Letter from Israel – Tiberias, Sea of Galilee

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 38, Spring 2006

Margaret Ingram

4 August 2006

Tiberias has been bombed heavily from the beginning of this war. It is 9 km from here and is ‘our town’ as in where we go for things and fun like the bookshop and the bike shop. It is therefore impossible for us to get to town. Anyway most shops are closed. In the morning there maybe is a bakery open but after noon 100% closed. Small businesses in the north are going to the wall. Banks etc are working minimally. Deliveries affected too much. So far we are OK. We make our own bread anyway. People are OK here on the kibbutz, that is not in shelters. We have kids in the army of course and a few reservists called up. The shop on the Jordan where my husband is working is operating at 50% as there are no visitors, and certainly no Christian ‘tourists’.

The missiles, of which 1400 plus have fallen in the past 15 days, are full of ball bearings (about 4000 of them in each), and so with the explosions lots of extra damage is caused by these bb’s which are released at high velocity (from the force of the explosion) and cause damage in an 800 metre radius. Also some of the ones that have fallen on open ground have caused bush fires.

A quick poll on the internet had 80% support for the Israeli Government. This in spite of what I thought were glaring contradictions in the news about what is happening both here and in Lebanon. For example, the huge number of sorties to Lebanon, the pictures of the destruction (we have our own TV here and get BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera) and the assurances that the targets were not civilian ones. Or how successfully everything is going while more missiles fall every day and politicians say ‘It will be a long story with damage and casualties but we are on top of it.’ Not one sitting politician has said anything against it.

There have been two demonstrations. One last Saturday night had 2500 people who were a combination of politicians, Arab-Jewish co-existence groups, the refuser’s organisations, feminists, anarchists and some arty people. So far one guy has been imprisoned for refusal to serve. A lot of the ‘refusal’ is defused before trial of course as the army is a very personal/informal institution and arrangements can usually be arrived at unless someone is being made an example of.

There have been a few operational cock-ups. Two helicopters collided one night, another shot by friendly fire, an F-16 crashed on take-off, some incidents among ground troops. Training in this kind of warfare has been minimal in recent years as the warfare in the Palestinian Authority is of a different type ie. built-up areas and small arms as opposed to this warfare which is more large scale and against better organised troops who are trained in anti-tank and anti-aircraft weaponry (supplied by Syria and Iran) as well as having the usual guerrilla advantage of knowing the land. Although every inch is satellite mapped on both sides and both sides have informants in the other country of course.

I have not managed to figure out what the story is with the UN base that was bombed and four soldiers killed. Interviews with wounded soldiers last night had them all chafing at the bit to get back to the fighting. All the media coverage is full of holes. You can’t believe any of it. What else is new?

This is all a bit of a mishmash. I have lots of thought and keep wishing for more understanding everywhere. I want people to think – and realise that it is really complicated. Wrong but complicated. Again the news media are not helping – not ours, not theirs, and certainly not the big international ones who reduce everything to 15 second sound bites from a politician or three, the reporter’s taxi driver (who has a picturesque local accent and appearance) and some poor soul who has just seen their home reduced to rubble.

We are surrounded by prayer and concern – all of us in the whole region. I was just thinking of the CW Wednesday night liturgy in Christchurch. Love and thoughts and thanks for all your prayers.

8 August

First of all, we so appreciate your thoughts and prayers for us all. It is so clear to me that what we are going through is not going unnoticed or uncommented upon.

We went up to the blueberry orchard on Sunday to pick our own as we do every year. Up in the Golan Heights, an hour and a half from home by the Syrian and Lebanese borders to the east and north respectively are a few hectares of blueberries in a micro-climate created by a certain slant of light. A lovely idea we thought until we were stopped by a roadblock and told by a young woman soldier that a missile had fallen on a town up there. So I told her we were going past there to pick blueberries, so she let us through. Poor thing. She didn’t have a snowballs chance in hell of stopping me once I’d set my mind on blueberries. Thanks again for the non-violent training camps I attended in the 1970s.

