Saturday, March 22, 2003

See, I Told You We Couldn't Relax Just Yet...

I'm going to show my Israeli friends who think I'm a worry wart this analysis piece written by the country's most experienced and astute military journalist/analyst, Ze'ev Schiff. He says that since American forces still don't control all of western Iraq:

the threat to Israel from missiles possibly hidden in western Iraq has dwindled, but not totally disappeared.

Also, he says, the regime or what's left of it still appears to be trying to prove the war was unjustified by holding back use of any non-conventional weapons or using long-range missles that were forbidden by the U.N. But that could change when the end is really in sight and they are thinking about the end game. Here's hoping that the weapons of mass destruction that the U.S. believes they have are just stockpiled somewhere in a hiding place, or if heaven forbid they are set up for delivery somewhere, the soldiers operating them get a clue and abandon ship.

Bottom line is that the Home Front Command is maintaining the high state of alert and we're schlepping around the gas masks again today. At least me and my kids are.

It's only when the Home Front Command, and more importantly, independent observers like Ze'ev Schiff, officially inform me that I can relax, that I'll relax.
Sounds Like a Smart Move

The British Army has allowed its Jewish soldiers involved in the war in Iraq to erase mention of their religion on their dog-tags, fearing they would be executed if they were captured. There are some 15 Jewish soldiers among the 45,000 British fighters currently in action in the U.S.-led campaign.

This from Ha'aretz . Apparently, the religion is indicated on the dogtags in order to help facilitate a proper burial if the soldier is killed and the body cannot be recovered and sent home.
Gas Mask Neglect Report

The streets of Ra'anana on Saturday morning. Many, many people out for their morning power walk or run, without gas masks (guess they figured they could sprint home if neccessary.) The Orthodox heading to synagogue, nearly all of the children had gas masks with them, only about 20 percent of the adults had 'em. By the time I arrived at the Country Club for my swim, I felt like carrying the cardboard box was like wearing a big stamp that said "WIMP" on my forehead. So I stuffed it inside my gym bag. None of the other women in the locker room had masks, unless they were really well hidden.

The swim and jacuzzi felt so good after a week of no exercise. Finally, my husband was home for Shabbat and he watched the kids. Not only had I been loathe since Tuesday to leave the kids with a sitter in such an uncertain situation, but the only thing worse than the prospect of being in a sealed room at home was the prospect of being in a sealed room with a gas mask with a bunch of strangers in a wet bathing suit.

Now, of course, there is debate within the Israeli defense establishment as to whether they should have told people to get the gas masks out in the first place, as Ha'aretz reports.

Could have, should have, would have....They should stop bickering and get back to preventing terror attacks.

Balagan, Expat Egghead, and Israeli Guy all comment on this pointless argument as well as reporting on how people in their parts of Israel aren't carrying around their gas masks either.

Later and the day, I ventured out with the kids and some friends to our local park sans masks. Only a block away, so we'd hightail it back to the house in an emergency.

I still don't feel really comfortable straying too far from home. There is still reason for caution. General Tommy Franks says we can't totally relax yet regarding the Scud threat, though there is talk of lowering the level of alert.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Who Was that Unmasked Man?

Today was the day I expanded my comfort zone, took the kids to school, did my shopping for the weekend at the shops a few blocks from my house. Every kid I passed was carrying their mask, but very very few adults were. I wasn't either. At first I thought I would leave it at home since in case of emergency, my plan was to hightail it home anyway. On second thought, I threw it in the car, and kept it there when I picked up the kids. But I didn't schlepp it around with me at all times, as per instructions.

Neither did anyone else. A woman on the local Ra'anana mailing list noted that when she went to the supermarket: "Not one person in the entire store had a mask along with him/her," She asked, "What's up with this? Machismo? Denial? Annoyance? Optimism?"

Good question. The answer is a combination of all four, I suppose.
No Big Surprise...

