead to this phenomenon than it is to fight a war with bullets. That's because trying to understand the problem of fundamentalism at a deeper level forces us to look at ourselves from an Islamist's point of view and ask difficult questions about ourselves -ones that we'd rather not ask.

For example, when we promote and export Democracy and Capitalism in the Islamic world are we are promoting our own ideologies and beliefs? These beliefs can be summarized by saying that we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - but most importantly in this discussion, since we are promoting this, we are saying that everyone else should be like this as well. Fundamentalist Islam doesn't agree. They think we should be more like them. The two ideologies are clashing. Muslim extremists see our efforts as a new form of Crusade against them. Are we democratic extremists in their eyes? Are we really as tolerant of them as we'd like to think we are?

For those of you who say we can't be tolerant of anyone trying to kill us - you are right. We can't. But is there a smarter way for us to prevent this and change the tide of feelings in favor of tolerant democracy?

This finally leads me to the question in the title of this entry. Is the west making the same mistake with Islamic extremism as it did with communism? Do we understand its root causes? Can we do something to prevent it from happening elsewhere?

Robert McNamara, former US secretary of defense in the 60's met his North Vietnamese counterpart many years after the end of the war. He mentioned the US's fear that Vietnam would fall into the Communist Chinese sphere of influence as the US' prime motivation. The reply he got was that the Vietnamese people had been fighting chinese domination for 1000 years. Why would they stop now!!? McNamara has since aoplogized for his role in the Vietnam war.

The lessons of Vietnam, the Intifada and our previous exit from Lebanon in 2000 are clear. We will not win against terror unless we can win the hearts and minds of the people they use. While the fight for survival has to be closed-minded, the Western world is broad enough and deep enough and robust enough to support asking these difficult questions in parallel.

Another more practical problem arising out of of this lovefest with Israel is whether the US, is capable of playing a credible peace-making role in the world now that it has taken such a strong stance against Hezbollah? Is it better to have the US as a credible broker or a strong ally? If the US can't be a broker for peace with Israel, who will be? Can they be both?

Shalom,

Yves

PS. Please add your comments (good and bad) I'd love to read them.

July 21st - More photo problems, more bombs


Passport problems continue while more rockets are falling. This morning I took Yarden's photo to the guarantor to sign and drove to Tel Aviv with it. I took Yarden with me just in case this one was also not good. Good thing I did because it wasn't acceptable. His face was more than 36mm high - the know-it all clerk waved a ruler in front of it last night to show me that it was less than 35mm but took it away before I could check. Frankly, my nerves were so shot from feeling like the marionette of the Canadian passport services and my Ex, that I couldn't look at another photo. I mean, C'MON!!!! You'd think my 11 year-old was a potential terrorist!

See the photo above. This was the first one to be rejected because of the thin pale shaddow on the left of his hair. The small flecks are from the scanner, not the actual photo.


There were three other people in line, also complaining about the photo requirements. They finally gave me the name of a photographer in Tel Aviv who can meet their requirements ("we don't give out the names usually because we don't like to play favorites!" was the idiotic reason they gave for not giving this out in the first place). We had only one and a half hours before noon (the time the consulate closes) to get the new one. Only the studio they recommended was closed for summer holidays. We went to a street where they said we could find some others and finally got it done. Yarden kept his cool, and measured the photos and found the face too large, and we asked them to print it again. Then, the paper was too large, so we asked them to cut it. Once again we dashed back to the consulate and got there at 1 minute to 12. I had to send Yarden up alone to get in on time while I parked.

After that, Yarden invited me for a swim at the country club of his hosts in Tel Aviv. They allow "refugees" from the north to enter for free which is nice, as long as you are invited by a member they still don't want the riff-raff :-). When he asked me to go, it was the last thing I felt like doing, but after the passport service put us through, it was the least I could do. I slept only about 5 hours last night and did not managed to shake the strong feeling of anger and frustration at the forces that were interfering with my plans for a nice trip with my son. Good, thing I accepted, because after only 20 minutes in the pool, I felt relaxed for the first time in 36 hours.

