Friday, August 25, 2006


I'm in Amsterdam right now on a semi-spontaneous trip to Europe. I was supposed to leave for Italy early last week, but because of wars and all, I was told to cancel my trip. The day after the cease-fire, my boss told me to get a ticket. So I did, and a day and a half later I was in Rome.

I met up with two friends in Italy, and we traveled around the south and center of the country for half a week, and then flew to Amsterdam, where we'll be till early next week. We've met and traveled with an amazing deaf woman traveling around Europe by herself, an Australian cop who speaks Italian and has numerous facial piercings, a repented Newark gangster, and a couple from Argentina who perform circus acts across Europe.

I'll write more about it later, just posting to let everyone know where I am.

Monday, August 14, 2006

operation, war, or quagmire

I've become an experienced obituary writer this month, and war savant, and political adviser. I've become a real Israeli this month, tied to the news and expecting the worst. I've become an old woman scared for our boys who will never be men, and scared for the children, and our parents, and our animals, and of a government of inexperienced leaders I know I can do nothing to stop.

113 soldiers died this month. Most were civilians called to duty, not by choice, as all Israeli men between the ages of 18 and basically 40 are required to do. We hear about soldiers' deaths usually eight hours before we are allowed to tell the world, to make sure the families get to hear first. We say 25 people were wounded "in various conditions" when we mean 15 people killed and 10 moderately to seriously wounded. I hear about missiles falling on air force bases just meters from my mother's house, and while I call her to scare her, I write that a rocket fell somewhere in the vicinity of her region.

Every time the names of the soldiers are released, I see pictures of them on our photowire, and write a short blurb about their short lives and post it on the site for the next 12 hours, until the next batch of soldiers. I look up and down the list quickly, looking for my friend, my friend's little brother, my friend's friend, my cousin's former classmate. Sometimes I find them.

Sometimes I see a picture of a guy my age who I never met and wonder if I was supposed to marry him. I think of his families who are so real, literally like almost every family in Israel, who have spent the last day, week, month, or 20 years, worrying about their son who, in his role as dutiful Israeli citizen, male protector of the Jewish nation, was putting his life on the line somewhere in a hostile country. Their son, but a soldier. Their son, now another collection of photos and a short video played at memorial day services with tearful music and testimonies of good servitude in the Israel Defense Forces. Their son, a war statistic, pushed into the quagmire. Their son, a pawn pushed forth by a country fighting blindly.

As Uri Misgav so eloquently writes in Haaretz,

The last Israel Defense Forces soldier to die before the cease-fire goes into effect will not know that he is the last. Nevertheless, it is possible that, in the split second that his life ends, he may just manage to feel some kind of vague, surprising discomfort.

Contrary to literary traditions, he will not particularly resemble the hero of Eric Maria Remarque's novel "All Quiet on the Western Front," who was killed a few hours before the cease-fire was declared, ending World War I. Remarque's hero at least died without knowing that an agreement on the end of hostilities was being cobbled together behind his back. The last soldier to be die before the cease-fire goes into effect will die when the timing and conditions of the cessation of hostilities are already known to all.

This war was called hastily, but it was never called a war. Our defense minister and our chief of staff called an operation of soldiers to wipe out the Hezbollah. They must have really believed this was possible. We haven't exactly been winning with the Palestinians, but we certainly haven't been losing. One month later, and thousands of lost futures and destroyed families and lives later, the IDF is still carrying out "an operation." An operation to remove the cancer from Lebanon and our northern front. An operation performed by interns, not doctors. We have all lost tremendously.

This is the longest battle-themed war in Israel's history, they say. For some reason, the Intifada, and Nablus, and Jenin, and the Gaza Strip don't count, maybe because there it was the IDF aggressing against a relatively unarmed population. Hezbollah, a guerilla organization, has buffed itself up since we last visited Lebanon, building a 9,000-strong force armed with thousands of long-range missiles supplied by Iran, a supposedly nuclear power backed by the Khomeini Revolutionary Guard, and by Syria, sovereign Lebanon's enemy/mistress.

