Monday, December 27, 2004

Please G-d, Stop the Missiles

Please G-d, Stop the Missiles
December 27, 2004

Where to start?
Yesterday afternoon I attended a demonstration in the heart of Tel Aviv, joining hundreds of others protesting the continued bombardment of Gush Katif. In truth, we weren't protesting the attacks – rather we were protesting the lack of reaction. The Israeli armed forces are doing nothing, absolutely nothing, to stop the Arab Kassam missile and mortar attacks on Gush Katif's 8,500 Jews.
According to Gush Katif spokesman Eran Sternberg, not too long ago, Defense Minister Shaul Mufaz ordered Chief of Staff, General Moshe Ya'alon, "Don't hit back until after the palestinian elections (on Jan. 9th). In other words, the Israelis will just have to suffer for a while – this is the cost of peace.
At the demonstration I met Mrs. Debbie Rosen, ([] - 972-8-68408470) who is working with Eran and Dror Vanunu in the Gush Katif spokesperson's office. Interviewing her for today's show, I asked Debbie, a resident of Neve Dekalim, about the situation in Gush Katif. She told me that not too long ago, following another rocket attack against them, speaking with a senior officer in the area, she asked him why the army doesn't shoot back, in the same fashion that the Jews are attacked? "Just like they shoot mortars at us, let's shoot mortars back at them."
The officer looked at her, stunned, and replied, "What, shoot at them, just like that? It's not ethical to shoot mortars or missiles at innocent people."
Debbie's response: "What about us – aren't we innocent people too?"
The officer didn't answer – he just looked at her and walked away.
I also asked her to describe to our listeners what happens when a bomb falls on your house, or next to it. Debbie attempted, for a few minutes, to express in words the inexpressible. We parted ways, and a couple of hours I was back in Hebron.
I came into the office to pull down some the pictures from the event, when my cell phone rang. It was Debbie. In a voice choked with emotion, she related to me the following account: "You asked me to describe how it feels when a mortar or a Kassam rocket hits. Well, you just cannot imagine. Listen, tonight, while we were at the demonstration, there was a Bat-Mitzvah party for one of the girls here in Neve Dekalim. My daughter was there. The girls were outside in the yard when suddenly they saw an approaching missile. Running inside the house, well, they made it just in time. The missile exploded in the garden of that very same yard, where only seconds before, they had been playing." She added, "it's just like the boy who was playing basketball last week when a bomb exploded on the basketball court, very close to him."
I sat, listening, not being able to speak. What can you say? We decided that I'd call Debbie back in the morning and let her repeat the story again, so I could record it and play it on my weekly radio show, later today (
Late last week there was a general meeting of activists from around the country, in Jerusalem. Initiated by the Yesha council, the meeting introduced the organization's new campaign to prevent the abandonment of Gush Katif and the northern Shomron. The basic element of the program is a huge sit-down strike next to the Knesset, commencing next Tuesday. People from around the country will be asked to participate, irregardless of the rain and cold, and hopefully, the crowds will grow and grow, eventually reaching tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people. The goal: to convince the Knesset that the Israeli public will not accept expulsion of people from their homes, that the Israeli public will not accept abandonment of Eretz Yisrael to our enemies, that they – our representatives in the Knesset, must vote against legislation called 'the pinui-pitzui (eviction-compensation) law" when it reaches the Knesset floor. MK Uri Ariel of the National Union party, speaking at the conference, claimed that the only way to stop the eviction is via the Knesset – convincing them to vote against the law, and if necessary, bringing the issue to the people, either in the form of a national referendum, or regular elections. According to Ariel, there is a very strong probability that Sharon will not receive his party's nomination for the premiership, and that the eviction plans will draw to a complete halt.
