October 27, 2001 Update

Letters from Israel

Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), October 27, 2001

Dear family and friends,

Perhaps our prayers for peace have not yet been answered, but at least our prayers for rain seem to have had some effect.

I'm writing this to the reassuring accompaniment of heavy rain thudding down exuberantly in sheets, drumming on the pavement outside the open window, streaming off the roofs, balconies and tiered gardens down into the valley. Finally the yoreh, the first rain of the year, has arrived. Lord knows we've been waiting so long for this rain, it's already late October and so far in most parts of the country all we've had is the briefest of teasing drizzles, tantalising us with the intoxicating scent of damp earth.

And now it is really here. Those of you in temperate climes, or in damp tropical regions will think me quite mad to make such a fuss over a little rain, but any of you who have spent time in arid regions such as ours will understand the craving for water after the parched 5-6 month long dry season. By late July, certainly by August you feel as though you can no longer even remember what rain is. The nighttime sprinklers, the only way to keep the municipal parks green, are the only reminder. Sometimes you wake in the middle of the night to a drumming, thudding sound, and half asleep you think for a moment that it is raining outside, and then you realise that it's just a hot dry wind beating the dust caked shutters against the window over the bed. Little wonder that so much of our religious traditions revolve around the cycle of the rains.

I can hardly describe the thrill I felt Friday night when out walking in the park I felt the first drop on my cheek, scarcely daring to believe that it was really rain. And then the drops started falling more regularly and we realised that it really was raining. The Bnei Akiva teenagers hanging out on a nearby bench went wild with excitement, literally jumping for joy as they revelled in the light shower.

We also felt a little lightheaded, frisking along the path like kids, dancing in the rain. As it grew heavier we headed for home, passing another group of children frolicking in the downpour. As we turned down our street two toddlers ran out of their building grinning impishly, hands outstretched, palms up, gazing bright eyed at the heavens, wide-eyed, at the rain. A look reminiscent of American or north European children's anticipation of the first snow. We arrived home, wet, but invigorated, and stood for a long time under the sheltered entrance of our building watching the rain get heavier and heavier, beating the dry summer dust from buildings and streets, bringing the promise of green hills and autumn wildflowers.

Unfortunately rain wasn't this week's big news story in Israel, but right now I'm not going to let the more depressing events spoil my gladness that the rain has finally come. Perhaps if I have the time I'll write more later tonight.

May the rains bring us only blessings, and may it be a good week despite events.

Shavua tov,


Later that night, October 27, 2001

Dear family and friends,

I couldn't write about this week and not mention the main event that has jolted many Israelis this week. Of the many surreal events we've known recently, this has to be one of the weirdest.

A few days ago Israel Radio Two broadcaster Hayim Zissovitch opened his early morning news programme with the following: "The Israeli foreign ministry spokesmen condemns the United States military incursion into civilian population centres in Afghanistan. Israel deplores the huge loss of innocent civilian lives, as well as the bombing of hospitals and Red Cross facilities. Israel deplores the United States escalation of violence which will only worsen the situation. Israel reminds the United States that the only solution to the crisis with Osama Bin-Laden is around the negotiating table."

Zissovitch paused and then, almost regretfully, admitted that he had was just joking.

Of course what had actually happened was that the US had condemned the Israeli army's incursions into Palestinian terrorists' safe havens in a massive (and mostly successful) anti-terror operation in which dozens of terrorists were arrested or killed and several planned Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians were thwarted. Israel achieved this with the few civilian casualties, for the most part successfully targeting the actual terrorists, many serving in the Palestinian security forces. Apparently it is OK for America to respond to terrorist attacks against her civilians by flattening Afghanistan and hitting the odd hospital, pulling out all the stops to defend US citizens, but when Israel does tries to similarly defend her own civilians the US harshly condemns her.

While support and sympathy for America and the American people remains high in Israel, this American denial of Israel's basic right to self-defence has many people fuming at the US government, bitterly disappointed that our closest ally should behave in such manner. From an Israeli perspective the US is telling us that Israeli civilians should just keep dying in terrorist attacks so that America can make alliances with the likes of Yasser Arafat and Syria's president Assad - the very Arab leaders who are supporting the bus bombers and drive-by snipers who are killing us. Israelis may have hoped that the Israeli government would have responded with Zissovitch's announcement to the hypocrites in the US administration, but no such luck.

Our government instead bowed to American pressure and called an urgent cabinet meeting to plan a pullout of Israeli forces from Palestinian areas. And we all know that as soon as the Israeli army pulls out, the surviving terrorists will be back bombing Israelis cities and shooting at Israeli roads. Since Israel's incursions into Palestinian controlled areas attacks on Israelis civilians and population centres have declined dramatically, virtually ceasing in all but border areas. Israel doesn't want to have troops stationed in the outskirts of Kalkilya, Ramallah or Bethlehem, but it seems to be the most effective method to date of reducing Palestinian terror. This in contrast with the slew of American and European brokered ceasefires over the past year when Palestinian terrorism continued as usual.

America is right to do all she can to defend her citizens - that is the responsibility of all governments to their people. It is only just that Israel be allowed to do the same. Right now it looks to many Israelis as though America is prepared to sacrifice a close democratic ally like Israel in order to gain lip service support from despotic regimes like Syria and Saudi Arabia. The prospect is chilling.

Shavua tov,


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Copyright 2001 by Leiah Elbaum.