Thanks again Laura and Dan for all your help and hospitality. You were a lifesaver!

By the way, I would love to hear more comments and feedback from readers. Both good and critical.

I am writing this from the bathroom, which is relatively protected as the sirens went off about 10 minutes ago and quite a number of bombs have been falling again. It does put things into perspective. Thanks God we are all safe.

Shalom,
Yves

Thursday, July 20, 2006

July 20th - part 2. Israel surprised

I saw my neighbor Itzhak (Isaac) tonight while walking the dogs. He is a Russian immigrant here for many years. He works in the Technion university and was organizing a class action against the Ministry of Defence (before the war) to stop transmitting at high output from HUGE antennas at the top of our street.

His son's good friend was killed on the ship hit by a Chinese-made, Iranian-supplied Silkworm land to sea missile. He was first listed as missing and then later they found his body. The ship might have easily detected, deflected or destroyed the missile, only the anti-missile system was switched off.

Itzhak mentioned that it is customary for a lot of the officers to visit the mourning family and comfort them. They mentioned that Israeli intelligence did not know Hezbollah had such sophisticated missiles, nor other types of missiles. The system was turned off in order not to risk accidental friendly fire. They also had no idea that they had over 10,000 of them. They had no idea that Hezzbollah would become so well-prepared, and so bold. He likens the situation to the days before the Yom Kippur war in '73, when Israel ignored many clear signals, including a supposed personal warning from King Hussein that Egypt and Syria will attack. Even what Israeli intelligence did learn, did not fit with the midset of the time - that given Israel's military superiority proven in the 6-day war a few years earlier, they wouldn't dare attack.

It seems doubtfull to me that Israeli intelligence did not know about this given the human spy network, satelite photos and close proximity to the border. Given my recent experience with government bureacracy, it is more likely that someone along the chain of information just didn't bother telling the boat commanders.

Shalom,

Yves

July 20th - Part 1: Tel Aviv: Boos for Canadian Passport services

Some months ago, long before the war broke out, I started the process to renew Yarden's Canadian passport so that I can take him to LA and also visit his aunt Corinne's place in Albuquerque, New Mexico, see the Grand Canyon, etc. . But due to various delays (mainly Yarden's mother who refused to cooperate in a timely fashion) I was only able to submit it 3 weeks ago. It was supposed to be ready a couple of days ago, but the consulate didn't answer their phone or return messages or emails. I wont go into much detail because it will only frustrate you to read how much preparation and work goes into getting a Canadian passport.

And so began a nightmarish story of trips from Haifa to Tel Aviv to submit, re-submit and re-submit again documents for Yarden's passport. Today I found out, that it was rejected due to the photo having a slim, light-grey shadow next to the right side of Yarden's hair. I do not exaggerate when I say the shadow was one millimeter wide and in no way affected the identity of the subject. Last time it was rejected because a small box on the guarantor's form was improperly filled in (in part to the very Byzantine instructions and complicated forms.)

Here is a list of just some of the requirements for a Canadian passport:
  • $35 Canadian dollars or equivalent Israeli currency (but you have no way of knowing the exchange rate in advance, which you need, because they require exact change).
  • 2 photos signed by the photographer, one by a guarantor (must be a doctor, Lawyer, accountant, etc.) who knows the child for at least two years. You must follow the full page of small text instructions.
    • Example of some bizarre instructions:
      • No teeth must be seen
      • No shadows - AT ALL!
      • White background
      • Unique size 50mm by 70mm (every other country is 50x50)
      • Face must be 31-to 36 mm from chin to "crown, the natural top of the head"
        Any idea how hard it is to get the face that size in that size a photo?
  • From filled out by the custodial parent (they don't write if being a guardian is enough)
  • Form filled by the Guarantor, who must know the child, but also the applicant.
  • Expired passport
  • Translation of custody agreement (not clear if notary or translator signature is enough). In fact, the instructions only tell you to bring the agreement (nowhere are you told to get the translation). I only got a heads-up to translate it from a friend who was rejected for this in the past. Cost: $200 cdn.
  • Long-form birth certificate (which itself took me 3 weeks to arrange and cost $60 cdn)
When I ask the clerk for the reason the expired passport is no longer proof of citizenship I get a bizarre answer: The rules have changed. I ask again what the reason for the new rules are and I get the same answer.