On the way there was nothing and no-one on the road. So we picked 5 kg of blue berries and one kg of blackberries to a background sound of tank and cannon fire with smoke all across the northern horizon from the fires on both sides of the border. The bushes were laden. The season has been going three weeks. The manager said there were only two of us in the whole orchard. The plums and apples are still on the trees while in the field the wild fig threes and grapes are full of fruit with no one to pick them. There should be a bumper crop in September.

On our way back there was a continuous stream of traffic going east, the opposite direction to us. Cars full of reserve soldiers heading to their meeting-up points. Groups of men milling around outside army bases amongst the assorted cars they have arrived in. men trying to turn themselves into soldiers at a few days notice. Most less than successfully in terms of physique and style, not to mention ‘operational capacity’.

Do you laugh or do you cry? Both at the same time. Please pray for Capt Amir Pasteur who has been imprisoned for refusing his call-up order.

10 August

Glad the news is getting out. Yesterday the government agreed to put even more into this waste of resources, since what they have invested up until now was not getting the desired results. So what to do? Invest in more of the same of course. The numbers so far – 30 days of war, 117 killed (plus innumerable Lebanese), 2300 injured (not counting people here hospitalised by the thousand for freaking out), 3300 rockets, 9500 air force sorties, cost: US$1.6 billion. Time for burnt forest regrowth, 60 years; people in shelters or evacuates: 1.5 million here and 1+ million there.

That said the prayers are raining down on us from all over. Just think how bad it would be if they weren’t! Fifteen more reservists killed last night. No names yet. Big banana planting this afternoon. Something positive.

17 August

The peace seems so fragile – especially when you think of the diplomacy and the logistics involved in organising and deploying a United nations force of 15 000 assorted peacekeepers (if this is not a contradiction!)

But it seems to be holding.

Everything is so quiet now. Instead of sirens, explosions, gunfire and aircraft overhead, we are at last hearing birdsong during the day and crickets chirping at night. They are unexpectedly loud. Perhaps because we have missed them. Or perhaps because we just stop and listen now.

People are returning to their homes (or what is left of them) and soldiers are returning to their bases, though many are not yet demobilised. The radio is playing regular music and news bulletins are shorter. Noticeably absent are the list of names, times and locations of funerals. Shops and businesses are opening again.

Sadly though we are starting to see the extent of the environmental damage: dead fish and oil pollution on the coast and thousands of acres of forest reduced to ash. This is Mediterranean Mixed Forest (in biological parlance): small wildflowers, caper bushes and olives along with oaks, pines and cedars. And all the associated wildlife: mice, porcupines, mongoose, foxes and jackals. And all kinds of birds: residents, seasonal visitors and migrants. Estimated recovery time – 60 years. I will never see it again and our children will be over 75 years old by then – assuming we don’t do any more damage in the meantime.

The politicians are returning for a special parliamentary sitting – calling for the heads of the PM, the Minister of Defence and the Chief of General Staff. Accusations of mismanagement of the war abound. But I ask, how can you manage a war? You can only mismanage it. The general consensus here (aside from the fact that everybody lost) is that we lost. Now what kind of response is that? Of course everybody is an expert in retrospect from their sofa, but how do we proceed from here? Those of us who are still alive to go on from here, I mean.

In Lebanon, the Hizbullah are organising the return of evacuees, relief supplies and the rebuilding too with their own engineers. The actual Lebanese army and government only appear to exist on television screens or in theory respectively. Fundamentalism is providing all the answers, the money and the practical solutions too.

Ten Israeli soldiers are in prison for refusal. Five refused to respond to call-up orders and five refused an order in the actual field? Is NZ sending troops? I hear they are on a shortlist.

Shalom, salaam, peace, pax, te rangimarie

Margaret

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