Monday, July 31, 2006

Kfar Qana

I wanted to write all about my trip to Tel Aviv but yesterday Kfar Qana dominated our lives.

Despite the reports of Hizbollah using civilians as human shields, firing from residential areas and not letting civilians leave the war zone, The World acted surprised that this shocking and shockingly predictable tragedy occurred. Shields get shot at, whether human or otherwise, and Hizbollah have made it clear they want large numbers of civilians casualties to put pressure on Israel, who deplores civilian casualties on both sides.

Of course the UN and the international media immediately absolved Hizbollah of all blame and made baseless accusations that Israel is targeting civilians.

The Israeli government lumbered slowly towards a press conference meticulously checking all the facts while Hizbollah and the Palestinians rushing around whipping up hysteria against Israel. They understand that the world doesn’t want truth it want sound bites.
As with the Mohamed Dura case, by the time Israel is explaining the facts no one is listening.

As always the Israelis were lagging behind and didn’t present videos of Hizbollah firing from residential areas and hiding launchers in local buildings until it was time for the evening news.

Nor did they reiterate the fact that although the village had been evacuated after Israeli warnings and they didn’t realise that residents of a local infirmary had been moved to ‘shelter’ within one of the buildings at the centre of Hizbollah’s launching zone.

Most chilling was the report from the IAF that after careful comparison of photographs they were able to confirm that they had bombed the building but seven hours prior to it’s collapse. Why these people were left in a bombed and structurally unstable building is unclear. And why did the building suddenly collapse after seven hours?
Hopefully the answers will be revealed in consequent investigations although Hizbollah have already made sure to remove vital pieces of evidence.

Of course this report never appeared in the news. I saw the press conference with my own eyes, watched it on Channel 10 News but there is not one single mention of this significant discrepancy in either the Israeli or International news online. I am not hallucinating, as there was one reference to it on a Middle-East media blog.

But the rest of the media have already decided what the story is and aren’t interested in any facts.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

Escape to Ramat Gan

Saturday and we are off to Tel Aviv yet again!

This time to visit the in-laws who have left Acco to stay with a cousin who lives in Ramat Gan. We have never been to Ramat Gan though we did meet this cousin about 10 years ago at Grandma’s house.

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary – 14 years! We had planned a romantic meal at a restaurant but obviously that was out of the question so we had a bubble bath instead and then a pleasant family meal.

Today should be a bit of a party – I think this cousin has 15 ‘refugees’ staying in her house.


Supplies for Shabbat

The last time we were stuck in shelters for a long time was operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996 when the previous Mayor was in office. Then we received a leaflet at our door detailing the various activities available and even though the bombing was less constant, with army authorised ‘shopping breaks’, every Friday they came round with a box of rations including fruit and vegetables so people would have supplies for Shabbat.

On Wednesday we visited my parents so the children could say goodbye to their grandmother before she went to England. My Dad mentioned that another pick-up full of food packages had gone past.

Although the TV is always informing us that so and so has donated such and such to the residents of the North so far we have received nothing. And that didn’t seem right.

My parents’ neighbour works for the municipality and had mentioned that he was delivering donated supplies to various addresses. He was surprised that my parents, being pensioners, haven’t received anything but kindly dropped off the occasional leftover items.

I phoned up the town hall and asked why neither my parents nor I had been informed of what was available both in the form of supplies and activities. After quite a heated exchange the crux of the official’s argument was that they felt there was no need to inform residents of what was available, we would become aware by word of mouth and then phone the town hall to ask.

I pointed out that in the present situation there wasn’t must socialising and I could either stand out among the katuyshas to check on what my neighbours were receiving or I could phone the town hall every hour. Would he like me to phone the Town Hall every hour?

Naturally he didn’t like that idea and I pointed out that system of ‘by word of mouth’ meant that only people connected to, or neighbours to, people working for the municipality would hear what was available which was not an equitable way of distributing items that had been donated to all of the people still living in Shlomi.

I added that in such a small town with about 50% of the residents ‘gone south’ it wouldn’t be an impossible task to phone round to each house to check who was still at home so they could make efficient deliveries.

After my rant the official gave some bluster about me needing to be signed up even though I pointed out we were already signed up, from the trip to the water park. He said they would phone me.

