Israel is a land that is enveloped in fear, apprehension and bewilderment, not knowing what will be tomorrow with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. The people of Israel know that Iraq is the only country that did not surrender after the 1948 war, when Iraq and four other Arab armies invaded the newly founded Jewish state.
This is not the first time that Israel sat and waited for an attack which could take many lives indeed. Back in May 1967, after Egyptian President Nassar closed the straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping to the south, the people of Israel nervously waited three weeks awaiting any fate that would befall them, when armies on all sides of Israel again threatened the small Jewish state. At that time, a generation of concentration camp survivors wondered if Israel would again face a threat of mass annihilation. Today, the children and grandchildren of concentration camp survivors quietly ask the same question.
There is no euphoria and no desire that one can perceive in Israel towards any conflict on the horizon with Iraq. The common press perception that the people or the government of Israel want this war is simply unfounded. While the Israeli government is using the Voice of Israel Radio and Israel Public Television to calm the Israeli public with a careful and sensitive manner, with precise instructions as to where to get gas masks and how to prepare the shelters in case of a gas or chemical attack, the call in programs on the five popular Israeli radio stations are overwhelmed with anxious people – parents, children, elderly people, all with one question on their mind: What is going to be?
Ad to the apprehension from Scud Missile attacks the confirmed presence of Iraqi units of the paramilitary Palestinian forces, armed with short range mortars that can reach any spot in Israel.
All of us who are trained in any aspect of mental health (My degree is in community organization social work practice ) have been drafted for emergency service. And that emergency service is now in full swing. Children who cannot sleep. Parents who cannot cope. Older people who cannot function. And the special telephones installed at community centers for crisis counselling are ringing off the hook. I sometimes wonder if the whole country is not one great basket case.
None of this goes by without some therapeutic humor on the airwaves. In between the newscasts about the UN debate on the Bush ultimatum to Iraqi to disarm itself from its weapons of mass destruction, Israel’s most popular comic act got on the radio with a rendition of “Singing through the scuds”. And for those of us who work in the media, I cannot but remember some of the funnier moments during the previous Gulf War, when I worked as the Special CNN Radio correspondent in Israel. After more than thirty live reports on CNN radio about Scud missiles falling all over the center of Israel, I slipped and broadcast that “We are now in the midst of yet another Mud Scissile attack (instead of Scud Missile Attack). My colleagues at CNN sent me the CNN Mud Scissle award at the time.
With more than seven hundred Israelis murdered in cold blood over the past couple years, and with the prospect of a combined PLO and Iraqi attack in every part of Israel, you might say that the people of Israel are nervous, to say the least.
As I sit down to Sabbath dinner with my family, the nervousness of my wife and children shows, as it must show in every home.
My eight year old daughter Meira does not want to be left alone at night.
Neither does anybody else in Israel at this time.