Tag Archives: terrorism

Visiting the Gaza Border Area

Esther Marcus holding arson kite at Kibbutz Alumim
Esther Marcus holding an arson kite that landed at Kibbutz Alumim

Nogo Gulst fondly remembers the years when she could go to the nearest large city to do her shopping or to catch a bus to Tel Aviv. Noga, who lives in Kibbutz Mefalsim, Danny Rachamim from Kibbutz Nahal Oz, and Esther Marcus from Kibbutz Alumim, all say the same thing. From 1967 until the signing of the Oslo Accords, Gaza City was the place to go.

Noga said, “We did everything in Gaza.” They shopped there and ate in its restaurants. “It was the best hummous I ever eat,” Danny reported. The fastest to route to Tel Aviv was through Gaza City. They were friends with Arabs. Danny reports having hosted several families from Gaza at the wedding of one of his children. Long time residents of Sderot have happy memories of walking less than a kilometer to the beach on Shabbat during those years.

Touring with Honest Reporting
The Asaf Siboni overlook. Gaza City, less than a mile away, is on the horizon The black patches are fields that were burned in arson attacks by Hamas.
The Asaf Siboni overlook. Gaza City, less than a mile away, is on the horizon The black patches are fields that were burned in arson attacks by Hamas.

On August 7, my husband and I spent the day with Honest Reporting on a briefing tour of the Gaza border areas. The places we went, Asaf Siboni, Kibutz Nahal Oz, and Kibbutz Alumim, are all in areas allotted to Israel by the 1947 UN Partition PlanThey have been part of Israel since the founding of the state in May 1948. Elliot Chodoff, a military and political analyst spoke about the background of the current situation.

At each stop, we met several long-time residents, and toured their towns and farms. Today, the situation is different from what it was in the 1970s and 80s, when travel between Israel and Gaza was easy and safe. No Israelis go to Gaza City. The only exceptions are soldiers, and they only go armed, under military orders. In many Arab areas, in the Shomron as well as Gaza, Israeli soldiers are the only Jews anyone under the age of 25 has ever seen.

Hamas demonstrations at the Gaza border fence

Hamas has been trying to destroy Israel, ever since the founding of organization in 1987. But this summer has been particularly difficult for the residents of the south, especially for those living in the area closest to Gaza.

Since April, Hamas has directed weekly demonstrations along the border with Israel. Although billed as peaceful, the demonstrations are neither peaceful in intent, nor in actuality. Hamas leaders have encouraged demonstrators to come armed with knives slingshots, guns, and Molotov cocktails. They have urged Gaza residents to break down the border fence, and attack Israeli soldiers, and civilians. Hamas has distributed maps of Israeli towns near the border. With the map, any Gazan who gets through the fence can easily find Israelis and kill them.

Arson attacks against Israeli farms

This year’s summer unrest has unveiled a new weapon, which may have been more effective than Hamas originally envisioned: kites. The kites and balloons from Gaza may have started out as innocent children’s toys, but now they are weapons of war. They carry fire. Some are set on fire before being sent aloft, others carry Molotov cocktails or incendiary devices on timers. Their purpose is to destroy Israeli agriculture.

The kites have been remarkably successful. They are hard to detect when in the air, and when they land, the small fires they set spread quickly. Standing at Asaf Siboni, a high point overlooking the border with Gaza, Noga pointed out several fields that were recently burned by Hamas. Six months ago, she told us, from this spot all you could see was wheat. Half of it was burned by kite-triggered fires. Grass grows fast, and some of the fields and forests in the area burned more than once. She laughed when she said “forests,” because as she said, “Fifty trees is a forest in Israel.” But in an area where every tree was planted by hand and carefully irrigated, the loss of a stand of fifty trees hits hard.

At Nahal Oz, Danny pointed out a large wheat field, now scorched black from a fire. He reported that five thousand dunams of their land (about 1235 acres) is planted in wheat. This year Hamas burned a fifth of their crop, causing a loss of about 700,000 shekels from kibbutz income (a little more than $190,000). Their fields of sunflowers are almost ready for harvest. Because the fields are very dry,  they worry an arson kite or balloon will land in the field and destroy that crop as well.

Less than two kilometers away, Kibbutz Alumim lost a field of chickpeas to a fire two weeks ago and earlier this week a fire burned their corn. Although the government provides compensation for destroyed crops and lost income, it can not provide a sense of security for the residents.

Hamas rockets attack Israel

Kibbutzim, farms, and cities all over the Negev have been under sporadic attack by Hamas for almost twenty years. This area has been farmed by Jews since 1946, when the first kibbutzim in the Negev were founded. Be’er Sheva, about 50 km (30 miles) from Gaza, has been hit by rockets and a few arson kites which have drifted inland. The first

Esther shows remnants or some of the rockets that have landed at Alumim in the last ten years
Esther shows remnants or some of the rockets that have landed at Alumim in the last ten years

Kassam rockets were first launched in 2001. Noga says her youngest son was five years old then; he cannot remember a time when there was no terror. The  reinforced concrete protective rooms in every house and public building, and the squat shelters in parks and playgrounds, offer physical protection. Older schools and public buildings have been adapted by constructing thick reinforced concrete roofs above their original roofs. But these structures also constantly remind people of the rockets that necessitate their presence.

Kibbutz Alumim, when they recently erected a new children’s building, they made the whole building bomb proof. They needed the new center because, despite the constant danger, the kibbutz is growing. In the last three weeks alone, nine babies were born, including one set of twins.

Tzeva Adom: Warnings of rocket attacks

Even during quiet periods, everyone has with one ear listening for the warning “Tzeva Adom” warning, the woman’s voice announcing “Color red, color red.” They know when they hear that announcement they have fifteen seconds, sometimes less, to get into the shelter. To make sure they hear any announcement, they always keep a window open wherever they are, even if it is a hundred degrees outside and the air conditioner is struggling to keep the inside temperature down to 85.

When in places where there is no chance of a rocket warning, they are nevertheless on alert. Noga mentioned being in a foreign airport and hearing the little “tick” a loudspeaker makes as it turns on just before an announcement. Her whole family tensed, ready to run to shelter. “You can never 100% concentrate because you are always listening for the alarm.”

