4.1024 Israeli Diaries: Werman (2/444)
Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 13 Feb 91 22:27:04 EST
Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 1024. Wednesday, 13 Feb 1991.
(1) Date: Sat, 9 Feb 91 22:59 +0200 (209 lines)
Subject: Another Attack; We Prepare to Rejoice.
(2) Date: Sun, 10 Feb 91 17:50 +0200 (235 lines)
Date: Sat, 9 Feb 91 22:59 +0200
Subject: Another Attack; We Prepare to Rejoice.
Saturday Night, 9 February
Another Attack; We Prepare to Rejoice
Last night, Friday, was our Sabbath. After the Kiddush,
the blessing made on drinking wine - we use a sweet red wine that
is probably not familiar to those who have never tried it although
I remember that is was not only cherished by Jews in my days in
the US, but also by alcoholics who called it "Sneaky Pete" even
though it was sold as "Old Rabbinical" or "Magen David" - we had
an uneventful and delicious Sabbath meal, beginning with the soft
bread we call hala, and then a lemon chicken soup on which
delicious dumplings made of chopped turkey breast floated gently.
This was followed by slicing a whole turkey and eight of us ate
the dark and white meat, according to our preferences, with a
casserole of sweet potatoes and pineapple and a large salad.
After tea and cake we said grace. Then my oldest son and his
wife and two children walked home carrying their three gas masks
and an incubator for the 2 1/2 year old with them.
The classical music station of the radio, The Voice of
Music, has been my salvation since the war began, providing both
a point of stability for me in these terrible times and a source
of the familiar and the pleasurable. It is good to know that even
in times of concern and distraction there is pleasure to be had
in old familiar friends and activities. For the first few days
of the attacks on us, this station joined the others as they all
broadcast together, usually with popular or rock music only
between announcements of attacks and war news. What a change
from normal times! From times when four brief news announcements
were the only interruptions in 18 hours of broadcasting a good
selection of classic music. After the first week of attacks, The
Voice of Music was returned to the air in its own right, only
joining the other stations at the time of an attack. This was
understood as a move to normalcy.
With observant Jews who neither turn on electrical
appliances or turn them off on the Sabbath [25 hours from sundown
on Friday to sundown on Saturday] in mind, The Voice of Music was
sacrificed last night. In normal times, such a decision would
have produced a vocal and indignant protest from the anti-
religious here, who appear to be every bit as as religious in
their anti-religiosity as are the religious in their faith. But
these are not normal times and - for the most part - old battles
have been put aside, to be fought again - once the danger is
over. I did think with some compassion for the non-religious who
this night had neither the flavor of the Sabbath meal nor the
consolation of good music. At least I had one, the one that I
The Voice of Music was to remain silent all Friday night
and Saturday until sundown - unless an alarm was to be given.
The station was indeed silent when I went to sleep, rather early
- as I usually do on Friday nights. I slept well until I was
awakened Saturday morning at 02:39 by the siren blasting in my
ears - it was the radio. Only a minute later was the siren
heard outside. We were somewhat confused and a bit slow getting
to the sealed room; we were a bit out of practice after five
consecutive nights without any alarm. [Later we would remember
that this was the third attack on four Friday nights since the
Five of us sat in the room, listening to the radio,
readjusting our gas masks, asking each other how he/she was [2
men, 3 women]. Five is a maximum number for comfort in this room
- not that we think of comfort; we have managed with as many as
nine without difficulty.
The reports were quite slow in coming, as if the radio
services in the time of attack had also gotten slightly rusty; it
seems so natural to forget, to want to forget. It took more than
10 minutes before Nahman Shai confirmed that there had been an
attack, that one missile had been fired [the 31st directed at
Israel out of 59 Scuds fired], that it had landed and that all
Israel was confined to the sealed rooms, in their gas masks.
Some five minutes later we were told that it was now safe for all
those not living in Greater Tel Aviv and the Shomron [Samaria] to
remove their masks and leave the sealed rooms. We were included
in this partial all-clear and we removed our masks but remained
in the sealed room to hear more; we felt the need to know more.
Moreover, the radio was still active, broadcasting - for the most
part - rather loud and distracting [definitely not classical]
music. Sleep would not be easy.