Other ideas are springing up. I receive an email from a reader in the United States, who (rightly) claimed that the 'Wallerstein proclamation' petition ( is not enough, that action must be taken. He suggested organizing a general strike throughout Israel, either in conjunction with the Yesha council campaign, or separately. Last night this person called me, and after some discussion, offered to try and organize such a strike.
My own idea, sort of hidden within the petition, is very simple. Certainly I hope that the eviction plan will be thwarted long before Sharon attempts its implementation. However, should it come down to it, we are going to need hordes of people to stop the horror. We need thousands and thousands of people to drop what they're doing, board the planes, come over here, and do what has to be done. It's as simple as that.
Simple, you ask? Simple? Work, family, etc etc – how can we leave all and just…come over?
So ask you . But I ask you – what about Eretz Yisrael – what comes first – Eretz Yisrael, or work, or… etc? Remember, we're not just talking about Gush Katif and the northern Shomron. We're talking about all of Judea and Samaria. We're talking about Hebron. We're talking about Jerusalem. We are talking about the fate of the Jewish people in Israel. So, what comes first? You tell me.
Basically, what it comes down to, is that we are going to have to close down the country. Not everybody is going to be able to get to Gush Katif, or even close to Gush Katif. However, Israel isn't a one-road country – I'm sure you understand what I mean.
There are those who might recoil at such a suggestion. And to an extent I agree – under normal circumstances. However, these are not normal circumstances. This government, led by Ariel Sharon, is intentionally abandoning thousands of citizens, Israelis who serve in the army, citizens who pay taxes, citizens who are people, just like you and me – to their fate, like sheep surrounded by wolves. Ariel Sharon, together with Mufaz and Ya'alon, have adopted a policy of 'live and let die' – leave the Arabs alone, even at the price of Israeli lives. There is a difference between Arab blood and Jewish blood – Arabs are, in the words of the above-mentioned officer, 'innocents.' The Israelis are 'settlers,' and we all know what that implies.
Last night, speaking at the protest, Bentzi Liberman, secretary-general of the Yesha council said, 'if three mortars hit Tel Aviv, the army would spare no efforts. But when it comes to Gush Katif, nothing is done – the people are abandoned.'
After I had, more or less, finished writing this article, I had the second above-mentioned conversation with Debbie from Gush Katif. As we were talking, I couldn't help but think: this morning the Israeli media is drenched with yesterday's disaster in India-Thailand. It really is an awful calamity, tens of thousands deadhundreds of Israelis traveling in that part of the world are still missing. We hope and pray that they are all safe and well.
But what I have trouble understanding is that daily, almost hourly, Israeli citizens here, in Israel, not in India, not in Thailand, but here, an hour from Tel Aviv, are facing enemy attacks, their lives are threatened and some lives are destroyed. Where is Israeli radio? – where is Israeli television? – where is public opinion? Fine, talk about India, but what about our back yard? Debbie Rosen also told me about a woman whose home has come under direct enemy fire nine times. Do you have any idea what that does to a person? It has left this woman in permanent shell shock.