Hamas also occasionally fires mortars from Gaza at the Israeli farms. Mortars are small, with flatter trajectories. There’s no way to protect yourself from mortar, and there’s no warning. Four years ago, a mortar killed a young child in his own front yard, in the area we were touring.

Child care workers and teachers spend time working with children, teaching them what to do in case of an alarm. They also try to decrease the stress of rocket attacks. A teacher in the South wrote a song for the children to sing during an alert, that has body and hand motions to go with it.

Children have Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Nonetheless, there is a very high rate of PTSD among children in the areas within the 30 second warning area. Children have stopped using the color red in their art projects because of its association with rocket attacks.

To destigmatize the color, Esther Marcus wrote a children’s book called, Tzeva Adom. It is the story of about how all the colors gathered to choose the color of the year. Each color, starting with purple, explained all the things it can found in and why it should be chosen. But when it came to red’s turn it sat in the corner because people are afraid of it. All the other colors comfort red. It’s the life-saving color of warnings. They elect red as color of the year, and then all join together in a rainbow.

Esther talked about trying to “raise children not to have hate in their hearts, not to want revenge.” Noga talked about the electricity made by solar panels in nearby fields. The owners want to send the excess  electricity to Gaza, instead of selling it to the Israel Electric Company, as required.   Doing so would could give the people might have five or six hours hours of electricity a day, instead of four hours. They feel that “Making it better for them will make it better for us.”

Early August escalation of attacks

Wednesday night, August 8, into Thursday morning, Hamas fired hundreds of rockets into Israel. When I awoke Thursday morning, my phone alerts showed screen after screen full of Tzeva Adom notifications. The alert system has been so refined that only the area projected to be the target of a specific barrage is notified. The rest of us find out from the radio or notifications on our phones.

One of the painted public bomb shelters at Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Inside, the walls are bare unpainted concrete.
One of the public bomb shelters at Kibbutz Nahal Oz. Inside, the walls are bare unpainted concrete.

So, while we were sleeping peacefully, thousands of residents of southern Israel dozed fitfully or sat up all night in their bomb shelters. About twenty people were wounded in the attacks, and many more suffered psychological trauma.

When I saw all the notifications, I thought of Noga, spending the night sitting or lying on the floor in her son’s bedroom, which is their family’s bomb-proof room. I think of all the children crowded into one room for the night, and then not being allowed out of the house to run around and get rid of their tension during the day, because there could be a Tzeva Adom at any second.

I think of those people walking outside when they hear the alarm and running to the nearest public shelter, a small windowless concrete box on the side of the street or in the middle of the park. In many places, the shelters are painted with cheerful designs, but inside there’s nothing but the bare concrete walls and other people standing there, all of you worried about your families and whether or not they were able to get to a shelter within 15 seconds of the Tzeva Adom.

All the people we met want to restore peaceful relationships with our neighbors. To Noga winning means staying where they have always lived; Winning is peace. They want to the Arabs to came to Israel in peace to work and to shop. They want to go to Gaza to shop, to swim, to have their cars repaired.

And Danny Rachamim wants a plate of Gaza’s best hummous.

Where we were.

Nahal Oz and Alumim are about eight kilometers south west of  The observation point

Living with Terror

Sign in downtown Jerusalem "And the main thing is not to be afraid at all"
Sign in downtown Jerusalem “And the main thing is not to be afraid at all”

I was sitting near the back of the number 34 bus, returning home from class, when the policeman boarded. That would not have been unusual. Several policeman ride this bus to and from work every day. They usually carry their lunches in their hand. This officer was carrying a rifle. A big rifle. A “You do what I say and do it NOW!” rifle. He walked slowly to the back of the bus looking to his right and left. When he reached the back of the bus, he turned around and slowly walked to the front again checking us over.

The woman next to me turned her head and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders.

The bus did not move. It sat at the stop even though no one boarded or exited.

I shifted in my seat, trying to see what was happening. All I could see through the bus windshield was another policeman standing in the middle of the street. No traffic was moving past him in either direction.

And then another security person boarded the bus. This one was dressed all in black, from his hat to bullet proof vest to his boots. He too carried his rifle in the ready position in front of him, as if he expected one of us Thursday afternoon shoppers to attack him at any moment. He too walked the length of bus, looking at each of us as if our faces would betray what was really in our Herzog College and Bank Hapoalim shopping bags. After inspecting the whole bus, he descended through the back door.

And still we sat there, wondering. What was going on? Had there been another knife attack on a bus? Had an Arab run from the site of an attack carrying his weapon? Had the police received a report of a potential terrorist headed towards Jerusalem? How could we find out? Should I call home to ask if everyone was okay? Should I call home to tell them I am okay?

I wished I had remembered to top off my phone’s battery at breakfast. It didn’t have enough power left for me to check my usual news sources. Without The Muqata and the Jerusalem Post, I was in the dark, even though it was a bright sunny day.

A few minutes later, one of the policeman banged on a window of the bus. The driver closed the bus doors and continued on his way.

It seemed like everyone started breathing again at the same time.

My neighbor looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. I shook my head. Who knows what that was about?

Security is out in full force. Police, border police, security guards,

Police patrolling a light rail station, Jerusalem
Police patrolling a light rail station, Jerusalem

soldiers—they are everywhere, usually in pairs or trios. They’re at light rail stations, bus stops, and busy intersections. They carry serious weapons. And they are all wearing bullet-proof vests

We overthink all our actions. Do I want to stand at a distance from the others, so I won’t be part of a targeted crowd? Or do I want to be with a group of people so I won’t look like an easy target and there will people around to help if, G-d forbid, something bad happens? Do I want to sit in the back of the bus, where I can see everyone in front of me? Or near the driver? Do I want to ride the light rail in a forward-facing seat, or on the side looking towards the door and aisle? Do I even want to go out of the apartment?

