March 03, 2008

Sleepless in Jerusalem: Qassam rockets hit Ashkelon

Late last Saturday night, I finally quit trying to reach Shimon on his cell phone. My havruta (Aramaic: study partner) of more than eight years had not answered my myriad calls after the Sabbath Havdala ceremony (denoting separation between sacred time and ordinary time). And, then I turned on the radio to hear the news.

Hours earlier, the reporter intoned, Hamas militants had fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel quassam rockets, including some longer-range katyushas that hit the large coastal city of Ashkelon, damaging houses and apartments. This is the first time that a quassam has ever reached Ashkelon in the western Negev, in the South District of Israel.

Here, in this ancient maritime area (site of one of the five cities of the Philistines) Shimon lives with his parents while writing his doctoral dissertation in psychology. The bible records that Samson, King Saul and his son Jonathan, and King David, among others, spent time here, too.

Fifteen seconds to find safety
As with all cities and towns that are designated Color Red — the code for an attack on civilian populations, warning sirens pierced the Sabbath quiet as Shimon, his family and entire community understood the dreaded message. Within fifteen seconds, a rocket would land close by. Fifteen seconds to absorb the information, to manage the terror, and to seek and then find and enter a safe place.

Only days earlier, I had introduced Shimon and Josh Gomes (both shown in the photo). (Josh, a grandson of my beloved Stella, of blessed memory, is a professional American basketball-player now helping to bring the local Binyamina team to victory.)

On learning of the katyusha rocket attack about fifty miles from my radio, inside my head images of Shimon danced to rippling sounds of his voice, his laugh — broadcasting his signature wit and wisdom. Shimon: a human anchor in sea of chaos, seeding humor and intelligence, goodness and compassion — in danger? Unthinkable. Untenable. Possible.

In her blog diary entry, March 1, 2008, Karen Alkalay-Gut muses
Thank goodness we only paper-trained our dog. Even though she goes out four times a day she still pees on the paper at home. And there is much to piss on today. What terrible developments. Katyushas on Ashkelon. Kassams on Sderot. Attacks on Gaza. Human lives targeted. And of course both sides become more and more determined. We of course would stop as soon as the rockets cease.

Life may go on amid this madness, but sometimes I can't get my head around it. So I almost didn't go to my good friend's birthday party, but I did, and I forgot everything in the celebration - until the final song of the sing along - Shalom-Salaam. Then suddenly the absence of the very thing we were singing about returned to me with such pain. How many people were killed since we began the party? How many people irretrievably traumatized? How do we get around this?

Early the next morning, my phone rang. As I grabbed it, spotting Shimon’s name and number in the caller ID window, relief engulfed me.

Cut-to-the-chase Q&A
Me: Are you OK? How are your parents? You must have a long list of calls to return so I won’t keep you.

He: Yes, I’m OK. My parents are in denial. I accidentally left my phone in the car last night, and it was too late to return messages when I discovered it. Yes, I have lots of calls to return.

Our staccato exchange ended, I burst into smiles as I temporarily blocked out thoughts of lingering terror and the immediate tragedy for others in Ashkelon (and elsewhere), unlucky this time.


littlepurplecow said...

Oh, I'm so glad your friend Shimon is okay. I continue to pray for peace.

Steve said...

I don’t get what this whole disproportionately thing is all about. You don’t win wars by acting proportionally.

You win wars by crushing your enemy. They pull a knife, you pull a gun. They put one of your men in the hospital, you put one of theirs in the morgue.

You must fight on their level. With trickery, brutality, finality. You must match their evil.

Did you know that two thousand years ago a Roman citizen could walk across the face of the known world free of the fear of molestation? He could walk across the earth unharmed, cloaked only in the words ‘Civis Romanis’ I am a Roman citizen. So great was the retribution of Rome, universally understood as certain, should any harm befall even one of its citizens?

Tit for tat does lead to more violence. And isn’t that what proportionality really means?

If you aren’t fighting with disproportionately then you aren’t fighting to win, And if you aren’t fighting to win then you are just continuing the cycle of violence. Don’t get me wrong. I am not one of those who say that violence never solved anything. Ask what the city fathers of Hiroshima what they say about it and you know what they would say? NOTHING, Hiroshima was destroyed. Violence has resolved more conflicts than anything else. The contrary opinion that violence doesn’t solve anything is merely wishful thinking at its worst.

No, I am not a pacifist. The truth is that when you fight you fight in order to totally destroy your enemy’s will and capacity to fight. You totally overwhelm them.

JeSais said...

I pray for you Tamar, and your friends and family... and for peace.

Tamar Orvell said...

littlepurplecow — For your caring words, thank you!

Steve — For your input, thank you.

JeSais — Your prayers for me and my family are welcome, always.

From an email exchange with Shimon, Wed, Mar 5, 2008:

Thank you for writing about me in your blog. However I feel compelled to remind you that I AM NOT THAT GREAT. You, on the other hand, are a whole different story.

Who said anything about you being great? I just said I was so worried I couldn't sleep. So I was angry with you;-)