The Long Road to the Promised Land
September 07, 2006
Some time ago a reader asked me to describe how it was to grow up in Tel Aviv. I recently celebrated my 77th birthday. Considering that I only spent 13 years of my life in what was to become Israel, I reflected on how much this brief period shaped my attitudes toward war and peace.
The period under consideration stretched from 1935 to the start of 1948, turbulent years. Arabs and Jews fighting over this sliver of land. Jewish terrorists – that was what the public called them – fighting the British and the Arabs. World War II and the Italians, allies of the Germans, bombing Tel Aviv. Defacto peace between Arabs and Jews for the duration of that war, and then, the restart of hostilities leading to Israel’s War of Independence.
And yet there was the other side of the picture: The beach, where you enjoyed the clear, blue waters of the Mediterranean from early spring through fall. The Sabbath in the summertime, when my Papa – father in German, my native tongue- wearing a brown, striped bathrobe, led the family two blocks from our apartment to the beach. It was packed with families in folding chairs with little roofs attached. Children built sand castles, adults played ping pong in the air. Saturday afternoon concerts of classical music were conducted in the outdoor cafe of what later became the Dan Hotel.
The beach also was where I spent the summer when I was old enough to meet with 5th or 6th grade classmates by the second lifeguard station. When I visited my elementary school in 2000, everything was the same – the large, white washed two-story building with its older annex, the classroom where I spent eighth grade – except for one thing: There was a guard at the entrance armed with a rifle.
I still remember when we arrived by boat in Jaffa in 1935. Tel Aviv had no harbor then. Ships arriving in Jaffa anchored way off shore because Jaffa had no deep water harbor. Passengers climbed down a ladder made of rope. I remember an Arab picking me up, off the ladder, and placing me in a boat. My parents followed. When the boat was full, he and another man rowed us ashore. I think about it now – two Arabs welcomed a boat load of Jews to Palestine. In light of subsequent events, it remains remarkable, even if they made a living at it.
War and peace. They alternated. And yet the flow of life continued. My mother made my costumes for the holiday of Purim, which celebrates how Jews living in Persia were spared annihilation. Persia is Iran today. Its leader wants to “wipe Israel off the earth.” What’s changed?
For Passover we traveled by bus over the hills of Judea to Jerusalem, where we attended the Seder at the home of a rabbi, a friend of the family. Passover celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land God had promised them. “In each generation someone wants to annihilate us, and in each generation God saves us,” the Haggada, the book of Passover, tells us. It was the message I grew up with.
When I was 10 years old we moved to an apartment on Hagilboa Street, unpaved, sandy, and just a block long. For us kids it was like playing in a giant sandbox. Like most apartment houses, ours had no elevator. We lived on the third floor. Running down concrete steps to the bomb shelter during World War II wasn’t easy when sleep was disrupted many a night by air raid alarms. But by day, my father went to work, I walked to school half an hour away, and my mother often went to the outdoor market, which still existed the last time I was there, in 2000.
There only were two traffic lights in all of Tel Aviv, as best I recall, because not many people had cars. But my Dad and his brother sported motorcycles. Like many others, we had no phone. I still remember seeing people standing in line at a public phone in the local pharmacy, out in the open because there was no telephone booth.
Our apartment on Hagilboa Street had three rooms, a small kitchen, a bathroom, of course, with a toilet housed separately, as is the custom in Europe. One of the rooms was occupied by a young couple who rented it directly from the landlord. The women shared the kitchen. The young husband liked to read in the toilet. Sometimes my grandmother, who lived with us, would bang on the toilet door.
My trip to what is now Ben Grunion Airport, on my way to America, was in an armored car. It was January 8, 1948. I heard the sound of bullets hitting metal. I have never been afraid.
August 29, 2006
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah must have read my blog. Somewhat belatedly, perhaps. But just the other day he was quoted as saying that he regretted having provoked Israel into war. He said he didn’t think Israel would react the way she did.
That was exactly what I asked him in my blog of July 28, as Israel’s might exploded over southern Lebanon, destroying residential areas and killing civilians among whom he and his guerrillas, Chezbolla, were dug in. “If I had an opportunity to meet Sheik Hassan Nasrallah…I would ask him what he was trying to accomplish by provoking Israel into war,” I wrote.
Well, okay. Now he is sorry about the death and destruction he caused his fellow Lebanese. But what was he thinking when his “Resistance,” as it is now called, crossed the border into Israel, killed several soldiers and kidnapped another two? Did he think Israel would ignore this assault? This violation of its sovereignty?
The fact is, he had been preparing for The Big One for years. Last Sunday, Israeli troops discovered a huge cavern just across the border from its village of Rosh Hanikrah on the shores of the Mediterranean. The cavern was deep and spacious. It included Chezbollah’s usual rocket launchers found in similar underground installations in the eastern part of Lebanon. Also located were numerous other kinds of weapons and a munitions manufacturing facility. Lest the “Resistance” fighters get dirty while doing their killing, there also were showers.
An Israeli officer whose men discovered this “Siegfried Line” – Hitler’s bunkers along his border with France – said it was so well hidden you had to be within a few meters to discover it.