An ordinary Arab girl who set out that morning had first posted a message that she was going to become a martyr. Her parents saw the message and called the police, who searched all buses travelling from her direction. They found her at the entrance to the city, four blocks from my apartment. I go through that intersection daily. On this day, I traversed it an hour after the police had left.

I go past the Central Bus Station several times a week, often around the time a 70 year old woman was stabbed there. I took my granddaughter dress shopping on Malchei Yisrael street a few days before the terrorist attack there. I have been in the Beer Sheva bus station often enough to explain its layout to a friend when we were talking about Sunday’s terrorist attack there. She told me about her Sunday trip which took her to the Ra’anana bus station not too long before the terrorist attack there. Sara mentioned that the whole city of Givat Zeev was in lockdown Sunday night because a suspicious person had been seen by a security guard. When I asked her what she would tell her children the next morning, she replied, “Nothing. If they ask about the chairs piled against the back door, I’ll say that Ima is silly.”

Soldier patrolling in downtown Jerusalem
Soldier patrolling in downtown Jerusalem

We’re all affected by what is going on yet we seem to be finding ways of dealing with it. We leave earlier in the morning because Jerusalem’s holy traffic jams are worse than ever. People drive their children to school instead of letting them walk or take public transportation. Fewer people ride the buses and light rail. Pedestrian traffic downtown is lighter than usual, and stores are empty of customers. Although the weather is lovely, almost none of the tables outside restaurants are occupied. Last week the beggars and street musicians stayed home. On Monday most of them were back at their regular positions in downtown Jerusalem. I smiled when I heard music that night. The balalaika player had returned. His rectangular plastic box with the picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe sits on top of his amplifier. I gave him an extra shekel —I had missed his music which made waiting for the light rail less tedious..

Last week many after school programs were canceled—the teachers went on a one day strike because the security guards left at 1:30. Then the city found money in its special budget to pay for the needed guards in border areas. Other schools simply locked their gates and doors.

The stabbings and shootings have gone on long enough that people are starting to react in defiance. “If you stop living normally, the terrorists have won” is the general Israeli attitude. That’s why Sbarro’s Pizza quickly repaired and reopened the restaurant that sustained a deadly suicide bombing attack in 2001. That’s why building continues in Yehuda and Shomron. That’s why people go into the Old City of Jerusalem to pray or just to walk around. No Arab terrorist is going to control where we go or what we do. We just do it a little more alert, a little more watchful.

Solidarity and chizook are the big things. Chizook means strengthening or encouragement, and many are engaging on acts to strengthen others. A woman on the Kiryat Moshe/Givat Shaul electronic bulletin board is soliciting short pieces, a paragraph or two, of chizook and inspiration. She publishes two or three every day.

Groups of teenagers walk along well traveled streets, carrying Israeli flags and singing loudly, songs like “Am Yisrael Chai” (The People Israel Lives).

Someone started a shared public recitation of Psalms for the recovery of terror victims in Israel and as a merit to bring peace. They are trying to get 1000 readings of the whole book. By clicking on a link (http://tinyurl.com/pyrq27h) you get to a site that asks you to say the Psalm which is printed below the instructions. Although the instructions may be accessed in many languages, the Psalms themselves are in Hebrew. When I first went to the site on Monday they had completed 31 readings of the entire book; on Friday morning they were working on the 42nd reading. At that time, more than 2000 people had participated.

Graffiti and posters always reflect the times. Several walls now sport brightly painted slogans, such as Am Yisrael Chai. A large banner hanging on the metal barrier at a downtown construction site uses the second line of the song by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov: V’ha’ikar lo l’fakhaid klal (The main thing thing is not to be afraid at all).

Meanwhile the attacks continue. I hate to open the newspaper in the morning, because at least one headline blares news about another person fighting for life after being stabbed, shot, or run down by a car. At this time, we see no end in sight. The terror will continue until Muslim clerics stop preaching that it is a religious duty of all Muslims to kill all Jews. The terror will continue until Arab politicians stop encouraging it.

I have read the statements Mahmoud Abbas has made to the foreign press that he is not in favor of terrorist acts. I also read translations of his Arabic speeches in which he praises terrorists and decries Jewish attempts to protect ourselves. His government continues to reward acts of terror by paying salaries to Arabs who are in Israeli jails for killing and injuring Jews. The more people they killed, the higher their salaries. Until Abbas and other politicians declare in Arabic, in public in their own countries, that acts of terror are wrong, I cannot believe they disapprove of killing Israelis. The day the Palestinian Authority stops paying huge salaries to people who kill Jews, I will start believing they really want to live alongside of us. The day Islamic clerics declare in their weekly sermons that Jews have a right to live in their ancient homeland, I will start believing they really want peace.

In the meantime, I live my life as best I can, watching my surroundings when I go out. I try not to jump to the conclusion that every siren is a terrorist attack, reminding myself that people are still having heart attacks, that traffic accidents and house fires still occur. But I say my daily prayers for peace with special emphasis.

A Third Intifada Starting?

Watching for terrorists: Police at light rail station on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem
Preventing terrorist attacks: Police at light rail station on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem

Even before we made aliyah, I had adopted the Israeli habit of counting sirens. In the US, hearing more than one or two emergency vehicle sirens headed in the same direction in a minute or two is relatively rare. I never got much beyond counting 3 sirens.

In Israel, however, there is a rule of thumb about hearing sirens. One siren from an emergency vehicle is a standard heart attack, two or three sirens means an ordinary traffic accident. More than three sirens in a minute or two means you should start reciting Psalms—there’s been a terrorist attack.

Tuesday morning, around 10 AM, in less than 15 minutes I heard eight sirens headed towards Shaare Tzedek and Hadassah hospitals. And then I stopped counting. But the vehicles with sirens blaring kept driving by.

In the southern part of Jerusalem, two Arabs on a number 78 bus attacked other passengers. One had a gun, the other was armed with a knife. Before they were stopped by the police, they had injured five people, killing Chaim Chaviv and Alon Govberg.