It's the Palestinians once more never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

I mean, presumably, the U.S. is all poised to push their "Road Map," to pressure Israel into concessions post-war, just as they did after the Gulf war in '91, pointing to the Palestinian's new "moderate" prime minister Abu Mazen as someone Israel can do business with.

And here go the Palestinians, de-motivating the United States to lift a finger for them by cheering on Saddam. Then they can complain that Bush is pro-Israel and not even-handed.

Nice move. They shoot themselves in the foot so often, they must have no toes left.
Good news from Western Iraq

Now this is what we were waiting to hear -- in Ha'aretz, fresh off of the AP wire:

American forces seized important airfields in western Iraq, the only part of the country from which Iraqi missiles are capable of reaching Israel.

Yay! Maybe soon we can have our normal lives back.

Just realized that this probably sounds a little absurd to non-Israelis. Like I'm somehow eager to get back to our regularly scheduled intifada? OK, so my concept of normal is a little bit off these days....

UPDATE: The commentators on the Israeli news channels point out that even though the airfields are secure, the entirety of Western Iraq is not. Theoretically, Saddam could have a Scud hidden under a rock somewhere. So we're not completely out of the woods yet.

Still, I find myself less and less concerned with myself and thinking more about the U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians.
Kids are Back Home From School Safe and Sound

I'm glad they went. I'm even gladder they are back. I'll be super-glad if we get some kind of good news out of Western Iraq before I have to send them again on Sunday morning (yes, Israel is the home of the one-day weekend.)
I Finally Found Raed

For whatever reason, I have consistently been unable to access the famous Blogger of Baghdad Salam Pax (featured here on MSNBC) on his regular Blogspot site. I don't know whether it is because I have an Israeli ISP or what, but I tried over and over, and it failed. But this morning I found a mirror site provided by Civax and I got to read his stuff. Fascinating, just as everyone reported, and I, like everybody else in the Blogiverse am utterly curious as to exactly who this guy is, whether or not he's for real and if he's a free and independent agent or on some intelligence service's payroll.

Here are thoughtful takes on Salam from the left by MB at Wampum and from the right by Diane who seems to have corresponded with Salam intensively. And a Salam wrap-up from Paul Boutin of "Slate."

All I can say is that if this guy is for real and makes it through the war without becoming "pasta sauce," as he so graphically puts it, he had better call William Morris or CAA quick, because he is going to have a lot of offers to field. How much do you want to bet that Barbara Walters and Larry King aren't already vying for him?
Ooooh, I'm so Brave

So I did it -- I dressed the kids and sent them off to preschool and kindergarten with their box holding their gas masks. I was glad I kept them home yesterday so they could get to know the masks a bit. They decorated the boxes with stickers and glitter-glue and feathers: too bad I can't post images. My son's public kindergarten has about 28 kids and they said that only 12 showed up yesterday but they were expecting more today.

At my daughter's private preschool, apparently only she and another child, whose family flew to France, were the only ones absent. I'm not too surprised at the difference: my daughter's school is a full-day daycare, so the percentage of two-parent working families is higher -- according to Ha'aretz, this was a national trend. While school attendance was about 60 percent yesterday, day care attendance was 80 percent. Today, the radio reports that the overall, the percentage of kids in school is about 80 percent.

We can't quite exhale yet, but hopefully, we will soon. The news that's really important to us and that we are waiting for hasn't come yet: that Western Iraq, where the Scuds that could reach Israel are presumably located, is under U.S. control and has been pronounced clear of any threat.

Thursday, March 20, 2003

A Nation Collectively Ducks

My sense over the past few days is of Israel collectively keeping its head down, trying as hard as it can to stay out of the spotlight as well as stay out of shooting range.

On orders from the U.S., our message to the world is "Don't mind us, we're not here, just go about your business, have your war, protest your war, whatever, pay no attention to us, please, please, please...."

So far it seems to be working. It takes a lot of effort, though. "We Jews have a hard time keeping a low profile. Our noses and all," -- I can't for the life of me remember where I read this yesterday.