Nasrallah still holds the two Israeli soldiers. He has said not a word about their future, or even if they are still alive.
There are those in Israel who also regret their country’s swift and massive reaction to the sheik’s provocation. But according to press reports, Israel’s top leaders expected a short war with a big prize: The destruction of Chezbollah.
So much for Israeli intelligence. Shades of the “slam dunk” the U.S. expected in Iraq.
August 24, 2006
Children caught in war, innocent victims of adult madness. They are the ones that pay the highest price.
The war between Israel and Chezbollah may be over for the moment. Perhaps in limbo is the better term. But the children of Israel and Lebanon have been victims of war for decades.
I visited both sides of the border in June, 1980, as a reporter for the Evening Bulletin. My story began as follows:
Metullah, Israel — Aviad Belsky is 11 years old. Madelaine deBakey is 10.
Aviad is an Israeli. Madelaine lives across the border, in Marjayoun, Lebanon.
They are separated by three miles of rocky, arid land and rows of barbed wire.
They are children of war.
“The shells don’t scare me,” Aviad says bravely. “A few minutes after the shelling ends, I’m out on my bike looking for shrapnel for my collection.” Then his voice drops. “I do get scared sometimes,” he adds. “The terrorists scare me.”
Aviad and Madelaine and thousands of children like them on both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border are caught in several wars.
There is the war between the Israelis and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), now ensconced in Lebanon. There is the war between the PLO (composed mostly of the Suni Moslem sect) and the Christians and Shi’te Moslems in Lebanon. Marjayoun is a Christian village.
Then there are the Syrians, swallowing up much of neighboring Lebanon. And lastly, there is the civil war between the Lebanese Christians and Lebanese Moslems, interrupted by an occasional cease-fire.
“I don’t like war,” says Madelaine, a lovely child with blue eyes and black hair. She sits straight up in a chair in the living room of her parents’ apartment and speaks softly in the quiet of the noon hour while the village rests.
“I still remember when it was peace,” Madelaine says. “It was very nice when it was peace. I was very small then. I played with my friends and I wasn’t afraid.”
* * *
August, 2006. What has changed? I don’t know whatever happened to Aviad and Madelaine. I hope they managed to reach adulthood. But the Christians long ago were driven out of Marjayoun, where they were replaced by Chezbollah. It was a major battleground in the recent war.
I don’t know if there are any children in Marjayoun, where Chezbollah was dug in. There surely are children in Metullah. What will their fate be?
The international peace-keeping force of 15,000, called for in UN resolution 1701, has yet to be formed. Chezbollah is keeping its arms despite a previous UN resolution calling for its disarmament. Lebanon’s army of 40,000, which is supposed to patrol the Lebanese-Israeli border, reportedly is ill trained and ill equipped. Many of its soldiers are said to be allied with Chezbollah.
Under the circumstances, the Israelis have stopped withdrawing from Lebanon. Occasionally they bomb bridges and routes through which they say Iranian weapons are flowing to Chezbollah to replace those it lost.
A little boy riding home in the family car, back to southern Lebanon, was smiling on CNN the other evening. Then, when he saw the ruins of his house, he broke into tears.
I still remember rushing to the air raid shelter as a child growing up in Tel Aviv during World War II. Till this day I am unnerved by fire crackers on the 4th of July.
August 19, 2006
It was the last week of the war between Israel and Chezbollah. Israeli troops crossed the border and seized the barracks of the Lebanese army in Marjayoun. While there, they had tea with the Lebanese general.
Enemies met on a human level. Instead of killing each other they socialized. Brigadier General Adnan Daoud even gave the Israelis a personal tour of the barracks. After a day, they parted. The occupiers allowed the general and his 350 troops to leave.
Not a shot was fired. No one was captured. No one was kidnapped or held for future prisoner exchange. It was hello and good-bye.
Too bad the Lebanese government did not see it that way. Last week Gen. Daoud was arrested and held for questioning. He is at risk of being charged with treason.
It is easy to see why the general didn’t resist the Israelis. They arrived with armor. His garrison was only lightly armed. And so, by not resisting in vain, he saved the lives of his men and even gained their release. Having tea with smiling Israeli soldiers demonstrated, as far as I’m concerned, that he did not truly consider them his enemies. After all, it was not his war. It was not Lebanon’s war. It was Chezbollah’s war.
Unfortunately for the general, last Wednesday, on the third day of the cease-fire, a videotape of the Marjayoun tea party aired on Israeli television and was carried by a Lebanese station as well. The war was over, but not for the general. His country signed an armistice with Israel in 1949, as Israel’s war of independence ended. But Lebanon does not recognize Israel, and its laws forbid any dealings with its unwanted neighbor.
The incident is a fair illustration of the hopelessness for peace in the area. Israel ended its occupation of southern Lebanon six years ago. It was an occupation prompted by Yassir Arafat, when he established an operating base there for the PLO. Subsequently, Lebanon was wracked by a 15-year-long civil war, and was under the yoke of its Syrian neighbor for an equally long time. You would think that peace with Israel would be like a breath of fresh air for the Lebanese.