Around the same time, Alaa Abu Gamal ran down a small group of people in Geula, not far from where we live. After driving into them, he got out of his car, which had been supplied to him by the phone company where he worked, and started attacking the injured with a meat cleaver. He killed Rabbi Yishayahu Akiva Kirshevski before being subdued by passers by and then taken into police custody.

In Ra’anana the same day, two Arabs stabbed several people in separate attacks. Both attackers were arrested by police. By the time the police arrived at the scene of one of the incidents, the attacker had been injured and subdued by passersby.

Late Monday afternoon, two young Arabs attacked two Jews in Pisgat Ze’ev, a suburb of Jerusalem. They stabbed a 13 year old so many times he almost bled to death, and following prolonged surgery is still in critical care. They seriously wounded a 24 year old man who also needed immediate surgery when he arrived at the hospital. A driver hit the 13 year old attacker with his car, stopping the attack. The injured Arab was taken to the same hospital as the victims for treatment. The other attacker, 15 years old, was killed by the police after he attacked them. Police released security camera videos of the attack after Palestinian media claimed the attackers were innocent of wrong doing.

Wednesday evening, an Arab stabbed a 60 year old woman boarding a bus in front of the Central Bus Station. The bus driver made sure the woman boarded the bus, then shut the doors so the terrorist could not follow her. The attacker was then shot and killed by police. He was later identified as a resident of Jerusalem who had recently been released after serving a three year term in prison for terrorist activity.

The number of Israelis wounded in Arab terrorist attacks is steadily increasing. Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, called on all citizens with gun permits to carry their guns with them at all times. In an interview, he said that he was issuing this call because everyone with a gun permit has been trained to use it, usually in the army. He said in an interview that he would not give the same advice in the US because in the US you don’t know who has guns; they could be untrained in firearm usage or could be mentally unstable.

People on the street are more alert, more wary. As I was walking home Tuesday evening, I saw the shadow of a person gaining on me. I looked over my shoulder and saw a man walking in my direction. As I turned back and quickened my pace a little, he called out, “Al pachad! Al pachad!” (No fear! No fear!)

I recognized his voice—it was Gilad from the makollet, the neighborhood market. He caught up with me, and we chatted a little about the situation, then he hurried on to his destination as I turned to go to my apartment.

When I got on the light rail Tuesday afternoon, I looked around and saw some seats facing forward. Good! I hate riding backwards. But then I realized that I didn’t want to have my back to other travelers. I turned and sat in one of the sideways facing seats opposite the door. From there, I could see what was going on in the car. Other passengers must have felt the same way; all the seats facing the center aisle were occupied before many people sat in the forward or backward facing seats.

That there were seats on the light rail at 5:30 in the afternoon is remarkable in itself. That’s prime travel time. There are almost never any seats to be found on the light rail or the buses at that time of day. But the buses and tram cars had few passengers. No one is going out for pleasure. According to a doctor and a therapist I talked to, people are even canceling health care appointments, or simply not showing up. They go to work or school and come home.

Citizens are fighting the terrorists when they can. In the last two days, several Arabs have been subdued by bystanders during an attack. In one incident, the attacker was stopped by unarmed people; when the police arrived the terrorist was being held on the ground by three people sitting on him. Three sitting on one—is that a disproportionate response?

Stores that sell self protection equipment are selling out of all their supplies. Most stores don’t have any pepper spray left. Even without regular weapons, people are protecting themselves and others. Yair ben Shabat stopped an attack on a bus using nunchuks, a favorite weapon of many Kung Fu aficionados, and Matan Chocron used a selfie stick to help subdue the terrorist in Geula. Mickey Ruhavi beat an Arab attacker at a bus stop in Ra’anana with an umbrella. The Arab survived, but the umbrella did not. Given the poor quality of Israeli umbrellas, I’m not surprised the umbrella is now worthless, but I am surprised that it lasted long enough to have the desired effect.

The satirical TV show Eretz Nehederet has unveiled a design for the

Shoulder patch for suggested Neutralization Force, by Eretz Nehederet
Shoulder patch for suggested Neutralization Force

shoulder patch for an IDF unit that would use unconventional weapons. The Proposed shoulder patch for a “Neutralization Force” shows crossed nunchuks, a selfie stick, and an open umbrella.

Police and security personnel are out in much greater numbers than usual. At every light rail station there are at least two Citipass security workers, in their dark pants, khaki shirts, and a coiled white cord running from their ear to their communications device. For the first time I also saw a man dressed all in black with a Citipass ID patch on his shirt carrying a machine gun.

Police were also patrolling some of the larger light rail stations. At the corner on Jaffa and King George, two national policemen were carrying their machine guns front of them. They were wearing protective vests. One of the officers drummed a rhythm on his chest–the vest made the sound of his fingers louder than it would have been on his unprotected body. When they stopped, they stood back to back, watching the area in all directions. There was not much to see. Few passengers were waiting for the train. Even the usual street musicians and beggars were absent.

Spiritual initiatives to deal with the Situation are being promoted. Yesterday I received emails from two different directions about a communal recitation of Tehillim (Psalms). At 3 PM EDT, 10 PM Jerusalem time, everyone was to stop what they were doing and recite nine specific Psalms. Someone else has put out a call for everyone to refrain from engaging in lashon harah. Lashon harah literally means “bad speech,” and includes gossip, spreading rumors, slander, libel, and bad mouthing others. It includes not just speaking, but also listening to any of these things. Given human nature, refraining from lashon harah is very hard, so the initiators of this campaign are asking everyone to watch their speech for one hour a day.

And, being a society of Jewish mothers, we engage in kitchen

Border police woman helps stop terrorist attack without dropping her ice cream
Border police woman helps stop terrorist attack without dropping her ice cream (circled in red)

activism. A woman in Kiryat Moshe is asking for cakes and cookies to give to the police and security personnel at bus stops, light rail stations, and on the street. Partaking of these snacks won’t interfere with their duties. A female border police officer helped stop an attacker by shooting at her without dropping her Magnum ice cream. The photo of her holding her rifle and ice cream went viral.