Now, if a photo is rejected it must be taken again and then submitted again to the guarantor to sign. Unfortunately, the guarantor is in Haifa and the consulate 100km away in Tel Aviv.Each trip to Tel Aviv is 200km round-trip.

I thought one of my arteries will explode when the clerk told me that it was rejected again. I was filled with anger towards small minded bureaucrats and Yarden's mother who delayed things to a critical stage. I would have thought that given the situation here, they might be a little more lenient. I asked to speak to a supervisor and the consul. I wanted them to stamp and renew the passport on the spot. I was refused.

Yarden and I and my good friend Laura in Tel Aviv spent nearly 4 hours going from photographer to photographer (5 in all) who could take a picture that could possibly meet the demands of the mandarins. One said he'll do a passport photo from any country in the world - except Canada. Too hard. After each rejection, I felt my already elevated stress level rise from 7 back up to 9. I'd calm myself down a little until we'd get to the next one. Finally we got something which I still doubt will do the trick, but I have no choice but to submit it.

I delayed our trip and cancelled the hotel reservations at a cost of about $400cdn ($350 US). I don't even feel like going anywhere anymore. They way I was treated by the embassy, I actually prefer katyushas!

By the way, I am embarrassed to tell this story to my Israeli friends who assume Canada as a model of efficiency and fairness. It only takes 30 -60 minutes to renew your Israeli passport. You just have to bring your old one and a couple of photos and the fee.

Oh yeah, they also give change.

Shalom,
Yves

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

July 17th: Have moved to Gita

23:30 PM

Haifa was pretty much deserted today. After the third Siren this morning I talked to my good friend Allon who lives in the Western Galilee. The small village of 70 homes he and his wife Hanna live in is called Gita. It is nestled in the low mountains, right next to a nature reserve perched on the edge of a steep valley with steep cliffs and a view to the Mediterranean Sea 17km away. In quiter times, climbers and rappellers like to come here. Gita, whose population is made up of 60% Russian immigrants is also situated between three Druze villages and two Arab towns, and according to my strategizing, might be less likely to be targetted by Hezbollah even though it is closer to the border. So when Allon and Hanna invited me I accepted. I was getting bored on my own in Haifa.

As I left Haifa, I heard on Radio Haifa that more missiles were falling and was glad to be getting out. I brought my laptop, guitar, camera, some food and the dogs. I arrived here an hour later (it's a small country) only to hear the constant thunder of Israeli artillery at the border, shelling Hezbollah positions in Lebanon. There was also the distant thuds of Katyushas landing. We weren't always sure which was which.

After a while, Hanna and I took the dogs for a walk. She brought along a neighbor's dog whose family is in the south for the duration. We had a pleasant walk in the village. At one point we heard the rockets falling, each one closer and closer, until three of them landed on a hill right in front of us - only 1km away. The blast was quite loud and I was face down on the ground by the third one. I lokked up and saw plumes of smoke and debris where they hit. (Sorry Corinne, I should have told you about this on the phone earlier) Hanna was a little cooler and she knows the village so she pointed the way to a small shelter only 40 yards away.

The small shelter could hold maybe 10 people shoulder to shoulder, but it was dusty and full of junk. There was barely room for Hanna, myself and the dogs. The lights did not work and neither did the back-up battery and 24 volt electrcal system. You'd think with Hezbollah massing weapons in plain sight for the last 6 years, someone would have gotten it into proper condition.

The rockets had been aimed at Tefen industrial park where Warren Buffet's latest 4 billion dollar aquisition, Iscar, is located. It is also his first foreign aquisition. I guess they were aiming for an industrial target. Tough luck Warren.