But no. Of course no peace. General Daoud made peace in his own way, over a cup of tea. I hope they remember him when the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded.
August 17, 2006
So Chezbollah won’t disarm despite the conditions of the UN-sponsored cease-fire. Was that a surprise to anybody?
UN Resolution 1701 clearly prohibits the carrying of arms in combat weary South Lebanon, except by the Lebanese Army and the 15,000 member UN Peace Keeping Force, which will replace the Israeli troops as they withdraw. After days of negotiations, during which Chezbollah made it clear it won’t disarm, the Lebanese government and Chezbollah reached a compromise: Chezbollah will be allowed to carry arms, but not in public.
“Of all the Arabs, only the Resistance (Chezbollah) and its weapons have succeeded in standing up to Israel and overcoming her,” said the president of Lebanon. “These weapons no one can take away from the Resistance, and certainly not by force of arms.”
Clearly, then, armed Chezbollah remains in Southern Lebanon. Israel will be back at its borders. The French defense minister, whose country will contribute troops to the UN force, expressed hope that the new unit will have “real power.” The Italian general in charge of his country’s troops in the UN force, said, “If we look at past experience, we’ll have to admit that UN forces have failed, sometimes ending in a real catastrophe.”
UN Resolution 1701 is not being fully complied with. So what else is new?
August 15, 2006
The UN resolution calling for a cease-fire has been violated after being in effect for just a few hours. Chezbollah shot dozens of rockets toward Israel, which was the way it started the war. Ironically, the rockets failed to make it across the border. They landed in Lebanon, instead. Israeli troops in Lebanon killed six Chezbollah fighters who appeared on the attack.
At best this is a tenuous cease fire. There is little question that both sides expect a return match. Israel so far has fought six wars in 58 years to survive. The hatred of Arabs against Israelis worsens with each generation that is taught to hate the Yahud, the Jew. This is particularly true in Palestine, where Jew baiting is part of the school curriculum.
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah declared yesterday, when the cease-fire went into effect, “a wonderful day.” He spoke on Chezbollah’s television station. Moments afterwards, celebratory gun shots were heard throughout Beirut. “We have won a strategic and historic history over Israel,” Nasrallah declared. “And that’s no exaggeration.”
As thousands of Lebanese streamed back home in Southern Lebanon, I wondered how long it would be before another war begun by Chezbollah would once more send them fleeing back north again. As the Israeli government told its population in the north to emerge from their air raid shelters, where just on Sunday, the day before the cease fire went into effect, 260 rockets landed, I wondered how long it would be before their lives are in danger again.
A month? A year? Yesterday, the chairman of the Lebanese Parliament, who represents Chezbollah in the Lebanese government, talked about uniting behind “the Resistance,” as he calls Chezbollah. He talked about “the next phase,” and about standing “shoulder to shoulder with the Resistance and the (Lebanese) nation.”
Resistance to what? To the existence of Israel, of course. Those critical of Israel’s 18-year occupation of Southern Lebanon will have to admit that it ended six years ago. Israel withdrew its troops as the result of pressure by its own citizens. Four Israeli mothers who lost their sons in Lebanon, spearheaded a movement to bring the boys home. The boys did go home, but not for long.
Two boys are still in the hands of their enemy. They are the soldiers Chezbollah kidnapped that fateful July 12. Their return is not even a full part of the UN resolution, which merely “emphasizes” the need to return them. That language falls short of the two other portions of the resolution, in which the UN “calls for” a cease-fire and for the removal of Chezbollah forces south of the Litani River. The phrase “calls for” carries the weight of international law, and is thus stronger than the word “emphasizes.”
Family members of the two soldiers met Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, seeking clarification of the soldiers’ status resulting from the UN resolution. “Tomorrow morning, or in a few days, all the Israeli soldiers will leave Lebanon. The only two remaining, unarmed, will be my brother and Udi (the other soldier),” said a family member after the meeting.
I feel for the two mothers. Will their boys ever come home?
August 13, 2006
So wrote Zena, my fellow blogger from Beirut, just the other day. I have not met her or talked with her. But I know she is right when she thinks about how similar we are, Jews and Arabs, Arabs and Jews.
We are all human beings, or bnei Adam, sons of Adam – as it is said in Hebrew. Arabs and Jews are Semites, of the same racial origin. We all emerged from the Arab peninsula, although at different times. The Arabs consider the Jewish patriarch Abraham and his son, Ishmael, their forefathers.
In modern times, Jews and Arabs have lived side by side in peace when given the chance. Until the intifada of 2000, thousands of Palestinians crossed into Israel each day to work. I met one of them at a hotel in Tel Aviv, where my wife and I were staying some years ago. He supervised the maintenance crew and served as concierge. He was proud of his job. He probably doesn’t work there anymore.