Surprise, surprise but come 12:30 pm Friday and no one had called me. I heard one of my neighbours outside complaining that something ‘Just wasn’t right!’ It seems another pick-up had gone past laden with food packages but had delivered to no one in our road, even though the house opposite are government housing with many pensioners, new immigrants and one parent families.

At this point my husband arrived home from work and in order to prevent a meltdown, mine, I asked him to phone the town hall to find out what was going on. He was answered by a nice lady I know from the children’s after-school activities. She said we were definitely on the list so there must have been some mix up. She would sort it out and call back.

I also mentioned that many people were upset at the way the distribution was being handled and any perceived lack of fairness would not sit well with donors.

My Dad didn’t receive a call either. When he phoned to check they confirmed he was on the list but my Dad is not quite as proactive so he didn’t charge down to the town hall and despite their assurances nothing was delivered to him.

A few minutes afterwards they called back to say they had a food coupon for us, that could be redeemed at the local supermarket, but we would have to pick it up immediately. My husband jumped in the car.

When he got home he had the coupons as well as several boxes of supplies plus bottled water (I have never drunk so much bottled water in my life!)

He reported that the emergency centre was a chaos of activity with just about everybody who worked for the municipality manning the phones, including the mayor himself, in an effort to get the donations distributed before Shabbat. Seems they had finally realised that the ‘word of mouth’ system just wasn’t going to work and lack of organisation rather than nefarious intent was the cause of the distribution problems.

My husband is always the diplomat and went to personally thank the mayor for his efforts of those of the town hall staff.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Ring Ring … Hello?

Yesterday both my mobile and the cordless phone went dead. Nothing terminal, their batteries ran out of juice because we have been talking so much. They haven’t enough ‘rest time’ to charge up properly.

I am still trying to keep in touch with the various members of our congregation still in town but as the war continues I am getting through to more and more answering machines. I can only assume that people have moved to safety in the center of Israel.

On Monday I phoned a gentleman in his eighties to check if he was still receiving food from the Naharia municipality. His wife had traveled to family in the center of Israel and was desperate to convince him to join her. Meanwhile she was terrified that he was dodging katuyshas on the street in the search for food.

He was quite cheerful when I spoke to him but bored. I asked how long he’d lived in Israel and he told me how he came the first time in 1939 and joined the Haganah. Then in WWII he joined the British army and was one of Montgomery’s Desert Rats, dashing round on a motorcycle delivering messages. Exciting Stories, especially for a history enthusiast like me.

Next day it seems he had had enough of the boredom and finally let his wife convince him to join her.

I seem to spend a lot of my day on the phone checking up on people and try to break the boredom with a little chat. I don’t really like talking on the phone: that ring-ring is so preemptory and demanding and if I talk for long I get earache. But at present we really have no other alternative for people not reliably connected to the Internet.

My friend from the congregation phones me every couple of days. We are still trying to do some of our volunteer work: keeping up to date with members of our congregation, informing our ‘twin’ congregations in the USA about our situation and doing some fund raising so we can rebuild our congregation once this mayhem is over. We also chat and exchange personal news. It is a pleasant break in my day.

Afterwards we pass the phones to our daughters who chitchat away on their own matters. My daughter enjoys having an outlet for her ‘frontline’ stories, a female companion to discuss things with instead of her brother.

And then of course there are phone calls to my parents. We normally see them several times a week. Now we can’t visit so much but they phone at least once a day to inquire after the children and me.

They can’t take a day out because of their menagerie of animals (4 dogs and 15+ cats) and my mother is getting a little worn down by it all. My Dad is less bothered. He has lived through several Israeli wars and spent twenty years on a kibbutz near Kiryat Shmona, much of the time with Syria on the Golan Heights taking potshots at Israeli farmers whenever they felt like it. He was even security chief (Or Sheriff as they called him) for a while.

My mother always struggles in the heat of an Israeli summer so she tries to spend a month or so in England each year. Her plane ticket was already booked but she was unsure whether she should go and felt she was abandoning us.

We had a long chat and I explained that it would be easier knowing she was in England. While she is here I feel a certain responsibility that I should be around to help, especially as she understands so little Hebrew, and that restricts my own options.

Although I am concerned for Dad, being under fire is not new to him and I know he would be able to cope if we went away for a couple of days.