Last night I came upon the Barat family from Kfar Darom. Hannah Barat was seriously injured during a terror attack and left paralyzed, living permanently in a wheelchair. Hannah is a very special person, and about a year ago gave birth to another child, a little boy, despite her disabilities. Her husband, Eliezer Barat, told me how, a few days ago, a rocket hit their home, destroying part of the roof. Thank G-d, no one was injured. But don't let anyone tell you that lightning doesn't strike twice.

One final story. Debbie told me how her youngest son, in kindergarten, hearing thunder outside, told her, "Mommy, ask G-d to stop the mortars and missiles ."
The present administration can only be labeled as a 'memshelet shmad' – a government of annihilation – a government willing to sacrifice its own people – and for what – for what?
For absolutely nothing.
Please G-d – stop the missiles.
With blessings from Hebron.

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Katif Wall?

The Katif Wall?
December 20, 2004

Last week, during Hanukkah, the kids were home on vacation. Here in Hebron we try to provide daily activities for the children, including parties, trips and the like. On Tuesday one of my friends approached me and asked if I’d be busy the next day. As all spokespeople are trained to do, I answered his question with another question – ‘why, what do you need?’
He proceeded to tell me that on Wednesday, he was to escort a busload of kids on their Hanukkah trip, but something came up. Could I replace him?
I didn’t have too much planned for the next day so, why not – it’s a day out of the office, without having to sit in front of the screen. So I asked, ‘where are they going?’ and he answered, “Gush Katif.” That clinched it.
I sort of felt like we were playing round robin. That very day a large group of childrenfrom Gush Katif came to visit in Hebron. They participated in all sorts of events, including skits, touring, and a big candle-lighting ceremony with Hebron children at Ma’arat HaMachpela at sundown. On Wednesday a group of Gush Katif women arrived for a day in Hebron, at the same time that our children made their way down south.
I’m sure many people will ask – this is the way to spend a vacation day? Gush Katif residents travel to Hebron and Hebron goes to Gush Katif? Couldn’t we each find more relaxing places to splurge a day away from home? I guess in some ways it’s hard to explain, but in other ways, maybe not. We spent a couple of summers vacationing in Gush Katif, at Kfar Darom. Two of my daughters did their national volunteer service there, and we developed friendships with people in the community. We’d borrow someone’s house for a few days, someone who was vacationing somewhere else, and spend a few days at the nearby beach, barbeque outside, and just enjoy the quiet, tranquil atmosphere, the beautiful scenery, which sort of reminded me of the Garden of Eden.
Believe me, it really is like that – perhaps it’s a little less quiet these days, with mortars and Kassam missiles exploding all over the place – but Gush Katif still has a beauty difficult to express in words.
I guess this is one of the reasons it was decided to send our kids there for a day during Hanukkah, to experience the character of this endangered part of Eretz Yisrael.
But of course, there’s more to it then just that. When we were under attack in Hebron, nothing was more heartening than people coming to visit – to walk the streets, to speak with us, to show support, just by being there. And I believe so it is today in Gush Katif. Over 5,000 mortars and missiles have been fired at Gush Katif residents over the past few years. Each one of those projectiles is targeted to kill – it is only due to Divine miracle that people aren’t injured or worse every single day. Only last week a Thai woman, working in a Gush Katif greenhouse, was killed by a mortar which exploded right next to her. On September 24, twenty-four year old Tiferet Tratner was murdered by one of these flying bombs.
I have a beeper which receives almost immediate news bulletins whenever ‘anything happens’ – including missile and mortar strikes in Gush Katif. There isn’t a day or night that goes by when I don’t get numerous reports of missiles and mortars, landing in Neve Dekalim, Netzarim , and other communities. Early this morning the beerer buzzed, announcing that four mortars hit Kfar Darom, damaging a whole row of homes. Thank G-d, no one was injured.
