LIVING IN THE TWILIGHT ZONE
What does it feel like to be surrounded by countries intent on wiping you off the
face of the map? How do you cope with daily incitement of hate, chal enges to your legitimacy, threats of boycotts, slanderous accusations and the attitude of fair weather friends? Imagine how it feels to be an Israeli tourist in a foreign land, knowing that lurking somewhere out there are groups of Islamic terrorists waiting, plotting and planning to target you and your family. What historical memories flash through your mind when you are advised that when walking through the streets of Europe you should not speak Hebrew and wear clothing identifying you as Israeli or Jewish? Do you have any idea what horrendous thoughts resurface when Holocaust survivors hear the air raid sirens sounding for a dril and what nightmares resurface when they are fitted with gas masks and anti chemical kits?
These questions and many more are in the forefront of my mind these days as
we dwel in some sort of twilight zone between normality and potential chaos. As Iran races to the nuclear weapons finishing line, unhindered and undeterred by half hearted sanctions, its leaders continue to pour forth venomous poison against the Jewish State. Iran’s surrogates in Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, witnessing the USA Government’s extreme reluctance to take any meaningful action to deal with either the genocidal plans of Iran or the genocidal terror in Syria, are busy making their own threats against Israel, crystal clear. Taking their lead from a US President who would rather pontificate than act, the EU fol ows suit and instead concentrates its energies on trying to initiate boycotts of products from Judea, Samaria, the Golan and half of Jerusalem. The cynical hypocrisy of Russia and China elicits a col ective yawn and the forthcoming UN General Assembly circus gears up for yet another bash Israel festival.
Bombarded as we are on a daily basis with threats of annihilation, saturated with
screaming headlines and stories in the hyperactive media and swamped by pundits and politicians of every persuasion mouthing off their unsolicited advice, it is a miracle of major proportions that in actual fact life is continuing normal y with no signs of panic or a breakdown in morale. Of course there is concern and unease which is perfectly understandable. Air raid shelters, protected areas and other facilities are being checked, larders stocked for the forthcoming Jewish Festival period and news broadcasts monitored, but otherwise Israelis are stil enjoying their summer vacations, swimming, barbecuing and traveling. School starts in a week and parents are busy purchasing textbooks, exercise books and other items for the start of another academic year.
This sense of normality and attitude of “life must go on” & “ we can’t let them ruin
our lives” was graphical y il ustrated by a visit to the Jerusalem Mal where gas mask kits are being distributed. As citizens took a number and waited their turn, there was a pervading sense of unbelievable calm. No hysteria, no pushing, no panic – rather annoyance at the inconvenience of it al . A time to socialize, swap
news, meet up with friends, do some shopping and then having received the kits, to resume interrupted holiday activities. Being school vacation time there were hordes of children present. Seeing them being fitted with gas masks in order to determine which size fitted best, would seem to be a frightening experience but it was mitigated by the friendly and jovial attitudes of officials and parents alike.
In an ideal world where truth and justice prevails, where potential murderers are
dealt with before they can carry out their crimes, none of the scenarios I have described and witnessed would be necessary. Most Jews in general and Israelis in particular realise that unfortunately the Messianic Age has not yet arrived. We also know from bitter past experiences that we cannot rely on the rest of humanity to save us. There are stil some innocent and misguided souls who hal ucinate that China, Russia, the EU, wil unite with the USA to pre-empt the looming menace and that the basic moral courage of these countries wil outweigh their commercial greed, moral cowardice and hypocritical politics.
For the majority of Jewish Israelis however, historical realities and current
developments lead to an entirely different conclusion. Preparing for the worst while at the same time carrying on with normal life, vividly demonstrates our determination not to let the haters succeed.
Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition seems never more relevant given the
Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and works for The Israel Resource News Agency in Jerusalem. One of KBRMs members wrote about her personal experiences which we have included below: Life in Israel 1991 and 2012
The daily events in Israel today take me back to the day in Jerusalem when I went to an area in
Mea Sherim to col ect my gas mask. Housed in an elegant box, the mask, filter and anti chemical supplies included a syringe, preloaded with adrenalin and Ful er's earth and gauze to deal with nitrogen mustard gas. This was just prior to the Gulf war in 1991. I was a bit of mystery to the Army who were distributing the supplies to residents both Arab and Jew. I was neither and had to ask again and again for a mask. I was a Kiwi nurse living inside the Old City, working with the Arab branch of the Israeli Social Services.
Among other things my role was to train any elderly Arab people in the Christian Quarter of the Old city in how to wear their masks. I remember teaching about 200 at one time in a meeting in the Armenian Quarter. Then there was training them and myself how to seal their rooms and pack an emergency bag for possible evacuation. The Jerusalem Post was ful of instructions and humor to coax the population to "get prepared".
I lived with old Um Yousef (87). She was a typical Arab 'mother' originating from Turkey bordering on Armenia. She travel ed the deserts of Syria with her Armenian husband and eventual y in the 1940's arrived in Jaffa. From there she moved to Jerusalem and lived in a cul-de-sac cal ed 'Hosh a Tuti' (courtyard with a 'Tuti berry tree). I rented a smal room two and half meters by one and a half with a door opening onto a courtyard and a smal window.
As i was an unmarried lady, Um Yousef treated me like an Arab daughter, (I was 35 but, a definite liability) watching me like a hawk to ensure I was social y compliant and didn't damage her reputation! She fed me fried spaghetti, humus, goats head, chicken neck soup, not to mention pita bread and homemade feta cheese with olives.
We waited, watching Israel TV and surely one Sunday night about 2am I heard the whine of sirens al over Jerusalem. I had a developed a routine; turn on my battery radio, put on a ful length plastic cape, rubber boots, mask and orange gloves. I covered the door with masking tape and a wet cloth along the floor cross the door, soaked in Sodium bicarbonate - we were told it would delay any gas seeping under the door. There I sat in the dark waiting until the siren went again to say 'al clear', sometimes an hour or so.
The first time this happened, my Arab neighbors had not col ected their gas masks since Yasser Arafat had said it was al a 'Zionist' trick. The local mosque had preached that day against co-operating with the Jews. They 'knew' Saddam Hussein would never attack the Arabs in Jerusalem.
But, that January winter night at 2am when the first siren was heard, my neighbors came banging
on my door cal ing, "Ne'meat, help us!"
A few had col ected the boxes but didn't know what to do. I spent several hours helping these terrified people put their babies and children into protective wear and calm their fears. All hoped there was no gas in the atmosphere. It was cold with stars in the mid winter black sky.
The next morning there was a rush from my neighbors to col ect their gas masks and protective equipment!
In the morning the streets were fil ed with citizens going about their daily business with an uncanny calmness. We carried our 'shoulder bag' everywhere ready for use at a moment's notice. Those were tense and yet the most organized days of my life in the Old city. We al knew what to do. I had done a paramedic course which dealt with how to cope with the needs of al kinds of war, chemical and conventional. Israel had planned how to evacuate the Old city if attacked and I was part of that plan.
Today, residents of Israel are again receiving gas masks at central shopping mal s. They stand quietly waiting their turn and continue their lives as usual. I can identify with them. Those who have experienced war are always ready. The buzz on the street was in hushed tones. I visited and treated my patients as though each day was 'usual'.
The nearest scud to Jerusalem landed about 10 kms from the centre. Some days we had 3-4 scuds, others none. The war finished in February on Purim. It was a reminder to al that the God of Israel had watched over His people and there was very little loss of life. That Purim Israel celebrated as never before. Arabs likewise, heaved a sigh of relief that it was over. Israel was delivered out of the hands of Sadam Hussein. Everyone was glad that Israel had destroyed the Iraqi reactor ten years earlier or otherwise the story may have been very different. It seems to me that the situation in Israel is deja vue.
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