They also had the problem of how to get to the airport. There is almost no public transport this side of Haifa. My mother had to be at Ben Gurion airport by 2am and I didn’t really fancy having my Dad make a four-hour round trip in the middle of the night. A quick call to my car-crazy, totally fantastic husband solved the problem – he would drive them.


A White Night

It is 02:45am Friday morning and I am waiting up for my husband to return from the airport. I am lying on my bed and hear, or rather feel, a rhythmic thumping followed by heavy machine gun fire.

I am not sure so I stand outside for a while. I can feel the ground rumbling gently beneath my barefeet – heavy vehicles are mobilising in the distance.

I hear no more thumping but I can see a few stars through the wispy clouds and there is a soft cool breeze in the night air.

I return home and there is more thumping but every time I listen it goes away. I turn off the TV and the thumping returns, this time louder and closer. I can actually feel the house trembling. Boom-pah, Boom-pah, Boom-pah!

They must be battling on the border and it is getting worse. I think of our poor brave soldiers and remember the sad news broadcast this evening.

The thumping stops for a while and when it starts again it is further away and after a while it stops altogether.

Boom. The pressure flexes my eardrums. Was that in or out? I wasn’t concentrating. Another boom and another or really rather ‘pahom’ I have a mental image of a recoiling artillery unit and am pretty sure it is outgoing.

No sirens here to warn of incoming, we are too close for it to be quick enough. Unlike Haifa residents there is no dilemma for us about whether it is safe to go out. A few people bravely take their dogs for a walk and others rush around in their cars but otherwise we are indoors 24/7.

The buildings opposite are classic Israeli style flats set on stilts so even the first floor entails a flight of stairs. The entrance is underneath and there is room for storerooms if the residents want to build them.

Along our road the area under the buildings serves as a protected play space for the children and sometimes even the location for a party.

In the present situation the area provides a sense of security for the older people as they sit outside chatting in the cool of the evening. The cover of darkness allowing them an hour or so to stretch their legs and breath fresh air before they return to shelters and security rooms.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Water Park

I got up at the crack of dawn. OK so it was 5:30 am, which is when my husband always gets up, but I’m just not a morning person. It wasn’t so bad yesterday as I haven’t been sleeping so well. I wonder why?

The artillery was already going strong or maybe they hadn’t stopped all night.

I dressed, checked supplies for the trip and having said goodbye to my husband woke the children. They were too sleepy to eat much but I got them dressed without incident and at 6:50am we set off for the bus stop.

As usual we were the first to arrive. I positioned myself on the road to look out for the bus with the children close to the shelter, in case.

My daughter’s teacher arrived with a large suitcase and her son. After a day at the park they were staying in Tel Aviv. Her husband has to work so he will be at home taking care of the house and their dogs.

At 7am, when the bus should have already arrived, more people rolled up and there was quite a crowd when the bus finally put in an appearance at 7:15am

We drove on to the next shelter to pick up more people. And there we stuck. I have no idea what the problem was or if there really was any problem but people hovered outside and got on and off the bus. After half an hour something was resolved and we finally swung into action – only three quarters of an hour late!

The journey was reasonably uneventful with only light traffic. There was the obligatory pit stop that always takes longer than it should because some people have no sense of time (or just no sense) and can’t resist the urge to shop. This made a long journey even longer but the children were happy and had a school friend to play with.

When we got into Tel Aviv, and the inevitable traffic jams, we discovered that the driver had no idea where to go. He ended up asking directions from a passer-by in the Old Port. Of course we were going in totally the wrong direction so he had to phone the other drivers, who had already arrived. Finally we joined the long, slow queue to entrance.

We had been told lunch would be provided and when I inquired they said that there would be an announcement but they sounded a bit vague.

There was no one we really knew on our bus and the children were more eager to jump in the water than socialise so I found some chairs in the shade for our things. I was a little concerned about leaving our bags unattended although in an enclosed place like a water park they do a thorough security check at the entrance so there is not usual security panic connected with unaccompanied packages. I never take any valuables but losing my cell phone, particularly at this time, would be annoying. Normally we go to these places with my husband’s work and sit in an enormous group of friends and colleagues so there is always so one hanging around, resting.

