4.1018 Israeli Diaries: Koren (1/212)
Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 12 Feb 91 16:36:10 EST
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 1018. Tuesday, 12 Feb 1991.
Date: Sun, 10 Feb 1991 14:50:39 GMT+0300
DIARY OF THE GULF WAR -- THE SCENE FROM HAIFA (Continued)
Copyright 1991 Judith Koren, all rights reserved
Wednesday 6th Feb. (continued)
Vignettes from the war:
1) Liron decides to write to her friend in the States.
Fine, I say, but she'll be surprised, because it's only a few days since
Liron last wrote. And Liron replies: that's OK, she'll understand. I'll
explain to her that it's terribly boring, being in a war.
2) Her friend Tami has made her poodle a "gas mask" of damp cloth sprinkled
with bicarbonate of soda. I don't remember if she managed to get the
contraption on the dog's head, but it's the thought that counts. Someone
else showed up on TV with a rather more professional gas mask for his
Guiding Eye dog. At the other end of the scale, a friend of mine travelled
from Jerusalem to Beersheva by bus and met a man who has 6 children. All
8 family gas-masks have remained sealed in their original boxes. He
hasn't even checked them (and why should he, if he isn't going to use
Therre's been a good deal of talk on the news about our ability to hit
the H2 and H3 missile launchers. Are our politicians preparing the ground
for the time when the U.S. will allow a strike? Or are they diverting
attention, camoflauging preparations for some other operation? Or even
just stroking the ruffled feathers of the hawks? Hard to decide. This
is a propaganda war and there are probably some other possibilities ...
but anyone still reading knows the refrain by now.
The police have cancelled all vacations and worked 12-hour shifts since
the war started. "When everyone goes into their sealed rooms, we go out
on the streets," a police chief says. Don't ask me what they're doing
there, but I know what they're not. I double-parked for half an hour
in down-town Haifa, hazard lights flashing, to deliver my wounded
computer to the Computerland surgeons, and completed the mission without
so much as a ticket. Unheard of. It's two weeks since anyone was towed
away from outside their door, the Computerland clerk tells me. Having
missiles fired at you has its small compensations.
Thursday 7th February
10 pm. The news mentioned something about American willingness to invest
in Iraq after the war. I remember -- the U.S. suggested setting up a
fund for the purpose. It was of course pretty obvious that Iraq'll need
the equivalent of a Marshall plan. Setting up a fund means the U.S. is
already declaring that she doesn't intend to foot the bill alone. I
assume that German guilt will be enlisted once more: "you supplied the
chemical and biological weapons and factories which we had to bomb, you
should pay a large part of the costs of putting the new Iraq back on
her feet". Japan too: those who didn't join in (or pay much, so far,
for) the war should contribute to the peace. The U.S. will still, I
imagine, contribute a large amount. The West will remake Iraq in its
What's nice is that this has all so clearly been mapped out in advance.
We're following the U.S. through a pre-planned maze, and every so often
she obligingly drops clues as to the path. The reconstruction of Iraq
must have been planned at the same time as its destruction; both the
fire and the phoenix together. As also, of course, the dismissal of
the PLO as a political partner, and the shape of the eventual Middle
East settlement. (Not many clues have been dropped about that so far,
except that there will be one.) I expect it's a 5 to 10 year plan.
Everything in politics takes 5 to 10 times as long as any rational
human being would think necessary. Political courses resemble that
of the cruise missile seen by a journalist from his Baghdad hotel
window, which made two 90-degree turns in order to avoid another hotel
in its pre-programmed flight path. There are many, many hotels in
the flight path of a pre-programmed political plan. An observer has
to learn to distinguish between the course and the 90-degree diversions.
Sometimes it can only be done in retrospect. For instance, I'm still
not sure which the Jordanian position is. Was King Hussein manoevred
into his present incredible corner, or did he simply play into American
hands? He's such an old hand at the game that the latter seems unlikely,
but we aren't likely to know much about the former, unless we have access
to diplomatic bags. Of course the question as posed presupposes a belief
that the U.S. preferred Jordan to side with Iraq (resulting in its
being discredited, the Jordanian regime being severely compromised and
probably eventually falling). That's the way I read it. If you believe
that Jordan had a completely free hand to decide which side to favour,
within her own internal maze, you'll ask a different question. I just
don't believe international politics works that way, and I don't think
King Hussein would have made the choice he did, even if it did. For
forty years he's survived Jordanian internal politics by sitting on
fences, not by falling off them to one side or the other.
To get back to the point -- I doubt it'll take us more than a year or
two after the war ends to start talking seriously to the Palestinians,
despite the time that political processes require. I also doubt it'll
take us less than 6 months. (A RATIONAL time would be 2-3 months.)
I have not yet seen anything to shake my belief, expressed on Humanist
a week before the war started, that there's a 50-50 chance (at least)
that eventually the Palestinian state will include part of Jordan
(along with most of the West Bank) and King Hussein, or his son, will
be king of a much smaller Beduin state.
Perhaps it's just as well that nobody's asking my opinion.
Saturday 9th February
Our run of missile-free nights ended last night with a siren soon after
2:30 am. For the first time, it woke us up. We tried sleepily to figure
out if we had enough time left to wake and mask the kids, decided we
didn't. I defy anyone to wake Yair in 4 minutes or less at 2:30 am.