My friend's 12-year-old said to her yesterday after sealing rooms and opening gas masks, "You know Mom, I hope that just one Scud without a non-conventional warhead lands in Israel, out in a field somewhere. Just one. Something to make all of this effort worth it."

I can see how that would make sense to a 12-year-old, but personally, I'd pass even on the token Scud. Here's to wasted effort.

Sticky Situations

Well, I'm apparently not the only American immigrant in Israel who is really bad at sealing rooms. Brian Blum has written a funny piece about his adventures with duct tape, as I learned from Expat Egghead, who has run out of tape.
Quoting Myself....

Me on the phone to my husband five minutes ago: "Honey, could you please hurry up and head home from work now? They're starting to bomb the crap out of Baghdad."

Not a sentence I ever really pictured myself uttering while I was growing up in Rhode Island.
Midday Cabin Fever Report

Actually, the cabin fever isn't too bad. It was worse last month in New England when we were snowed in at my parent's home. So far we've squeezed our own orange juice and made pancakes for breakfast, and the kids have built with blocks and drawn pictures. My six-year-old built an elaborate zoo with blocks, that included a security tower for the guard to keep the animals safe from "mean guys" and a bomb shelter for the animals in case there is an explosion.

I suggested we draw pictures to put on the wall of the shelter. My son misheard me and instead drew a lovely picture OF the shelter. We taped them up and now have a nice art gallery to enjoy if we have to go in there.

The big event of the day was studying how the gas masks work and opening up the boxes and assembling them. Whoever designed the mask for the children did not have kids. Mine were not enthusiastic about wearing theirs. Who can blame them? We spend years training them NOT to put plastic bags over their heads, and now we're supposed to convince them that it's a dandy idea.

Me to my son, "Hey, look how cool it is, it's just like what the astronauts wear to breathe and stay safe."

My son's response, "Oh, too bad Ilan Ramon wasn't wearing one, then he would have been OK."

All in all, I got my daughter to wear hers for about 30 seconds and my son wouldn't get near his. So that mean's we're staying home for the duration. According to Ha'aretz, hopefully that won't be a long time:

Western Iraq is the only part of the country within firing range of Israel. Senior Israeli officials acknowledged Thursday that the first 72 hours of an American offensive posed the largest potential danger of a retaliatory Iraqi strike against Israel.

Seems that I was not alone in my decision to keep the kiddos at home today. I think that if the government wanted life to go on as usual, it was a mistake to postpone letting us open the gas masks until 9 PM last night. The kids were in bed by then, and there was no chance to really orient them to the gas masks. Speaking for myself, I was loathe to just shove the box at them, knowing that their first real experience with them could be mass pandemonium in a classroom.

So far, the biggest danger my children face is losing many brain cells by watching too much television.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

A Foggy Fog-of-War Morning

I stayed up nervously straightening up the house (if I'm cleaning, you KNOW I must be nervous) and websurfing until about 2:30 AM, until exhaustion overcame the nervousness and I collapsed. It's 8 AM here, a windy, foggy morning and from what we see on the media, the war started, sort of, it seems. Unlike Imshin, I'm not sending the kids to school this morning -- I have the luxury of working at home, and one of my babysitters lives next door and can give me a hand. My husband will definitely go to work, I'm sure.

The situation is just too unclear to send them right now. The beginning of the war is supposed to be the most dangerous time for Israel. And because of the air filter thingy in our shelter, I haven't introduced the kids to the concept of gas masks at all, and I'd have to do that before I could let them go to school. And they are only in kindergarten and preschool, so it's not like they will miss anything important. I just might miss my sanity, that's all.
It's Been a Long Day and It's Gonna Be a Long Night....