Not that I got much rest this time. My son adored the wave pool so we went three times. At first we stood in the middle but the waves were quite gentle. We moved over to the side were the rise and fall was much more dramatic. The lifeguards were pacing up and down the side whistling constantly to insure that minor infringements of the safety rules didn’t become major incidents. There were bars on the side and my children hung from them like orang-utans I tried but it was too much strain on my biceps. I am always amazed at how strong and athletic my children are. Not my genes I’m sure.

There were several slides but my children were only interested in the ‘toboggan style’ and I guessed it was the only one suitable for my 7 yo son - he was just above the 120cm height restriction.

The queue was frighteningly long but moved pretty fast. One boy in front kindly informed us that the white run was fastest with red a close second. The blue was for scaredy cats and the infirm!

My son was in a brave mood and chose white, my daughter was perfectly happy with red and so I went blue.

I have been on several of these slides and they are great fun. Normally you can sit or lie flat to control your speed but here there were gallons of water making it too slippery to sit and it was fast. So fast that on the corners I almost flipped over. It was exhilarating but I was a little concerned that it might have been too exciting for my children. They were ecstatic and my son hardly paused for breath as he told me, and demonstrated with arm movements, how he had gone swoosh, swoosh and vroom vroom voom.

When lunchtime came I could hear plenty of announcements but none for us. However I did see people collecting food portions. I went on a look-see and found several worried people crouching over coolers: They had run out of food. There were a few portions left for the children but nothing for the adults. Whether more people came along than signed up or the person in charge had forgotten simple arithmetic, I didn’t stay to ask. I wasn’t really surprised.

Anyway the portions we received were adult-sized which was plenty between the three of us especially as my appetite is not up to par.

I also saw a woman I knew vaguely from the pool. She greeted me with a grin and started to chat about how they had had enough and relocated to Tel Aviv. I was a little confused so I asked whether it was happy coincidence she was here with every else from Shlomi. How naïve!

‘No,’ she told me, ‘the bus picked us up. When I heard about the trip I phoned the municipality and said “Don’t we deserve a little fun too?”’

Apart from being curious how she had heard about the trip from Tel Aviv when most people in Shlomi didn’t know, I had to bite back to urge to say ‘Well no, actually. These trips are not just as ‘a little fun’ but a breathing space for children stuck in shelters 24/7. Not for those who have gone to Tel Aviv have access to activity camps and can play outside and move around as freely as they wish.’ But I didn’t want to start a fight.

I wouldn’t have been so furious if the trips had been more openly advertised but unfortunately it seems Vitamin P is still a necessary supplement when dealing with Shlomi’s municipality.

(Vitamin P = protectzia i.e. it’s not what you know but who you know)

After lunch we investigated a pool I’d noticed on the other side of the park. This was an adventure pool. There was a tree-house style ‘island’ with slides, hidey-holes and water sprays. I particularly enjoyed the vertical sprays, which give a firm back massage.

On the way back for ice cream I found a friend wading cautiously into the wave pool. She is as myopic as I am and was without her glasses so I helped her spy out her daughter. She was also unimpressed with the organisation of the trip. She too had only found out about it by accident and had had to fight with them to sign her up. Then when the bus arrived they weren’t on the list and the bus organisers were all for leaving her and her two children behind. No chance!

She said her children have been on the slides about a dozen times and she highly recommended the inner tubes.

When we had sated ourselves with ice cream we stood in line for the inner tubes. It was a short slide and not as creative as the one at Luna Gal in Tiberius but it was fun. My skinny daughter ended up with a large tube, which she fell out of and she had to be assisted by one of the hundreds of staff looking after us all. Because I was heavier and lower in the water than everyone else I seemed to create twice as much splash.

After that I collapsed in a chair with my book while the children played in the spray pool nearby.

It was announced that the Shlomi buses would leave at 5:30pm so at 4:50 I got the children out of the pool and a little after 5pm we were ready to leave. I felt a little foolish being ready so early but an English childhood still conflicts with the Israeli habit of being late. We weren’t the first people on the bus but it was quite empty and we settled into our seats.

By the time the bus was set to leave there was another furore. For some inexplicable reason people had decided to play musical buses and almost everyone had chosen to travel with us. In addition some adults had decided they were tired and stretched out over two seats to sleep.

