Monday, January 19, 2009

Achikam's Out

Achikam called late last night. They were fresh out of Gaza and got their mobile phones back. He called his girlfriend first, which is the way it should be, then us. It wasn't the time nor the place to have a real conversation. He confirmed what had been obvious from snippets of information in the media, that they'd been in the thick of it.

Over the past few weeks I have done my best to tell it as I see it, irrespective of Achikam's being in the middle of it all. A fundamental aspect of the decision to live in Israel is that we try to balance our personal lives and needs, with our national ones. Over the years Israel has become a place where one can live very comfortably - it is no longer true, as it once was, that the decision to live here necessarily means also a decision to live with a lower economic standard. Yet there remain many aspects of life in Israel which are harder than elsewhere. It's a country at war, surrounded by hostile nations. Some merely hate us but live and let live, and that's fine. Others hate us so intensely they're willing, even eager, to set aside the pursuit of their own well-being in order to harm us.

The decision of adult Israelis to live here and not elsewhere is a determination to balance the personal with the national. We entwine our personal travails and successes with those of the nation. They can be separated, of course, and often are: there's nothing fascist about Israeli society. Yet they aren't separate. Collectively we look at the mostly clear skies of this very dry winter and worry at the lack of rain. We know our sportsmen won't bring us much honor, but we take satisfaction from the startling number of Hebrew books translated and sold in large numbers in the same European countries whose media is so critical of us. The hi-tech whiz-kids and their abrasive older brothers who foist technological innovation where-ever there's an opening: we regard them as ours, even if we've never met them. We haggle and squabble - oh, do we ever haggle and squabble - about everything possible, every detail, idea, possibility and crack-pot scheme; and we take immense pleasure in the haggling, squabbling, and the schemes: they're ours, and we're them. We're an extraordinarily vital place, or deafening cacophony, both.

And when the need arrives, as it periodically does, we set aside our personal gain and comfort and batten down with grim determination. In this decade alone, this has happened at least three times. In 2001-2002 activities such as taking a bus, going to the supermarket or walking on the street were life-threatening; we curtailed them as much as reasonable, but kept on living our lives until someone figured out how to defeat the suicide murderers who thought they knew how to break us. In 2006 we went to war against a movement whose hatred of us overrides everything; our generals and minsters, it turned out, didn't know what they were doing, but the determination of the men in the field and the populace behind them was such that when the fog of war cleared, Hezbullah had lost its appetite for destruction, at least for a while, as we've just seen.

Throughout it all, we felt a growing unease that the people in Sderot and vicinity had been abandoned. Year after year their town was shot at, normal life was impossible, their businesses limped on at best, their children were growing up in a world of sirens, rockets and occasional tragedy. Finally we again set aside our normalcy, and did something about it.

Against that backdrop, the fears of the parents, the siblings, the wives of the reserve soldiers and their children, these must all take second place. Like most Israelis, we raised our children to bear the burden of defending their country, while hoping it might not be needed; having raised Achikam to be there it was our task to support him and his friends, unnatural as such a position might seem as parents.

A number of years ago, not long after Meir began his military service at the height of the 2nd Intifada, the army discharged me after decades of reserve duty. On the night Achikam's unit was sent down to Gaza, three weeks ago, I decided to use this blog as my reserve duty. As a place where I might try to explain what I thought was happening, in the hope someone out there might listen, and I might make a small contribution to the effort, alongside the very large one being made by Achikam and his pals. It was also, I admit, an act of channeling my energies, so that they not go in directions that wouldn't help anyone.

Now he's out and this round of violence, I expect, is behind us. As I told Michael Totten shortly after the previous war, in August 2006
There's no doubt that we are preparing for the next war against Hezbollah. We're not ready for it now. And given the depth and breadth of the stupidities and mistakes that we just did, then it will take a while. But we won't make the same mistakes twice. Lebanon and Hezbollah will now remain on our radar. They're not going to drop off like they did before. And remaining on our radar means that serious money and serious effort will be put into preparing for the next round.
No, in summer 2006 I didn't know the next round would be in Gaza. But I knew there'd be a next round, and I knew we'd learn from our very many mistakes, and that when the next time came, we'd be all the more lethal for having learned. With hindsight it's pretty obvious that our poor performance of 2006 mislead Hamas to think we'd lost our determination and abilities, not only temporary lost our footing; this mistake made them reckless and stupid, and far too many of their own people paid the price for it. One now hopes that our far more convincing performance will give them pause, and perhaps delay the next round by many years. Our people must be starting the preparations this very morning.

But that's not my job. So this morning I am completing my reserve duty. In my normal life I post to this blog from time to time. Some days three posts, but some weeks only two. The number of readers is accordingly small. Those of you who joined for the war, I thank for your attention and the comments you made, and recommend that you now go away.



joseph said...

Dr. Lozowick,

Readers should leave? The best blog on Israel and its spot in history? Are war readers masochists?


Anonymous said...

Glad to read your son is back.

This is the best blog I've come across in a long time, and I for one will continue reading it.

Thank you for staying sane in a wave of idiocy. This blog here is what I kept coming back to when I just couldn't stand the anti-semitic crap anymore I had to read seemingly everywhere whenever this war was discussed.

Anonymous said...

Great news about Achikam -- but if you think your writing is no longer needed just because the fighting stopped, you're wrong! You have to go on, at least one post a day!!!

I'll check back every day!

Fabián said...

I am very glad that Achikam came out safely.

Anonymous said...

I am relieved and pleased that almost all the soldiers, icluding your son, are coming home safe and sound.
I second the notion that your job is not yet done. The current iteration of the war against the Jews will rage on even after Israel has left Gaza and for some time to come words will be a primary weapon against those who would destroy us.

Anonymous said...

wonderful news that Achikam is back and OK and it would be wonderful, if you could continue -
here's an idea how: I think it is about time somebody charged for his published work on the web -
I am tired of feeling like a free loader
why not be the first and try billing for it - not a membership scheme but some billing per click and no copy and paste allowed would be wonderful
as you do not seem to care for a lot of readers and do not depend on the blog for a living, you'd be the ideal person to start a totally new kind of scheme.
You are needed and now after having gotten so used to you and so dependent on you once or twice a week would cause severe withdrawal pain

Grateful said...

As a father of a son who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, I am very pleased to hear that your son is home.

Thank you for your service, especially over the last weeks.

Anonymous said...

That's good news Yaacov, I'm pleased to hear he's ok. All the best to you & your family and thanks for the interesting blogs. Regards, Gavin.

Anonymous said...

Yaacov...obviously you need to enjoy your life as well...great that Achikam is back...but PLEASE don't slow down the bloggin too much. Its one of the best on the web...keep it GOING!! cheers zvi

Anonymous said...

Too late. I found your insights and observations to be very interesting, and I don't plan to go away. :-P :-)