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.

1 comment:

oren kessler said...

Hey Aliyana,
Remember me? I work with you! You're a really good writer!

Sorry, just thought I'd embarrass you. It's what I do best.

Seriously though - well done. I'm impressed.

Have a wicked time in Europe.