As usual, we respond to stress with humor. Several current jokes refer to the man who used the car provided to him by the telephone/internet company Bezek, for which he worked. A couple of examples:

The terrorist on Jerusalem’s Malchei Yisrael Street was an employee of Bezeq. If you want your terrorist to come from Syria, you have to order Bezeq International.

Me: Your employee just stabbed me.
Bezeq Customer Service: Have you tried taking out the knife and reinserting it?

News release- The Shin Bet just got a warning that a terrorist who works for HOT (an internet/telephone service provider) is planning an attack. He will arrive in another couple of months.

While all this is going on, we still try to live our normal everyday life. Thursday is my errands day. I’ve made my shopping list as usual, but will stop at an additional store. I need to get a weapons grade umbrella.

Responding to Murder

The last photo of Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife Na'ama with their sons
The last photo of Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife Na’ama with their sons

Near the end of the 2014 school year three boys–Naftali Fraenkal, Gil-Ad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrach–were kidnapped. They were taken on their way home from studying in yeshivas and they totally disappeared. Aside from the recording of phone call to emergency services, we heard nothing. The entire country prayed and said Tehillim (Psalms) for them. The IDF, police, border police, and volunteers searched for them. For 18 long days, nothing.

Nishmat, the girls’ seminary where Naftali’s mother taught, held a public recitation of Tehillim (Psalms) for recovery and return of the three boys. Following the recitation of Psalms, some of the students and faculty gathered and began to sing, led by Rabbanit Chana Henkin, dean of the school. I was part of the group, there because I am a volunteer English tutor in the college prep program for Ethiopian girls.

About twenty of us stood in a circle, our arms around each others’ shoulders, singing, begging G-d to bring the boys home, begging Him for mercy. Rabbanit Henkin smiled as she encouraged us to sing. It was a sad smile, one that radiated warmth and concern. As the words of one prayer died, she started another one.

And then she began singing words from Avinu Malkenu. Avinu Malkenu, our Father, our King. It is a long prayer asking G-d for all sorts of things: to remove the plague from our people, to keep the sword from us, to destroy the plans of our enemies, to remember us for life. It seems to go on for forever, covering more than two pages in most prayer books. Near the end we sing, “May this hour be an hour of mercy and a time of favor before You.” The tune is slow. Like many prayers, it is set in a minor key, and sounds sad, forlorn. I closed my eyes as I sang. We sang it over and over, our arms around each other, crying in hope for the lives of three missing boys. When I opened my eyes, I saw Rabbanit Henkin, her eyes sad above her soft smile.

About a week later, the boys were found, buried in a shallow grave.

At Simchat Torah services this week, the men started singing that line from Avinu Malkenu while parading and dancing with the Torah scrolls. The tune has become enmeshed in my memory with the names of the three boys who had been killed before any of us knew they had been kidnapped.

The tune is also enmeshed with the vision of Rabbanit Henkin’s sad smile. Rabbanit Henkin, who today is mourning her own son. Rabbi Eitam Henkin and his wife Naama were killed by Arabs last week while driving home from Elon Moreh to Neria with their four sons. The boys, aged four months to nine years, were unharmed. The attack was cut short when one of the murderers accidently shot one of his colleagues.          

What do you say to the parent of a child who has been murdered?

It doesn’t matter if the child is in his teens, as Naftali, Gil-Ad, and Eyal were, or in his 30s as Rav Henkin was. He is still a child to his parents.

Words fail us when confronted with such a tragedy. We fall back on customary polite phrases. “I’m sorry for your loss.” “May their memory be a blessing.” We say what tradition stipulates: “May G-d comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.”

We will always be reminded that they died in an act of violence. When referring to someone who has died, we add zichrono l’bracha to their name, may his memory be a blessing. But Eitam and Naama Henkin will always be remembered with the phrase Hashem y’nakem damam, May G-d avenge their blood.

We don’t say, the IDF will avenge their death. We don’t form posses and vigilante groups and ride through the country burning and murdering as payback. That’s not the Jewish way.  As Rabbanit Chana Henkin said in an interview with Arutz 7, “We do not demand revenge but that leadership moves to provide security for residents.” (Her whole interview is here)

Some young men have started to take vengeance for Arab violence into their own hands. People have performed “price tag” attacks on Arab cars and churches. Some have even invaded Arab towns and burned houses. We do not celebrate such violence. Our leaders do not praise them for these acts. The Prime Minister and other members of the government severely criticize these actions. The police search for the perpetrators. Several of those who engage in such activities have been put in indefinite detention.  

When news of the Henkin murders reached Palestinian cities, the residents celebrated by firing their guns in the air and setting off fireworks. The killers were praised as “heroic.” The “heroes” had checked that the road was clear of police, military, and other vehicles. They had stopped the car by firing at it with a rifle. They had killed the adults in the front seat by firing at them with pistols multiple times at close range. According to police reports, after the murderers were arrested they said they would have killed the children as well, but one of them dropped his gun upon being shot by his friend, and they left the scene.

How much courage does it take to shoot a car with a rifle? How much courage does it take to repeatedly shoot critically injured people? How much courage does it take to shoot small children buckled into safety seats?

The people I take as my heroes are those who will raise the orphans, trying to help them grow normally despite having witnessed their parents shot. My heroes are those who continue to live their lives without resorting to violence themselves.

The Israeli response is to try to live normally in the face of terror. To live without losing our own humanity. To rebuild what has been destroyed. To educate our children without hatred.

To live our lives as testimony to the lives that were cut short in the last week.

May G-d avenge their blood.

Rockets in Sderot

Display of fragments of rockets that hit Sderot
Display of fragments of rockets that hit Sderot

Behind the police station in Sderot are two large display cases holding pieces of Arab rockets that have exploded in the town over the last fourteen years. The cases are about 30 feet long, and contain large pieces of projectiles that have been picked up from the ground. They display a brief history of Arab rocket development, from home made in Gaza to those imported from Iran.

