Barbara Sofer

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The Human Spirit: The Nameless War

March 22, 2012
Barbara Sofer , THE JERUSALEM POST

What do you call the latest battle with the Palestinians in Gaza? A mini-war, a flare-up, an escalation? This week of hundreds of rockets aimed at civilian targets doesn’t rate a name, although its injuries are long-lasting.

How did it begin? The starting point is overlooked in much of the reporting. Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz learned that the Popular Resistance Committee in Gaza was in the midst of planning a terrorist attack and/or a kidnapping. We needed to prevent it because of what he called “strategic implications.”

For those unfamiliar with the PRC, this is a terrorist group dedicated to the destruction of Israel and Israelis. The last major attack was in August near Eilat and caused an international incident with Egypt.

Before that, none other than PRC secretarygeneral Zuhair al-Qaisi was wont to crow about his group’s capture and interrogation of Gilad Schalit. With a new terror attack coming together, the IDF eliminated master- mind Qaisi.

The PRC, along with the larger, equally anti-Israel Islamic Jihad, responded with missiles. Experts said they wanted to publicly flex their muscles within the Gaza Strip. What became clear to those of us who live in Israel was that not only does Hamas have a huge stockpile of homemade and Grad missiles, but so do the other groups, as well as Hezbollah and the mother-ship of Iran. On our recent speaking tour in the US, my husband and I were asked frequently if we were squirreling away food for a future attack. We made light of it: We responded that, on the contrary, we are actually trying to rid our home of many types of food in preparation for Passover. But last week has made the vision of rockets attacking from many directions harder to wave away.

In a letter to this paper on Sunday (“Further asymmetry,” March 18), James Adler of Cambridge, Massachusetts, is eager to point out his uneasiness with the asymmetry of both the recent battle and the fighting on the Mavi Marmara. Although he says he deplores the rockets and is thankful that no Israelis were killed, he does say twice in his eight paragraphs that the dead are all on the Palestinian side. Writes Adler: “I’m just pleading for some recognition that they are poor, destitute, despairing, powerless and brown.”

He’s wrong, and not only about the Palestinians being brown. Eight Israelis were killed and 30 wounded in the August attack by the PRC.

I don't know Mr. Adler, but I think he represents a lot of men and women who think that they possess a moral sense that far exceeds that of us Israelis.

WE HAVE to wonder what Massachusetts citizens would do if they were facing a missile threat.

We might be informed by the events in Washington in 2002. John Allen Muhammad, the so-called Beltway Sniper, and his young accomplice terrorized America’s capital. They murdered 10 people. Over the weeks of the attacks, men and women expressed high anxiety. Many feared standing still to fill their cars with gas. Schools curtailed field trips and outdoor athletic activities. Others simply closed. Police patrolled schoolyards. One terrorist with a sidekick.

Terrorist Muhammad was eventually apprehended. For the record, he grew up as a poor orphan and he was brown. That didn’t prevent him from being tried and executed.

The assumption that we need a reminder of humanity by someone who lives in a state that hasn’t experienced fighting on its soil since 1776 is always galling.

Last week, while the attacks paralyzed the lives of a million Israelis, I was showing a European journalist around Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem. We spent a lot of time with pediatric patients from Gaza. One youngster and his mother had actually come across the border on Sunday. Had they had difficulty crossing through the Erez checkpoint? No, they hadn’t. Were they comfortable here? Absolutely. The mother was staying for the week with a Palestinian woman she’d met on another trip to Jerusalem and they were enjoying the city as well as the medical care. For the journalist, the relaxed presence of Palestinian patients, particularly from Gaza, was a surprise. We Israelis are used to this reality. And more so – we are proud that our researchers are able to unlock the secrets of the genetic puzzles that cause many of the region’s diseases and provide life-saving medical care.

A man from a northern Arab town overheard my rusty Arabic and volunteered to help translate. With a natural instinct to try and influence the media, instead of just translating, he editorialized, embellishing the difficulties of the family’s two-hour trip from home to the hospital and how bad their situation is, stressing how worried she is about her children in Gaza.

I totally understand, I said. As we were speaking, my daughter and five little granddaughters were on their way from Gedera for a respite from the missile attack.

Gedera, I explained, isn’t even in the south. It’s an Israeli city built on the site of an ancient city mentioned in the Book of Joshua. It probably comes from the Hebrew word for “fenced in” and was the home to pioneers who arrived in 1884. Twenty-eight kilometers (17 miles) south-east of Tel Aviv, Gedera is central Israel. We use the expression “from Gedera to Hadera” to talk of the populous central strip of the country.

Only extreme caution kept my grandchildren safe from the lethal missiles that carried ball bearings propelled hundreds of meters. Of course, school was canceled. And every time the sirens sounded, the five little girls first grade and under needed to be gathered into the room with reinforced windows and walls. The two-year-old and the four-year-old are particularly anxious, hanging on my daughter’s skirt, unable to sleep at night.

During the missile attack, my husband and I were on our way to Beersheba to visit a dear friend who was hospitalized. We turned back when the Home Front Command urged those in Beersheba to stay close to home.

This week, a tentative truce is in place. The nameless war is behind us. The children in Gedera are back in nursery school, though still skittish. We set out for Beersheba again. This time we drove the whole way. We’d missed the chance to visit our dear friend in his final days but, like hundreds of others, we weren’t going to miss his funeral.

 

 

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