gulf war 88.
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The day I grew up, I suppose, was the day I visited the museum at Tel Hai with my ulpan class in 1970. The teacher was a steely-haired woman whose stance always made her look as if she were straining forward against an unwelcome seatbelt.
She pointed to where hills bordered the area and said, "Lebanon's over there."
I said, "You mean way off behind that stretch of hills?"
"No, that first hill."
"You mean we're right next to a hill that has Lebanon on the other side?"
"No, once you're on that hill you're already in Lebanon."
I felt indignant. I had been through high school, college and a summer camp or two, and in every case it was assumed that whoever was in charge of me cherished my personal safety as top priority.
I said, "Why put a tourist attraction so close to the border? It's got to be dangerous."
She said, "We're a small country. If fear makes us leave any land unused, it's as if we've surrendered that much land."
I realized that I had joined a community that staked their lives on a principle, and that the community tacitly expected me to do the same. Not that the danger at the border was significant at the time; but a new danger worries us more than a familiar one.
IT WAS sort of an inoculation. Having survived a small dose of uneasiness over a one-in-a-million chance of harm, you're maybe a millionth of a percent tougher for next time.
Enough such inoculation, and I guess you become like Muna, the Amazon kioskmother of Herzliya. Behind her tiers of candy bars and preservative-laden cakes, beside her wall of cigarette boxes, she stood throughout the Gulf War like a broad-based ziggurat near the corner of Sokolov and Kehilat Zion streets.
Passing by in the tar-shiny night between one long rainstorm and the next, between one Scud and the next, I would see her mountain-sloping figure in the fluorescent light and know there was still determination, still a refusal to let it matter.
The first night of the Gulf War was the hardest because the danger was new.
Maybe, you could feel in your nerves, this night has closed on us like a door that has no inside handle. Here they will find us, if we are ever found, and we will know neither the finding nor the morning.
But unlike our current war, the daytime was mostly safe. The Sundays, we came to realize, were safe. A bad day meant two or three strikes, not one or two hundred, like now. Almost no one was ever injured. Work continued. Some people even started to shrug off the sirens; once the danger became familiar, familiarity bred contempt.
There was also a confidence that the great United States of America, though maddeningly slow, would sooner or later quell the threat; and though it was a fool's hope, there was a hope that Israel would be compensated for its suffering by gestures of thanks from America and even from some Arab nations.
THE DIFFERENCE between that war and this war is like the difference between the weak dose of pathogen that triggers resistance and the baleful dose that incapacitates you. This time the US is not tying our hands as it did in the Gulf War, but our soldiers are dying - helpless civilians too - and the war's aftermath is anticipated with little optimism.
The common worker and the small businessman are out of cash. The children are spending altogether too much time underground.
If civilians can't live a normal life in the north these days, there's no reason for them to stay there. The psychological damage is apparent among at least some of the children who come to central Israel for brief rest and recreation.
Caregivers expecting to find them grateful and eager to rest find them, instead, ungovernable and destructive in some cases, running wild and throwing whatever comes to hand. Though there's no urgency to ending the war while Hizbullah remains armed and defiant, there is much urgency to ending the unnatural confinement of the children and to alleviating its effects.
AND WHAT the children suffer obviously, the adults suffer inwardly. Children acting out is one thing; if the adults come to the point of acting out, there can be big trouble.
Care for post-traumatic stress is well developed in Israel, but this time the caregiving establishment's expertise must be combined with the expertise that the social-work establishment has acquired in dealing with entire communities.
The social workers may wish that Israel could deal with the traumatized northerners few by few, the way it admits the Falash Mura or the Bnei Menashe, but in this case the people in need are already here.
The author works in technical writing, translation and copywriting.
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