4.0999 Israeli Diaries: Koren (1/155)
Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 7 Feb 91 22:31:14 EST
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0999. Thursday, 7 Feb 1991.
Date: Tue, 5 Feb 1991 16:25:27 GMT+0300
DIARY OF THE GULF WAR -- THE VIEW FROM HAIFA
Copyright Judith Koren 1991, all rights reserved.
Tuesday 5th February 1991
In fact I didn't go to bed at 2:10 on Saturday night; I caught sight of
Time magazine on the table where Gadi had thrown it, and read for another
half an hour. Along with the insomniacs. "Time" was full of the war,
of course, but the only point that really struck me was that General
Schwarzkopt had predicted a war against Iraq 8 years ago, and drawn up
contingency plans which were now, essentially, the battle plans being
followed. Interesting. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to draw
up battle plans for a war, and we may assume that the White House is at
least aware of what plans exist for what contingency where. I'd imagine
this is part of the basic information given a new President by the
Pentagon when he assumes office. These plans have existed for 8 years.
In other words, it has been clear to the U.S. for AT LEAST that long
(for who knows what they're not telling us?) that they would probably
need to fight a war against Iraq before they could settle the Middle
East conflict. One more nail in the coffin for the idea that the
prime reason was Kuwait. Of course, "Time" praised Schwarzkopt for
his uncanny far-sightedness; but views on where the next war will be
fought do not remain, in the army, the prerogative of one man (or at
least they don't get very far if they do). They don't even remain
just in the army, as already said.
Despite only 4 hours' sleep, I woke at the usual time on Sunday and
got to work on time. My cake proved to be only one of half a dozen
baked by the yiddische momas of the library for the Patriot crew over
the weekend. Edi got a personal phone call from the local Patriot
base commander after the last delivery -- he sounded really touched,
she said. Somebody should have warned him that in Israel the army
is bombarded by 2 cakes for every missile. Edi offered a warm hearth
and hot shower to anyone who was off-duty and tired of bare hillsides,
but they're not allowed to leave the base. Poor souls. Still, better
a Haifa hillside than the Saudi Arabian desert right now.
Shopping is a problem these days. Food stores stay open till 6 or 7 pm
but most others close at 5. Undone shopping is beginning to accumulate.
If I leave work promptly at 4 pm, which in itself is unusual, I can
manage half an hour in the stores. Yair wants a new pair of sneakers
just for basketball, Liron wants a brother-proof treasure-box, both
need pajamas. The trick is to do it in stages, I discover. One day
survey the stores in one shopping centre, the next in another. Identify
the items to buy. Then you can just manage, in a mad dash, to get
home, pick up the kids, go straight to the right store, to the shelf,
to the item, persuade the child that this is exactly what he/she's
been looking for, and pay. I manage 3 stores in half an hour with the
kids and even get them to dentist in time at 5:15. Supermother at last!
Liron reminds me that it's a month since I took her to the local
"conditoria" for cake and soda and an hour's uninterrupted conversation.
This has been my habit for several months now, because mothers and
daughters can't talk in a house full of noisy males. (She doesn't
realise we need to talk but will do almost anything for a slice of
Kripps' famed apple strudel and icecream). She's right, but somehow
the atmosphere isn't. You need to be relaxed. Not this rushing to
and fro to fit everything in before 5 pm, this emptying of the streets
after dusk. Not when at 5:30 you suddenly realise that you're the last
customers and the waitresses are glancing at their watches, because
they, too, don't like being out once it's dark. Nonetheless, I promise
her that one day I'll get home early, perhaps even at 4:15, and if
she's ready and waiting, we might manage an hour before the self-
I haven't heard too much about the war of late. I missed the Sunday
news because Saturday night caught up with me, and I fell asleep on
the sofa before the news came on. I missed the Monday news because
my hard disk crashed over the weekend and was unceremoniously buried
in the Computerland graveyard. I got a brand-new sparkling disk with
no bad sectors whatsoever (miracle!) and spent Monday evening,
surrounded by 100 diskettes, reducing it to the comfortable level of
confusion of its predecessor. The real victim was Liron, who'd spent
hours and hours of her enforced idleness over the past 2 weeks creating
a set of intricate palettes in non-standard colours for her paint
program ("Look, Mummy, you make this dark pink by mixing black pixels
in with the pink ones of the regular pink, every other line"). She
had 21 patterns. Warriors with shields in one pattern, smileys in
another, all repeated endlessly across the screen. All gone. Her
warriors are in the limbo of track 54 on a disk with no track 0, and
Liron is inconsolable. Moral: teach the kids Safe Computing, even in
a war. In future I must wrap a batch file round the paint program like
the one I have round the word processor, that'll compel her to copy
her creations to a diskette. Unlike me, she won't even know how to
There haven't been any missiles for 2 days either. If there is a
pattern, we're due for one tonight, when I shall be on the way to
the Negev once again; but we've already agreed that there's no
pattern. At work, however, the war has been as evident as ever.