My friend Debbie is the marketing manager for the park, but I know she is not there because I talked to her on the phone on the way up to Gita. Her son, also named Allon is sick so luckily she is home with him and her husband.

We spent the rest of the day going to the shelter next to Allon's house. Similar to life in Haifa but was more fun since I was with friends.

My girlfriend is traumatized from her experience with the first rocket to land in Haifa which landed near her house. Last night she drove down to Beer Sheva with her brother, sister and son. There life is still going on as normal and they were in a shopping mall. She told me in her laughing way that even though she is far away, she constantly imagines hearing the shriek or boom of a missile. She is not in the war, but it is still in her.

I spoke to my son Yarden earlier. He is in Yaffo with his mother. They got there last night and he went to sleep as soon as he hit the pillow. He was exhausted simply from the tension of the day and the stress of running to the shelter in Haifa. Tomorrow, they have plans to go to the Safari park.

After dinner, Allon and I walked over to the community center to play table tennis. It is a quiet evening. Just a few fighter jets flying overhead. No artillery, no katyushas, no sirens. Allon is a very good player and is teaching me a lot. We are having a lot of fun. It breaks the tension. After a while I feel like Nero playing violin while Rome is burning (I understand that's not quite a historically faithful similie). It somehow feels wrong. And yet logic says it is the right thing to do. In war, everything is a conflict.

That's all for now. Maybe tomorrow I'll write a little more about the prospects for resolving this conflict.

Shalom,

Yves

Day 7: Sirens in the school yard, missles in the sea.

July 18th, 2007 10:30

Last night I had to take the dogs out for a walk. They hadn't been out all day and up to now there had been no missile attacks at night because the missile launchers are easier to see at night. It was a nice night out. All was very still. Almost no cars on the road and only the occasional walker. I was in the school yard letting the larger dog Rio run around when the sirens went off. I can't describe the strange surreal feeling of being in a dark school yard, normally full of children now empty with the echoes of sirens moaning in the night. I felt like I was in a science fiction movie.

Since a rocket hit close to home earlier in the day, I didn't wait a second. I grabbed the puppy up in my arms and ran with it and the large one back to the house. I figured I had only one minute before the missiles start landing. I dashed into the house while the sirens were still wailing and went into the safe room. I didn't think I had time to make it to the shelter. I heard the distant 'thud' as one missile landed far away. I prayed that no one was hurt.

Sirens sounding... go to go

I'm back. I was in the shelter with the two other families remaining. Everyone was rested. While it was a long day yesterday - the first siren went off at just a little before 6 in the morning and the last one was around 10:30 at night - Hezbollah let us have a good night's sleep and this was today's first siren. We heard the thuds, but they were very distant - I pray they landed in the sea.

Shalom,
Yves

Monday, July 17, 2006

The worst day yet!

July 17th 2006 16:20

Today, since this morning's posting we have had many sirens go off. Each time we are called to safe rooms and bomb shelters. I tried to write an email to a client for most of the morning but could not finish it yet.

It was becoming unnerving to have the siren go off so many times to be followed by loud explosions. More unsettling was the fact that there was no siren for the first set.. No early warning. In the last set the explosions were really loud and the building shuddered. One rocket landed in a park near our house that my son used to play in.

It was heartbreaking to hear the kids and mothers crying as they ran down to the shelter for the 4th time today. One child crying "Mommy!, Mommy!, Mommy!" After the explosions came without warning they are scared.

My girlfriend is leaving Haifa to go to family in Beer Sheva until the sirens stop. She is so keyed up that every loud sound sends her speeding for the shelter, TV remote control still in hand, screaming for her teenage son to hurry up.

In fact the town is earily quiet. Almost no cars in the streets except for emergency services and foreign and local news crews. The foreign news crews have large letters "TV" on their car windows - as if they might be shot by mistake - maybe they were in the West Bank or Gaza recently.

