Thursday, July 27

The In T View: Israeli Bloggers On The Israeli - Hezb'allah/Lebanon Conflict: Rahel From Elms In The Yard

Darren by Dan Stringle - Flickr

Millions of words have been written by Bloggers on the conflict between Israel and Hezb'allah/Lebanon. But what do people really know? Those in the United States, protected by the geographical barriers of two great oceans, lack from the immediacy of this war. To know a conflict is to truly grasp its immediacy and intimacy.

Thus we sought out, through a series of varying questions, the opinions of those affected by this war, the Israeli bloggers, their homeland subjected to uncontrolled missile attacks and barrages, damage and destruction, lives lost, innocents dead, and a Israeli response to the Hezb'allah threat by bombings and incursions into Lebanon to seek out the purveyors of this latest round of Mideast madness.

In this In T View we present Rahel Jaskow from the nice Elms In The Yard blog. Rahel, a native of Jerusalem, is also a singer, whose CD Day Of Rest won the Just Plain Folks award for Best Ethnic Album of 2001.

MG: Do you feel that Israel was justified in attacking Lebanon? And could you tell us why?

Rahel: I'd like to turn this question on its head for a moment. Does anyone think that Hamas and Hizbullah are justified in their recent unprovoked attacks on Israeli cities? (Remember that Israel withdrew from Gaza last year and from southern Lebanon six years ago.) Those who would answer yes to that question are the same ones who feel that Israel has no right to exist ... which is precisely what Hamas and Hizbullah, directed by Syria and Iran, are trying to accomplish.

Now for the question as you asked it: yes, I think that Israel's attack on Lebanon was absolutely justified. What else should any sovereign country do when hostile states, or terrorist groups that have received sanctuary and sponsorship from those same enemy states -- and are acting on their behalf -- engage in unprovoked attacks upon its civilian population?

MG: What about those who would say, the real culprits in this conflict, the ones who are the puppet masters of Hez'Ballah and Hamas are Syria and Iran... So why isn't Israel dealing with them first?

Rahel: I am not a military analyst. That said, perhaps Israel is sending a warning to Iran and Syria by attacking Hizbullah first. Then again, the fact that the American Secretary of State and several European foreign ministers have begun to visit would indicate that the US and Europe also have something to say on the matter ... but I'm not a political analyst, either.

MG: Does it take a special quality to be an Israeli? You seem to be surrounded by groups that want to drive you into the sea, subjected to bombings and rocket attacks, participate frequently in wars - Does it ever get to the point where you say, I've had enough, get me out of here? In other words, what keeps you in Israel?

Rahel: I don't know whether it takes a special quality to be an Israeli because we all come from so many different places. Nevertheless, I can name a few special qualities that Israelis have: courage, hutzpah (daring, nerve), humor, inventiveness, resilience and a stubborn resistance to our enemies' desire that we lie down and die. In the Bible, God calls the Jews a "stiff-necked people." It is clear that God was exasperated with us then, but I like to think that there was also a good deal of affection in those words, since that very "stiff-neckedness" has helped us survive and even prosper against overwhelming odds for millennia.

Yet for me, this conflict is not and has never been about being specifically Israeli. Nor is it about land. For me, this conflict is about the fact that we are Jews, and about the way certain people and groups respond to our presence on the planet. They do not want us here, and to put it extremely mildly, throughout history they have not exactly kept their feelings a secret. Although there was no Jewish state from the year 70 to the year 1948, anti-Jewish persecution in its various forms continued relentlessly during all that time. So what's happening now is nothing new.

I'll give you an example: Every year, we Jews celebrate the Passover festival, which marks our liberation from slavery in Egypt. At the seder, the ritual meal that begins this seven-day festival, we recite the Haggadah, a small book which recalls our slavery and liberation and which is approximately two thousand years old. One passage in the Haggadah reads: "It has not happened only once that someone tried to destroy us. Rather, in every single generation there are those who try to destroy us, but God saves us from them." Those words are from two thousand years ago, and even the briefest look at Jewish history will show you how true they are.

You ask: "Does it ever get to the point where you say, I've had enough, get me out of here?" Well, I suppose I could leave Israel, though it would break my heart to do it. But I read your question in a deeper way: Can one opt out of being a Jew? Externally, yes. Plenty of Jews have done so throughout history, for a variety of reasons. There's an old Yiddish saying: It's hard to be a Jew. So we realize that, too. But we have still another saying: When we forget that we are Jewish, our enemies are quick to remind us. For myself, I don't think that we can ever truly opt out, because it's not about where we live. It's about who we are. And we can never truly stop being who we are.

You ask what keeps me in Israel. Well, Jews have a soul-deep, unbroken connection to the Land of Israel. For example, we are about to observe the fast of Tisha be-Av (the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av), which marks our exile by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and by the Romans in 70 CE. The Ninth of Av is the saddest and most painful day in our calendar, and in fact, we begin certain mourning practices three weeks in advance. The fact that we still observe this period of mourning two thousand years after the event says something profound about our connection to Israel. But of course, it's not just about sadness and mourning. That's only one manifestation of the connection between Jews and the Land of Israel, and I mentioned it because it is only a few days away. There are plenty of joyous manifestations of this connection, too, both in the Jewish calendar and in my own life.

Kate Elston 3 by Kate Elston - Flickr

MG: One thing Israel would seem to need is a good anti-missile system. Should the Israeli government have made the acqusition of such a system a stronger priority before this confict?

Rahel: We had a successful test of the Arrow missile some time ago, and we have deployed batteries of Patriot missiles. But since this doesn't seem to be helping the north very much right now, then yes, I would like to see our government do more in that department.

MG: How does your routine or perception change during a crisis like this? Do you become a news junky, call frequently to check on your family members and friends, worry a lot, spend more time with your loved ones?

Rahel: My routine hasn't really changed at all because I live in Jerusalem, which is nowhere near the front lines of this conflict. In fact, I'd like to suggest that you interview as many people who are living on the confrontation line as you can in order to get a more balanced picture. About being a news junkie: Since I translate news from the Hebrew press several times a week, I have to deal quite closely with the news whether I want to or not. Also, since I ride the bus, and since Israeli bus drivers turn up the volume of the bus radio when the hourly news broadcast begins, I'll hear the news if I'm on a bus. But other than that, I try not to watch it too much. I feel that it is important to be aware of what's going on, but within healthy boundaries. Yes, I worry. Some of the soldiers out there are my friends' children. And yes, I have been in greater connection with friends and family since the war began. Thank you very much. I hope this helps. Best, Rahel

MG Says: Our thanks go out to Rahel.

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