Elliot Chodoff, the military strategist and security expert on our Honest Reporting tour of the Gaza border area, identified some of them for us. Although most of the rocket pieces had rusted, some still showed traces of their original color. The green ones were Al Kassam, used by Hamas, and the yellow ones were the Al Kuds rocket, fired by Islamic Jihad. Fatah calls their model Al Aksa. These rockets were made in workshops in Gaza from irrigation pipes or road signs. Fins were attached to the end of the tube for aeronautic stability. They were fired by men standing out in the open, except for the Nasser rocket, which was fired off the ground. The rockets were not accurate. It didn’t matter–their purpose was not to kill, but to disrupt life as much as possible.

They disrupted life very well.

Sderot is known as the town that was repeatedly fired on by rockets from Gaza. Evening newscasts in Israel routinely ended with the words “and [number of] rockets fell on Sderot.” It was the only town that Hamas and other terrorists in Gaza targeted frequently.

When the rocket attacks started in 2001, Sderot had neither alarms nor shelters. By 2007, they had both. Everyone in Israel knew that the sirens in Sderot gave residents 15 seconds warning of attack. Fifteen seconds is not much time to find a protected place to shelter. Most public building in Sderot had a safe room, a reinforced room to protect all who sheltered there from injury. The government built reinforced roofs over school buildings and playgrounds. Even bus stops had reinforced concrete walls and roofs.

The rocket warning sirens were given the name “Shachar Adom,” Red Dawn. When an incoming rocket was detected sirens went off, and loudspeakers screamed, “Shachar Adom! Shachar Adom!

Chanukiah made from pieces of rockets that fell in Sderot. Photo: Anav Silverman, in Ynetnews.com
Chanukiah made from pieces of rockets that fell in Sderot. Photo: Anav Silverman, in Ynetnews.com

There was one problem: Shachar is a boy’s name. Someone high in the defense ministry complained that his son Shachar was being taunted by his schoolmates. In what Elliot called an “only in Israel” moment, a committee was formed to find a better name. After much deliberation, they decided on Tzeva Adom, Color Red. Apparently, they could find no child in the country who was named “Color.” Today, rocket alarms throughout Israel are still announced “Tzeva Adom.”

I remember campaigns in the US to increase awareness of Sderot’s situation. Solidarity missions to Israel went to Sderot to receive briefings or to distribute toys to children in shelters. One Jewish school sounded an alarm every time a Tzeva Adom was sounded in Sderot. Everyone would stop what they were doing and recite Psalms for the safety of the residents under fire. Some days little schoolwork was done, but the children quickly learned several Psalms by heart.

A 2007 study by Dr. Rony Berger at Ben Gurion University found that about 45% of the preschool children in Sderot had post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is an extremely high rate. To put it into perspective, over the course of their lifetime, about 30% of veterans of the Viet Nam war develop PTSD, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

As Hamas acquired more powerful Katyusha rockets from Iran, rocket attacks increased, in both number and in range targeted. These rockets were also packed with ball bearings, to make them more lethal. Hamas fired the Katyushas at Ashdod, Ofakim, and Ashkelon. Like Sderot, they are all towns within the 1948 borders of Israel.

Around that time, our friend Avi moved to Ashdod from a small town near Hevron which is always in danger of attack from local Arabs. After a few weeks of sporadic rocket attacks, his children said they wanted to move back to where they were safe.

For years, people in the south begged the government to Do Something to stop the attacks. In the fall of 2012 Arab rocket attacks increased dramatically both in number and range. Cities as far away as Lachish, which has a 45 second warning, and Beer Sheva, with a one minute warning, began to be targeted.

The government sent six-foot diameter concrete sewer pipes to be used as bomb shelters in towns where none existed. Although these would not protect anyone from a direct rocket hit, they would protect the people huddled inside from injury from shrapnel.

In November, Israel launched Operation Amud Anan, Pillar of Defense, to wipe out Gaza’s stockpile of rockets. It lasted eight days, but did not result in destruction of all Gaza’s rockets. Iran immediately promised to rebuild the Arabs’ supplies of weapons.

After the ceasefire, rocket attacks decreased significantly. They did not totally stop.

In areas within the 15 second warning zone, much of the population had spent those eight days in bomb shelters. People suffered tremendously, despite visitors who came to offer support to the citizens, and brought toys and games to the shelters

Daniel Berkly, the youth department manager at a community center in Sderot, told us that although the visitors meant well, their approach was misguided. They came, talked with the adults, played with the children, and left. In a way, these visits increased the sense of helplessness felt by the residents.

The city decided to deal with the situation on its own strength. A new mayor was elected whose slogan was “Something new is happening in Sderot.” Buildings and parks were constructed; older buildings were rehabilitated. By this time, every house had a safe room. Local people were going to help local people.

When rocket attacks from Gaza again escalated in fall 2014, the weapons’ increased range resulted in siren warnings in Tel Aviv. This was the first time Tel Aviv had been under Arab attack since it was bombed by the Egyptians in 1948. Even Jerusalem was targeted.

Magnet handed out by teens in Sderot.
Magnet handed out by teens in Sderot. “Unity and Strength. We will be victorious. Strengthening and loving, Sderot youth”

During Tsuk Eitan, Operation Protective Edge in the summer 2014,  200 of Sderot’s teenagers, about 10% of the city’s adolescent population, organized and staffed bomb shelters. Doing so enabled them to deal positively with the trauma of the war—they were no longer helpless victims. Additionally, they reached out to the rest of the country. Their message was, “We’ve been dealing with this for 12 years. Let us help you.”

Daniel spoke to us about what life is like in Sderot. While you can’t forget the security situation, it can’t be the only thing you talk about. He pointed out that although over two thousand rockets have been fired at the city in the last fourteen years, no one has been wounded. “You need to be very unlucky to be hit by a Kassam rocket,” he said. Psychological trauma, however, is a different story. The attacks are random, indiscriminate, unpredictable, and ongoing. The prevalence of bed-wetting among children is high, as is the miscarriage rate. In a way, the military operations are easier to deal with because during those times everyone is prepared for alarms.

So how do they deal with the trauma? The primary schools teach about rocket attacks and protecting yourself from them. All schools and community centers are now fully sheltered. When an alarm goes off, everyone continues with class, or their meeting. No doubt they are distracted, but they don’t have to move. All the schools have counseling for children. A special resilience center conducts programs to help adults deal with stress. The national treasury state funds repairs to buildings damaged by military activity. One school that had suffered a direct rocket strike was not repaired. The school lobby highlights its injury, as if to say, “We survived.”