Some five minutes later, an all clear notice was given for
the entire country. The weapon was conventional; no poison gas,
no biological warhead. [We do not even allow ourselves to think
about nuclear warheads.] No siren was sounded. There is usually
a siren that announces the introduction of the Sabbath; this has
been cancelled since the beginning of the war to prevent
confusion and panic. There is also a siren - a continuous blast
instead of the rising-falling shriek of the attack warning - that
is meant to indicate the all-clear. Following negative
experiences with this signal and the multitude of false alarms
that result from confusion and wrought nerves, this signal has
not been used either for more than a week. The only siren to be
heard now is the signal for a real attack.
We no longer hear translations of the announcements -
other than one, directing all listeners who need or want
translations to listen to Channel A - the intellectual, and
mostly talk station - which is now set aside during attacks for
translations in the languages commonly heard here.
Sleep does not seem possible until we know more. Nahman
Shai reports that there is damage from the missile, but does not
say where or how much. And are there wounded? Dead, God forbid?
His voice seems to reflect nervousness; I comment on this and
others agree. Only my wife thinks that what we hear as nervousness
may be nothing more than distortion in the quality of the sound
resulting from problems with the portable phone he is clearly
using. He is at the scene of the missile landing; we can hear
noise of activity and people giving orders and calling to one
another. He has never sounded nervous before. It must be pretty
Forty-five minutes go by before we are told that a
Scud miss has landed in the center of the country, that there
is damage and that there wounded. Twenty five wounded, two
fairly seriously, but without danger to their lives; 300
apartments are damaged, with many rendered homeless.
Eyewitness reports are heard. It appears that two Patriot
anti-missile missiles were fired at the Scud and that there was
an explosion as one or both of them hit the missile. It seems
that fragments of the missile [missiles? How much does the
Patriot contribute to all this?] landed in two adjacent streets
and on the roofs of houses nearby. One young man who witnessed
the Patriots hitting the Scud while bringing his girl friend home
says that the time between the siren and the Patriot hit was less
than one minute. If this is true, what has happened to the five
minute warning we were promised?
If we are right in thinking that the missile has landed in
greater Tel Aviv, which lies along the Mediterranean coast, and
was downed by a Patriot, there a difficult question that has
to be asked. If no Patriot were fired wouldn't this missile have
continued on into the sea, not producing any damage? Are the
Patriots that are protecting us the very cause of the damage we
At least no dead, only two badly wounded and their lives
are not in danger - one we know had a shattered knee and had to
undergo an emergency operation. We are somewhat relieved; it
could have been much worse. Meanwhile the radio becomes silent;
the station has reverted to its pre-attack status.
We go to sleep, more tired than we thought we were.
This morning we go to synagogue for Sabbath prayers. It
is the Sabbath before the New Moon, which will be on Thursday and
Friday of next week and we recite the special prayer for the New
Moon. We say,
"May it be thy will, Lord our God and God of our fathers, to
grant us this new month for happiness and and blessing. O
grant us long life, a life of peace and well-being, a life of
blessing and sustenance, a life of physical soundness, a life
of piety and dread of sin, a life free from shame and
disgrace, a life of abundance and honor, a life marked by our
love for Tora and our fear of Heaven, a life in which the
wishes of our heart for happiness shall be fulfilled.
The New Moon will introduce the Jewish lunar month of
Adar, which is the sixth or twelth month of our calendar. [We
have more than one way to count the months.] Adar is the month
of Purim, the Festival of Lots described in the Book of Esther,
which takes place on the 14th of Adar, 3 weeks from now. It is
the most joyful and abandoned of Jewish holidays - one with-it
Rabbi even suggested that all Jews should turn on to celebrate
the holiday, a suggestion that has not been generally adapted -
and is filled with games, farcical dramas written for the
occasion. Even forbidden card games are allowed and one is
commanded to drink until you can know longer tell good from evil,
a practice that seems to be followed only by the most religious
and the most anti-religious.
Jews are commanded to celebrate all the month of Adar - in
moderation. And we try to, but it is difficult, these days, to
contemplate joy, let alone abandonment. The very religious tell
us, "Nonsense! A holiday is a holiday." They have faith; we
will try to have as much. We will try to forget that there is
much to worry about.
Today I noticed the first blooming of the narcissuses in
my garden, an early sign of spring. The rain in the streets
dried slowly in the cold sun; the yellow and white blooms appear
delicate and virginal, thin and upright in the cold, daring to
show their faces.
copyright 1991 USA. All rights reserved.
