The country has just been through one of those peculiarly Israeli periods: More
than a million people were forced to seek shelter as hundreds of missiles were
launched from Gaza last week, yet the topic of the day was not whether the
government should launch a ground offensive à la Operation Cast Lead. Nor was it
about the cost of the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system, although each
interceptor costs around $50,000 to $100,000. It was about Bamba, the
peanut-flavored snack that is so much a part of the local diet that most Israeli
parents aren’t even aware of possibly lethal allergic reactions to the main
Every now and again, I recall something that poet and writer
Haim Gouri once told me about the extremes of Israeli life: “We are a people of
ups and downs, euphoria and pathos, pride and pique.”
The last few days
have been one of those periods. Even the weather seems to be suffering from mood
Jerusalem went from snowstorm to heat wave within a
This was abnormal life at its most normal, or vice
Those of us who don’t listen to the news on Shabbat didn’t even
realize that a mini-war had broken out between Israel and the Palestinians in
Gaza until last Saturday night, by which time scores of missiles had landed on
the South and the Home Front Command ordered pupils to remain at home – which
averted what could have been a tragedy when a missile scored a direct hit on a
school in Beersheba on March 11.
Only educational facilities equipped
with missile-proof safe rooms, mainly those in the area close to the Gaza Strip,
were allowed to operate, leading my son to comment about friends in Sderot:
“That’s really bad luck for them. Not only do they have to suffer the missiles,
they don’t even get time off school.”
From past conversations, I know my
friend is scared for their safety when her children travel to and from school
but is less concerned once they are in their bomb-proof classrooms. If kids in
Sderot got a day off school any time a missile landed, the entire town would
still be trying to complete first grade.
Young Jerusalemites, on the
other hand, got let out from school early at the beginning of the month as the
first few flakes of snow began to softly land and it looked like there might be
just enough material to build a midget-sized snowman.
At some point
midweek, I realized the news broadcasts were reporting that only three or four
missiles had landed. I don’t remember when we got so used to missiles that that
passes for “normal.”
In conversations with the press, Sderot Mayor David
Buskila often emphasizes that the biggest problem is post-traumatic stress
disorder, which affects thousands of residents, particularly the children. Even
the pets in Sderot are traumatized.
In the event of a warning, local
residents have just 15 seconds to get to the nearest shelter. “That’s why we are
probably the only town in the world where there are times that it’s considered
too dangerous to wear car seat belts,” says my friend Channa.
some French speakers spending the year in Israel whether their parents hadn’t
called and demanded they come back home. “No. I don’t think they have understood
that something is going on. France is too busy with the elections,” replied one,
as her friend nodded in agreement.
Thanks mainly to the success of the
Iron Dome and the fact that most residents in the area under attack heeded the
Home Front Command call to stick indoors, there were no Israeli fatalities as I
write these lines. Hence the lack of international headlines.
photos captured Israeli children living their unique version of the phrase “a
sheltered existence” while showing Palestinian children bleeding and battered.
They are all inarguably innocent victims – the Muslim and the Jewish children. I
would argue, however, that they are all victims of the same terror organizations
such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees that were
responsible for the latest missile onslaught; Hamas that ostensibly controls
Gaza; and Iran and Syria which provide the weapons.
It’s clear that it’s
going to be many, many more years before, instead of investing in defensive
measures – building more shelters, missile-proofing more schools, acquiring more
Iron Dome batteries – we can sit down with the neighbors across the border and
work out how to better all our lives. In fact, we might never reach that
In the meantime, turning those proverbial bitter lemons into
something more palatable, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, which manufactures
the Iron Dome, hopes its nearly 90 percent success rate over the past few days
will lead to an increase in international sales.
WHICH BRINGS me back to
the subject of Bamba, another international hit.
The Bamba baby, the
trademark symbol of the snack, is as recognizable locally as a Disney character.
But the cute, diaper-clad child with one tooth, and a golden curl will not be
heading to London this summer as the mascot of the Israeli Olympic team. This
follows a massive online campaign against the use of a commercial symbol to
represent the national delegation. Even Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat
weighed in on the issue, criticizing the decision to use a commercial figure.
Osem reportedly paid the Olympic Committee NIS 150,000 to have the baby
represent the delegation, although sportingly the company apparently did not
withdraw its sponsorship.
Perhaps as a diversion from the missile attacks
– or maybe because Bamba has accompanied us through so many wars – the story of
the grounded mascot received huge local coverage. Of course, Bamba is considered
such an essential ingredient of Israeli life that in 2003, as the country
prepared for possible Iraqi missiles, the Knesset declared it to be a vital
staple food, meaning that the Bamba factory in Holon would have to operate even
in wartime conditions.
“What? You mean workers would have to risk their
lives to produce Bamba?” spluttered an acquaintance recently when I told him of
the snack’s special status.
Put that way, it does seem rather strange.
But it’s hard to imagine how kids would have got through the First Gulf War in
1991, spent in sealed rooms, without it. Most young Israeli kids can’t get
through a day in peacetime without Bamba.
The snack actually received its
first commercial boost during the 1967 Six Day War when army canteens gave
soldiers a taste for it which they later gave their families. With or without an
Olympic appearance, the ageless Bamba baby is already well traveled, with homes
throughout Diaspora communities and wherever Israel backpackers have
More than 10 years ago, I was greeted in an impoverished village in
Kenya by local children calling out for the snack that had been introduced by
previous Israeli visitors. While it can’t be considered a health food, it is
full of vitamins, and although I’d prefer to see children in Africa filling up
on something more wholesome, I’m aware they could do worse (well-intentioned
Americans were handing out candies at the time).
Few Hebrew advertising
slogans have been as successful as “Ain, ain, ain kmo Bamba” (There ain’t,
ain’t, ain’t anything like Bamba) and the manufacturers like to boast that Bamba
is a little taste of Israel. It’s a pity the Bamba baby is not allowed to live
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.