Why have Daniel and his wife chosen to raise their family here? He said what we all know—living in Israel is living in a state of conflict. It’s been that way since long before the founding of the state. 

Despite the hardships, Daniel and his wife like Sderot and they like the direction in which the city is moving. It is growing and the population is increasing. Unlike the center of the country, housing is available and reasonably priced. They like the feeling of community and the diversity of city residents.

When he finished, Daniel recommended we stop at one of two places for a snack. On a nearby corner is a coffee shop that is staffed by special needs adults. On the opposite corner, is an ice cream store. The owner makes the ice cream himself. The ice cream is as good as Ben and Jerry’s. I know–Allen and I each ate a scoop of it. It was well worth the calories.


Talmon, Out of the News

Hills of Binyamin from Talmon
Hills of Binyamin from Talmon

The first time I ever heard of Talmon, a small town in the Binyamin region, was last July. Its name appeared on the front pages of the newspapers almost every day because it was the home of Gil-Ad Shaer, one of three teenagers kidnapped by Arab terrorists. For almost three weeks, Gil-Ad, Ayal, and Naftali were constantly in my prayers and in my thoughts. When they were found in hastily dug graves in a dusty field, I cried. I had not known the boys, their families, or even their towns, but through 18 days of prayer they had become mine. I grieved over their loss and my heart went out to their families.

During the tumult of last summer’s events, the international press invaded the towns where the three kidnapped boys lived. They camped out in front of the families’ houses, waiting for any word, any hint of news. It was hot, dry, and sunny, as July always is. Reporters can be invasive and pesky, trying to get a jump on breaking news. People in Talmon brought the reporters cold drinks, water, iced tea, and juice. They opened their doors so members of the press could use the bathroom. Some people gave members of the press the keys to their houses, and left the air conditioning on all day so reporters could go in and cool off.

That was not unusual behavior in Talmon. A number of years ago, an Israeli motorcycle club that had the custom of touring the country every weekend had asked permission to ride through Talmon. They did not intend to stop or ride within the town, but because the town was built along the main road in the area, they asked if they could drive by. Dozens of motorcycles driving by would make enough noise to shatter the peace of Shabbat, and it was only right that they warn the residents they were coming. Imagine the motorcyclists’ surprise when they came up the hill and discovered a Kiddush set up for them at the side of the road. Wine and grape juice, cookies and cake, no doubt some kugel and fish as well, all for them to enjoy with the local community. It was not the way they were usually welcomed, but it was typical of Talmon hospitality.

Last week, on a One Israel Fund trip to the Binyamin region, I toured Talmon with Ofir and Bat-Galim Shaer, Gil-Ad’s parents, as guides.

Ofir Shaer describing life in Talmon, with  tour guide Eve Harow
Ofir Shaer describing life in Talmon, with tour guide Eve Harow

The Shaers got on our bus just inside the security gate at the entrance to the town. Like most Jewish towns in Binyamin, Yehuda, and Shomron, Talmon is surrounded by a security fence. Arab towns do not have fences. Unlike the Jews, they know they are secure and safe from attack by their neighbors.

Talmon was founded during a rainy winter 28 years ago. Its location was not deliberately chosen in advance. The government had given permission to build Neria, but on the way to the designated site, the truck carrying people and supplies became stuck in the mud. The next night another truck heading towards Neria became stuck in almost the same place. Since they could not travel any farther, the settlers built their new town right there. Neria, also known as North Talmon, was founded four years later.

Ofir took us into a neighbor’s backyard to point out the topography of the area. The view was breathtaking—it is easy to understand why people would want to live here. From where we stood, at an altitude of about 2000 feet, we could see the green hills descending towards the coastal plain. Ofir pointed out nearby Arab and Jewish towns. To the southeast we could see the outskirts of Ramallah; to the west we could see part of Modi’in and Kiryat Sefer. Further away a gray haze marks Tel Aviv. The city is visible on a clear day, which I learned is defined as “early morning in the winter.” Apparently, the fog rises around 7 AM and obscures the city and the sea. Many Talmon residents go to this side of town between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur to say Tashlich, the penitential prayer which is traditionally recited where one can see a body of water that has fish swimming in it. The sight of the Mediterranean Sea 40 km away qualifies these hills as good spots to recite Tashlich.

Water channel from spring to pool  in hills of Binyamin
Water channel from spring to pool in hills of Binyamin

Water supply is not a problem in the hills of Binyamin. They are situated over the mountain aquifer and are dotted with springs giving potable water. In several places, teenagers have built pools by the springs. These spring-fed pools have become gathering places. Later in the day, when we visited one, our guide told us that Arabs have destroyed this particular pool three times, and each time the Jewish teens have returned and cleaned it out, lined it with cement, and repaired the water channel. It was a lovely spot overlooking the summer-brown hills. As we returned to our bus, we passed three young men headed towards the pool.

For Talmon, electricity can be a problem, because they have no backup supplier. Some families have private generators, but most rely only on the Israel Electric Company. Ofir reported that after the bad snowstorm two years ago, they were without electricity for nearly a week.

Our bus drove through town, past the large elementary school. The playground was full of boys practicing basketball drills. After winding our way past the stone houses we drove past some temporary homes and into Neve Talmon where new homes are under construction. We passed two large signs advertising homes available for less than a million shekels. That is cheap for Israel, where three room apartments in some areas sell for more than a million shekels.

Front of synagogue to be named in memory of Gil-Ad Shaer when completed
Front of synagogue to be named in memory of Gil-Ad Shaer when completed

We stopped at the half built synagogue. The townspeople had started building the synagogue a while ago but after the events of last summer they decided to name it in memory of Gil-Ad Shaer. Bat-Galim reminded us that the name Gilad means memorial.When they named their only son, they put a hyphen in his name, so it would mean eternal joy. His life was a prayer and it will continue with the dedication of this synagogue.