As a result, even though several passengers had stayed in Tel Aviv there was not enough room on our bus. The female soldiers in charge of the bus were very sweet but totally ineffective in sorting out the situation. One little boy had a total melt down and sulked all the way home while a couple of families moved over to the other half-empty buses.

We’d scarcely left Tel Aviv when the bus pulled in for a pit stop. It was decided we would only stay 10 mins for a bathroom break but some cocky teenage boys decided they were hungry and we spent half hour waiting for them. The driver wanted to leave them behind for the other bus that was taking a longer break but their mother wouldn’t let him even though she refused to go and hurry them up.

At least the driver made good time and we got home some time after eight o’clock: a little sunburnt, rather tired but, despite all the craziness, very happy.


Monday, July 24, 2006

After The Big Orange

So I never finished my story of the trip to Tel Aviv.

We stayed on the beach a couple of hours and got a little sunburnt but not badly.

We phoned everyone to say we had arrived safely. A friend phoned us; concerned she hadn’t been able to reach me at home. She laughed when she heard where we were. She was in Naharia, katuyshas dropping all around.

We went to visit my husband’s aunt. She is only about five years our senior so is really more like an older sister to my husband. She has four children: two teenage boys and younger twin girls, about the same age as my son.

I am always surprised at how patient the boys are with the smaller children; they always have been even before their sisters were born.

The children mixed well and had a great time playing with the Playstation and running in and out of the large sitting room, squealing with pleasure.

After an enjoyable visit we left quite late and as always forgot that the coastal road is often jammed up on a Saturday night.

The play on clutch and accelerator was extremely wearing for my husband. It took nearly an hour before we were travelling freely and by then we were almost in Haifa. My husband had to pull over and refresh himself, glad that there were still drinks and snacks in the back.

Most of Haifa was closed up but the burekas and falafel stands on Yafo road were still open, though nearly empty, and the lights in the Bahai gardens were beautiful.

As we neared home we saw the lights of an artillery encampment and realised the increased noise was explained by their increased proximity.

We got home around midnight and shuffled the children inside. My mother phoned to check we had arrived and we chat until even I am too tired to talk.


The first day of the week. Shlomi is relatively quiet. The artillery has a certain rhythm that we soon get used to.

The news elsewhere is not so good. Naharia and Haifa are still getting pounded and there are casualties.

A neighbour told my parents that the municipality had organised a short stay for some families in Beer Sheva.

How come we didn’t know? During The Grapes of Wrath they sent round leaflets. This time there almost no communication.

I suspect that they have only told people in the shelters when really it is the children stuck at home in security rooms who need social activities more than anyone.

Having spent Friday on the phone inquiring about the delivery of the activity kits I know the municipality are answering the phones. When I get through I say I’ve heard there were activities for children and inquire what is available.

Beer Sheva is not mentioned but on Tuesday they are arranging a trip to a water park. I sign up straight away then phone back several times today until I receive all the details.

Now I just have to make sure we get ready in time for the 7am bus!


Just when I was relaxing...

Today has been pretty routine. So when my husband phoned a few minutes ago I assumed it was to tell me that he was coming home early.

But no! They are in the shelters. A katuysha fell near them, so near they actually saw it land. One aso landed near the factory in Naharia where my father-in-law works so he is in the shelters too.

My husband is not sure if they will carry on working or come home but he doesn’t have good reception from the shelter so I will have to wait for an answer.

Almost as soon as I put the phone down on my husband there is another call. My father-in-law. Yes, they are in the shelter but he has decided to go home to the relative safety of Acco. My mother-in-law and her mother have had enough of the situation so tomorrow he is taking them to Tel Aviv. Will they come back? We’ll see.

My father-in-law also tells me that in Shlomi some one has been injured by shrapnel. I’ll resist turning on the TV for a bit instead I’ll surf over to Ynet to check the ticker and the latest news stories.

Meanwhile the children are in the safety room supposedly doing some math but actually just making a lot of noise, yelling melodramatically every time there is a loud boom - which means frequently.

Where are my headache pills?


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Tales from The Big Orange

I write this as we laze on Yafo (Jaffa) beach. The children are in the water under the watchful eye of my husband while we sit in the shade of a sun umbrella purchased several years ago but unused until today.

We set off at 8am and arrived in Tel Aviv before 10am. The view of the sea from the coastal road is always soothing and we arrived at the beachfront in good spirits.

