Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stern - A Clock Ticking

Paula R. Stern
A Soldier's Mother
23 November '11

Elie getting a passport to go to the States to visit Lauren's family has gotten me thinking. Years and years ago, we were in the north. I think I've written about it before. The story is simple. Wonderful vacation with the kids. I think we had four at the time. Leisurely days in the north. We rented an apartment very close to the Lebanese border and did day trips all around.

On our way back one evening, we stopped in the northern city of Kiryat Shemona and purchased food for dinner. We drove back to the apartment - I think I remember it being no more than a ten minute drive. We unloaded and the kids went to watch TV while we quickly started the barbecue. My husband was outside...I was inside when I heard two loud booms - seconds apart.

In the clarity of that moment, I knew katyusha rockets had been fired at Israel and had landed nearby. I had never heard a rocket - but I knew. I ran outside and made my husband come into the apartment. We didn't know where the bomb shelter was; we didn't know where to go. The apartment owner came to us right away and we asked what to do. He took us deeper into his house and told us to stay in the stairwell - it was the most protected area of the house, he said, while he went to check what was happening. We heard the army order people into bomb shelters and here we were in the house.

The owner explained that the bomb shelters weren't cleaned out and the best place was where we were. We tried to believe he was right, that we were being responsible. Within 30 minutes, the army gave the all clear to let people resume what they were doing. The vast majority of the tourists (Israelis visiting from central and southern Israel who regularly fill Israel's northern areas in the heat of the summer - like us), went scrambling home as fast as they could. The north was virtually evacuated of visitors; the residents remained. You could almost see them shaking their heads in wonder as to why people had left.

We decided to spend the night - but compromised by pulling mattresses into the stairwell. All camped out, trying to make it fun; Elie began telling us he wanted to go home.

There are moments in your life you remember. Crystal clear. You know this is a turning moment - I hope for Elie, certainly for me. No, we told him. No, we won't run. The army says it is safe; the people who live here all the time say it is safe. We aren't running. Would you run if it was your home? Why is this less your home than where we live. No.

What we did - without telling the children - was switch our plans. The next day, rather than stay in the Galilee area, we drove north and east into the Golan Heights, hoping that if more rockets fell, they wouldn't be able to target the Golan, which lay so much higher than the Galilee fields and hills. When we returned home later that week no further rockets had been fired other than the, it wasn't two. What I took for two was the sound of it being fired - outgoing from Lebanon, and the sound of it landing - incoming to one of Israel's cities where damage was caused...close to where we'd made our purchases just 15 or so minutes before.

We also came back to some very unhappy relatives who felt we should have left after the rocket attack. They'd heard about it - even in the States, and felt we were irresponsible parents. Why this whole story?

Because I feel a clock is ticking with Iran and I don't have passports for my children...and I don't want to get them. I don't want my children leaving Israel. I can close my eyes and see horrible war scenes, smoke in the streets. Would this be the Jewish people's last stand? Where else should it be but Israel? No, I do not believe it will happen - it comes back to my overly active imagination. I can see things, smell them, feel them - if my brain only thinks it.

Another quick story - when my oldest daughter completed the advanced ambulance training program for handling multiple casualty incidents, they invited the parents to a demonstration. At the time, buses were exploding regularly and so the simulation was a terrorist attack. The kids - all around 16 years old, simulated setting up a triage area, bringing in the wounded (more kids carried on stretchers by other kids). The day was clear and bright; the kids were laughing because some "patients" fell off the stretchers while over-acting. Parents were smiling, and I was standing there crying. I was so embarrassed. I was yelling silently to my brain - stop, stop thinking this is real. There's no black smoke. The sirens are just part of it. Stop.

So at times, I do this with Iran - what would happen if Iran really did fire a nuclear weapon at Israel? I don't really have much faith in most of the world. The French will moan; even the Germans and the English will do little. The Swedes and Norwegians might actually cheer. The Americans might come...but it would be too late, wouldn't it? And if there were some war scene with hundreds of Americans trying to get out - trying to approach the American I've seen in some foreign countries...I have no passport to prove who we are...and even if I did...would I want to.

I have no other land, no other place but here. I don't want to leave...this is where, hopefully way way in the future, I want to die and be buried. Am I being an irresponsible parent?

And this brings me to something Elie said recently. Israel is, as far as I know, the only place in the world that during a war, there are more people flying into the war zone than out of it. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of Israelis all over the world will come home as fast as the planes can bring them. Even those who live abroad, fly home to fight. I wonder if they feel the clock ticking?

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