No more. I got into an argument with a friend the other day, trying to convince her of the conclusion I reached 32 days into the most updated war, and 13th most updated month, of my life. I told her we should withdraw from Lebanon. I told her we had no right to conquer Lebanon. This war is with Hezbollah, a portion of Lebanon, but not with Lebanon itself, a sovereign state filled with civilians who did nothing to us and did nothing to deserve this fate. I told her the Lebanese army needs to deploy to regain control of the south, along with an international force until things tide over. I told her Israel should do all its negotiating through the UN instead of making unilateral decisions on the fate of millions of people.

She told me Israel needs to fight because this can't keep happening. She told me we were a nation that had been persecuted for centuries, and could under no circumstances weaken ourselves to the brute of anyone. She told me Israel should conquer south Lebanon until Lebanese no longer want to live there, to wipe out the Hezbollah once and for all.

My friend is a very reasonable person. She doesn't want to wipe out Lebanon. She just wants to protect Israel. She was born into war.

I went to work right after that conversation, and saw that a UN resolution had been reached, that a cease-fire was called for Monday morning, and that Lebanon planned to deploy its troops in south Lebanon along with an international force. Lebanon had already agreed to the cease-fire. So had Nasrallah, grudgingly. Olmert was going to talk to the security cabinet the next day.

Then Kofi Annan came out and said he'd spoken to Olmert, he'd spoken to Siniora, everything was all worked out. The cease-fire would begin at 8 A.M. Monday. IDF troops would withdraw as international forces moved in. Cease-fire? Cessation of hostilities? Armistice?

About an hour ago, the IDF called for its forces to begin withdrawing, effective immediately, except in cases of self defense.
Earlier in the day, Hezbollah forced the Lebanese cabinet to cancel its meeting on the cease-fire, saying it was not willing to discuss disarmament. It is hard to believe that this cease-fire will last even days, but it's nice to have some sort of respite. Does this mean I'll stop thinking tonight is the night for the Zelzal to hit Tel Aviv?

152 Israelis have been killed among them 39 civilians. Over 1,000 Lebanese have died. And yes, we are still bombing Gaza, but let's talk about that later.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

when in war, do as the...

Israeli Arab columnist Sayed Kashua writes in Haaretz,

no comment

What a mess, ya'allah. And I was one of those who believed the people who said the war would end by this week. Wow, you have no idea how much I hate wars. Depression is not the word. Now I think the phrase "The war will be over this week already" is permanently true, like the idea that messiah will always come.

"Quiet now," I shout at my little girl, who is bugging me incessantly and not letting me lie on the sofa like a human being and watch a little news.

"Daddy, daddy!"

"I swear, if you're not quiet, I'll lock you in your room," I shout. "What kind of way is that to talk to the girl?" scolds my wife, she being involved in the field of education and whatnot. "She's not letting me watch television. War, damn it, war." "So what?" my wife shouts. "Why are you letting her see these scenes anyway?"

"Do you want me to switch to Al-Jazeera Kids? Fine. There, between Tom and Jerry and Power Rangers, they show clips with children's bodies."

My daughter cries a little and I feel even worse. "Come here, sweetie, come here. I'm really sorry. It's because of this movie. Remember I told you that movies aren't real, that there's no way the cat can fall from a 100-story building and still keep running after that? It's the same thing. A movie, only they call it war. See the red? That's ketchup, they wash it off later in the shower."

"That's not true, Katyushas are falling in Haifa and Safed, we were there on holiday," the girl adds, weeping. "You promised a holiday, sea, hotel, after day camp, and you didn't do a thing. You lie all the time."

"It's not nice to talk to Daddy like that. Daddy never lies. As soon as this movie that they're making in the north is over, we are going on holiday."

"Daddy, look," she shouts with enthusiasm and points to the screen. "Take me there, Daddy, that's where I want to go." The image on the TV screen is of small children playing with inflated things, children in bathing suits and a lot of games. "There, Daddy, take us there."

"That's Gaydamak's tent city."

"Yes, Gaydamak, take us to Gaydamak."

"There's no way. We can't go."

"You're a liar."

"You can't talk to Daddy like that. Get going, off to your room."

"What kind of way is that to talk to the girl?" my wife says, getting up from the sofa and taking her by the hand. "Come on, sweetie, don't cry, come on, you should be asleep already."