So, in truth, you really can’t ask how we go to visit for a few hours. You really have to ask how people there are able to do it – how they can live with this day after day, night after night, literally year after year.
It’s difficult to speak for them, but I have a feeling that the answer is sitting there, on the tip of my tongue. First of all, and most importantly, the people in Gush Katif aren’t crazies – over 9,000 people with a death-wish. They are people just like you and me – but they have a tremendous amount of faith – faith in G-d, faith in what they are doing, faith and determination to live their beliefs, to live the land, to bring life to the desert, to settle Eretz Yisrael. They are merely braver than most other people.
It seems clear to me that they also know and realize, all too well, that we cannot and should not flee from terror. The only way to deal with terror is to stand up to it – to fight it, but never to acquiesce to it. This is why they are so determined to stay where they are, despite the dangers and difficulties, because they know all too well: if Gush Katif falls and is abandoned to our enemies, the next front will not be Kfar Darom. The front will move up, past Sderot, (which is still under continued missile attack) to Ashkelon and Ashdod.
The heroism of Gush Katif’s residents cannot be explained as a personal interest to maintain their own homes: rather it is true patriotism – doing what is best for their people and their country – putting their lives on the line to protect others, only slightly further north. Having experienced the horrors of bombs falling out of the air at all hours of the day and night for years, they know what’s in store for their fellow countrymen, should the Arabs have the chance to hit them. And truthfully, I’m doubtful if those city residents would have the stamina or faith to endure such constant attacks, such as we’ve witnessed in Gush Katif for the past four year years.
That’s why we go there – that’s why we took the kids there – first, by our physical presence to show our support – to let them know that they are not struggling alone. But also to let our kids breaththe great courage of others – to show them that Gush Katif residents are the bravest people alive in Israel today.
It really was a beautiful day. Not in the classic sense. The weather was rather miserable. But that doesn’t stop Hebron’s children from having a good time. We had lunch on the beach, at the ‘Pagoda,’ once a stylish restaurant, perched on the Mediterranean Sea. The hotels closed, the tourism dried up, and the restaurant’s clientele became non-existent. But the owner, a pleasant fellow named Menachem who could not abandon his dream, still lives there, and opens the building to wayward wanderers like us, who need a few tables and chairs for a lunch break. The wind was chilling, and he was gracious enough to make me a cup of coffee, a lifesaver on a cold day next to the water. We talked for a while, and I could see the sea in his eyes, the idealism of a true Israeli pioneer, who could never, everabandon his homestead.
After lunch we drove down the road a ways, to a small community called ‘Shirat HaYam.’ Today inhabited by 17 young families who literally live on the beach, this community was initiated by a few single girls, a few years back, who fell in love with the site. They married and established their homes there – small, simple caravans, - with the sea as their back yard. It’s an amazing place populated by amazing people.
Our last stop was the Neve Dekelim Yeshiva. It was during our brief stay here that the kids really got excited. They heard booms in the background, booms of mortars falling, not too far away.
But that wasn’t what struck me at this yeshiva, which was originally established in the Sinai community of Yamit, which was deleted from the face of the earth following Menachem Begin’s abandonment of the Sinai to Egypt, almost twenty-five years ago.
Inside the yeshiva building, just as you walk in, is a memorial to the Yamit community – called the ‘Yamit wall.’ A Neve Dekalim resident who happened to be there explained the significance of the wall to the children – telling them about Yamit, explaining how it was destroyed, and how the wall remained as a memorial to the fallen community.
Watching the children, and listening to the explanation, I had a hard time keeping my composure. I kept asking myself: Twenty five years from now, will one of these kids be standing in front of a group of children, explaining to them the significance of the ‘Katif wall?’
I sure hope not.
With blessings from Hebron.