The promenade was teeming with people and the beach sprouted umbrellas. We were so fascinated that by the time we started trying to park we were up near Yafo. We realised that somehow neither of us had ever been to Yafo and decided that now was the time.

In the entrance to the port there was a parking space just our size and when we lent over the sea wall there was a sparsely populated stretch of beach.

A refreshing breeze cooled us as we strolled into the port. In some ways it is better renovated than Acco with some rather luxurious looking residences in the old stones houses, the Moorish arches facing the sea. But it is mainly a working port for the fishermen and rather run down.

On one side of the narrow entrance there are old stone buildings with decorative balconies and arches. Facing is a government office of ugly, brutish concrete.

The port itself is full of fishermen and older people sitting on numerous park benches jammed against the buildings. In one corner there are also some functional tables.

Along the length of the wharf is a warehouse sided with corrugated metal that has been eaten into holes by rust. My children play hide and seek with the kittens living within this rusty labyrinth.

It looks boarded up and unused, an eyesore.

The water in the port is incredibly green, phosphorescent and we wonder if it is algae or some chemical reaction. The children spy some minnows attacking a floating slice of bread.

By the time we have taken a few photos my son is complaining of hunger and we return to the car. Some spicy sausage revives us all then we hang towels over the car windows so we can change modestly.

Now we are on the beach. The day has become hotter and more people have discovered the beach but there is still a pleasant breeze and the beach is still uncrowded. Supremely important is the water: wavy but not too violent, warm enough to caress but not bath-water. And I think I shall go for another dip.


Saturday, July 22, 2006

Out of the frying pan into the fire?

Friday morning dawns and I realise we are heading for our second Shabbat under fire. I am beginning to miss synagogue services.

Just before 9am I hear a key rattling in the lock. My husband is home from work less than three hours after he left. Hardly anybody turned up, so he came home.

When I open the door I see he is laden with packages and there is an eight-pack of bottled water on the floor. My first reaction is of pleasure that he remembered to pick up the groceries my Dad had said he would buy for me but I am transfixed by the water. Why water? Was there nothing else left in the shop?

We don’'t drink bottled water and the only reason we had decided to buy drink was to give the children a treat of something more exciting than water.

After a second or so my husband realises I am still blocking the doorway and asks what is the matter? It turns out that the food in the packages and the water are actually a gift from work. How thoughtful!

Even so we still need some fizzies, also wine for Shabbat and, of course, beer.

I have no idea whether the shops in Shlomi are open but I have been stuck inside too long and need a trip, and I am curious as to what is happening in Naharia.

We take the children to my parents and then set off towards one of Hizbollah’'s main targets.

Once I am out and about I can'’t just go straight to the shop. First we pop over to visit my aunt.

The loud rock music blasting from behind the door tells me that my cousin is home alone (that'’s ok he is older than I am). My aunt has gone to family in Haifa.

As we get to the car the loud speakers squeak into life warning us to go down to the shelters. We see a teenage girl running home and I ask my husband if he wants to go to the nearby shelter.

Instead we drive off and after a couple of booms there is quiet again and we follow behind the neighbourhood bus.

We check on a member of our congregation whose house acted as a landing site for a katuysha.

The house is in a shocking state but she escape unscathed. We walked to the shelter where we know she is staying but she is out helping the municipality deliver food to other shelters.

Finally we get to the shop. There are only about a dozen shoppers but it seems we know most of them. Several are people who work with my husband but there is also one of his relatives and another one of my cousins. We stand around and chat. It is so nice to interact with other human beings face to face.

I stock up on fruit for snacks. There is no fresh meat and not much frozen. One of the congregation members told me that there is no fresh meat in Naharia.

On our way back we drive through the centre of town. Naharia is a vacation spot and the main boulevard is the place for pavement cafes. Normally on a Friday it is choca-block with shoppers and café-dwellers, taking advantage of the last hours of business before Shabbat. The traffic is a nightmare with jams in every direction and a cacophony of engines and horns.

But now the residential side-streets are empty. In the distance we see the occasional car. As we turn into the main boulevard we see some older residents wandering round and there are cars parked next to the pavement. But all the shops and cafes are shut up and less than a dozen vehicles share the road with us. It is strangely tranquil.

