Exclusive: A Slice of Life in Israel Today
by RON MARLAR
May 28, 2008
"When Hezbollah were rocketing northern Israel we were getting Qassams [rockets] in Ashkelon and before in Sderot and the many kibbutzim around there. It was very scary. I was responsible for 7 and 8-year-old children .... The children knew very well what to do. They ran and hid under big pieces of concrete." This is how an Israeli describes life in the Holy Land today.
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I met a 22-year-old Neta N. of Ashkelon at breakfast on Thursday, May 22nd in Tel Aviv. Ashkelon, a port city in the south of Israel's west coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is well within Qassam rocket range north of the Gaza Strip.
I took advantage of our chance meeting to ask Neta about her life in Ashkelon today.
With typical Israeli determination and commitment to keeping a modern state of Israel, Neta was willing to share her story and to allow her full name to be used. I, however, am reluctant to put this young lady, her family or friends in any more jeopardy than they live with daily, and am therefore withholding her last name.
Neta is a sabra - native-born Israeli in Hebrew - as are her 23-year-old brother, 17-year-old sister and their parents. Her only surviving grandparent is from Romania. With a wry smile, she said, "My family also includes one dog."
Now that you know Neta almost as well as I do, here is her story...
"I was born on a kibbutz and have lived in Netanya [north of Tel Aviv, also on the west coast of Israel] and Ashkelon. After two years' service in the Army [mandatory for all fit Israel high school graduates, three years for men] I was working as a children's guide when the Qassam rockets started to fall."
"What year was this?" I asked.
"Two years ago, 2006," she said.
"One year after Israeli settlers were removed from the Gaza?" I queried, again for clarification.
"Yes," she said, "when Hezbollah were rocketing northern Israel [from Lebanon, spring 2006 with over 3,000 Katyusha rockets] we were getting Qassams in Ashkelon and before in Sderot and the many kibbutzim around there. It was very scary. I was responsible for 7 and 8-year-old children. When I heard the sirens and police loudspeakers I started to panic.
"The children knew very well what to do. They ran and hid under big pieces of concrete."
"You could not get into a shelter?"
"There are few shelters in kibbutzim," she said. "Shelters in Ashkelon were not really ready for the first attacks. When the first rockets came there was no warning. The first one hit near my house, only five houses away. I heard it whistling as it came over me.
"That was frightening. It is also unnerving to hear the sirens wailing up and down in their noise."
I was unnerved just listening to her story, thinking of the lost innocence of the children. I asked, "Are rockets still hitting Ashkelon?"
"Yes, two or three a week. The big problem is they are falling in the south of Ashkelon in an industrial park."
"Oh, I heard an oil storage or some kind of facility was hit a few weeks ago and that Israel shut off for a few days supply of oil products to the Gaza Strip," I commented.
"Yes," she agreed.
"Is it true," I asked, "that Israel is providing all essential services - fuel, water, electricity, everything - to the Gaza Strip?"
"Yes," she said. "We continue to supply Gaza just as we did before. Before the settlers were forced out to trade land for peace and Hamas took over there."
Neta stood to leave with her friends. We exchanged shaloms, thank yous and best wishes, and she returned to Ashkelon. (As I continue my visit in Israel for several more weeks, I plan to give Sderot, Ashkelon and the many small kibbutzim near those cities a wide berth.)
In her brief life of 22 years, Neta continues the experiences of Israelis and others in the Holy Land - a life of near constant struggle for survival, both of a nation and its diverse populations. These struggles include developing a largely desert area that, while harsh, is diverse in its geography, climate and population: the Assyrian and Babylonian exiles, Romans, Byzantines, Islamic Arabs, Crusaders, forces of Constantinople, Ottoman Turks, the Mamalukes and Salah-ed-Din's Arab armies.
The Land and its people are marked by all of that plus the Jewish Diaspora - scattering of Jews around the world - but with a remnant always remaining in Israel.
More recently, the British occupied and ruled the Land as a mandate from 1920-1948. Modern Israel was established pursuant to the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and UN Resolution 181 of 1947. A Palestinian state was provided for at the same time. The Palestinians refused, however, to establish their own state (most say on advice, some say on threat from the surrounding Arab Muslim countries). The rationale was to avoid recognition of Israel's existence.
From its rebirth, Israel has had to fight almost continuously for its very existence: against (ironically) the British; a succession of wars against numerically superior Arab and other Muslim forces; missile strikes by Iraq during Gulf War I, two Intifadas, and ongoing terror attacks by Islamic Jihadists.
I owe it to Neta, the children, and all the people of the Land to attempt further clarification. I want everyone to grasp the realities of the Middle East and to forget the propaganda of the Palestinians, Arabs, Islamists, our liberal media and those politicians who aid, abet, apologize for and support worldwide Islamic terrorism either deliberately or from ignorant, misguided statements and actions.
- Why are so many U.S. citizens willing and able to be misled by propaganda?
- If it came to it, would enough U.S. citizens be able to show the determination and commitment of Israelis like Neta for our survival as a people and nation? Can we rise again to the level of the Greatest Generation?
- How can anyone really believe making concessions to Palestinians and others (e.g., trading land for peace) can work, given the real history of Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbors?
- How would you react if you and your children and/or grandchildren were being rocketed or attacked in other lethal ways almost daily?
- Is the U.S. ready for what the Israelis have experienced? Would you be ready personally for such attacks? How did you feel on 9/11/2001?
- Do you know of any country in the world that provides all essential services to people attacking their country daily?
- Why do nearly two billion Muslims worldwide trouble so over 12-13 million Jews?
As I write this, I hear children at play, BBC-TV news and busy traffic sounds - tires on pavement and the perpetual horn blowing of aggressive drivers, both Israeli and Palestinian. I am in an ultra-modern, new, "youth hostel" in Joppa (Jaffa, Yafo in its various spellings). Joppa borders Tel Aviv seamlessly on the south and is a predominantly Palestinian, Arab and Muslim area. Sometimes I am corrected for not calling the Palestinian, Arab, Muslims and Christians Israeli Palestinians. The distinction is important to all of them as opposed to Palestinian, Arab, and Islamic Jihadists.
Here in Joppa the Israeli Jews, Palestinians, Muslims and Christians live, work and play together amicably, usually without serious incident. On my way here I often had to stop and ask directions from both Israeli Jews and Palestinians. All were cordial and helpful.
I am within sight of four Christian churches and a mosque, a beautiful beachfront, sports stadium, flea market, old and new stores and restaurants, including a McDonald's. Many hotels and hostels are fully booked. Tourism in Israel is obviously alive and well. (By the way a single room in Joppa is $73 or so at current exchange rates. Try to find those rates in New York City.) To submit this article, I went to a nearby Internet café using a dual Hebrew/English computer. It was a bit challenging but I was assisted by a nice, young attendant who speaks perfect English and has a great sense of humor.
This is a slice of life in the Holy Land today: a disconcerting combination of terror, maiming and death, amidst the daily activities and joi de vivre of the people who call it home.