What nerves, ya'allah. There's no end to it. What am I going to do? The girl is right - I've been promising her a holiday for half a year already, sea, pool. What can you do - war. "What happened to you with her?" - my wife has returned to the living room - "Do you have any idea what you look like?"

"How would you like me to look, exactly?"

"All right, we're all on edge, but there's a limit."

I go back to staring at the war. Ya'allah, how do you get out of this mess? Of all the options in the world, I had to be born an Israeli Arab, what shit it is. I don't have many choices. No matter how I look at it, I have only two options: kowtowing or militancy. There's no middle ground. I checked out all the possibilities, thought of a million different formulas. Nothing. I don't have a lot of time and I have to decide what I am: an ass-licker or an extreme nationalist. It's a hard choice.

I tell you, in a desperate attempt to find a way out of this trap I watched all the Arabs who were interviewed on television, I read everything they wrote in the Israeli papers, I followed their shouts in the Knesset, but none of the precious Israeli Arabs delivered the goods.

If you come and say that we are all in the same boat - the fact is that people are being killed in Nazareth, in Haifa and in the Arab villages in the Galilee - that there is an alliance of life and an alliance of death with the Jewish people, and at the end of your remarks express the hope that the war will end, people will say it's because you are looking after numero uno, that you don't want to offend your boss, and above all because you're afraid to lose your National Insurance. If you attack the government's policy and the military way of thought and call for an end to the bloodshed on both sides, people will say that the sea is the same sea and the Arabs are the same Arabs and that they all want to throw the Jews to the sharks and have done with them.

True, there are also a few Jews, not many, but there are some who speak against the war on television, but that doesn't mean under any circumstances that they support Hezbollah. They fall within the legitimate framework of the Israeli internal debate, and you don't. So what do you do, damn it?

I didn't see even one Arab who made a good impression. I watch them on TV and have pity. Why do they accept every offer to be interviewed, the fools? You can understand politicians who want to impress their voters, but people from all kinds of organizations and bodies - don't they get it? Don't they understand that they will look ridiculous no matter what? The fix is in. There is no way to come out looking good.

When they are asked, "So what does the Arab public think about the developments?" the meaning is actually: admit it, admit you support Nasrallah, say you abhor the state, you fifth column, you, every one of you. There is no room here to be against war as such. Hey, who are we kidding ? Arabs have suddenly become pacifists? Vegetarians? Hey, tell us another one.

When it comes to the Israeli media, the best thing an Arab can do in wartime is shut up. Abstain, not appear, not write. Because the Israeli target audience will treat what they say with more than a grain of salt, if at all. You don't really wield influence. No one listens to you. And if they do, it's only to reinforce positions they already hold, most of which are against you.

Attempts at self-defense and citing concern for coexistence are useless slogans, most of which will go down within the framework of the response, "Yeah, yeah, sure, why not? Coexistence. We'll show you what coexistence is."

The only way I can think of that can satisfy the interviewer and after him the Israeli viewer is to appear in a Kach movement T-shirt and pound on the tank in the backdrop, while screaming, "Pulverize them, don't leave a stone standing, pulverize."

"Tell me," I ask my wife, "what's better, kowtowing or militancy?"

"What do you want from me?"

"No, nothing. I think I'll go on holiday until the war ends."

"That could take time, no?"

"Noooooo, they said a week."

Thursday, August 10, 2006


I'm sitting in my apartment listening to my itunes on party shuffle. Fifteen Israeli soldiers were killed fighting today in Lebanon. Fourteen Lebanese were killed yesterday at a funeral for 15 other people. In another Lebanese town a man lies moderately wounded - a professional term better understood to us layman as "just below life-threatening" - while his wife and son fight for their lives, unknowing of the rest of their family's deaths. Thousands of northern Israeli residents who have spent the last three weeks huddled in fear in shelters as rockets and missiles explode all around them are migrating southward, refugees of war. The majority of the recent IDF deaths have been reservists, people who were killed just a day after being notified that they must leave their families, work, freedom, lives to don uniforms, kill, and get ready to give their lives for the Israeli cause. The rest of the soldiers were kids whose first taste of life away from home as been combat.

