The Gaza Campaign, in Real Time

Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Special to the Jewish Week

It is a strange and unsettling feeling to have been in Israel for the first few days of the Gaza campaign, and now back in the States for the rest of it.  The powerful sense of purpose that is virtually tangible in Israel with regard to Operation Oferet Yetzukah is not a given here in America, even within the Jewish community.  The fighting is far away, and the images that assault us in the print and electronic media make it much harder to keep one’s eye on the ball with regard to who Hamas is, and what is at stake here.

I’ve basically given up trying to get any kind of real sense of what’s going on from TV or newspapers.  Almost all of the reporting lacks the context that gives this war its existential meaning from an Israeli perspective, and frankly, that’s the perspective I care about.  So I revert to what for me is the more accurate news source: people in Israel, who are living this war in real time.  For me, my best news source is my sister and her family, who have been in Israel for thirty years in Rechovot- just about a five or ten minute drive from Gedera, where a GRAD missile fell over the weekend.

Most people here in the States- even those who care about Israel- have precious little idea how this war impacts the lives of average Israelis, and Israel’s economy.  So, I offer you a few examples…

Obviously, those men and women who are in Israel’s standing army are bearing the brunt of the combat duty.  But many, many thousands of Israeli men have been called back into miluim (Israel’s military reserves), and are doing intensive training both for Gaza, and for safeguarding Israel’s northern border in case Hezbollah were to decide to open another front.  Every time a man is called back into military service via miluim, it takes him out of the workforce, away from his job, and diminishes the efficiency of his place of employment.  Either someone has to cover him, or his work simply does not get done.  It can be a classroom, a corporation, a hospital….

And, of course, it also takes him out of his home.  Setting aside for the moment the trauma of having to say goodbye to a husband, brother, father or son who will be surely be in harm’s way, it also takes that extra pair of hands out of the home.  Thousands of families become single-parent homes at a time like this.  It wreaks havoc.

How does this play out?

One of my nieces is a medical resident at Assaf Harofeh Hospital, and she routinely has a thirty-six hour shift every week.  It keeps her away from home overnight, and away from her young child. In normal times, her husband can help.  But her husband was called back into miluim, so she is now alone in the home with the child.  And some of the other male residents in the hospital have also been called into miluim, and she was just informed that she has to cover another thirty-six hour shift during the week.  And her husband is not at home, and her young child is.  Who cares for that child?  My sister and brother-in-law live not far away at all, but they work, too….

Another niece just gave birth to a baby girl a few weeks ago.  She lives on a moshav named Beit Gamliel, right near Yavneh… very much in the range of Hamas missiles.  There are sirens going off all day and all night.  She has two other children, boys ages five and two, who usually are occupied during the day at kindergarten and nursery programs.  But because of the missile threat, the nurseries and kindergartens are closed.  The teachers simply can’t take the responsibility for the children’ safety, and they have their own families to worry about.  So now my niece is home with all three children, two “active” young boys, and a newborn girl.

Of course, these stories aren’t tragedies, and I’m not trying to portray them as such. There are many, many such stories in Israel today.  They are simply examples of how what’s going on in Gaza trickles down to everyday life far away from there, and illustrations of how this war impacts Israel’s economy and sense of well-being.

It’s not only about missiles…

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