Perhaps the most dramatic reunion of Arabs and Jews occurred in 1967. A defeat for Jordan, a victory for Israel, it was the unification of Jerusalem during the Six Day War. For 19 years, during which Jordan occupied the West Bank and part of Jerusalem, Arab and Jew were separated by war and barbed wire. Even before the Israeli government declared it safe, thousands of Israelis streamed into what is called the Old City, where the Western Wall of the Second Temple and the Tower of David stand. Simultaneously, Arabs visited the Jewish portion of Jerusalem, moving about freely, renewing friendships and business ties broken off when El Kuds, as the Arabs call Jerusalem, was cut in two.
Soon afterwards, I was in Israel on assignment for my newspaper and interviewed the Arab owner of the St. George, a first class hotel in the Arab sector. “Jewish friends, whom I had not seen since 1948, have come to visit me,” he said. “And you know, there were many friendships amongst ourselves and the Jews in the old days. So these friendships are now being renewed.”
“At first, we would have debates, which would end in bitter arguments,” he continued. “And then we decided that if we’re going to be friends again, it must be as individuals. We must leave out politics. And that’s what we do.”
Selma Link, my aunt, now deceased, was among an early throng of Jewish Jerusalemites to visit the Old City. “I just cried,” she recalled, relaxing on the veranda of her apartment in the residential section of Rechavia. “I touched the old stones and the walls. The Western Wall? What can I say? It was like a thirst that drove us all into the Old City, a thirst we had suffered from for 19 years. And you know, I am in the Old City every week. I love to walk the alleys and shop in the Arab bazaars. I don’t care that the shopkeepers are Arabs. This is all part of Jerusalem.”
Zena writes, “I know our neighbors are in pain too… so I wonder why and how this is all allowed to happen. So absolutely pointless.”
I totally agree. But by now it is common knowledge that Chezbollah crossed the border into Israel, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and began firing missiles into Galilee. It is also clear that Sheik Nazrallah, head of Hezbollah, has been preparing for this war for a long time.
Could Israelis and Lebanese Arabs live side by side in peace again, as they did just a few weeks ago? As they did when Zena was in Southern Lebanon, listening to an Israeli radio station? I very much hope so. Clearly, if nothing else, they like the same music.
August 11, 2006
August 11, 2006
An item caught my eye the other day about a different kind of destruction in the Israel – Chezbollah war. It concerned the thousands of acres of forests set on fire by Chezbollah rockets in northern Galilee. A spokesman for the Israeli government estimated it would take 50 years to repair the damage, to plant new trees and bring them to maturity.
It reminded me of a day in 1969, when my two sons and I journeyed to Modiin to plant trees. Dalia, born in Haifa, and I, who grew up in Tel Aviv, were visiting Israel with the boys and our baby daughter to show them the land we had come from. On a warm summer day I took the boys on a trip sponsored by the Jewish National Fund, which had been collecting money for generations and planting trees in a land nature did not bless with them.
We were going on a JNF bus from Tel Aviv to Modiin, where once Matityahu, the zealous head of the Chashmonaim family, signaled a revolt against the Greeks, who ruled the Jewish homeland more than 2,000 years ago. He, his son, Judah the Maccabee, and their followers left as their legacy the holiday of Hanukkah.
My son Peter, who would be Bar Mitzvah that year, said he wished we had gone to the beach instead. His brother, Wally, said, “How am I going to plant a whole tree? I’m only six years old!”
Desolation surrounded us. This was the place we had come to turn green by paying two dollars apiece for an experience. At least I hoped it would be an experience for my boys.
We climbed a small hill, as part of the long line of men, women and children, young and old, many armed with movie and still cameras. Atop the hill there were scores of holes dug in the ground. A JNF employee handed a seedling of pine to each of us as our turn came. Each planter put the seedling into a hole, then threw dirt on it and watered it with a can of water handed to him by another JNF employee.
Wally sighed with relief when he saw the seedlings. They were not too big for him after all. His and Peter’s turn came at last. I aimed my movie camera at them, as Peter planted his tree and watered it, then helped his brother do the same. Both faces were serious, as the occasion demanded, but I thought Wally looked rather as if he were making a mud pie, as he pounded the soil back in place around the little tree.
We were handed a sheet on which a prayer was printed in English, and which the group read aloud.
Make deep these roots
And wide their crown,
That they may blossom forth with grace
Among all the roads of Israel
For beauty in Thine face.”
Peter looked at the two seedlings. “I’d like to come back here fifteen years from now, and see how our trees are doing,” he said softly.
And then the boys ran off to visit a donkey tied to a tree, because they had never seen a donkey in person before. I still have it all on film.
August 09, 2006
Nobel Peace Prize
August 9, 2006
With all the death and destruction in Israel and Lebanon, it is easy to forget what is at stake: The creation of a two-state area of Israel and Palestine.
Israel’s acceptance of a proposed Arab political entity on its borders was highlighted by the Oslo (Norway) Accord back in 1993. Its three negotiators, Shimon Peres and Yitzchak Rabin of Israel and Yassir Arafat, then of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), received the Nobel Peace Prize. A picture some time later of Rabin and Arafat shaking hands in front of the White House was seen around the world.
