Be prepared - be normal

An Englishman's home is his castle. An Israeli's is his shelter. But the main thing is to enjoy life.

bobm shelter in nahariya (photo credit: AP)
bobm shelter in nahariya
(photo credit: AP)
Life in Israel is perfectly normal. As long as you take the definition of "normal" (and I suppose "perfect") very loosely. Returning home after a full day's work recently, I found in my mailbox a flyer advertising a pizza parlor, a proposal from a realtor looking for available properties in my suddenly popular neighborhood, the bimonthly water bill, and a rather impressive pamphlet from the Home Front Command explaining how to prepare my apartment in the event of conventional or chemical warfare. It says a lot about how long I've been in the country that the water bill was more disconcerting than the booklet instructing me how to choose a room (the smallest number of windows and outside walls), seal it (plastic recycling in its most Israeli form) and keep calm (use whatever methods you have found help prevent panic in the past). The non-panic guidelines were a nice touch, including as they did recommendations on how to avoid conveying fear to young children. In future publications - I assume there will be updated versions just as surely as I will continue to receive ever-higher water bills - it might make sense for the good folks back at the Home Front Command to write up a section on how to handle and protect pets which, as least as far as I am concerned, are a part of the family. An Englishman's home is his castle. An Israeli's is his shelter. I found it reassuring that someone out there has put some considerable thought into how to reduce damage in the event of a future war. It might be my background as a girl scout and Nahal soldier, both with their "Be Prepared" mottos; more likely it's the influence of my mum: I like to know where I stand and be ready for all scenarios, including the worst-case ones. Then, contingency plans prepared, I can get on with the rest of my life (like going to see Encore's amateur production of The Mikado). THE RISING real-estate prices and plans to construct tower blocks cast more of a shadow over my part of Jerusalem than the threats of war. Call it a real(i)ty check. And the likelihood of a traffic snarl-up when George W. Bush comes to shove (or at least nudge) this week requires more advanced planning than readying my tiny spare room against missiles. "There ought to be a room in every house to swear in," said American wit Mark Twain. That is my would-be sealed room (no windows, no outer walls - perfect). What - or whom - I swear about changes all the time, but the name Ahmadinejad is less likely to feature than that of the idiot who parked on the sidewalk and blocked the pedestrian crossing. Perfectly normal. In the past, it was Saddam Hussein who threatened my home and family with missiles. He's been dead a full year. Unfortunately his riddance hasn't been as good as Bush expected. The global threats are still there. And the state of Saddam's homeland is headline news around the world. As we entered 2008, I could see fireworks from the window of my ever-so-humble but apparently now pricey home. I raised a glass of wine and finished washing dishes and preparing sandwiches to save time in the morning. Perfectly normal in a country where January 1 is just another workday but everything closes for two days on Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Another civil year over. You could hardly say that all is well with the world. In fact, comparatively, life in Israel seems easy. Israelis argue, but, thank heavens, we're far from a state of civil war. Compare this to the internecine fighting in what is, in effect, the nascent Palestinian state; the tribal warfare in Kenya; the ongoing mayhem in Iraq; and the near-civil war in Pakistan, born around the same time as Israel. (And here is one of history's unlearned lessons: partitioning Pakistan into East and West with India in the middle - a la the proposed Palestinian state - was asking for disaster, which arrived in the form of wars and terrorism.) AS THE fireworks exploded in Jerusalem, I had to consider the irony that - Home Front Command leaflet neatly filed away - Israelis were celebrating while the traditional New Year's Eve fireworks in central Brussels were canceled due to a continuing terrorism threat. When I first saw the headline that the Belgians had closed their capital city to festivities this year, I briefly wondered who was capable of setting off such a security scare in a European capital, home of the EU, at that: Flemish separatists? No, it was bad old Osama bin Laden, whose operatives there were suspected of preparing what Israelis call a mega-pigua, a mega-attack. Bin Laden on December 29 also issued a threat against Israel, vowing to extend jihad to "Palestine." Most of us just said "So what's new?" and I'll wager that more of my neighbors wrote down the number of the pizza parlor's delivery service than the number of the Home Front hot line. The capital might come to a standstill when Bush and his entourage pay a visit - the road map spells disaster for Jerusalem's drivers - but terror doesn't shut us down. NONETHELESS, the news that the government has decided to stop funding security personnel on public transportation caught me off guard. As environmental health expert Prof. Elihu Richter wrote in a letter to the Post, the program was a victim of its own success: "Using the same logic, perhaps the government should terminate security checks for air passengers, chlorination of our drinking water, and compulsory polio vaccination?" he pointed out. Like Richter, I'd rather have well-trained security staff deterring attacks than all-too-practised police and ambulance personnel efficiently handling the aftermath of that one bomber who got away with it. Similarly, the IDF's guidelines on what to do during a war are less confidence-inspiring if you think it might mean the military is doing nothing to deter or stop our enemies coming too close to home for comfort. The Annapolis summit might have aimed at bringing peace to the region (about as new as bin Laden's threats of holy war) but until that peace arrives we need to be ready for all eventualities. The showdown with the Islamists might be on hold, but I'd like to be prepared. In the meantime, I'm off to The Mikado. Life in Jerusalem should be about going out and watching actors bring the house down rather than sealing a room and living with a bunker mentality. Here's hoping 2008 is a sweeter year - and may all our boys come safely home.