So we opted out of the play this time around, let the children sleep,
and thankfully stayed in bed ourselves. It only took 10 minutes before
the intrepid Nahman Shai, or at least his disembodied voice, (doesn't
the poor man ever sleep? Doesn't the army have a stand-in for him?)
was releasing all areas except the central sector. (Come to think of
it, he was probably talking from his house in pajamas, unless he sleeps
days and is on standby nights. Perhaps the army had him tape all
possible messages -- after all there aren't very many combinations
of sector names plus "may take off their gas masks", "may come out
of their sealed rooms" etc. -- and play them to the radio as needed,
and Nahman is really in bed just like us? Perish the thought! To
some of us he is as comforting as Santa Claus; what would we do if
he should prove to be an ordinary mortal and not Superman?)
We left the radio on another 10 minutes. It was clear a missile had
fallen but also clear we wouldn't get a report of damage and casualties
for an hour or so, so we turned it off and went back to sleep.
This morning the media have all the news, though as usual they don't
agree among themselves and the figures change during the day. The
missile hit a residential street in a well-to-do neighbourhood with
many single-family houses. From the clues that creep into the
broadcasts we can figure out where. Pictures of burnt-out cars, houses
with their windows blown out, and red-tiled roofs blown off. Single-
family houses aren't built as sturdily as apartment blocks; tile roofs
are intended to stand up to nothing but rain. But then, too,
the average American wooden house would probably be matchsticks in
similar circumstances; here, at least the walls are standing.
27 injured, says the radio at 8 am; 16, says the TV at 10. Finally they
agree on (I think) 19. Perhaps the confusion stems from deciding what's
an injury. 11 people are shock victims: do they count as "injured"?
The main thing is that no-one was killed and none of the injuries are
very serious (according to that universally understood Israeli scale
which rates an injury as "light" if it will leave no permanent disability
or scars and "serious" if there's a 50% or less chance of surviving it;
everything else is "medium"). But the damage is extensive. 150 houses
damaged, says the radio in the morning; 500, says the TV evening news.
Many will have to be razed and rebuilt. Several Patriots were fired
but seem to have missed; perhaps because they're stationed relatively
far from the area targeted? Later we hear they did hit, and the
damage is from falling fragments.
Gadi figures that the weather was responsible. The previous few nights
were clear; it would've been difficult to launch a missile without alerting
the watchful eyes of the Americans. Last night was cloudy. We can deduce
in retrospect, but don't manage to predict. Except for one man, who
says his wife had such a strong premonition that they went to friends a
few blocks away for the night. Their house was badly damaged. The
family is religious, they interpret premonitions accordingly. Religion
is very comforting at a time like this. But I can only wonder why the
499 other families weren't granted premonitions. I also wonder how
many people in Israel have had premonitions which didn't make the news
because they didn't come true.
Shamir appears on the news and does his best to calm the nation. The total
amount of explosives fired at Israel so far, he reminds us, is 8 tons --
only slightly more than the payload of a Phantom fighter. (A missile can
carry approximately a quarter ton). It pays him to be soothing, he's
explaining that we have no intention of retaliating, and he needs to
dampen the desires for revenge. When the government wants to keep us on
edge it plays a different tune on the same strings.
The single missile fired at us so swamps the news coverage for most of
the day that I don't hear much about the ongoing U.S. assault on Iraq,
where the real action is. But then again, even when I do, there's not
much news released. U.S. censorship is a lot tighter than Israeli at
Despite this attack, the government sticks to its schedule of returning
children to school. Events that were sufficient reason to stop the
schools three weeks ago are not now sufficient reason for not restarting
them. The population is tired of children at home; the public mood is
more important than objective reality. I agree that objective reality
also allows schools to be reopened, but that conclusion could have
been reached 2 weeks ago, only the public mood was not then ripe.
Anyway, Liron starts school again tomorrow, and Yair reverts to a
schedule starting from 8 am (though early lessons, starting from 7,
are still not allowed). By Tuesday they hope to have all the kids
back at school, at long last.
At the end of the month comes the festival of Purim. Nobody has been
thinking of gay festivals, but I feel we must preserve an atmosphere
of normality. so I ask Liron what she wants to dress up as. I suggest
a Scud missile (there's a limit to how normal one can be), but she isn't
impressed. For the last 4 years she's been some sort of animal; this
year, she says, she wants to be human. Not even an angel ("Mummy,
last year 15 BOYS went as angels!"); and ghosts, witches, demons
and monsters are also out. I reflect that she's behind the times,
which are full of witches, demons and monsters. But she's not of
an age to understand; she doesn't even watch the news yet. However,
just what does qualify as "human" she hasn't decided. We don't have
to decide whether Saddam is human, for the stores have publicly announced
that they won't sell costumes of him. Clowns are passe and Queen Esthers
(once the point of this whole celebration) are for first-graders. Liron
still doesn't know what she'll be. Pity; I think she'd've made a good
missile. More to the point, with enough cardboard and aluminum foil her
thumbs-only mother could've made a good missile too.
On the other hand, there'll probably be a surfeit of missiles in
the classrooms this Purim.