Israel is exploding, and so is Lebanon. People are being killed every day, some for sitting at home, others as gun-yielding Israeli military cattle. None of them want death. None of them want innocent deaths, on either side. On both sides of the border, civilians want peace. In Israel these civilians sometimes wear uniforms, because they have too. Some of them wanted to be fighters, wanted to give their all to defend their country. Defense can mean offense, they reasoned, because if we don't actively defend ourselves, who will. A lot of the Hezbollah fighters are kids, too. They have a cause too. I don't understand it. I don't understand their form of resistance. They want us decimated. We want the same of them.

Lebanon, I wanted to meet you, I wanted to see you. I don't want to kill you. I want you to get rid of Hezbollah, the cancer within you that has destroyed you by attacking Israel when it knew full well that Israel would plow through Lebanon without mercy in order to wipe it out.

Israel, I want to love you. You are my home and I do love you. I want us to get rid of the cancer within is that pushes us toward war at every nudge from our neighbors. You shouldn't have done this. They picked a fight with us, those bastard Hezbollahniks, but we didn't have to respond like this. We didn't have to kill all these people. They are dead now, because of us. So many of our own are dead or refugees now because we haven't figured out yet to stop listening to the American war-mongers and use our words, not our arms. The Americans speak a language of war. Hebrew is a language of logic, zionism was supposed to be a language of defense. Why have you stained my flag with innocent blood? Why are you making my language so offensive?

The irony is that the person currently updating the Israeli dictionary is Amir Peretz, former man of peace, who is now the proponent of this war. I voted for him. He told me he wanted to eradicate poverty, and discrimination against Arabs. He told me he wanted a Palestinian state. He told me he didn't want to fight.

But now that he's sitting in the control room, he keeps pressing the red button. What exactly is the view from there? Is it one of desperation? Is it one of blood? It must be a very hazy control room, because the logic is lost in this war. Our leaders are seeing only red.

Life is exploding. My building shook last night, probably from the air traffic, and in my dream's eye I saw rockets exploding around me. The other day I ran to the door when I heard a loud sound, my keys poised to unlock my apartment and run downstairs to the storage room for safety. My very level-headed friend Mati told me he had a bag packed next to his bed just in case.

My boss told me today that I couldn't go to Europe next week as I planned because Mati is going to be called up for reserve duty. They need me on the site. I've been working there for 13 months, up to my ears in war stories every day - I just want to leave this crazy place, have some peace for a few weeks. But what can I do? I want a vacation, but I can't take it because my country has gone to war and is taking my friends with it. I want a vacation, but I need to be here. How could I even take a vacation now?

I don't know if my writing is reflecting the desperation with which I write this post. I don't give a shit about my vacation. I give a shit about the loneliness of my country, the destruction of my beautiful north and its people, the destruction of beautiful Lebanon and its people, the war-infused frenzy that has brought my country back to misguided patriotism and Lebanon into renewed hatred of Israel. I don't want war. I don't want destruction. I don't want death. I don't want hatred.

Israel, we are renewing the hatred around us. WAR DOES NOT WORK. Olmert. Peretz. Halutz. Don't you remember how much we are fucking up in Gaza? Did you really think this was the answer?

Stop fighting. Take negotiations into your own hands. Negotiate with Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora. Let the international force in. Let the Lebanese troops in. Stop aerial bombing. Decimate the Hezbollah, but through logic, not blind explosions. Let us live. Let us have a vacation, from war and from destruction. Let Lebanon continue to exist. Let Israel continue to exist. Let us live.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

wandering jews

Nir Hasson of Haaretz writes,

The wandering Jew: Out of money, northern refugees refuse to leave the hotel

For the last three weeks now, Meir Yanko has struggled to find a place for his family. The family fled Safed on the third day of the war, after the first volley of Katyushas to fall on the city hit their grandparents home. Yesterday Yanko recounted their journeys:

"At first we arrived at the King Solomon hotel in Jerusalem, from there we moved to the Jerusalem Pearl hotel, which offered us a free night, the next day we went to a hotel in the Dead Sea for a discount price, after that we continued to Eilat.

"From there to a hotel in the center, and on to a host family in Petah Tikva, after which we spent a night sleeping in our car at the Masmia (Re'em) junction, with me guarding outside. On Friday we arrived at my sister's in Hadera, but then rockets fell in Hadera, and the kids had flashbacks, so we fled again to the center. Since yesterday we're in Jerusalem again, at the Ariel hotel. It's safest here, but I still don't know what we'll do tonight".