It is hard to believe that 13 years have passed since then, Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated by a right winger who opposed giving up any part of the Promised Land, Arafat died, and only the venerable Peres remains, 80 years old now, serving as deputy prime minister. In the interim, Israel and the Palestinians have been close to an agreement several times. And yet, somehow, they never managed to put their Hebrew and Arabic John Hancocks on a final document. This includes the Palestinian leadership that followed Arafat’s death in 2004.
In 1999, Ehud Barak, then prime minister of Israel, and Arafat, by now president of the Palestine National Authority, the governing body of the Palestinians, signed an agreement to finalize their borders and determine the status of Jerusalem by the following year. Instead, the Intifada or rebellion of the Palestinians broke out in 2000, followed by another one last year. Chamas, declared a terrorist organization by the US, won the Palestinian elections, and has continued shelling Israel despite that country’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip
Yet Israelis and Arabs still were having occasional talks when Chezbollah in Lebanon and Chamas in the Gaza Strip, as if in concert, crossed borders into Israel, kidnapped Israeli soldiers, and shot rockets into the Jewish state.
Under all these circumstances it is hard to believe that if it had not been for Rabin and Peres, there would have been no Palestine National Authority and the Israelis most likely would still be in total control of all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean. There most likely would not have been any talk about a state of Palestine.
Does anyone remember that Arafat was languishing in exile in Tunisia, when Rabin and Peres brought him back? Arafat and his supporters had become ensconced in the northern part of Jordan, when King Hussein marshaled his troops and forced Arafat out of his country. Arafat fled to Beirut, where he established PLO headquarters.
Enter Israeli General Ariel Sharon, who, with the blessings of his prime minister, Menachem Begin, invaded Lebanon in 1983 to catch Arafat. Israeli troops had entered Beirut when Arafat and supporters sailed away on a boat to Tunisia. Today, Arafat and Begin are in that other place, maybe even neighbors, while Sharon has been in a hospital bed for some six months, unconscious, unaware of the dramatic events befalling his people.
Originally, the two Israeli leaders and Arafat agreed on limited Palestinian self-rule in Jericho and the Gaza Strip. Jericho began to thrive with tourism and Israeli shoppers. Over time, the concept of a full-fledged Palestinian state developed and was accepted by Israel. But the years went by, and now there is death and destruction in Lebanon, because a new breed of Palestinian nationalists emerged, one that is supported by the ruler of Iran, who has sworn to eliminate the Jewish state from the map of the world.
The Nobel Peace Prize?
August 07, 2006
No sooner had the ink dried on a draft by the US and France for a UN resolution to help bring an end to the war in Lebanon, when the Lebanese government rejected it. In principal, the draft resolution called for “an immediate cessation of all hostilities.”
The Lebanese government wants Israel to withdraw its forces from Lebanon simultaneously with ending its land and air battles. Syria, the sponsor, along with Iran, of Chezbollah, is taking the same position as Lebanon. This has created a real break for Israel, which wants to destroy Chezbollah once and for all. Lebanon and Syria inadvertently are giving their enemy more time to accomplish its military goals.
And so the war continues in full force, with Chezbollah’s rain of rockets into Israel having resulted yesterday in three dead and 100 injured in Haifa, and 11 deaths in Kfar Giladi, one of the early settlements by Jews returning to Palestine after hundreds of years in exile. Israel, in turn, intensified its bombing of south Beirut, where Chezbollah hides its rocket launchers among the civilian population. It also has pushed forward with its battle on the ground, on Lebanese ground, where Chezbollah reportedly has thousands of fighters.
The goal of the proposed UN resolution is the eventual disarmament of Chezbollah, and the creation of a multi-national force, which will patrol the border between Israel and Lebanon. Don’t look for Chezbollah to lay down its arms.
Who, then, is going to disarm Chezbollah? It has been in existence for more than 20 years and receives its weaponry from Iran and Syria. Moreover, recent public opinion polls show that 87 percent of the Lebanese population supports Chezbollah. Members of this terrorist organization sit in the Lebanese parliament. And the Lebanese military, reportedly composed of some 70,000, has never taken on Chezbollah. Bottom line: The legitimate Lebanese government has been unable to prevent the existence of a Chezbollah state within a state.
The sight of hundreds of thousands in Baghdad demonstrating in support of Chezbollah, even as some 100 people die violent deaths in Iraq each day makes me sadly wonder.
It makes me wonder about a culture in which parents encourage their children to become suicide bombers and which promotes using its own civilian population as a shield for its fighters. I was chilled the other day by a CNN interview with a former bodyguard of Bin Laden, who was holding on to his handsome little seven-year-old boy, handsome with big, black eyes, and said he would approve if the child grew up to become a suicide bomber.
Under such circumstances, how can there ever be peace in the Middle East? How can there ever be peace in Iraq? To fanatics, human life surely is cheap.
August 05, 2006
The other day I telephoned my cousin Manfred, who lives in Givatayim, a suburb of Tel Aviv. I was concerned about threats by Chezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah to bomb it.
Manfred just turned 82. He spent his teen years in a Nazi concentration camp. His father was gassed in Bergen Belsen. His last words to his son, as he was herded into the cattle car to take him to his death were, “I’ll see you in Palestine.”
