Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Monday, July 31, 2006

"Israeli eyewitnesses," July 31, 2006.

Last week, we looked at events in Lebanon through the eyes of those still in Lebanon. Today, as promised, we look at the rocket attacks on Israel through Israeli eyes.

Carmia is keeping a faithful account today of every warning siren and every “boom” she hears from her apartment in Haifa. In between, she’s having trouble getting even basic things accomplished — like mopping the floor or taking a shower.

The First Siren of the Day

I was just woken again by the first siren of the day. Before I expressed that I stopped bothering to run into the hallway, but that isn’t true anymore. After I saw more Haifa houses being damaged on TV, I realized that I should do what I can, even if it’s minimal. If my house is hit, we’re in big trouble. We don’t have a “protected room” (mamad) and not enough time to run to the bomb shelter downstairs. The reason few people were killed from direct hits on their homes is because they weren’t inside of them - they were either inside bomb shelters, had left the city, or were elsewhere. The sirens gave us a pretty good warning. Then the booms started - loud ones, and many of them. I’ve stopped bothering to count, because it doesn’t really make a difference. We’ve starting saying “a lot of katyushot” or “just a few katyushot”.

An Hour Later, a Second Siren Sounds

I’m in the hallway, listening to the second siren of the day in Haifa. The siren is pretty long - that’s good, it means people have adequate warning time to head into safety - either in a bomb shelter or in their “protected room”.

We heard only one boom now and it appears to be over. We’ll stay here for another bit just to make sure there, and then we’ll go back to the living room to check the room.

A note on the “protected room,” or mamad as it’s called in Hebrew: every new home in Israel must have one of these. It has thicker walls; the windows must open with hinges and have a heavy metal cover so the glass doesn’t explode. The room’s door is usually made out of thick metal with rubber lining so that it can be made resistant to chemical gasses. Apartments in older buildings, like ours, do not have a mamad. We’re expected to go to the local bomb shelter when the air raid warning sirens come on.

Third Siren of the Day

Avinoam and I are in the hallway again - the third siren of the day in Haifa. The siren has finished sounding but we haven’t heard any booms yet. It may have been a false alarm.

Fourth Siren

Just a couple of minutes after we experienced the third alarm, we’re here in the hallway listening to the fourth one. Avinoam heard an explosion but it seemed to be far away; I didn’t hear anything. I’m busy writing and our TV is blasting in the background.
I was in the middle of doing “sponja” - mopping the floors - when the alarm came on. Since we’re stuck here the whole day, I guess it might as well be clean!

Fifth Alarm

I just finished mopping the entire house and had worked up a sweat when the sirens came on again. Seems to be a false alarm. Maybe something fell in Carmiel, Tzfat (Safed), or Nahariyah. I really want to take a shower now but I’m afraid to get caught there by an alarm. The bathroom faces the north so it’s the most dangerous area in the house. But it’s 31 degrees in Haifa today and it’s hot in my house (most homes in Israel don’t have central air conditioning).

A Boom Without a Siren — and then, Number Six

We heard a boom a few minutes ago, but there was no warning siren. On the news, nothing has been updated. A friend who heard it as well already called though and it appears to have been another katyusha landing…

Update: The sirens have just come on. Thanks! I wish they put them on BEFORE the katyushot start falling. Okay, we’re back to counting booms - 1, 2, the sirens are still wailing. Okay, they’ve stopped. We’ll wait a bit though, before we head back to the living room.

"But who's counting?" Isreality, July 23, 2006.

Gila Svirsky is a long-time Israeli peace activist from Jerusalem. Most will associate her with Women in Black, but she is also active with the Coalition of Women for Peace. That makes her not just part of a minority in Israel, but one of a very small minority. The conflict with Hezbollah has united Israel in a way that the fight against Palestinian militants never has. After two weeks of battles that have killed 33 Israeli soldiers, public support for the military action remains above 80 percent. Just 10 days before the war broke out Gila Svirsky's family bought an apartment in the northern town of Nahariya. She writes,

What a stroke of luck – 10 days before a war breaks out in Lebanon, we buy an apartment in Nahariya.

We had been looking for a place for about a year. We went to Cyprus to check out the beautiful new communities on the northern shore – it’s quite a bargain, if you don’t mind settling in occupied territory. We thought about Mauritius, but the savings on real estate would be offset by the costs of flights there. So finally we settled on an apartment under construction in Israel’s sweetest little town on the Mediterranean coast – just 5 miles south of the border with Lebanon.

We were looking for a sea view. Had the balcony already been built, we would have been able to watch the Israeli navy array itself along the coast, laying siege to Lebanon. We wanted to be close to Kibbutz Sa’ar, just north of Nahariya, where one of my grown daughters lives, except when she evacuates herself to safer points south. And we wanted a getaway from turbulent Jerusalem, somewhere we could spend long quiet weekends and eventually a serene retirement. Several dozen rockets dropped into her kibbutz and our serene neighborhood this weekend.

In listening to the media, to my neighbors, to the gas station attendant, I am amazed by the lack of comprehension: “We leave Gaza, they shoot missiles at us from there. We leave Lebanon, they kidnap our boys. How do they expect us to leave the West Bank? Fuggedaboudit!”