So far the Yankos have spent NIS 18,000 on their enforced vacation. The father says he cannot afford it any longer, but returning to Safed is not an option.

"The kids are crying, they will not return. I don't want to sound like a poor beggar, but we're mentally exhausted," says Yanko.

The Yankos are only one of tens of thousands of families who left their northern homes following the start of the Katyusha firings. What started as a vacation from the war, funded by donations, is increasingly turning into the sad plight of families who keep relocating.

The troubles of the refugees could be seen as an exemplary case study of a welfare system that relies on donations rather than on regulated government funding. Those who financed the exodus themselves have fallen into financial difficulties. Others, who were supported by donations, are being asked to leave the hotels and return to their homes despite the ongoing bombing.

Suicide threat

Last Thursday one of the guests at the Kings hotel in Jerusalem threatened to kill herself because she was asked to leave. Police cars and ambulances arrived at the scene. The woman, together with a group of 60 Kiryat Shmona residents, came to Jerusalem with the aid of a private travel agency called Be'ad, which raised funds from private donors.

"The next day a riot started. The group refused to evacuate, and after some deliberations they received four extra days in a Dead Sea hotel", said Prima Hotels CEO Eti Levy.

Yesterday those four days were used up, and the story repeated itself. For eight hours the members of the group sat in the hotel lobby and refused to board the buses that were there to take them back to their homes in the north.

"On the one hand it's heartbreaking. On the other, I don't know what I can do. The Kiryat Shmona municipality told me to call the police to force them to leave. But I can't do that," she says.

"We must divide these moments of relief between many people", explains Yaakov Fried, CEO of Daat Travel Services. After some deliberations, and with the help of the Ra'anana municipality and of the nonprofit Parents for Pluralistic Education, a place for them was found in the Meitarim school in Raanana.

Seven in a classroom

One of the group members is Antoine Salame, a former member of the Southern Lebanese who lives in Kiryat Shmona. He fled south with his children, while his mother and sisters who live in a village in southern Lebanon have fled north to Beirut.

"Now we are here in the school, seven of us in a classroom. Since the war broke out, there is no work. I can't afford to return home," he says.

Ilana Mushkin, head of the Parents for Pluralistic Education says the school is available for the people from the North until August 27. "We hope that by then the government will find a solution", she adds.

A group of 500 residents of Nahariya who stayed in the Be'er Sheva Naot Midbar hotel, funded by the Sakta Rashi Foundation, found themselves in similar circumstances. Two days ago the group members refused to leave the hotel, after a week-long stay. One of the group members, Amos Gabriel, turned to the office of Defense Minister Amir Peretz, with whom he is acquainted from the time he was head of the workers' committee in the Hanita metal factory. Following Peretz's personal intervention, a temporary solution was found, plus funding to house them in several places in the center and in the south.

Tanya Gliatman from Carmiel, her 4-year-old daughter Sonya, her infant son Yuval, and her elderly mother have stayed for the last two weeks in the WIZO Hadassim boarding school in the Sharon. For the first week of bombing they were still in the shelter, but after the little girl started suffering from anxiety, they decided to go to the first place that would take them in. Now she is worried that with the coming of the school year, they will again have no place to go.

She has no intention of returning to Carmiel while it is still within Katyusha range. "One Katyusha fell on my daughter's playground, another on my workplace. I'm afraid to go back, and I haven't got the slightest idea what we'll do if we are forced to leave", she said.

She is full of appreciation for the school's staff, but is angry with the government: "So far those who helped the refugees were private and philanthropic bodies. The state has vanished."

Five hundred and fifty refugees from the North were taken inton the boarding school since the beginning of the war; in normal times it is home to 200 youths. A week from now the youth are supposed to return to the boarding school and prepare for the opening of the school year. As of now their return is on hold, and headmaster Zeev Twito is debating whether he should push the refugees to return to their bombed homes in the North or to postpone the opening of the school year. Every day he gets calls from families in the north who beg for a place to stay, and lately decided to house additional families from Kiryat Shmona in the gym, for lack of another location. All 84 youth villages and boarding schools, which have so far taken in around 8,000 people, are faced with the same problem.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir does not rule out a delay in the start of the school year due to the situation. "At the moment we do not plan to evacuate anyone," she says. "There is no great harm in delaying the school year by a week."

