Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Israel Day 5: Wednesday Evening, Tel Aviv

It is a good thing that I decided not to begin anything resembling a diet and exercise program before coming on this trip.  I am eating to excess and exercising not a whit.  And enjoying myself immensely.  It is nearly 10:45 PM Israel time, and I just returned to the hotel from yet another wonderful, gut busting dinner.  Our speakers were two members of the Israeli Press, very good friends and colleagues who worked well off of each other.  Both were experts in the not insignificant number of security challenges Israel has.

We started the day with an interesting and ethically challenging interaction.  We headed south toward Gaza, home of Hamas and the source of innumerable rocket attacks on the cities and villages near them in Israel.  We stopped first in Sderot and talked a bit about living constantly under the threat of rocket and or missile attack.  It was a beautiful, sunny peaceful day, and I have to admit to thinking things a little surreal.  Life was going on around us, children playing, etc.  But take a look at the Wiki article I linked to above, and read about the traumatization that is occurring there.  From Sderot, we headed to a kibbutz that is even closer to Gaza; there we were met by a woman who gave us a very personal idea of the toll that the rocket attacks are taking on the people of her kibbutz (the last attack having been 2.5 weeks ago).

What was ethically challenging about the event was the degree to which I judged this woman.  Let me explain.

She grew up in a peaceful, happy kibbutz before the Oslo peace accords gave the Palestinians control of Gaza.  Their life was a socialist workers paradise, and they enjoyed what sounded to be peaceful relations with their Arab neighbors in Gaza.  She went off to the Army and remained away from the kibbutz for eight additional years, during which time she married, had a child, worked in Tel Aviv, and (presumably) divorced (there was a mention of many family members, but no mention of a husband or father to her child).  She decided at some point to move back and raise here son in the kibbutz where she grew up.

When Israel pulled out of Gaza unilaterally in 2005, the attacks on her kibbutz began. These are rocket and mortar attacks, with short time of flight and virtually no warning, at least for the first volley.  These attacks over time had taken their toll on this woman.  I'm not a trained mental health professional, but within about ten minutes of her talking, I whispered to one of our merry band, "this woman is damaged."  The more she talked, the more she reinforced this notion.  Eventually, she simply came out and admitted as much. 

What I found so ethically challenging was the fact that she was raising a son there.  She then began to tell us of his various psychological problems, each of which she attributed to the atmosphere in which he was growing up.  Here is where I really began to judge her.  She as an adult, with agency, can decide to come and go as she pleases.  She has chosen to stay in a kibbutz that the IDF is challenged to protect (more on this in a second), and it is obviously traumatizing her.  But her son has no choice.  He has to stay.  She could have moved and raised her son in an area of Israel less in the line of fire.  Then she told us that her information was that 70-90% of the children raised under these conditions have developed behavioral issues directly attributable to growing up under fire.  This really got to me.  There she stays, growing more and more traumatized as her son grows up with troubling behavioral and psychological problems. 

But she stays.  She stays because "this is my home".  She stays because of the baked in Israeli phobia stemming from "never again".  In this case, not about the Holocaust, but about being kicked out of their homeland.  There is a powerful, magnetic draw to Jews around the world to this place.  It is more than a place--it is an idea.  And I believe this woman was willing to die for that idea and to take her son with her. Again, this is the judgment I have been wrestling with. 

Basically speaking, all of Israel is in range of somebody's missiles or mortars.  So when I raised my qualms about this woman's choices with our hosts, their answer was essentially, "where would she go? Everywhere is in range of someone".  Yes, this may be true.  But there is a basic physics problem that leads to a basic military problem--that is, the closer the target is to the servicing weapon, the more difficult it is to defend against.  Israel is loaded with sophisticated systems designed to shoot down long, medium and short range ballistic missiles--but mortars and short range rockets are an entirely different military problem.  And in the short visit to the area that I was part of, I assessed that there was an insufficient level of defense of the area to provide this woman--and presumably others like her--a sense of safety.

Now part of this is a function of "what is sufficient"?  She pointed to this during her talk, in that the if an attack appears headed into an open space (that is, does not target a structure or critical infrastructure), it is not aggressively intercepted.  While this may be militarily sound, the explosion it causes in the vicinity of structures (people, houses, schools) contributes to their growing traumatization.  To her, there is little difference in an attack that hits a house and one that hits the yard surrounding it--because we're dealing with terror weapons whose target is the will of the population. 

I came away from this visit a little shaken, wondering why it was that the Israeli government didn't just shut this kibbutz down and evacuate its people.  This is the American in me.  This is the pragmatic military man speaking.  But I'm not an Israeli.  I don't have the psychology of an Israeli.  And I probably won't be able to get my arms around why that woman stays there.

After a hearty lunch at the kibbutz, we bussed back to Tel Aviv, with much of the bus napping for much of the trip.  Once back, we met with a Major General in the IDF; infantry, special forces.  Right out of central casting.  The kind of guy you want on your side.  Whatever your side is.  He discussed with us the various military challenges associated with defending a country of Israel's size, with as many groups around it that wish it ill.  He was the kind of guy who probably gives Israelis a great sense of confidence in their military.

Then it was back to the hotel for a bit of shopping, a nap and dinner.

Many of you probably face the same challenges I do when it comes to the buying of trinkets for your loved ones.  Simply put. my taste appears to conflict with all three of the Kittens.  Interestingly enough, this extends to all spheres and all trinkets.  I sometimes feel that I shouldn't spend too much time and energy deciding on what I get them, as I will invariably select something that will find its way to the Church Sale.  That said, I got my game face on and shopped for the three of them, selecting baubles that I hoped would be acceptable to them and that were very nice to my ill-trained eye.  My return on Sunday will determine if my nearly unbroken record of shopping failure continues.

Ok--long day tomorrow.  Don't know if I will have internet tomorrow night, so you may not hear from me again until Friday night Israel time.

Be good.

1 comment:

Mudge said...

Interested in hearing your hosts' views on BHO's nominee for US Ambassador to UN, decidedly anti-Israel Samantha Powers. Combined with only slightly less decidedly anti-Israel Chuck Hagel, just wondering how this Administration's actions have altered Israeli policies. Also interested in hearing your impression of the reactions of the liberal feel tank reps in your party when they hear the answers.

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