Ten years ago, during the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein bombed Israel, which was not involved in the conflict in any way. One of the bombs landed a mile from Manfred’s home. At the time, he and his wife, Tirza, were staying with friends in Dorot, a community south of Tel Aviv, deemed out of the Iraqi dictator’s range.
“Maybe you and Tirza should once again visit your friends in Dorot,” I suggested.
“In Dorot they get shelled by Chamas,” Manfred said. Then he returned to his weekly chess game. Tirza, also in her 80s, said she continued to go swimming in a nearby pool daily. They would still get together weekly with their daughter, husband and three children, Tirza said. The youngest grandchild, a little boy, is just two months old.
Today Israel is fighting a war on two fronts. Renewed Israeli military action in the Gaza Strip began when Chamas, the Palestinian terror organization based there, kidnapped an Israeli soldier. Additionally, Chamas continues shelling Israeli settlements and towns even though Israel had long withdrawn unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. Occasionally, Chamas shells fall on Ashkelon, the Biblical city where Manfred’s daughter, his only child, teaches at the university.
Chezbollah’s tactics are the same as those of Chamas. Kidnap Israeli soldiers and shell Israel as far as Chezbollah’s missiles will reach. Yesterday the missiles reached the town of Chedera, the furthest so far. Tel Aviv, with a population of a million in the city and suburbs, is just 25 miles away.
Nazrallah is said to make no empty threats.
August 03, 2006
After five wars between Arabs and Jews and another one in progress, it is hard to believe that there never has been a country called Palestine.
Once, about 2000 BC, there was the land of Canaan, where, the Bible tells us, there lived the Canaanites. What now is known as the Gaza Strip was called Philistia, inhabited by the Philistines.
The area, historically the trade route between Egypt and what today is called the Middle East, changed hands many times. The Israelites ruled it for more than 600 years. King Solomon’s empire included much of what today are Syria and Jordan. Along came the Assyrians, followed by the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks under Alexander the Great, and the Romans. The last uprooted the Israelites and disperse them throughout the Roman Empire.
The Arabs came next, circa 600 AD, followed by the Crusaders and eventually the Ottoman Turks. Only after the Israelites, then known as Jews, after their country, Judea, were exiled for the last time, did the area become known as Palestine. It always was a province, an administrative area, never a country, never a nation, with its own government. Under Turkish rule, ending in 1918, the southern part of the area was known as the district of Jerusalem. The area north of Jerusalem including Lebanon was the district of Beirut.
The Jews kept coming back to the area, first as a trickle, then in larger numbers. Between 1880 and 1914 more then 60,000 Jews, mostly from Russia, Rumania and Poland, returned to what they considered the Promised Land. Victims of persecution and discrimination, they sought a new homeland and new security under Turkish rule. Another 30,000 Jews came from other countries.
Many settled in wasteland, sand dunes and marshes where malaria ruled, and which they drained, irrigated and farmed. The largest swamp was across Lake Chula, today part of northern Israel, upon which Chezbollah is raining rockets. In 1909, nearly a century ago, a group of Jews founded the first entirely Jewish town, Tel Aviv, the Hill of Spring, on the sand hills north of the mostly Arab city of Jaffa. The Jews purchased the land piecemeal, from European, Turkish and principally Arab landowners at extremely high prices.
In 1917, Lord Balfour, the British foreign secretary, declared, “His majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” At the time, during what later became known as World War I, the British were fighting the Turks for conquest of the region.
After the war, the League of Nations granted the British a mandate over the area known as Palestine, replacing the defeated Turks. Jewish immigration continued as the Jewish population increased to 600,000 when Israel became a state in 1948.
But what about the Arabs? There were approximately 470,000 of them to some 24,000 Jews in 1880. In 1914 there were an estimated 500,000 Arabs compared to 90,000 Jews. The trouble was, nobody asked them how they felt about the Jewish return. As early as 1891, some Arab notables vainly sent a petition to the Turkish government demanding that Jewish immigration and land purchase be prohibited. Bands of Arabs attacked Jewish settlements as early as 1886.
Yet there were Arabs who welcomed the return of the Jews. The Emir Feisal, soon to become the ruler of what would be the kingdom of Iraq, wrote to a Zionist leader in 1919, “We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with deepest sympathy upon the Zionist movement…We will wish the Jews a hearty welcome home. We are working together for a reformed and revised Near East, and our two movements complement one another.” Some years earlier, a single landowner sold the Jews 2,400 acres of potentially fine agricultural land in the heart of what today is known as the West Bank.
Moreover, at the Paris Peace Conference following the end of World War I, leaders of the emerging Arab national movement demanded independence only for Syria and Iraq. Statehood for Palestine was never on the table.
If there ever is to be an Arab state of Palestine, the Arabs must recognize that they are part of a long line of peoples who have called this little land their own across history. While the Canaanites and the Philistines and the Moabites and the Ammonites and the descendants of the German Crusaders came and went, the Israelites returned. At five million strong, they are determined to stay.