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


The Associated Press writes,

Ali Rmeity lies broken and bandaged on a hospital bed, wincing in pain. Three of his children are dead and his only surviving son is in intensive care - but he doesn't know this yet. Doctors fear telling the 45-year-old now would be a bigger blow than he can sustain.

Rmeity was at home with his wife and four children shortly after nightfall Monday when Israeli missiles slammed into their apartment building in the predominantly Shiite southern Beirut suburb of Chiah.

At least 30 people were killed - half from Rmeiti's family - as workers continued to retrieve bodies from under the slabs of concrete Tuesday.

"I had been feeling tired, so I went into the bedroom and laid down on the bed. Five minutes later the bombs fell and I found myself crying for help under the rubble," Rmeity said Tuesday. "My wife who was on the balcony was thrown in the air. They found her somewhere, I don't know where."

Rmeity's wife, Hoda, was being treated in an adjacent room at the Mount Lebanon hospital near Beirut. She has severe lung injuries and several fractures. Their 9-year-old son, Hussein, was in intensive care with head trauma and brain contusion.

The Rmeity's three other children - Mohammed, 22, Fatima, 19, and 16-year-old Malak - were killed. So were Ali Rmeity's parents, his three brothers and two sisters. His brother's family who lived in the same building also died.

In total, 15 of Rmeity's relatives were killed, according to hospital officials and relatives. But Ali doesn't know it. He only was told that his mother, an elderly woman, had died.

"I don't know anything about the rest of my family. Some people have told me they're being treated in another hospital, but I don't know whether to believe them," said Rmeity, who was wearing a head bandage and a white hospital robe that couldn't hide the injuries and burns on his body. Doctors said his injuries were not life threatening.

"I know that my mother died, may God have mercy on her soul," he said, his mouth quivering and his green eyes filling with tears.

The hospital's owner, Dr. Nazih Gharious, said it was too early to tell Rmeity of his loss, which might prove to be too much of a shock. Rmeity's brother-in-law, Ibrahim Jomaa, repeatedly warned visitors not to slip and tell Rmeity that his children were killed.

"If he finds out he will surely die," he said.

Rmeity said his children had been scared for days and wanted to leave their apartment even though the district of Chiah so far had been spared from Israeli airstrikes. Friends repeatedly told him to come stay with them.

"But I didn't want to impose on anyone, we're a big family," he said. Now he wishes he hadn't been so stubborn.

"If I had listened to them, this would not have happened," he said putting his head in between his hands.

Monday, August 07, 2006

drafted art

Mobius drew my attention to this petition drafted and signed by Israeli artists calling for an end to the war in Lebanon and Israel. Check out the gallery of signatures.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

the abrahamic war of attrition


I remember when I was a little kid, the idea of the wars in Israel was very exotic and exciting to me. I had never lived under war before, and all I knew of it was what I read in books. I was in Israel during the first intifada, during the hijacking of the bus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and sporadically throughout the entire first war in Lebanon, I just didn't really understand it as war. They were all incidents so far from my comprehension. I liked the idea that the war in Lebanon, "Peace in the Galilee," as it's called in Israel, started the year that I was born. I liked the idea of my country fighting a war for peace, especially since I never had to feel it.

This war isn't romantic, it's desperate and fruitless.

The fear of the defense establishment in Israel is that Hezbollah is waging a war of attrition on Israel. To Israel, this notion is absurd. It has been fighting its war of attrition already for nearly 60 years. It was born in imbalance and has not yet found security. Israel's security situation is not just one of civilians dying. Israel is suffering an existential crisis. Every attack on Israel or in Israel is a battle of the brawns between a country that is sick of trying to prove its right to exist and guerilla populations trying to prove it otherwise. Every attack on Israel is an attempt weaken it, to force it to let go of territory it conquered in war or mandate. Israel cannot coexist with its neighbors because its existence depends on territory that once belonged to its neighbors. To its neighbors, Israel can exist as a concept, but not in practice.