Monday, December 13, 2004

A Little Light Goes a Long Way

December 13, 2004

We are in the midst of Hanukkah – the holiday of lights. Today is also the first day of the new month of Tevet – as we say in Hebrew – Rosh Hodesh. Hanukkah is generally a happy holiday – eight days when we light the menorah, commemorating the miracle of the Maccabees, a minority which overcame a majority of their fellow countrymen and brought about the defeat of the Greeks, the USA of their day. We celebrate the discovery of a small tin of pure olive oil, enough for lighting the Menorah in the Temple for one day, but miraculously lasting for eight days. We observe the victory of true Jewish spirit and culture over that of the Greek empire, a civilization which brought foreign traditions and assimilation to Eretz Yisrael, leading to massive Hellenization of the Jewish people in Israel.
In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, this commentary should be full of shining light, radiating with optimism and hope. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The events I am obligated to speak about today are quite the opposite.
Let's begin with several events which occurred towards the end of last week. Our illustrious armed forces decided that Hebron's Jews had crossed the line of no return and decided to take action.
Last summer, Hebron's children took upon themselves construction of, what we call in Hebrew, a 'pinat chai,' which in English, is roughly translated as a 'petting zoo.' The children, using their own money and their own two hands, constructed wire cages and purchased a variety of animals, including ducks, chickens, rabbits and the like. At one point they even bought a donkey.
This project occupied them for days and weeks, and the site became a favorite of many mothers in Hebron, whose young children had much fun clucking together with the birds.
Being that space is quite limited within the Jewish neighborhoods in Hebron, the children built their little zoo in an abandoned gas station, bordering the Beit Hadassah neighborhood. This gas station has been closed for somewhere in the vicinity of seven years, and very little of it remains. It was a perfect outdoors area for ducks, chickens and rabbits to roam around in. At least, so we thought.
Unfortunately, Hebron's new military commander, Col. Moti Baruch, thought otherwise. Last week, after having been honored to light the first Hanukkah candle at Ma'arat HaMachpela, Col. Baruch, in the middle of the night, led his forces to the 'pinat chai' and ordered its destruction. The gates to the cages were opened and their occupants expelled. Then the troops went to work. It didn't take long to finish the job. Soon, the only remnants of the zoo were a few poor ducks, quacking away their frustrations.
Why did Col. Baruch order the zoo's obliteration? Simply, because it was labeled 'illegal construction' in Hebron.
A short time earlier the same force of destruction did their dirty work on a shack in the Avraham Avinu neighborhood parking lot. A Succah, built by one of the families during the Succot holiday, had been left standing and was used for storage purposes. The family, with three children, lives in a 35 sq. meter apartment, and needed a little extra room. However, Col. Baruch doesn't really care about families living in ridiculously cramped conditions. The wood Succah-shack was declared 'illegal building' and demolished.
It should be noted that the demolition squad was accompanied by massive police and riot squad units, offering protection from the dangerous residents of Hebron – no, not the Arabs, rather the Jews.
Now, a word about illegal building in Hebron. For months on end, even before Col. Moti Baruch appeared on the scene, Hebron's leadership has been attempting to halt massive Arab illegal construction in the area surrounding Hebron's Jewish neighborhoods. The previous military commander understood the problem and attempted to help us find solutions. However, Col. Baruch is of a different opinion. He doesn't see any problem with a massive influx of Arabs into the 'Jewish-controlled' section of Hebron, despite the obvious security dangers. For months Arabs have been illegally building and renovating abandoned property, yet the Jewish demolition squad is nowhere to be seen. In particular, the Arabs are building a 'mosque' on the main road between Hebron and Kiryat Arba, at a location crucially important to Hebron. This building has been officially recognized as 'illegal construction' but Col. Baruch doesn't have the necessary forces available to halt continued Arab work at the site. It seems that the only forces he has available are those who destroy Jewish zoos and shacks.
These problems come on top of deteriorating security in the Hebron region. Last week a 16 year old Arab tried to kill Jews in Hebron by throwing a home-made bomb at a car in the city. Fortunately the bomb exploded in his hand, before he could hurl it. Several times over the past week Arabs have tried to stab Israeli security forces near Ma'arat HaMachpela. Thank G-d , these attempts have failed. However, the pattern is crystal clear, and we are certainly not happy about it.
On a broader scale, we were hoping that Hanukkah would usher in another miracle which would witness the end of the Sharon fiasco. This too, didn't happen. To the contrary, it looks like Sharon will come out of the latest government crisis stronger than he was before, forming a new coalition with Labor, and probably Shas and Agudat Yisrael.
In the meantime, the situation in Gaza isn't getting any better. Last night we lost five soldiers in an explosion of a tunnel underneath their outpost. This morning an Israeli engineer offered a unique solution to the problem of underground tunnels. He said that, just as walls can be constructed above ground to keep 'the bad guys' out, so too, walls can be built in the other direction, going down underground, offering protection from terror tunnels.
In other words, the suggested new Israeli ghetto is bi-directional, with walls surrounding us from above and from below. Truthfully, while listening to this interview I almost decided to visit my local ear doctor, requesting urgent aid. Or perhaps I needed a good psychologist – I had to have been hearing things – voices out of the air, imaginary conversations. I just could not believe my ears.
So, with all of this gloomy news, you ask, what's next. And the truth is, I really don't know. It might get worse before it gets better. At the moment, despite the holiday, there seems to be much more darkness than light. But, then again, that's what Hanukkah comes to teach us, that a very little bit of light can expel a tremendous amount of darkness. Try it. Put yourself in a totally dark room, without any windows or lights. Opening your eyes wide won't help. You can't see anything. Then, light a match – the darkness suddenly disappears. Much of what was invisible is quickly visible. It doesn't take much light – just a very little bit. I guess that's today's lesson – to ignite a small flame and watch it start to burn away the darkness, first slowly, but then blazing – just as we begin the first night with one candle, but reach the eighth night with eight candles.
Remember – a little bit of light goes a long long way.
Happy Hanukkah.
With blessings from Hebron.