This is not a happy time, but there may be cause for optimism.
Protective Edge is still an operation, but may be on its way to a war.
Hourly and half-hourly news programs begin with the names of the most recent soldiers who have died, plus the times and locations of their burials. We hear comments from friends and family members, describing promising young men, their academic or professional accomplishments, and their dedication to the IDF.
Casualties reflect a broad spectrum of the Jewish population, leaving aside the ultra-Orthodox. Most are Jews, but there are also Druze and Bedouin.
Many are from families like our own. It is easy to identify with them, and to understand why hundreds or even thousands accompany them to the military cemeteries.
Testimony that the dead young man loved the army, and could not wait to return to his unit sound like patriotic fluff, but it is easy to encounter young Israelis who express similar sentiments. Being the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors or refugees from Arab countries may explain some of the patriotism. Even the youngest Israelis have known Palestinian aggression.
Two of the dead and at least of the injured came from overseas, and volunteered for selective units of the IDF. One of the dead had finished his service, but refused release in order to fight with his colleagues.
Newspapers are providing half-page stories, with pictures of each soldier killed.
This is not Sparta. There are Jews--not all of them ultra-Orthodox--who do what they can to avoid the IDF or reserve duty, and Jews who criticize the government and IDF.
We hear the numbers of IDF accomplishments. How many facilities attacked, how many buildings, rocket launchers and tunnels destroyed. Palestinian sources are cited for the incidence of casualties, and how many are civilians or children. IDF sources claim a higher incidence of fighters and a lower incidence of civilians and children among the casualties.
The IDF keeps journalists away from its soldiers. The news we hear comes mostly from official sources. During an operation like this the military censor is more active than otherwise. Several times in recent days we have heard about difficult operations, and have guessed that before too long it will be possible for the media to report the casualties.
One of the non-fatal casualties of the present operation is the radio journalist, Carmela Menasha, well known for her descriptions of military activities. Her usually pointed and informative items may have fallen victim to insufficient sleep. Several of her reports have been rambling and repetitive, and have failed to answer the questions asked time and again by the broadcaster trying to manage the program.
There is a policy to keep the soldiers'' cellphones out of the action, but enough leaks to feed the Hebrew language Facebook and other social media. Some of it gets around before official announcements, but much of it is inaccurate.
For those wanting quick access to the media of the other side, al-Jazeera''s English language site is not entirely off the wall.
There, as well as in CCN and BBC, one is likely to see dead children, screaming women, and men waving their arms and demanding justice. There is less likely to be commentary about missiles falling on Israel, or Gazans being pressured by Hamas to stay close to home, despite being warned to leave by IDF leaflets and text messages.
Here''s one bit of Palestinian news that shows the same family having been killed in Syria and Gaza.
Assad is taking advantage of media focus on Gaza by increasing his attacks. So far during the Israeli operation, the deaths in Syria have been three times the number in Gaza.
It''s easy to encounter people who admit to being nervous, or sleeping less than usual.
Sunday night was an especially loud and long performance of the Isawwea lullaby, i.e., the sound of explosions as the police employed the crowd control devices of tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets. I dozed off thinking that only 200 meters separated my bedroom from fanatics who would delight in slitting my throat.
The Jordanian delegation to the UN is demanding that the Security Council insist on a cease fire and IDF''s withdrawal from Gaza.
That may reflect nothing more than the king''s effort to calm domestic unrest.
Ban Ki-moon is proposing a long term cease fire.
Mahmoud Abbas is travelling from one Arab capital to another, having trouble formulating anything significant.
John Kerry was caught in a non-public conversation condemning Israel''s killing of civilians, but then on script was supportive of Israel''s activity.
Barack Obama is also speaking with forked tongue. He proclaims Israel''s right to defend itself, but is beginning to worry about the large number of civilian casualties.
Egypt holds a key by virtue of geography, and it has not been supportive of Hamas, or receptive to American efforts to participate in the mediation.
Obama-Kerry are paying a price for throwing Mubarak under the bus, and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.
Nonetheless, John Kerry has come to Cairo to participate in something.
Israel appreciates the US contribution to Iron Dome. Americans'' political clumsiness has been counterproductive since GW Bush sought to bring democracy to Iraq, then Barack Obama talked about human rights in Egypt, and sent Kerry to bring peace between Israel and Palestine.
Ha''aretz''s cartoonist has portrayed the political competition among self-assigned mediators.
The leader of the Knesset opposition is supporting the operation. He and other Labor politicians have joined the call to keep it going until Hamas is deprived of the means and incentive to try again anytime soon.
Against them, a Meretz MK is worried about Gaza''s civilian casualties. Israel''s civil rights activists have asked the Attorney General to open an inquiry into IDF''s violation of international law.
Here''s the optimism--
- That Hamas may come to see the cost of its fanaticism.
- That it will lose enough of its arsenal, and Egypt''s animosity will assure a tighter control than in the past against the smuggling of munitions.
- And that the results will relieve Gaza''s threat on Israel for years to come
With all the fanaticism of Hamas on one side, Hezbollah on another, along with other Islamic extremists plus the meddling of Iran, Qatar, Turkey and Sudan, it may be impossible to keep Israel''s enemies from obtaining munitions, digging tunnels, finding political support and making other preparations for aggression.
The point is to give them good reason for not using those assets.
It isn''t exactly the MAD (mutual assured destruction) that prevailed during the Cold War, or that continues between India and Pakistan, and may come to be the situation between Iran and Israel. Israel vs Hamas, other Palestinians, and Hezbollah is significantly more one-sided in Israel''s favor. What we are now seeing is one of those occasions when Israel goes crazy, or breaks a few of the politically correct rules, in order to assert what can happen if its enemies do not behave.