Israel has always responded in defense, leading it ultimately to crisis. Now that Israel has the means to not only defend itself but act as aggressor, it has jumped to the occasion. Israel does not want another war of attrition. It presents itself as aggressor to avoid every having to be in the defense position in a war of attrition. Security of it existence is its primary concern, not the safety of its citizens. Every 18-year-old is required to join the army. Every citizen has a responsibility to preseve Israel's existence.

Israel is now faced with an obstacle it hasn't seen in years, and had hoped it would never see again. It is under siege. Residents of the north have become refugees to the south. The death toll is rising. During the intifada, the fear was everywhere. Everybody feared for their life. You couldn't get on a bus without thinking you could die. Now you can't go to sleep at night without thinking that.

In Tel Aviv, we keep telling ourselves we know more than Hezbollah. They say they have missiles that can reach Tel Aviv. We scoff at that, even as missiles reach Hadera, 20 km north of here. Who are we kidding? Hezbollah is backed by Syria and Iran. If we so much as touch Syria, we will be wiped out. The war of attrition will explode in our faces, and we will find ourselves once more fighting for existence.

We still have the upper hand. This whole thing started because two soldiers were kidnapped by Hezbollah just two weeks after another soldier was kidnapped and two others killed by Hamas, a legitimate political leader. We felt attacked from all sides again. Not just by militants now, but by war-like guerillas. Our government is ever so reluctant to call this conflict a war, which it obviously is, because a war means one legitimate army fighting another. It means fair game for redivision of land by military means. Our right to the West Bank and to the Golan according to international agreements is by military might alone. Syria attacked us and we took the Golan. Jordan attacked us and we took the West Bank. Egypt attacked us and we took the Gaza Strip.

Now Hezbollah is attacking us, and telling us to give up Shaba farms. If Hezbollah wins, they will try to force us to cede territory to Lebanon. In all fairness, we do not have to oblige. If Lebanon gets involved, and wins, we will be forced to give them what they want.

In the Middle East we know that this war will not end until one of the populations is destroyed, or until everybody comes to their senses and stops fighting. As long as we have what they want, they will not leave us alone. As long as there are Jews living in a ruling state of Israel, the Palestinians will fight us. The Palestinians don't want to live under a Jewish state. They want to live in this territory under their own state. Our interests are impossible to reconcile.

Palestinians and Israelis share an existential crisis, of different porportions. Palestinians and Israelis both have no concept of future. We can't plan because we have no idea if our lives will be tomorrow as they are today. We know that we are living in a perpetual war of attrition. We are an impossible contradicition. We will only co-exist - each of us will only be able to exist - if we lose the ideology and remember our humanity. The Palestinians have allies, and so do we. It's all out war. May the strongest survive.


My friend Zim and I broke the cardinal rule of coexistence last week, and talked history with our Arab friend Mahdi. Zim, a Yeminite Jew, tried to explain to Mahdi, an Arab Palestinian, that he too was an Arab. Mahdi would have none of it. "It's impossible," he said. "You can't be a Jew and an Arab."

"But my grandmother's mother tongue is Arabic," he protested.

"You are either a Jew or an Arab, you can't be both," Mahdi shot back.

"But my family lived in Yemen for a thousands years," Zim told him.

"It's impossible to be both," Mahdi said.

"Can you be a Christian and an Arab?" Zim asked him.

"Yes," Mahdi answered.

"A Muslim and an Arab?"


"But not a Jew and an Arab."


Mahdi told us the history of the Arabs. To him it started with Muhammed, with the beginning of Islam, when the Arabian empire took flight. He told us Muhammed was the 25th and last prophet, who followed and solidifed the visions of Christianity and Judaism. He told us that Muhammed spoke to God, and then spread the word, forcibly, to the Arabian people who had no religion or concept of God. His divine purpose was to convert everyone to see the truth and beauty of Islam.

We told him our history of world. He was not pleased about it. "Are you telling me that the Jews started it all?" he asked.

"No," we assured him, as we waxed neo-Isaacian nostalgiac.