Well, it's 12:15 AM and the question is whether I even bother trying to go to sleep. My kids definitely know that something is up. The six-year-old, as I reported is perserverating on the war, what will blow up, when it will happen, how we'll know, when we will go into the bomb shelter, etc. He's completely excited, or his nervousness is masking as excitement. The problem is that my four-year-old daughter, who might otherwise be capable of getting through this in a semi-clueless state, has been all wound up by her brother and now is quite stressed. I didn't get her to sleep till 10:50 PM.

Our shelter is all ready: toys, snacks, now a TV and VCR. We've got videos: Blue's Clues, Dora the Explorer and Dragon Tales. And most importantly, we've got our pricey "Noah's Ark" air filtration system.

The big question is tommorow. Officially, we're supposed to send the kids to school. Business as usual and all that. But if they are home and have to go in the shelter, we've got the nice air filtration system and we don't have to think about gas masks. If I send them to school, it's with the masks. Do I want them jammed in a room with their classmates and a couple of teachers having to put these things on their faces? On the other hand, will I go nuts cooped up at home with them all day? Should I go to my in-laws in Jerusalem? Should I drive down to Eilat? Will all this be irrelevant by the morning?

Tune in Tommorow.

In the meantime, I guess I will try to sleep. My husband has the radio on, tuned to the new "Silent Station." It's a radio station that broadcasts nothing: unless there is an alert and we're supposed to go into the shelter, in which case I suppose we get woken up by some nasty urgent noise.
So I Think I Overdid the Upbeat Spin a Bit...

My six-year-old son is prancing around the house asking anxiously, "When is the explosion going to happen? When is the bomb going to come?" He just can't wait to hang out in the shelter to play with the toys I've put there and sample the goodies.

The wind, rain, and vacation day from school means that he's been in front of the television too much today . And the kiddie channel, called "Hop!" is broadcasting a special Sesame Street-like segment over and over again called, "In the Safe Room with Hop!" All the puppets are busy cleaning out their shelter and sealing it up, reading books, relaxing and having a ball. So now my son is certain there's going to be a missile hit, because if they are talking about it on television, it is a fact. He doesn't want to hear my qualifications that MAYBE we'll have to go into the room, and that we HOPE we don't have to.

No shades of gray in his world. Lucky kid.
My nominee for Honorary Member of the Tribe

Thank you, thank you, thank you Andrew Sullivan!
Why does it take a gay British goy to defend American Jewry more eloquently than it defends itself against the ridiculous accusation spewing from the far right AND far left that the U.S. is going to war because of Israel and its pernicious American Jewish agents beating the tom-toms?

Money quote in the British "Sunday Times" piece:

Last time I checked, the leading figure on the anti-capitalist, anti-Israeli and anti-American movement was Noam Chomsky, an American Jew. The New York Times, often posited by anti-Semites as a hotbed of Zionist dual loyalty, is against the war. The biggest demonizer of the president is Jewish commentator, Paul Krugman, who writes about Bush as if he were the devil incarnate. Tikkun, a major liberal Jewish publication, is also against. Leftist Jews like Susan Sontag and Tony Kushner are against war. The Clinton administration - far closer to the Jewish lobby than the current one - preferred a different approach when they were in power, until Saddam forced their hand in 1998. I could go on. But the point is that the debate is not between the American Jewish lobby and America. It's between Americans of all stripes and ethnicities, and American Jews can be found on both sides of the argument.

Can I hear a round of applause????
Sealing the Kindergarten

Definitely a few hours of my life that I will never forget.

I had a babysitter with my son who is on Purim vacation till tommorow. I was TRYING to focus on my work, not on the news for a change when the phone rang. It was another kindergarten parent, telling me that the two teachers were at the kindergarten on orders to seal it up (in Israel, kindergartens are free-standing buildings, separate from elementary schools.)

It's a few blocks from my house, I have no good excuse, so I show up. Well, it turns out that I'm the only one around: every other mother is home alone with kids or at the office, fathers are equally scarce, as repeated phone calls to other parents prove.