Date: Sun, 10 Feb 91 17:50 +0200
Sunday, 10 February
It is a warm, sunny, spring-like day; a light sweater is
all I need to go out. More than a day has gone by since the last
attack - I still think about it.
Even though there are others in the sealed room with you
during an attack, and you talk and try to share and at the same
time listen to the radio together, you are left alone there. And
you feel a heaviness slowly creeping over you - I remember the
stories about what it is like to freeze to death in the snow, and
it seems very much like that, a sort of dying - you feel the
inevitability of the situation, the helplessness. And you
remember that, although what you are doing what is best for the
case of a chemical attack, the huddling in the sealed room is
always accompanied by the knowledge that you are not really very
safe against a conventional attack.
I speak to a friend from Tel Aviv; he tells me that on
Saturday morning [02:45 AM] they first heard the Patriot missiles
being fired and, only after that, a boom, the noise of the
explosion. The Patriots, he tells me, have a mechanical sound
to them, like turning on a noisy appliance, while the fall of the
Scud has a full sound to it. He tells me there was approximately
5 minutes from the siren until they heard the noises. He does
not really know which to prefer, the 2-3 minute advance warning
that they had at the beginning or the LONG wait of 5 minutes
before hearing the fall of the missile that they now have. He
says "That wait is eternal!" Sitting in the sealed room, huddled
on the floor (we have been told not to sit against external walls,
so we have started to sit on the floor, sometimes with a blanket
on and still feeling perfectly naked!) and waiting for the
minutes to pass, endless minutes. [He reports that he jumps when
he hears alarms that are not really there and that at such times
he finds his heart racing. Strangely, this reaction is absent
during real attacks.]
The Mayor of Tel Aviv, General [ret.; not a Colonel, as I
previously reported] Shlomo Lahat no longer speaks of "deserters"
although it is clear that he still disapproves of Tel Avivians
who have left the city, which he calls "The Front." This remark
has produced many reactions, mostly negative. Some estimates
suggest that as many as 40% - or even more - of Tel Aviv
residents slept out of the city during the first wave of attacks.
Today we learn that some of the inhabitants of the area where the
last missile fell were not in their houses at the time, perhaps
accounting for the fact that there were not more casualties. Who
Lahat has also confessed to being one of the Tel Avivians
who run to his roof to see the "fireworks." Nahman Shai last
week spoke of those who did so as "crazy." Rooftops have become
a major battlefield in this war; there are the Palestinians who
cheer the Scuds on and the Jews consumed [thus far only
figuratively] by curiosity.
We are curious. Shai tells us over and over again not to
come out of our homes to see the "action." The spectators do
come, however, and appear to interfere - hopefully not too much -
with the rescue operations. In the last attack four people were
arrested as looters [store windows were smashed] - apparently on
the basis of being strangers. They were all released when they
were identified as being guests of residents of the neighborhood
struck. Apparently some people are now staying in the dangerous
areas in order to be part of the "action." It takes all kinds,
someone once said.
We are concerned about looting; it would be a sign of the
degeneration of our society, a degeneration that would not be
acceptable to our self-image. Thus far there has been only rare
cases; one looter who was caught was given a quick and heavy
It is a beautiful day and we walk; we pass a hospital and
the reality of the situation we are in again hits me: in
preparation for a gas attack, there are rows of showers
installed outside the hospital and so many stretchers! The
showers, the showers remind me of the past, of what we have
suffered. Showers that once were a disguise for poison gas and
are now meant to treat the effects of poison gas.
I am told that on a Friday night TV live entertainment
show a group of American soldiers operating the Patriot
missiles launchers appeared. They say that they are overwhelmed
by the welcome they are getting. The announcer asks "Who is
manning the missiles while you are there?" They reassure the
audience, saying that there are other trustworthy soldiers
keeping an eye on affairs, in their place.
The soldiers have improvised a song and they sing it. Some
experts from that song:
"I am a scud-buster, baby."
"Saddam, Saddam watch out what you do,
I am a Patriot soldier".
In these times, that will do.
Depression seems to be both a phenomenon that concerns us -
it still is not prominent - and is the source of jokes. Thus,
apparently there are 3 types of people these days:
1) Those who are depressed because the war is over;
2) Those who are depressed because the war is not over;
3) Those who are depressed because they do not know if
the war is over or not.
Israel has an old account with US TV which does not get
better with time. We do not enjoy the treatment we get; we feel
that TV treatment of us to be not only unfair but also hostile.
Some of it is of such low level as to be ridiculous but there is
much that is invidious and hateful.