As I sat in the internal room I thought of my mother's stories of being in Budapest while the Allies bombed the city in World War II. I thought of her as a little girl and was filled with sadness. Now here is her son, 60 odd years later, also sitting in a bomb-shelter, with neighbors I rarely speak to.

Now everyone is chatting together.

I had to stop this post for another siren. Only three families left in the building. I see them in the shelter. Everyone has gone south.

A senior officer in the army says that the operation will be over in a few days.

Shalom,
Yves

1st entry

July 17th, 2006

This is my first entry in the blog. I have created it for friends, family and colleagues who have expressed their concern for our well-being. I will keep people updated on our progress with work and other issues as we go through this difficult and tragic time.

Below is a more complete text of a draft letter which I planned to send to colleagues of ours around the world. In the end I issued a simpler, shorter version. I have added the complete version below which includes some of our political perspective here in Israel for those who are interested as I don't like to force my politics into business relationships. If you are interested you are invited to come here to learn about it. I will try to keep it updated frequently.

Shalom,
Yves.


Dear Friends and colleagues,

Many of you have seen on the news that Haifa has been targeted with missile attacks and have called and written expressing your concern for us. First, I would like to thank everyone for the care they have shown us.

We want to let you know that we are all OK. We know that it actually looks much worse on TV than it is here on the ground. While we are taking every precaution (we get early warnings of attacks and we stay indoors and in specially protected rooms when necessary) we are not afraid.

We are continuing our work as usual (though some of us are working from home now) and meeting all our scheduled deliveries and obligations on time.

The people here are staying calm in spite of the 1000+ rockets and missiles that have fallen in Israel in the last 6 days or so. That's because in a country where there are three opinions for every two people (:-), this is a rare occasion where we ALL understand that is what we need to do to support the cause and allow our forces to continue their work. We understand that a religious extremist terrorist group like Hezbollah can't sit a few meters on the other side of our fence with 10,000 missiles aimed at us, and conduct raids inside Israel and capture our soldiers.
I don't like to insert politics into business. However, the news doesn't always seems to say things the way we see them and I need to express our side clearly for anyone who is curious.

I can assure you that no one here wanted this, we all would much rather be raising our children, building our careers and businesses and other peaceful pursuits. However, now that it has started even the most pro-peace and non-violent among us here (among which I include myself) understand that Israel must finish it and rid us and the Lebanese people of the terrorist group that is controlling the south of their country and dragging them and us into unwanted war. We hope that with Hezbollah out of the way, a true Lebanese democracy can grow in friendship and peace beside us, no longer held hostage to a Syrian/Iranian creation.

We pray that it will be over quickly and that there will be minimum casualties here AND IN LEBANON. I have never been so proud of our boys in uniform. Despite the massive size of the ongoing operation and the destruction to infrastructure, only 100 Lebanese fatalities to date testifies to the fact that they are taking the absolute greatest care to minimize losses to innocent civilian life. All violence and loss of life on both sides is tragic and it makes us very very sad.

I suspect that while the destruction in Lebanon is much worse than it is here, the pictures on the TV: 1. Appear worse there as they appear worse than they are here in Israel. 2. The pictures of destruction in Lebanon are the same ones over and over again so perhaps there isn't' that much to show, and 3. They are often destroyed buildings with Hezbollah flags left flying on them so they obviously are legitimate targets.

I also noted for example that it is only the runway in the Beirut airport that is being damaged, not the entire airport, which if Israel had wanted to cause maximum damage, they would have levelled the whole thing. After the runway was first bombed, the news reported that it was repaired and operating the next day. That is not very serious damage.

From our perspective, this is not retaliation or revenge. and therefore no comparison should be made as to the force of reaction we are using. It is in part an operation to retrieve soldiers kidnapped in a raid on Israeli soil (Israel never leaves a man behind), but it is mainly an operation to remove a terrorist organization from our borders and which is holding us and our neighbors captive for many years. It's goals are in accordance with the wishes of UN resolution 1559 calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah 6 years ago.

Thanks again to the many of you for showing your concern. Please come in every few days to see more posts

Shalom,