No other country

Here is my home. The question is: How to protect it?

Mercaz Harav attack224.8 (photo credit: AP)
Mercaz Harav attack224.8
(photo credit: AP)
Recently I found myself humming a version of the popular Israeli song which starts: "Ein li eretz aheret, gam im admati bo'eret," "I have no other country, even if the ground is burning." I'm not sure whether I had picked it up because the radio - covering what has become known as "The War in the South" to distinguish it from any other war - had been playing it. Maybe it was just dredged up from my subconsciousness where it lives most of the time since lyricist Ehud Manor and musician-performer Corinne Allal released it in 1986. To relieve tension, I tried playing around with the words: replacing the "even if the ground is burning" to "even if the sun is scorching" or, warming to my theme, "even if people are annoying." You can't, of course, really improve an Ehud Manor song, although you might argue over which version - Allal's, Gali Atari's or their duet - is best. Voted more than once as Israel's most popular song, "I have no other country," has a message that still rings true. While masked militants were shouting "in blood and fire we'll free Palestine," across what to all intents and purposes serves as a border, I returned to Manor's lyrics: Just a word in Hebrew pierces my veins and my soul - With a painful body, with a hungry heart, Here is my home. THE SONG is more a social history than just another hit. Manor wrote it as a tribute to his brother, Yehuda, who fell in the War of Attrition in 1968. He gave to song to Allal to write the music in 1982 - at a time the country was suffering from what was to become known as the First Lebanon War. When it was released in 1986 it was initially considered an anti-war anthem, ex pressing despair at the relentless deaths of soldiers. Gradually it came to be adopted across the political spectrum, some emphasizing the helplessness, some stressing the hope, all realizing the infallible truth: We have no other country. Or as the song puts it: Kan hu beiti, "Here is my home." No wonder it remains relevant through wars and intifadas. What is true on a national level also holds on a local level. I once asked my friend why she remains in Sderot where the Kassams dictate the rhythm of her life, and she replied: "Because if I move, the missiles will follow me." It wasn't that she felt personally targeted by Hamas and Fatah firing out of Gaza, she just assumed that if the population flees instead of standing fast, the terrorists will be encouraged to reach out ever further. Her answer came back to me as the Mediterranean resort of Ashkelon and the usually pastoral villages and communities nearby came under fire - not quite out of the blue (few did not expect it to happen) but certainly a devastating bolt nonetheless. IT REVERBERATED like the sound of a gunshot after the shooting of the yeshiva students in Jerusalem. So if this is home, and moving is not in the equation, the question is how to protect it. And here the answer, like the meaning of Manor's lyrics, is open to interpretation, particularly between the Left and the Right. The country is, if not burning, certainly uncomfortably hot at the moment. How do we stop flames from leaping up? And how do we do this without getting burned in the world press and diplomatic arena? As the rocket fire died down to "just" a few missiles a day, Israel allowed Palestinian cargo to leave Gaza and permitted "humanitarian aid" to enter. According to news reports, hidden in containers marked "oil" was a quantity of chemicals which could potentially be used in terror attacks. Obviously not everybody wants to stop fanning the flames of war. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice paid a visit to Jerusalem with a message from the Palestinians - not those in Gaza, mind you, the Palestinian leadership based in Ramallah. Rice promised that the PA is willing to renew talks with Israel. Although talking peace with Mahmoud Abbas at the moment is probably about as effective as me humming a song in response to The Situation. While the South is under fire from the Gaza Strip, despite the complete removal of all the Jewish communities there two years ago, and a terrorist whom someone armed - (Hamas? Hizbullah?) - can go on a killing spree in Jerusalem, it seems to be a strange time to talk about more compromises. Operation Hot Winter, the IDF's initial ground response to the Gaza rockets, predictably cost the lives of Israeli soldiers. And - as the world's press and politicians keep reminding us using that wonderfully tricky phrase "proportionate response" - there were also Palestinian civilian casualties along with the hits on those firing the rockets. Well, what did they expect? If Hamas uses its civilian population - women and children first - as human shields and fodder for eager foreign news footage, it is obvious they are going to get hurt no matter how hard Israel tries to avoid it. So the question becomes whose innocent kids do you want to protect most. The unequivocal answer for those of us who have, as Manor put it, "Hebrew piercing our veins and souls," is those in our own home. In Sderot, in Ashkelon; in the North still under the threat of Katyushas; and everywhere in between. Because, if we don't succeed in stopping the rockets and attacks, their range will surely continue to increase. And let us remember that Hamas, unlike the IDF, is specifically targeting the civilian population. The Israelis who are getting hurt are not launching rockets. They are people like my friend and her family trying to get on with their everyday lives: mothers who surrealistically worry about their kids getting hit by a car as they cross the road - or getting hit by a missile. Or youngsters celebrating the new month ahead of Purim in a Jerusalem yeshiva. Israel is not carrying out a scorched-earth policy. It is trying to avoid being engulfed by flames. Instead of putting pressure on Egypt to stop the weapons flow into Gaza, and backing Israel's right to respond to the attacks, the EU and UN are actually helping Hamas - albeit unwittingly - by focusing on Gazan casualties of Israel's response. If we had Canada as a neighbor, we wouldn't be at war either. We wouldn't have to find a way to respond to an ongoing missile and terror onslaught on our cities and towns. Curiously enough, as soon as Israel started hitting back, the number of rocket attacks dropped and Hamas started hinting that it might accept a tahadiye, a cease-fire or truce. Israel, on the other hand, doesn't want a temporary cease-fire: It wants peace. It's up to Hamas to decide whether it also wants peace or if it just wants a time-out from the hostilities in order to stock up on more weapons (and improve its world standing). In the meantime, Israelis Left, Right and Center can carry on singing in unison, if not in harmony: "Ein li eretz aheret... " - "I have no other country..." It contains a message for Hamas and Hizbullah: "Kan hu beiti," here is my home, or as they say in Arabic: "Hon beiti." Learn to live with it.