Back in Shlomi we notice the boom-boom of the artillery that was missing while we were in Naharia and I take a picture of the razed Hizbollah bunker on the ridge opposite my parents' house.

When Israel withdrew from Lebanon a bunker was built on the ridge. After a few days my parents and their neighbours noticed that the flag flapping in the breeze above the bunker was Hizbollah’'s. Complaints were made and reached the UN. The bunker was soon under a Lebanese flag.

However the suspicion still remained that it was a Hizbollah outpost full of terrorists eager to swarm down the hill and into my mother’'s sitting room at a moment's notice. Binoculars were kept on hand just in case. Yesterday with the utmost glee the neighbours'’ children showed my father that the bunker had been destroyed.


Shabbat meal is over and the children are asleep. There was a short break in the artillery fire (Were the soldiers also eating their Shabbat meal?) but now it seems louder than ever, each boom buffeting the whole house like a stormy gust of wind.

It doesn'’t disturb our sleep, both my husband and I served in an artillery unit: I can remember being lifted off my bed by the blasts. But I will enjoy a respite from the noise while we are in Tel Aviv.

Due to our trip I doubt I will have time to post tomorrow but hopefully I'’ll be back Sunday with tales from 'The Big Orange'’.

Shabbat Shalom


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Life between the booms

Yesterday... what can I say about yesterday?

We are still stuck in the house with the Internet, phone and TV as our connection to the outside world.

My daughter managed to speak to one of her friends on the phone. She had been trying to contact them since the weekend but it seems most of her friends have already ‘gone south’. I expected her to ask if we were leaving too but neither her or my son complain much about staying indoors. Everyday my son looks at the summer camp schedule bemoaning what they have missed doing and my daughter is a little upset that she can'’t go to the pool. Other than that they are doing well.

In the evening I phoned my South Lebanese friend. When the IDF withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 she and her family had to flee for their lives. Hizbollah and other Muslim militia declared a death sentence on all members of the Christian South Lebanese Army because they had supported Israel.

Her children are quite nervous remembering the bombardments in Lebanon when Hizbollah fired katuyshas on Christian civilians as well as on Israel. When I asked about shelters in Lebanon she said that the underground crypt of every church had been converted to a shelter.

She assured me that her friends and family were safe in an area of Beirut far away from Nasrallah and his cohorts. She hopes the IDF will finish the job and rid her country of Hizbollah so she will have some chance of returning home.

The shelter near her house wasn’'t in a great state and when she called the town hall to get it fixed she laughed with our Mayor that Hizbollah hadn'’t managed to kill her in Lebanon so she hoped they wouldn’'t get her here!

Yesterday my husband work a full shift and wasn'’t home until 8pm, just in time for the news –- an Israeli ritual.

My father prefers Channel 1. It is what he is used to, before he came to England in 1980 it was the only channel in Israel, just getting colour and closed on Shabbat.

Now there are three terrestrial channels and hundreds more on cable.

We are devotees of Yaacov and Miki on Channel 10 (or the ‘'Babes in Journalism Channel’' being the channel with the best and the best-looking journalists).

These days Miki looks both worried and angry, gone are the girlish giggles from the World Cup. Yaacov is solemn and serious but otherwise calm as usual.

Nitzan gives a round up of the international media. He is so cute and enthusiastic but urgh! the international news media have me pulling my hair out - – ‘'Israel Attacks Lebanon','‘Israeli Agression'?

I hate to get all schoolyard but they started it. Are we the only country in the world forbidden from defending ourselves? In the eyes of the international Media is an Israeli life - my life - worth so much less than anybody else'’s?

I take a deep breath, calm down and back to the news.

The reporters on location have been very obviously suffering from a lack of sleep this week but last night Alon seemed to have napped for a few hours. Poor Ynon had not been so lucky. Wrapped in a Kevlar vest he was positively grey around the gills.

Zvi from the Arab desk, who is able to explain it all so clearly, also seemed to have had time for a rest and a haircut too. He looked so sombre maybe because he understands the enemy better than the rest of us.

Despite the comfort of these familiar faces the news was still distressing. The most shocking report was that despite the warnings and leaflets from the IDF most South Lebanese civilians cannot leave: Hizbollah won'’t let them evacuate or even wave a white flag -– they want a human shield and a maximum of civilian casualties.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Shlomi Again

This morning my husband returned to work but only for an eight-hour shift not his normal 12 hours. The work’s bus didn'’t turn up and only half the shift appeared. Many people are home with their children or have moved south.