August 01, 2006
The dead and the wounded. Children, women and men, their bodies covered, because life for them has ended. Thousands fleeing from their homes, some even on foot. The pictures from Lebanon flash on our television screens many times a day and into the night.
On the other side of the border are the Israeli casualties, the dead and wounded, and those hiding in shelters from the Chezbollah rockets.
Under pressure from the West and the United States, Israel agreed to a 48-hour cessation of bombing, though not a cease fire, in order to enable Lebanese refugees to find shelter away from the war zone. Not a word has been heard from Chezbollah. For the moment, the fighting continues along the eastern part of the front. Israel’s goal is to destroy, or at least to cripple Chezbollah’s ability to attack the Jewish state. When this mission is accomplished, Israel hopes to make peace.
“You can only make peace when you win.” So said a U.S. Marine officer during a recent discussion on television of the upcoming 23rd anniversary of the Marines killed in Beirut. But Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, has different ideas. “The war with Israel does not depend on cease fires,” he said in a taped message on Arab television. “It is a jihad (a holy war) for the sake of God and will last until (our) religion prevails…from Spain to Iraq. We will attack everywhere.”
So this war, started by Chezbolla, is not aimed only at the destruction of Israel. It may well be part of a much bigger plan. More war, more dead, more refugees.
“The word ‘refugee’ is drenched in memories which stretch back over too many years and too many landscapes,” Martha Gellhorn, a prominent American journalist, once wrote in Atlantic Monthly. “In Madrid, between artillery bombardments (during the Spanish civil war), children were stuffed into trucks to be taken somewhere, out of that roulette death, while their mothers clung to the tailboards of the trucks and were dragged weeping after the bewildered, weeping children.
“In Germany, at war’s end, the whole country seemed alive with the roaming mad – slave laborers, concentration camp survivors – who spoke the many tongues of Babel, dressed in whatever scraps they had looted, and searched for food in stalled freight cars, though the very rail yards were being bombed….People like these defined the meaning of ‘refugee.’”
And what about the half million Jews forced to flee from Arabic countries when Israel became a state? When the armies of five Arabic countries swarmed ahead with the goal of destroying the fledgling country and push the Jews into the Mediterranean?
What is it about human beings that prevents them from living in peace with each other? We look different. We have different skin colors. We are short. We are tall. We are men and woman and children. But don’t we all want the same? Don’t we all want to live fulfilling lives? Find someone to love? Most probably raise a family?
And we could. If it weren’t for the ideologues. Those men with their narrow views, which they want to impose on everybody else, with fire and death for those who disagree.
I doubt that things will ever change.
July 28, 2006
If I had the opportunity to meet Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Chezbollah, I would ask him what he was trying to accomplish by provoking Israel into war.
He surely would say that his goal was to destroy Israel and help the Palestinians create a state on its ruins.
The sheik is a Lebanese, not a Palestinian. So I would ask him how he felt about having precipitated the destruction of portions of his country. I would ask him if he felt for the hundreds of thousands of his own people forced to flee from their homes. I would want to know whether he grieved for the hundreds of his brothers, sisters and the little children who have died and many more who have been wounded in this conflagration.
He surely would blame the Israelis for the death and damage and chalk it up to the price being paid for the independence of his Palestinian brethren.
Yet the fact is that the Palestinians could have had a state as long ago as 1948. Their own Arab brethren, the Egyptians and Jordanians, betrayed them.
On November 30, 1947, the United Nations approved the partition of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The partition was to be in large measure according to population lines. Much of the lands on which Jews were living had been purchased from Arab owners with money raised by the Jewish National Fund. For decades, wherever Jews lived — except presumably in the Communist block — there were little blue boxes in which children and adults dropped coins with which to buy land in Palestine.
An exception of historical proportions was Jerusalem. It was to be under international control.
Another exception was the city of Haifa, where Arabs and Jews traditionally lived in peace. On a visit to Israel a few years ago, my wife, Dalia, a Haifa native, and I, were guests of her cousins at an Arab restaurant in that city. The owner, who stopped at our table, spoke perfect Hebrew. It is where Chezbollah’s rockets have been falling regularly these days.
Additionally, the Negev desert, considered public land, where Bedouins roamed was to be included in the Jewish state. It was there that Abraham, the Bible tells us, wandered thousands of years ago. Yes, Abraham, whom the Arabs consider their father as well.
Palestine at the time was ruled by the British under a mandate of the League of Nations, the predecessors of the United Nations. When the British departed on May 15, 1948, armies of five Arab nations attacked the newly formed state of Israel. When a cease fire was agreed upon a year later, Israel had gained considerable territory from was to have been the Arab state, including most of the Galilee in the north, upon which Sheik Nasrallah now rains rockets daily.
Jerusalem became the capital of Israel.
And what about the proposed Arab state of Palestine? The narrow Gaza strip, which was to be part of it, was occupied by the Egyptians and annexed to their country. What is known today as the West Bank, meaning the west bank of the river Jordan, was annexed by Emir (prince or chieftain) Abdullah of what was then Trans Jordan. He renamed the new country Jordan and proclaimed himself king of both sides of the river.
