As residents of the south – I live in Kfar Warburg a moshav bordering Kiriyat Malachi and east of Ashdod – my husband and I have received countless phone calls from relatives and friends and even old acquaintances with whom we lost contact decades ago, expressing concern for our safety and offering words of encouragement. No small number have graciously offered us the hospitality of their homes, should we want a breather. While touched, we have always turned down their offers.
Why, you ask?
It’s not that we don’t appreciate such gestures, or that we object to the work of levdarom.com (heart to the south) and other non-profits seeking to assist residents of the south with mattresses for stairwells and lists of Israelis offering to take into their homes a household of perfect strangers in need of a respite who have reached the end of their psychological tether. There is even a group of kennels in the Sharon region that have volunteered to shelter pets – ‘on-the-doghouse’ so to speak, while their owners refill their batteries at relatives or friends in the vicinity. Many of the stressed-out dogs, they report, tremble or throw-up at the sound of every passing ambulance.
What prompted this posting “Why I Won’t Budge” wasn’t requests that we take a breather and come stay with our friends or kin. It was a posting on an anglo listserve I ‘shadow’ out of curiosity – an item from an individual from the south who not only wrote with authority – “the south is emptying out” (a questionable claim, no doubt driven by limited knowledge of the larger picture or a need to make his/her own decision normative). Let me clarify: To leave or to stay is a personal matter and there is no justification or intention to be judgmental here. What made me go ballistic was the recommendation that followed – that “anyone who does not have to be there should leave” (emphasis on ‘should’ not ‘feel free to’) adding that anyone who didn’t follow the writer’s own example would be “a burden”…
To suggest that those of us who won’t budge are either nuts or reckless – even a burden, is a disservice and misplaced – but it also reflects a lack of historical perspective.
I’ve lived in Israel for over 46 years and have gone through half a dozen wars. (It comes with the territory, doesn’t it?) What the writer failed to grasp was that we Israelis share the burden at every turn and ‘defense’ takes some strange forms in this country, including a obdurate ‘won’t budge’ mentality that runs the length and the breadth of the Zionist experience.
Sometimes it’s citizens in the Upper Galilee and the Jordan Valley who lived for years in the first two decades of statehood (until 1970) under shelling from Syria and Jordan, and refused to budge. Sometimes it’s people in towns like Nahariaya, Kiriyat Shmonah and rural villages such as Avivim, Kfar Yuval and Misgav-Am along the Lebanese border who lived for years during the 1970s with terrorist incursions – and refused to budge. Sometimes it’s the settlers in Judea and Samaria targeted by rocks and Molotov cocktails on the roads during the 1987-1992 Intifada. Sometimes it’s residents of Ramat Gan who hunkered down under a barrage of Scud missiles during the 1990 Gulf War. Sometimes it’s residents of Haifa and the Galilee who periodically face Ketyusha rockets from Lebanon – systematic and heavy like in the 2006 Second Lebanon War or sporadic salvos, just enough to make you jump every time a motorcycle accelerates after stopping at a traffic light (identical to the first one or two seconds when an alert siren begins to wail). Sometimes it’s Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem residents who defended their homes by sending their kids to school on public transportation with bated breath every morning and going to work daily, then out to the theater a restaurant or a soccer match between wave after wave of suicide bombings during the 2000-2005 Terror War, refusing to be dislodged from their cities. We Israelis even have an only-in-Israel phrase for this kind of behavior – shigrat chirum (following a daily routine in an emergency situation).
Defense takes a myriad of forms and many of my fellow Israeli citizens have defended their homes for years – not days, not weeks, armed only with their courage and wherewithal. So sometimes it is residents of the south’s turn to bear the brunt of Arab attempts to dislodge us with mortars and Kassam and Grad rockets. And now my 6 and 9 year-old grandchildren who live in Tel-Aviv have gotten their first introduction to Fajr rockets (probably not their last) – some sort of weird ‘rite of passage’ into “Israelity” I suppose – and they aren’t budging either. In fact, the 1st grader told me on the phone that he “knows what to do when the sirens go off to stay safe” with the same pride with which he told me days earlier that he could almost read…
READERS: For a special report with ‘backpage news from the front’ regarding Operation Pillar of Defense – go to the author’s news website for piquant news in English gleaned from the Hebrew media Chelm-on-the-Med Online .