A week before Yom Kippur 1973, I moved from Hazerim air force base to Jerusalem to study history at Hebrew University. Yet it was life, not university, which actually taught me a history lesson.
While the bloody civil war in Syria rages on, Israel keeps a watchful eye on the Israeli-Syrian border, making sure the fighting between the rebels and Assad’s forces doesn’t spill over into the Golan Heights.
The recent turmoil in Egypt might push Israelis to believe that time is working in Israel’s favor. If in the past we used to react to any regional development with the old worry, “Is it good or bad for the Jews?” today it seems that when it comes to Israel’s standing and interests in the Middle East, wherever we look, something good is happening.
Two Israelis made world headlines this week. In freezing Stockholm, Prof. Dan Shechtman of the Haifa Technion (Israel’s Institute of Technology) won the Nobel Prize in chemistry. In sunny Perth, Australia, Lee Korzits won the gold medal at the women’s Sailing World Championships, bringing her closer to the 2012 London Olympics.
The announcement last week of the release of Gilad Shalit after being held in captivity by Hamas for more than five years was met here in Israel with mixed feelings: On the one hand, tremendous joy. And on the other hand, grave doubts about the price paid and fears about the ramifications of this deal.
The fifth anniversary of Gilad Shalit’s cruel imprisonment by Hamas, without the Red Cross being allowed to visit him, sparked growing public pressure in Israel on the government to agree to a painful prisoner swap. As I watched the protest, my mind wandered back almost four decades.
As I write these lines on May 17, the Middle East is caught between events and speeches. The events are the Arab spring, which actually started in December 2010, when a man burned himself to death in Tunisia, sparking a chain of pro-democracy uprisings all over the region; the skirmishes on the Israeli borders with Lebanon and Syria; the killing of Osama bin Laden; and the expected U.N. General Assembly motion in September, recognizing a Palestinian state. The speeches are the one President Barack Obama is delivering on May 19 (the day this newspaper appears in print) on the Middle East and North Africa, and three speeches by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: the one he gave in the Knesset on May 16, the one he will give on May 23 before the U.S. Congress, and, finally, the one he will deliver at AIPAC.
In the midst of so many uncertainties dumped on us by the dramatic demise of the Mubarak regime, one solid, crystal-clear fact emerges: The “experts” don’t know what they are talking about. The same people who now sit in television studios explaining to us what is happening in Egypt and why are the same people who three weeks ago swore that the Egyptian regime was stable. Which reminds one of the saying of Abba Eban: “It is very difficult to forecast, especially about the future.”
It was early in the morning in June 1967, during the Six Day War, when, as a young lieutenant in the Israeli Air Force, I was low-flying over the Mediterranean, approaching the coast of northern Sinai. As a kid I read the epic Enemy Coast Ahead, by Wing Commander Guy Gibson V.C., the leader of the 1943 Dambuster raid, so imagine how excited I was.
If you know this old Jewish joke, just skip it.
I have never in my life been to a shrink. The reason is that I want to leave my money to my kids, not to other people’s kids. Also, I consider myself to be absolutely normal. Nevertheless, recently I felt the urge to lie down on a couch, stop pretending that I’m in control and that I have a clue about what’s going on, and just surrender to an all-knowing, wise man, who will fix everything. I guess that the session would run as follows.
Recently, stories reported by Israeli newspaper Haaretz and covered extensively in The New York Times revealed the darker side of operation “Cast Lead” in Gaza. Soldiers who participated in the fighting spoke about being trigger-happy, about not sticking to the ethical code of the Israeli army when it came to sorting the Hamas terrorists from the local, uninvolved Palestinian population.
All this is about living POWs. But what about dead ones? How far should a government go in order to bring a dead soldier to burial?
Precisely when the prospect of peace between Israelis and Palestinians seemed at its most remote, I received a call from my friend, Walid Salem.
Life in Sderot has become hell, but Israel finds it very difficult to defend it, because the people who launch the Qassams are hiding among civilians. Slowly but surely, however, Israeli patience is running out. Is there a way to stop this ongoing terrorist attack on Sderot without entering Gaza with great force in an incursion that would most probably cost the lives of many Palestinians and Israelis?
Targeting journalists has long been a common practice in the Arab Middle East.
The emergence of "Hamastan" in Gaza sent leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere scrambling for an answer: Whose fault is it? Is it reversible? Will the same thing happen in the West Bank? What should and could be done now?
Apart from this impressive show of citizen involvement, the Winograd Report brought back to the Israeli political sphere the essence of democracy, originating in ancient Greece: free citizens engaging in a serious discourse on their most crucial public affairs.
Wars, like hurricanes, tend to expose flaws in societies. In Israel, the recent war with Hezbollah revealed lack of preparedness for this kind of war against an elusive enemy, mediocre
conduct of the operations, deficiencies in equipment, shortages of shelters for the civilians and more.
Now Moshe is gone too. As I entered the graveyard, I saw his mother. I started to mumble my condolences when this old woman, a survivor of Auschwitz, gave me a stern look.
"Spare your words," she said dryly. "It's between me and God."
What could I possibly say to this woman, who had lost all her family in the Holocaust, who married another Holocaust survivor, started a new chapter in Israel and gave birth to two sons -- only to lose them as well as her husband, who died heartbroken after Issachar was killed?
The withdrawal from Gaza, scheduled to begin in mid-August, is one of the most important events in the history of the State of Israel. It will determine whether Israel can continue to be a Jewish and democratic state.
When the news broke that Saddam Hussein was captured, there was an uproar of joy here. Like many Israelis, I was glued to the TV screen, watching L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. administrator for Iraq, announcing proudly: "Ladies and gentlemen, we got him!"
What a great moment for the free world.