So it's me, the clueless American who was not here in 1991, and two middle-aged teachers, pissed that they have to do this with the plastic and the tape and a lot of very high windows and doors. I do about half and hour's worth of taping, but quickly realize that I would be put to better use recruiting someone who has a clue. So I go over to the Absorption Center two doors away, and charmingly accost and steal a couple of extremely tall male volunteers who had come to help the new immigrants tape up. (Stealing is too strong a word -- I did get permission from the Absorption Center director to borrow them)

I introduced them to the teachers, they set to work, a few other parents finally show up and in no time the place was sealed. Sometimes you just have to know where your skills lie.

Am I actually going to send my son there tommorow? We'll see...

The big debate right now is whether or not schools should be opened and whether children should go to school, presuming war begins tonight.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Cheese-eating Surrender Monkeys

The new name for the French.

I'm finding even the anti-war crowd is having a hard time getting behind Jacques Chirac. And on the right, well, the French-bashing is getting pretty intense and rather hilarious, I must admit. I just was told of a new flavor of ice-cream: "I Hate the French Vanilla."

For a whole blog full of the stuff, here is the latest -- Pave France -- courtesy of Vodkapundit

But no amount of satire can match the real thing. CNN reports today that

France's ambassador to the United States, Jean-David Levitte, said Tuesday that his country might re-think its position on war with Iraq if Saddam were to use biological or chemical weapons against coalition forces. "If Saddam Hussein were to use chemical and biological weapons, this would change the situation completely and immediately for the French government," Jean-David Levitte said.

They will RETHINK their position, will they? How big of them.....
Cute Purim Gag

Check out this goofy Purim/War Google logo

Thanks to Israeli guy for pointing it out.
Roll Call

So far, I'm counting three of my girlfriends with small kids out of the country for the war, and another one heading for Eilat tommorow. Most people I know, so far, are staying put. Today, I happened across a useful article on helping kids cope with the sealed room experience. It's written by Dr. Batya Ludman, a local psychologist here in Ra'anana. I've already done some of what she recommends, but it's good to have it in writing.
Observations During a Quick Trip to the Supermarket

1. The weather is incredibly appropriately apocalyptic today in the Middle East. Overcast, cloudy, extremely windy, scattered showers night has fallen early. It feels like something important is about to happen. It's harder to be in denial about the war today -- it was easier on sunny days. I worry about how the wind must be kicking up sand in the desert.

2. Panicked trips to the store appeared to have taken place in the morning. They were reportedly jammed this morning -- tI went at 4:30 PM and had the whole place to myself.

3. There is a big sign just put up in my local supermarket pointing to the bomb shelter.
Purim Under a Cloud

I think that I could put this day in the dictionary under the definition of "surreal."

We and everyone around us in Israel were dutifully following orders today, "going about our lives as usual," -- in this case, it meant celebrating a holiday. With the kids dressed up in their costumes, we went out to party, to the annual Purim carnival that takes place on the campus where my husband works. There was music, arts and crafts, a jumping castle, a show, lots of hot dogs and cotton candy and corn on the cob. The kids were having a grand old time -- mine were totally blissed out.

But only one thing was on the minds and in the conversations of the adults present -- the war. We were all actors in a play, behaving like carefree and happy party-goers for our kids' benefit, while our minds were racing with other matters.

In the midst of it all, I was guiding my Buzz Lightyear-attired son next to a speaker blasting the song, "Hey Purim, hey Purim, festive and happy," and an acquaintance yelled in my ear, "Did you hear? They've told us to seal up the rooms!"

This is the second time something like this has happened to me. My son's birthday is September 11. A year and a half ago, I was about to greet the children arriving for his 5th birthday party at 4 pm, when my mother in law called me and told me to turn on the TV. As the guests arrived, one by one, the excited children went to participate in the party games, and the mothers heard the news and sat in stunned silence, or frantically called friends and relatives in the US, and took turns surreptitiously sneaking upstairs to the bedroom to watch CNN and reporting back to the group. The experience of the adults and the children was so disparate.

