Monday, July 17, 2006


Getting a Little Hairy

As friends and relatives keep mentioning, this was an interesting time to visit Israel -- particularly with three girls in tow!

Here's a map of northern Israel, courtesy of the Jerusalem Post, showing the rocket and missile attacks from Lebanon thus far. I've added last night's strikes on Afula and Tiberias, which brings the Hizbullah attacks to a new record of penetration.

The small red dot, halfway between Hadera and Netanya, is where my family and I are staying. I don't mind admitting that it's getting a little scary.

Sure, I faced these sorts of attacks unflinchingly as an Israeli soldier in the late eighties, and as an Israeli civilian in 1991 -- in addition to the threats of terrorist violence that are, for better or worse, part of the daily Israeli experience. (Israelis by and large ignore such threats and live their lives in spite of them, just as Americans ignore the far greater threat of violent crime at home.)

But my situation is different now. My wife and I are here as tourists, not as returning residents -- and my three American stepdaughters are along. Do we dare subject them to the risks I used to take as a matter of routine?

This is a difficult choice for me, very difficult. Yes, I was born and grew up in the United States, and have lived there since 1994; yet in a very real sense, Israel is home to me. I am tied to this place, this beautiful chaotic place, by bonds of blood and history and personal experience. Though I am no longer subject to call-up in the Israeli Army reserves, I have not forgotten the oath I once took, to defend this land and this people, with my life if necessary.

Turning my back on Israel now, to get my family out of the (potential) line of fire, feels wrong on a fundamental level. It feels like breaking a promise. But I may have to do just that. My family never took the oath that I did; standing steadfast by Israel is not embedded deep in their hearts, the way it is in mine. And, with our American passports and return airfare tickets in hand, we do have a choice.

So we've been making contingency plans, based on the need to be pragmatic. We will decide, if we have to, whether or not to put those plans into practice.

It's difficult to explain. Every time Israel has been in serious danger, foreigners watch in disbelief as expatriate Israelis fight tooth and nail to return to Israel. It has happened for every one of Israel's wars; I watched it happen in 1991. I have no doubt that it is happening again now.

And, while I would not have planned to bring my family to Israel during a time of crisis, being here now is important and special. We are expressing our solidarity with the state of Israel and with the Jewish people, in a very concrete sense.

I'm reminded of a passage from a book that has haunted me for years, Arnold Sherman's "When God Judged and Men Died", a contemporary on-the-ground account of Israel's Yom Kippur War in 1973. Among many other moving interviews, there's one with a Scandinavian tourist, who was visiting Israel in October 1973 and was trapped there for the duration of the war. He volunteered to help bring in the harvest on a kibbutz, thereby freeing up valuable Israeli manpower to go to the front and win the war. When asked how he felt, the tourist said that he was angry -- Israel had been brutally attacked, without warning, and other than the United States, nobody seemed to care. He added, "I'm only one person, and I can't contribute much... but this is where I want to stand at this turning point in history".

Sometimes it comes to that -- not whether one's contribution is significant or not, but whether or not one chooses to take a stand, and where. I hope that circumstances permit us to do that -- and to finish our vacation here, as we planned.

On the other hand, we do not want to put the children at risk for our beliefs. That is what the terrorists do.


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