We sat on the unfinished cement steps leading to what will soon be the Aron Kodesh and listened to Bat-Galim talk about last summer. She said she started to understand how Jews are one people, one family, and there is a connection among us all, both in the land of Israel and outside it. It was absolutely amazing–the whole

Bat-Galim Shaer
Bat-Galim Shaer

country was looking for three children who had not come home. People prayed for them; strangers came just to hug her. She saw the Jewish People at its best. There was a feeling of unity. Everyone wanted to be part of it. This unity of purpose and of love was the most important thing to come out of their family’s tragedy. The message that the People Israel is one is important, she said. There is a great need to continue to continue and to promote the spirit of unity among our people.

As if to emphasize her message about unity, as we left the synagogue, we all stood on the unpaved path in front for a photo of our group with the Shaers. I turned to hug Bat-Galim, and felt her warmth and strength as her arms pulled me close. Sometimes when trying to give support to others, I feel as if I have received more than I gave. Walking back to the bus, I wiped the tears from my face.

Where is Talmon? 



Yom HaZikaron 2015: 23,230

Flag at thalf staff on Yom HaZikaron at the Kotel
Yom HaZikaron at the Kotel Photo: © Moshé Anielewicz pour Europe Israël News

I was sitting alone at my computer when the siren sounded, signaling the start of Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day for Soldiers and Those Killed in Acts of Terror. The siren blasts for one minute at 8 PM on the eve Yom HaZikaron and for two minutes at 11 AM on the day of the observance. Our first year here I thought, if I’m alone in a room at home, it doesn’t matter whether I stand or not. That night, I realized, it does matter. The siren pulled me to my feet within seconds.

Like just about everyone else in the country, I stop what I am doing, and stand in reflection, listening to the siren. The siren is loud–ear splittingly, wake the dead, painfully screamingly loud. It seems to go on for forever. Two minutes, even one minute, is a long time to stand, thinking of those who have given their lives. Today the total is 23,320.

Sixty seven soldiers died in the last year, killed in action in Tzuk Eitan. An additional 35 veterans died from the effects of wounds received in earlier service. Most of the dead were Sabras, born and raised in Israel. Three were lone soldiers, who came from the US as volunteers in the Israeli army. Some were young, out of high school less than a year, doing their compulsory military service. Some were veteran soldiers, called away from wives, children, and jobs, as members of the reserves.  

But we add to that number Gilad, Ayal, and Naphtali, teenagers killed by the terrorists who kidnapped them when they were hitchhiking home from school. We also include 3 month old Chaya Zissel Braun, killed by a man who deliberately drove his car through a group of people at a light rail station, and 4 year old Daniel Turgeman, killed by a Hamas mortar while playing outside his home. We add 4 year old Adele Biton, who was critically injured when terrorists threw rocks at her mother’s car, and who was almost completely unresponsive for the last two years of her too short life. And the dead include four men, brutally slaughtered by Arab workers while praying in a synagogue not far from where I live. I use the word slaughter deliberately, for what else can you call it when men peacefully praying are shot or have their heads split open with a meat cleaver?

Two of this year’s victims of terror were Arabs. Zidan Sayif was a

Memorial to victims of terror, Har Herzl
Memorial to victims of terror, Har Herzl

Druze policeman, who was killed while trying to stop the slaughter in the Har Nof synagogue. Mohammed Abu Khudair was kidnapped and burned alive by three young Israelis. He, and was originally included in the list as one of this year’s victims of terror. However, his family objected to his name being added to the monument to Victims of Terror in the cemetery on Har Herzl, and his name is being removed at their request.

On the morning of Yom HaZikaron, I attended the memorial ceremony at my grandsons’ school. As a fourth grader, Yakov was one of the participants.

The assembly for the boys in first through fourth grade. I watched them sit down, and fidget. They stood briefly while the school flag was lowered to half staff. Sitting back down, they fidgeted through the principal’s speech. He spoke about the commandment to remember–that we have both a duty and the privilege to remember. He also said that every soldier, in every war Israel has fought, has known that the war was justified. That he was doing the right thing. The principal has an excellent sense of timing. He finished at exactly 10:59:59. As the siren started to sound, the boys were on their feet even before he told them to rise.

I stared at them—200 boys, aged 6 to 10, standing still for two minutes. A few rocked at the waist, as they do when praying. But for the most part, I could been have watching statues for those two minutes. I wondered how many of them were thinking about an older brother or a neighbor who died last summer, or perhaps a cousin, father, or even grandfather, lost in an earlier war.

© Moshé Anielewicz pour Europe Israël News
Remembering at Har Herzl Military Cemetery. photo: Marc Israel Sellem, Jerusalem Post

Ten years from now, most of them will probably be wearing khaki uniforms on Yom HaZikaron. I prayed that we would not be mourning any of them at that time. And I prayed that they will not be mourning friends or family members.

The students lit memorial flames, one flame for each war: the War of Independence, the Sinai Campaign, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, Peace in the Galil I, Peace in the Galil II, Tzuk Eitan (Protective Edge), and Victims of Terror. 

When the school’s Rabbi came up to speak, he first stood in front of the flames and read the names on each one. He then said, “So many wars. So many wars.”

He walked around the table holding the memorial flames. When he got to the microphone, he continued, “But we are still here.”

He didn’t speak very long–these were young boys he was talking to. His vocabulary and imagery were fitting to the audience, which was good for me as well. The simpler vocabulary enabled me to understand his message. He spoke about how in the siege of Jerusalem in 1948, children had to stay in the house all the time because it was too dangerous to go outside. The children were hungry and thirsty, and had to stand in line to get water. They could not even dream about snacks like Bamba and Bisli. The soldiers fight for us so we can be safe. So that we can walk outside, and play, and go to school, and even eat Bamba and Bisli and candy.

The fourth grade boys read some poems and Psalms, and the choir sang a few songs. The program ended with all of us singing “Ani ma’amin”–I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and with the singing of Hatikvah.

May the number of those we mourn today as victims of terror or war not increase. 23,320 is already too many.

May we know no more war.