At 8:45 am a car came round announcing there would be activities for children in the shelters.

At 10 am we walked along to the nearest shelter. The first time we have walked outside (rather then rush to the car) since Wednesday morning. It was already hot and everywhere looked sun bleached.

Unfortunately by the time we got there they had finished with the sports activities and had decided to watch a film. Bad Choice! The children were too restless to sit quietly and the mothers kept walking in front of the screen too involved in their own conversations to consider that they were disturbing the children. After less than an hour my children had had enough.

On our return I checked the news and saw that missiles had fallen on Shlomi. Naturally it would happen the first time we leave the house in days. I had heard a couple of especially loud booms but that has become the sound track of our life, white noise.

All afternoon the booms have been louder, closer, shaking the windows. For safety's sake I insisted the children take a siesta in the security room.

There was relative quiet and for a while I rested as well.

At 4:45 pm my husband came home. So strange to have him return from work at a normal hour.

Within minutes of his arrival the bombardment became noticeably loud, upsetting my daughter. The sirens started wailing and suddenly all the lights went out.

Even though we didn'’t have the aircon working it always seems to get hotter when there is an electricity cut.

We sat around for a few minutes aching to turn on the news and find out what had happened.

The electricity flickered a couple of times and then the TV was working with the sad news that someone has been killed in Naharia.

And we are still hearing the booms all around.


Routine on the border

By Monday we had already settled into a routine: get up, check the news, make coffee, check the news, do housework, check the news, breathe, check the news... Do you notice a pattern emerging?

We hear the noise overhead of aircraft –outgoing, and missiles – incoming. But for the most part Shlomi seems to have been off Hizbollah’'s radar and the residents of Naharia, Haifa and Zefat (Safed) are bearing the brunt of this attack.

My husband was still at home and I dealt with housework, news and email in turn.

I gave the children more worksheets to do but there was little else to keep them occupied apart from TV and videos. My daughter created clothes from her dolls out of paper and sellotape while my son played with marbles. I considered bringing out the paints but they did’'t seem interested. It is not just being stuck inside that affects us there is also the heat: it just sucks all the creativity out of you.

Our coordinator was again doing a sterling effort arranging another bus to take people South. I sent a message to the English speakers.

In desperate boredom my husband started flicking through sport’s' channels and realised we had missed the German Moto GP (Motorbike racing), our favourite sport. Luckily the race was repeated in its entirety and for an hour we gave ourselves over to nervous excitement of a much pleasanter kind.

A little frontline humour from the news:

A reporter in Zefat said a man had come up to him complaining that all the dealers and left town: "“I can'’t even find anything decent to smoke."


After the weekend

Sunday was a frenzy of inactivity.

I tried to create some kind of routine so the children wouldn’'t spend all day in the front of the TV.

After breakfast I gave them English worksheets to complete and then insisted they read for a while.

My husband was transfixed by the news and I looked at the Internet in between answering emails and checking the worksheets the children had completed.

Situation or no situation there is always housework to be done so I ploughed through the weekend dishes and made a start on the laundry.

My laundry room is open and along with a gentle breeze I could feel the heat of the day. In the open air the booms seemed much closer.

At 11 o’'clock my husband was supposed to return to work. Desperate for fresh air I ordered the children into the security room and joined him in the entrance as he waited for the work'’s bus.

Our street was bathed in beautiful yellow sunshine, deserted except for a few people sheltering under the buildings. A quick phone call confirmed that the bus was not coming; the army would not allow the factory to open.

Excellent news! Despite everything I still enjoy it when my husband is home.

Midmorning I got a call from Reform HQ in Jerusalem. Our congregation coordinator was organising a bus to take people out of the North, either to friends or host families.

I sent an email to our English-language notice board and again phoned people without an Internet connection. They were pleased to hear from me again and were touched by the display of concern but they had no intention of leaving.

Later Jerusalem phoned again. They had activity kits for the children in shelters and asked me to help putting them in touch with the local municipalities. Both town hall’s were abuzz with activity and were appreciative of any help we could offer.

Yet again it was a day of phone calls, email and news by evening I felt physically joined to my computer.