The history of the world (or at least part of the Middle East) according to Zim and Aliyana

The Arabs and the Jews are cousins, descended from jealous brothers who were fated to spend their lives in testosterone-flared civil war. Isaac and Ishmael, sons of Abram. Abram was a descendent of the Semites, and spoke a language vaguely resembling Hebrew and Arabic. He spoke to God, realized that all is one, broke his father's idols and heart, and left his home for the the Mediterranean coast. He fell in love with his cousin Sarai, but couldn't conceive with her. She gave him her maidservant, Hagar, who quickly bore him his first child, Ishmael. God had told him before pushing him into nomadism, that he would be blessed to populate the world with seed as numerous as the stars in the sky. Ishmael was the first seed.

God never told Abraham, as he became known, that his offspring would get along. When Sarah finally gave birth to Isaac, Abraham was thrilled, and Sarah was jealous. She threw Hagar and Ishmael out of her tents, and sent them wandering through the desert to Arabia. Meanwhile, Abraham showed God how strongly he believed in him, by offering his beloved son as a sacrifice upon God's request. God like that, but it was only a test.

Isaac was Sarah's child, and therefore Abraham's favorite. Ishmael was a half-orphan exiled to Arabia. Isaac stayed in Canaan, believing himself the heir to the Abrahamic dynasty. He forgot about his brother, but his brother did not forget about him.

Isaac was the father of Israel. Abraham was the patriarch of the Semites, both the Jews and the Arabs. Isaac's descendents fought for the land of Israel, received the Torah, wandered through the desert, through hardships and persecution, and emerged only a low percentage of the promised "stars of the sky," as tribes fought and divided, with 10 lost along the way. Ishmael's seed did fine.

When one of Isaac's descendents was crucified on a wooden cross, his disciples called him the ultimate martyr, the son of God, and tried to pull as many Jews as they could with them. It didn't go over as well as they expected, but they recruited a good number. They hoped to revolutionize Judaism, but with so many stubborn bretheren, they broke off, and call themselves Christians. The disciples of Jesus believed him to be not only a prophet, but physical divinity. They trotted the globe spreading their message, violently forcing Arabia and Europe to submit to their growing empire.

They encountered resistance in both. In Arabia, where the population of Ishmael had itself submitted through force to the religious empire of Muhammadism, the Christians were not welcome. They destroyed Arabian culture, razing the biggest library in the world and smashing scientific and mathematical instruments. The three sets of cousins, one a former regional power, the others budding empires, found themselves at odds. Intermarriage and conversions had run rampant along the way, but in an age of religious wars, people clung to a particular loyalty. The three super-clans divided, and civil war set in.

Jews and Christians and Muslim remained in both Arabia and in Israel. Jerusalem was conquered, and then reconquered a numer of times, switching hands between the power-hungry cousins, each vying for the Abrahamic inheritance. The victory cycle was set on spin.

The Jews living in Arabia, and in the Islamic Ottoman empire were free to worship as they chose, but were considered second-class citizens. The Christians, who had smited the Muslim one time too many, remained at war with their Ishmaelite cousins. Jews lived in the Arab world for hundreds of years, preserving their Isaacian ancestry. They were hesitantly welcome until the creation of the state of Israel - perhaps in the Arab mind Isaac's bid for renewed civil war.

*The moral of the story, according to Zim, is that the only thing separating us is our own self-created distinction. Our blood-lines mixed, we cling to our own versions of Abrahamic heritage, believing that we are the true link to God's promise. In reality, the only thing that divides us is our own self-designated divisions. We're all really African.


Mahdi was in good spirits when we told him our late night theory, but he refused to budge from his original thesis. Arabs were the descendents of Ishmael, and Jews were the children of Isaac. Arabs are mostly Muslim, but a Christian can be an Arab, too. But you can't be both a Jew and an Arab.

We live in the most sought after and expensive property in history. The Christians have given up the fight, for now, waiting for Jesus to return to Jerusalem and build the third temple. The Arabs and the Jews are back in a war of attrition.

Mahdi, an Israeli citizen, but not an Israeli, he told us, fully support the Palestinian initiative for a state, but will not move to the West Bank or Gaza. He is not an Israeli, he said, because Israelis are Jews. He is an Arab concerned with preserving his rightful place in Palestine, regardless of under whose control. "I won't leave my home," he said.


I am going to the north tomorrow. I'm scared.