These views, expressed by most Israelis these days, can only fill me with awe at how the Big Lie works: Repeat it often enough, publicly enough, by political and spiritual leaders, and the whole country/world will begin to believe that Israel is innocent of all wrongdoing and that these attacks emerged from a political vacuum:

As if there is no occupation. As if there is no siege on Gaza. As if there are no 39 years (and counting) of military and political oppression with all the killing, maiming, home destruction, and livelihood wrecking that this entails. What is it about “end the occupation” that they don’t understand?

No, I do not justify Qassam missiles or Katyusha rockets hurled at Israeli towns or the kidnapping of anyone (even armed soldiers in tanks). I do not justify any attacks by missile or suicide bomber or remotely detonated device.

Nor do I justify the endless shelling of Gaza and Lebanon – land, sea, and air – for any reason at all, let alone for purposes more related to posturing and domestic public opinion than with accomplishing any political objective. “How could we not respond when they kill and kidnap our soldiers?” asked Yuli Tamir, our Education Minister (for goodness sakes!) and a former Peace Now activist. As if shelling is sure to make the Hizbullah leaders remorseful and let our boys come home.

So, as usual in wars, we have an alliance of the jingoistic decision-makers on both sides, whipping up patriotism while they watch the fighting on-screen from bunkers deep in the earth. In Israel, this war absolutely thrills the right wing: The escalation keeps up the militaristic approach to problem solving, discredits the view that Israel must leave the occupied territories, and distances the current warfare from its roots in the ongoing occupation. What’s not to love about this war?

And as usual in Israel, a few cantankerous peace organizations – the Coalition of Women for Peace, Gush Shalom, Ta’ayush, and a few others – increase their presence on the streets. At Women in Black last Friday, we carried our regular “End the Occupation” signs and buttressed them with signs saying, “Stop the Killing – Negotiate!” (and “It’s the Occupation, Stupid!”). But when the cannons roar, so do the bystanders, and a dozen police were there to prevent anything worse than words and gestures.

A day will come when this small corner of the Mediterranean will again hold sailboats and waterskiers, and I’m looking forward to that view from the balcony. I still think it was a good investment.

Shalom / Salaam from Jerusalem,


A few days later, she writes again:

Quick Report from the Israeli Peace Front

The peace movement in Israel has pulled out all stops to end this mad war. Lots of groups are active, and we had a big joint demonstration last night - at least 5,000 people (though the media reported 2,500). Marching through the streets of Tel Aviv with signs, "End the War", "End the Occupation" felt like a relief after the roar of pro-war-talk on all the media.

Women in Black held vigils last Friday throughout Israel. The reactions from the street were quite violent and the police were out in numbers keeping onlookers (and on-shouters) at bay. After our vigil, we read the list of 55 (!) locations [see list below] that held solidarity events this weekend. Some were Women in Black and others organized by allied groups. We felt greatly encouraged by this international solidarity.

I end with a short note from Hannah Safran of the Haifa vigil of Women in Black. The women were shelled during the vigil, but they returned to complete it. Later that day, under the newly formed "Women Against War", they again left their homes to protest.

hi gila,

how are you? we are having a terrible day today. while we were demonstrating at our regular Women in Black square (30-40 people in all), we were bombed on both sides. it felt like being targeted from close. we had to abandon the vigil and look for shelter. we came back 20 min. later and completed the vigil on time. As we were traveling home, there was a second attack and we had to stop the car and look for shelter. When we came home we opened the newspaper to read letters of women from Lebanon. The devastation is horrific. Has Israel gone crazy or have we not noticed what a mad country we live in? It is 5:45 p.m. now and we had two attacks since then. I am off to our daily demonstration of Women Against War in front of the Foreign Office and all the foreign press. We will not be silenced. War must be stopped now. Every min. counts as people's lives are in danger. do all you can to stop this madness. only someone from outside can put pressure on Israel to stop. i have to hurry. be well and let's pray for better days.

love, hannah

Please continue to voice your protest throughout the world.

Gila Svirsky

Demonstrations and Vigils held this weekend (or just before)
Albuquerque, NM, US
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Armidale, Australia
Asheville, NC, US
Baltimore, MD, US
Bay Area, CA, US
Belgrade, Serbia
Bellevue, WA, US
Berlin, Germany
Bonn, Germany
Burlington, VT, US
Calgary, Canada
Canberra, Australia
Cologne, Germany
Concord, MA, US
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Farmington, MA, US
Göteborg, Sweden
Halmsted, Sweden
Kitchener, Canada
Lancaster, PA, US
London, UK
London, Ontario, Canada
Los Angeles, CA, US
Malmö, Sweden
Marseille, France
Melbourne, Australia
Minneapolis, MN, US
Montreal, Canada
Naples, Italy
New Orleans, LA, US
New Paltz, NY, US (near Woodstock)
New York, NY, US
Oslo, Norway
Ottawa, Canada
Oxford, UK
Padova, Italy
Piteå, Sweden
Paris, France
Pune, Marashtra, India
Rome, Italy
San Luis Obispo, CA, US
Santa Fe, NM, US
Seattle, WA, US
South Dakota, US
Stockholm, Sweden
Strasbourg, France
Toronto, Canada
Tucson, AZ, US
Turin, Italy
Valencia, Spain
Vienna, Austria
Washington, DC, US
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