The rooms we sealed, after much protest, a week ago have been unsealed
by people clamouring for a breath of fresh air. On Monday (yesterday)
my high-strung colleagues in the library's Department of War Hysteria
(there are now 3 of them in that department, for fear is contagious)
insisted on re-doing their set of rooms. They received another supply
of plastic and masking tape and spent half the day sealing themselves
in. Nonetheless they still aren't satisfied and complain that someone
professional should be doing the sealing. Someone with experience
(in what? Chemical wars?). The library director, having suffered
accusations of consigning Jews to the gas-cells just like Hitler when
she tried to reason with them last time, shrugs her shoulders and lets
them get on with it. Fear is irrational, you cannot reason with it.
These colleagues, few though they be compared to the total number of
library staff, remind me that not everyone is taking this in their
stride. The chance of a missile hitting any one particular building,
out of all the buildings in the city, is slight; but for these poor
souls it looms larger than the whole horizen.
Others are complaining at the slow return to normalcy. Why don't they
send the children back to school in Haifa and Tel-Aviv, as they're doing
in other areas? Liron had a one-hour school meeting today and received,
like Yair, a large amount of material for home study, but it's not the
same as regular school.
There is a ray of light. Frieda, the head of what I've called our
Department of War Hysteria, arrived today at 10 am. Frieda has a
head of blond curls and four children under the age of 10, and since
the war began she's been at home, holding her head and her children
alternately, watching the news and sitting in her Sealed Room and
going gently crazy. Frieda is a placid person, she does everything
gently. Her room at home is well-sealed, much better than the
library's, for Frieda is also extremely well-organized. A mother of
four who works full-time has to be. She remembers how she used to
crave a day off to stay at home, just to bake, shop, do housework.
Now she has had 10 of them in a row. Nonetheless, she says, she
had done nothing useful at home; between reassuring the children,
watching the news, separating the children, sitting in sealed
rooms, and finding employment for the children, the time slips away.
However, she is now an expert at getting 2 gas masks and 2 other
contraptions that look like the top halves of space suits onto 4
children in 3 minutes flat. Frieda is organized.
Indeed we see she is, for she arrives with all 4 children in tow,
having nobody with whom to leave them ("I just couldn't stand
another day at home," she explains) and yet within an hour of her
arrival the department has settled down to solid, productive work.
It's easy, she says. I just called them all together, asked them
exactly how they want the place sealed, and then I did it. Now
they're not worried any more and they're working. In the privacy
of my room we discuss the acoustic ceiling. Yes, Frieda agrees,
it probably isn't safe; but the point is that her people think
it is. No point in telling them other people's opinions. For the
first time since the war began, they're happy.
Her children are happy too. Piled into the mail room with pens,
paper and a month's supply of packaging materials, they are quieter
than Stealth bombers. They were here for 4 hours before I noticed.
My own children resemble Stealth bombers in just about every way
except this invisibility, even though there are only 2 of them, and
I am full of admiration. My own expertise is with computers. I wish
I could handle people the way Frieda does. I'm sorry she isn't
coming again till Thursday, children and all.