As for the Palestinian Arabs, many wound up in refugee camps, particularly in the little strip of land around the Biblical city of Gaza, into which an estimated 1.2 million people are cramped today.
If I had the chance to meet Sheik Nasrallah, I would ask him what he thought about the past. I would ask him if he truly thought he could recreate it and change it. I would ask him if he truly thought he could annihilate a country of some six million Jews. I would remind him that five Arab armies could not defeat the fighters of 600,000 Jews nearly 60 years ago.
Since I don’t think I’ll get to see the sheik, does anyone have his e-mail?
July 25, 2006
There was a time when Lebanon was considered the Riviera of the Middle East. Many among the Lebanese intelligencia even spoke French. In fact, from 1922 until 1943 France controlled Lebanon, guiding it to independence and helping write its democratic constitution.
Beirut was a major tourist attraction even for those, like my late Aunt Lotti, who lived in Tel Aviv but occasionally vacationed in Lebanon. It also was a center of higher education. My friend David, now a suburban Philadelphia resident, who was born in Jerusalem, attended university in Beirut. The city had its share of Jewish population. My friend Dan, also a local resident, whose mother was my fifth grade English teacher in Tel Aviv, was born in Beirut.
It is sad to watch the destruction of portions of the city and suburbs on television to to see and hear the human cost on both sides. I know what it means to be awakened at night by sirens and to rush into a bomb shelter. The Italians bombed Tel Aviv during World War II. I lived with my parents and grandmother, then in her seventies, on the third floor of an apartment house. Upon hearing the sirens we would run down the stairs, then sit in a room in the landlord’s ground floor apartment fortified with wooden beams. We would hear the whistling of a bomb and hold our breath until it exploded — somewhere else.
The question is, what options do the Israelis have, when Chezbollah, their mortal enemy, has sworn to destroy them. And Chezbollah, as has been reported and well documented, uses Lebanon and Beirut as a staging ground for attacks against Israel. Their missile launchers are hidden among the civilian population.
The havoc and destruction caused by Chezbollah and its Palestinian counterparts, Chamas and Fatah, are perpetrated in the name of God, of Allah. I ask myself, what’s God got to do with it? He is God to the Christians, Jehova to the Jews of Biblical times, Allah to the Moslems whose religion came into being around 600 AD. Would God, for those who believe in Him, want his children to kill and destroy in His name?
And yet the Mullahs, the religious Moslem leaders of Iran, Chezbollah’s backers, and Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, religious and political head of Chezbollah, are doing so. They are making war against Israel, and predictably will move against the Christian West. Let’s not forget Al-Qaeda and the terrorists who destroyed the Twin Towers.
I don’t know if there is a God. But should He exist, He surely is in mourning these days.
July 24, 2006
I am glued to CNN. I spend many hours thinking about the conflict between Arabs and Jews, how it originated and where it could lead. My wife Dalia and I have phoned our relatives several times since the outbreak of hostilities. They live in Tel Aviv and its suburbs, watch the news on television and listen to the radio. They go about their business not knowing whether Chezbolla’s rockets will hit them one of these days or nights.
Many people, including newsmen and women who should know better, think that the conflict between Arabs and Jews began after World War II, as large numbers of Jewish survivors of Nazi persecution made their way to what the Jews considered the Promised Land.
In fact, armed conflict took place as early as 1920, when Arabs attacked Jewish settlers in the Upper Galilee, right where Arab rockets are crashing today, 86 years later. Josef Trumpeldor, a veteran of the Tsarist army of Russia, who emigrated to Palestine, organized Jewish settlers in that region to protect themselves against their attackers. He, however, was killed in one of the attacks, and became the first hero of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine. As a child in school in Tel Aviv, I learned of his last words. “It is good to die for our country.”
Tel Aviv. 1936.
My parents and I lived in an apartment in the northern edge of Tel Aviv. One night I awoke from the sound of excited voices and the rushing about of my parents and neighbors. I was about six years old, but I remember the scene I saw through my window: Flames shooting into the sky, as far and wide as I could see. Arabs had set fire to Jewish homes on the border of Jaffa, the Arabic city, and Tel Aviv, the fledgling Jewish one. Refugees populated the large fields of red poppies near our apartment house, whose residents were collecting blankets and food.
It was the beginning of the Meoraot, the Disturbances, which were to last until World War II broke out. Often I heard shots in the night. By day I traced bullet marks on the outside walls of the apartment building.
And yet, Arabs and Jews have been able to live together in peace, as they have in Haifa for many decades. In Tel Aviv, Arab women from neighboring Jaffa would come the day before Passover, calling out “Lachem!” “Bread,” as they collected leftover bread and other baked goods from Jews, whose holiday limited them to eating Matza, unleavened bread.
On the Sabbath, back in those thirties, Arabs provided public transportation by horse and buggy. I can still see those buggies before me, the white fringes of their carriage tops rustling in the breeze.
Even then there were Arabs who lived in peace with their Jewish neighbors. Even then, in the days of the Meoraot. How I would love to be back in Tel Aviv and ride down Ben Yehuda Street and Allenby in an Arab carriage with a fringe on top.