Back then, I was so glad to be in a phase of life where I was the mother of small children, so I wasn't able to sit and focus on the horrible realities of this world. This Purim, I am also glad to be in this position, even if it means having to "fake it" once in a while as I did at the Purim party. All in all, being forced to "spin" the experience into a fun adventure for them, a la Roberto Benigni is "Life is Beautiful," is making it all a whole lot more tolerable for me.

My spin appears to be working. My kids think that our tiny safe room, our sealed bomb shelter is really cool. They are happy to give anyone who wants a guided tour: the mattress they will sit on, the special emergency light, the radio, the chemical toilet, and most importantly, the box of toys to entertain them, and bag of chocolate and snacks.

They can hardly wait to go spend time there. I truly hope that they are disappointed.

Monday, March 17, 2003

The First War Victims in Israel

Oy, vey, how awful is this story? And an Arab Israeli family, no less.

From the AP: A mother and two teenage sons suffocated in a sealed room they had prepared in defense against a possible Iraqi chemical missile attack, Israeli police said Monday.

This is why the army seems to be waiting till the very last second to tell people to actually seal their rooms, I suppose. To prevent tragedies like this.

Just watched Negroponte and Straw at the Security Council declaring the game is over. No resolution, no vote. Time for "serious consequences." Time to batten down the hatches in Israel. I'm in debate as to whether to take the kids to the Purim celebration/service at the synagogue, less than 3 minutes drive away or stay home. I think we're going to go.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

If It's the End of the World, Can I Eat Chocolate?

OK, Saddam, I'm ready. After weeks and months of procrastination, it looks as though the time has come, and I'd better be ready for a preemptive strike on Israel by Iraq, or a quick start to the war as early as tommorow.

So I've spent the weekend cleaning the junk out of my shelter -- my house has no basement, so the 8 x 8 foot shelter is where all of the useless items in the household came to rest.

Finally, the bottomless pile of crap is gone. There's now room for all four of our family members to sit, the air filter system is set up so we don't need gas masks, the gas masks are there in case the system doesn't work. I've got a mattress and blankets for me and the kids to sit on, a folding chair for my husband who doesn't do sitting on the floor. I've got some toys and games and books and paper and crayons to keep the kids busy. I've got a radio to hear what's going on in the world. I've got about 24 bottles of mineral water.

And I've got snacks, corn puff things, cookies and wafers, and the straight stuff -- chocolate. Now the food bag was a tough call. Since October, I've been trying extremely hard to be healthy, and I've taken off several pounds thanks to Weight Watchers. Technically, I should probably toss a few healthier, low-calorie alternatives in the shelter.

But do I really want to? In the worst-case scenario, don't I deserve some chocolate? If Saddam somehow managed to drop the big one, would I want to depart the earth with a dry brown rice cake as the last thing I tasted, or a rich, creamy Cadbury chocolate bar?

I think the answer's obvious. I'm going with the Cadbury.

My husband, ever the laid-back world-weary Israeli, laughing at my careful American-style preparations -- in his opinion, excessive -- suggested that perhaps I want to put the treadmill in the shelter so I can work the calories off. Cute.
"Embedded" With the Troops

Contrast enthusiastic young Janine Zacharia, the Jerusalem Post correspondent "embedded" on the U.S.S. Roosevelt with the understandably skeptical attitude towards the entire "embedding" practice by veteran journalist and Ha'aretz correspondent and editor Tom O'Dwyer.

Speaking of the devil (the Post, I mean) while it's all well and good that we know what the bunk beds are like on the Roosevelt, the fact that Zacharia is at sea, means that no one is manning the Washington bureau of the Post right now. One would think that having a reporter in DC might be important these days. And while Janine might be having a good time with the sailors, she is missing out on the fun that I had covering Washington as the Post correspondent during the Gulf War in '91. Nothing like dictating a story to an editor wearing a gas mask.