For those who believe that there is never any justification
for censorship, my words will have no meaning. We, who feel that
our lives are on the line, disagree. Too often, the motivation
for wanting to publish censored material is not to expose
corruption, but to get a good story. It does not make any
difference, say the "civil libertarians", the chance of exposing
dirty dealings is so important that anything is worth it. We
differ, we say that the possibility of saving lives takes
precedence over every other consideration. And so the argument
goes on, neither side happy with the other's views.
We find that those who live most in danger, those who have
the most to lose are not less disgusted than others at
corruption or cover-up; but we do have a different order of
preferences in our world. Life for the Jew - unlike others who
believe that another world awaits them, one that makes up for
loss of life - is the prime value. Nothing else takes precedence.
This view does not make us cowards either; our soldiers have shown
that time after time. And we are all soldiers here; we all serve.
Every soldier is trained in rescue exercises; we all know that
if we are wounded we will not be left on the battle field. That
helps; it helps to know that human life is the prime consideration
and I pity the civil libertarian who does not know that. His life
is less valuable than it should be, as are the lives of others
When Noam Chomsky, a distinguished linguist, can write an
introduction to a vile neo-Nazi book in the name of free speech,
I - for one - pity the man. Use of the slogan "free speech" does
not justify this action; indeed it is not only in bad taste, it
endangers lives. And as such it must be condemned.
George Orwell pointed out that arguments for free speech
only have meaning within a democracy; when dealing with our
imperfect world, he pointed out, totalitarian governments use
these arguments to further their cause, to kill and to repress.
If war is a special state, one in which lives are more on
the line that in other situations - as it indeed is - and if, as
we believe, lives are the primary value - doubting that there is
democracy either in Heaven or in Hell - then democracy, or at
least some of its attributes and characteristics must take a
back seat. For the duration, as we used to say. How much of a
back seat? How lenient can we be? As little as possible.
At the beginning of the Lebanese war, TV crews who found
themselves free to cover almost everything were frustrated by
having to pass their material through the hands of an Israeli
Army censor before getting permission to release the material.
The censored material - for the most part - did not consist of
what most civil libertarians would call attempts at cover-up but
was material that was seen by our censors as having security and
strategic value that they were not ready to release. There is no
doubt, that here - as in all cases of censorship - politically
motivated decisions were also made and that material that showed
screw ups was usually disallowed.
The American TV producers - clever folks they indeed are -
decided on a method to pay Israel back by withholding the coin
they felt Israel most wanted. What could be better, when Israel
was motivated by a desire for good publicity [How simple minded
clever people can really be! Did they not see that there were
other motives in Israeli censorship than robbing them of good TV
footage?], than to plaster a label over every frame shown from
the Israeli side, announcing that the material is censored? And
this they did, as punishment.
They never mentioned that their access to news on the other
side was limited. This form of censorship does not count; there
is no good footage here, there is no footage at all. Here,
nothing is being withheld from viewers; there is nothing. And so,
it does not count.
Now, footage from Israel, from Saudi Arabia and from Iraq
are all treated to the same label, relatively inconspicuous, at
the bottom of the screen. And usually with a vocal reminder, at
least in the cases of Israel and Iraq, that the material is
Are the situations the same? Not at all. But the treatment
is. The cover of NEWSWEEK [not TV, but the same principle applies]
showed a Patriot missile launcher, an impressive photograph, with
one of the most identifiable structures in Israel clearly shown in
the background. The Israeli censors were greatly disturbed at this
and withdrew the credentials of the head of NEWSWEEK's office here.
TV footage of Patriot missile launchers in Israel is quite common.
Has anyone seen one frame of a Patriot launcher in Saudi Arabia?
Peter Arnett continues to broadcast from Iraq - perhaps I am
a bit oversensitive if I think that his record as an Israel-basher
has made him more acceptable there - and his interview with Ramsey
Clark [Is he still alive? And seeing them together! I never
realized how short Arnett was.] is interrupted by shots of hospital
scenes showing wounded children. Who would allow that in Israel?
Every TV producer would refuse to accept that from us. And
rightfully so. For this is pure propaganda, cynical manipulation
of the TV.
And what is Clark doing in Iraq? And Boston cardiologist
Philip Lown before him? They are civil libertarians. That is why.
What if American lives are on the line?
Here we would call it treason. Vive la difference.
copyright 1991 USA. All rights reserved.