Monday, July 17, 2006

are we scared yet?

In the last week, Hezbollah has managed to remind us what we've forgotten even after five years of intifada: we are under siege. With each rocket strike, Hezbollah defiantly instills within us the fear of retribution, saying, "when a country bombs another population repeatedly from the air, it should expect the same." Hezbollah and Iran, in the name of Palestinians, are proving that they can destroy us just like we can destroy them. It doesn't matter which came first. It only matters who can win the most number of enemy casualties. This is siege. This is war.

Hezbollah - like Hamas - knew that kidnapping Israeli soldiers was a ticket to war. A war detrimental to its civilians and to its infrastructure, but extraordinarily useful to its overall cause. Hezbollah - and Hamas - attack Israel; Israel responds with the only language it knows - war; and suddenly the international community jumps on board to pull the self-conscious bully off the revengeful underdog.

Less than a month ago, I hitchhiked up north, to Tzfat, and to Tiberias, to the Jezreel Valley, and to Meron. On the same day, Israel's offensive on Gaza escalated to undeclared war when Hamas kidnapped two Israelis and the Israeli government clamped down with force. Now, the war in Gaza is forgotten as crude numbers of innocent Lebanese civilians die every day and rockets rain down on Israel - in Tzfat, and Tiberias, the Jezreel Valley, and Meron - killing innocent Israelis.

The day the first Katyusha hit Nahariya - where about two months ago I hitchhiked and ate free hummus from Marwan the hummus man - killing a woman, injuring dozens and scaring the living daylights out of thousands more, I was riding on only an hour and a half of sleep, starting work at 7 am. I sat down at the computer, saw the message on the wire: 'Katyusha hits Nahariya; casualties feared' and set about writing and reporting as if it weren't Nahariya, where I have hitchhiked and eaten free hummus from Marwan the hummus man.

I did that all day long. Even when the first Katyusha hit Tzfat, and my friend called to ask what the hell her sister was supposed to do, the rocket was meters away and she was freaking out. What do I know? I told her to tell her sister to go underground and stay out of the streets.

The day went on, the Katyushas kept flying, and I kept trying to relate to it the way I would treat a bomb in Iraq, or even a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Of course, if I lived in Iraq, I would leave.

I'm not leaving here. I don't know why. This government does not have my undivided support. Israel has the right to defend itself, but it does not have the right to swing its explosive arms around civilians. Israel should have negotiated immediately with Hamas. It should have gone to the United Nations, not to its arsenals. Hundreds of innocent people are suffering from attacks whose justification are tantamount to stubborn ideology. With each air strike in Lebanon and artillery fire in Gaza, I try to remember why I live in Israel, and if I am a zionist, and if I ever was a zionist, and whether being a zionist requires supporting a war that will probably secure us another two or five years of peace at the price of hundreds, if not thousands more lives.

Media is the third leg of this war, the comptroller of military and government. I work round the clock and when I'm not working, my mind is colonized. Under siege. I can't go up north. I can't hitchhike. Hezbollah has taken my freedom away from me, like we have taken the freedom away from the Palestinians. Let's not talk about what came first - now we are both under siege, as we have been in a more indirect way for decades.

After work Thursday I passed out fully clothed on my bed, exhausted, from a night of drinking and day of war reporting in an air conditioned Tel Aviv office. The phone rang about three hours later. I only sort of heard it, but answered it anyway. The voice: "What the hell happened in Haifa?"

It was my dad. When I told him I didn't know, I'd been sleeping, he said, "go look on the internet." I did.

I wanted to crawl under the covers and hide, but decided I had to get out of the house. My friend Yoav's band was playing on the roof of an amazing neighborhood shanti-Indian restaurant. I missed the first half off the show, eating and drinking beer with Ella and her/everyone's dog Raven, but when I sat down, I fell apart.

The front guitar man said, "We're going to play a song now that connects more than anything we've played to what's going on."

I figured he was talking about the ambiance - not everyone was obsessed with the situation, right? - and he was, in a larger sense of the word.

"As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear evil, because you are with me." The tune was beautiful, and the words were pentrating. My body started to relax, and I, who never cry, felt tears streaming through the broken dams of my eyes and emotion. I covered my eyes, let the tears flow. "Here we have a world, here we have life, here we have love. Just a smile on our faces," they sang, "we have love."

All we need is love, I guess, but what we have instead is ideology and war. We have desk journalists like me sitting in Tel Aviv rooms complaining about quashed freedom when people, in every nook of surrounding, are dying and in the line of fire. Iran - a country sworn to the destruction of Israel - has given a guerilla organization long-range missiles that can reach up to 200 kilometers away from their launch, and my friends and family in the north are either living underground or stubbornly staying home, while I write about fear, or more accurately apprehension, of a punishment that comes with the territory I've chosen to live in. I have made a political choice to live in Israel, even though I can argue that I am here because my family is here, and my friends are here, and I have a good job, and a good life, and spirituality, and freedom, and possibilities.

Now that I'm faced with reality, it's harder to remember why anyone would choose to live in a place of war. I am choosing to operate as a civilian soldier of Israel. I want Israel to survive. I want to survive in Israel. I don't want to be afraid of noises in the air. I don't want my country to be killing innocent people by the hundreds. I don't want to be a citizen of a bully nation. I don't want to fight in the army. I don't want to be a politician. I want to live, in Israel, as a Jew, with my Arab neighbors, and my Jewish neighbors, and anyone who wants to keep this holy land beautiful and free and open to all possibility.

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