Missives from Israel, Part 4

Dear Leslie,

As you’ve probably heard or read, it’s calm again in Israel. Tuesday I was sure it was going to end, and then when it didn’t I was sure it was going to become awful. Wednesday, someone bombed a bus in Tel Aviv. I read about it while I was on the train to Tel Aviv myself, and I can’t tell you how much my heart sank. Once the news broke, too, the entire train car erupted in cellphone calls for a few minutes, although it took me a moment to notice, since I was lost in my own thoughts. At the same time, they were announcing a problem with the cease-fire talks, as well as that the Lebanese had found some rockets in the south aimed at northern Israel (i.e. me). Then, that evening, when I thought it was clear that it was going to get really, really, really, bad, a truce was announced. I haven’t read any of the reports of ‘behind the scenes’ in the conflict, but I imagine having Hillary Clinton and Ban Ki-Moon here helped, and may even have been decisive.

Things here have returned to normal, which, in Haifa, mainly means that people have stopped wondering what’s going to happen next in Gaza, and some of the reserve soldiers who were called up are slowly being sent home. Apparently, though, they plan to keep a significant presence gathered near Gaza for a while, which I imagine was the reason for an urgent call I saw for volunteers at an IDF food packaging plant for this upcoming week. At least, that’s all I hope it was for.

I’m incredibly glad it’s over. In Haifa, we only saw the rockets on TV, but living here was starting to feel like being trapped in a surreal sports bar where everyone keeps asking you which side you’re on and doesn’t understand you when you tell them that, actually, you don’t really like the game.

Missives from Israel, Part 3

Dear Leslie,

The waiting is terrible. I realize that I’m impatient. I just want to know what’s going to happen, whether they’re going to stop or make it worse, if the latter, how bad it’s going to get and if I should make plans to leave for a while, and when it will finish, so I know when to plan to come back. (And also at what point my job will accept that I should leave and keep paying me if I go. I can work from basically anywhere, but technically I have residence requirements in my contract.) It’s hard to focus, and I find myself checking Israeli and Gazan news updates compulsively. It’s all the same: Rocket shot from Gaza at X, Israeli attack at Y, Iron Dome intercepted Z rockets, A people killed, B wounded – the Palestinian news prints the names of the dead as well – possible ceasefire from talks in Cairo, but not very likely that it will be today or tomorrow or the next day, if it happens at all, ground troops ready, but still just waiting.

I do worry about it spreading if there’s a ground strike, but I can’t decide if I’m being paranoid or if there’s really something to worry about. I definitely worry more about this than most people around me, but there are already some disturbing signs. A short firefight across the Syrian border was confirmed yesterday, though it didn’t lead to anything. This morning, there was an arson attempt at a mosque in a village in the West Bank, but the villagers (so far) just put the fire out and went home. It’s presumed by police that this was a hate crime from Israeli settlers in a neighboring village. It would only take a few random attacks and counterattacks to start an unfortunate chain reaction there, too… Isrealis have an extraordinary capability to act blase about war (which I find disturbing), as if they accept it as an unpleasant but unavoidable part of life that you have to accept, like, I don’t know, dental work, except that you can die from it, or be maimed for life. I haven’t gotten there yet, and I hope I don’t. On the other hand, if a war happens and you have to live through it, I suppose that being too scared or nervous about it all the time probably doesn’t help, either.

In trying not to worry, I guess, I got sick – my first flu in many years. I’m off to find myself some soup…

Best wishes,

X

Missives from Israel, Continued

There was a line in a NYT op-ed from today that I’ve actually been thinking all week, which is that everyone’s been arguing over whether the latest round of attacks are justified, but no one seems to be asking if it’s wise. I think the main thing it’s going to accomplish is to strengthen the hard-liners on both sides, which I don’t think is going to be helpful. The situation in the south before the assassination was bad, but not so different from the way things have been for the last 10 or 12 years, and you can argue that they had even improved some because of the new missile defense system. The sirens were still disruptive, but fewer missiles hit the ground in the past year or so than before. Also, they’ve tried this already, and it didn’t work. There were rockets before the last Gaza war, and the war didn’t fix it. There have been frequent bombings of launch sites after previous rocket attacks, and the rockets still came.

What did work was an power-sharing agreement with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which is largely peaceful now, and even safe, except for the Arab areas where Israel is responsible for police work, because they don’t do a very good job. Unfortunately, the PA is extremely corrupt, not well liked by a lot of Palestinians, and now that it isn’t causing any trouble, the Israelis aren’t doing much to improve the situation there or move them toward more autonomy. Hamas is not inclined to make such an agreement with Israel, but there were indications that they were open to a long-term truce, but that’s now dead in the water. I guess what I’m saying is that the rockets shot at Israel were a serious problem, but not an existential one, and that this is a terrible way to handle it. It’s already causing a big mess, and I would be shocked if it fixed anything in the long run.

The region has also become even more unpredictable since the Arab Spring started, and, while it’s very likely that a ground invasion will stay contained to Gaza, it’s not completely certain, and not be joined by over-enthusiastic Syrians who are shooting people anyway, or Hezbollah will decide to bomb the north, too, which is more vulnerable, or if it will prompt Egypt to re-evaluate it’s peace agreement. In fact, an IDF jeep apparently just received some shots from Syria in the Golan, according to a local news web site.

In the end, if Egypt and/or Turkey manage to broker a cease-fire, whether it happens now or in a few months, they’re the ones that ‘win’ the conflict, since they can then claim to be the real brokers of power to deal with in this new Middle East. It will be interesting to see if Israel agrees to that (or even if they realize that that’s how they set up the pieces), or if they will keep fighting until Hamas can’t fight anymore and Israel feels like it’s done for now. At the moment, it looks like the latter, but right now, at least, it could improve with the same speed that it could worsen.

I’ll write more soon, if you like. I really need to sleep now.

Best wishes,

X

Missives from Israel

I have a Facebook friend in Israel who does not want to be identified; I still want to share his story. If you know X, please do not say so.

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I’m not seeing much of anything, thankfully. I don’t imagine I will, but as someone said to me today, you don’t plan to enter a war, it’s a force that sucks in everything around it. Haifa itself is calm, but people are worried about what might happen next in the south. Army reserves have been called up. Lots of them, more than in the past two wars combined. Most people in my circles are quite cynical about the fact that the timing of the escalation comes just before an election. Political tensions are running higher than usual. There was a moment of silence in protest of the escalation organized by Arab students on the University of Haifa campus, and it was quickly denounced as being in support of Hamas, even though that’s quite a different thing, and most Israeli Arabs aren’t Hamas supporters at all. If I understood a post from today on my Facebook page correctly, the University now requires permits for gatherings on campus grounds, although (if that’s actually true) I’m not sure how it’ll be enforced.

It’s been reported that the police will ‘make a sweep’ looking for illegal Arab residents of Israel tomorrow. I hope none of that will happen in my neighborhood, which is about 1/2 Arab. (It’s one of just a few neighborhoods in the entire country that has a genuine ethnic mixture…) Given that, though, I would expect guess if they do decide to invade Gaza on the ground, it would be sometime shortly after they finish their sweep, maybe tomorrow night or Monday morning…

What other kinds of things do you want to know?

Feel free to share this, but for now, anyway, I’d prefer if you didn’t attach my name to any of it.

Best wishes,

X