The receptionist and I were the only people in the doctor’s waiting room when the siren sounded. We looked at each other, more bemused than concerned, for a few seconds, until the doctor came bustling out of his office with the patient who was with him at the time in tow. There’s not much point in being in the waiting room if the doctor isn’t there, so the receptionist and I followed them into the stairwell, which apparently was the designated secure space. The actual secure room was locked and no-one knew where to find the key.
We were soon joined in the stairwell by lots of other people, each and every one, it seemed, engaged in something to do with a smart phone. The reception in the stairwell was bad and overload soon brought the network to its kneews. Lacking information, we hung around for about 10 minutes before resuming from where we had left off.
Back in the waiting room, I had to deal with a challenge from two newly-arrived patients who claimed priority under Israel’s informal first-come-first-served tradition. But the receptionist backed me up and I was soon sitting opposite the doctor. Not that it did me much good though. He was a lot more interested in finding out where the missile had fallen (south of Tel Aviv, apparently) and in speaking with every member of his extended family to make sure that everyone was OK.
In between phone calls, he informed me that my blood test showed that I was borderline diabetic and had various other issues typical of my age and habits (drinking, smoking and eating everything that doesn’t move.) He didn’t seem particularly concerned about my health, so neither was I. It was the first time that a missile had fallen on Tel Aviv since the first Gulf War in 1991, which helped both of us keep things in proportion.
My daughter, Zoe, had been outdoors with friends when the siren went off and had had to run into the shelter of a nearby building. She was a bit spooked and insisted that she and I fill a backpack with emergency provisions, flashlights and everything else we might need during the next attack. She had already drawn up a long list of the items we needed, which included clean underwear and a gas mask for the dog. But before we could begin packing, Noor, my 19-year-old daughter, came home and put an end to our efforts. Noor is a soldier in military intelligence, so she is our rebbe on all matters military, if not exactly intelligent. She assured Zoe that an emergency bag was not called for in the present circumstances.
Overall, it has been heartwarming to observe the alacrity and ease with which Israel slips into war mode. TV broadcasts transition seamlessly into 24-hour war coverage, ancient retired generals are woken from their slumbers and propped up in front of TV cameras to pontificate endlessly and Twitter is mobilized by the Home Front Command to provide streams of instructions to Israel’s panicked citizens. The rumor mill kicks into overdrive, our politicians are in lock-step, despite the vitriol they were aiming at each other just a few days ago, and an invisible cloud of self-righteous indignation settles over everyone.
(In the stairwell and later in the waiting room, the consensus was that if we don’t kill all the Palestinians they’ll never learn. When the rumor went around that the missile had fallen on Jaffa, we all agreed that Arabs killing Arabs is divine justice.)
It’s clear that war is Israel’s natural habitat. It gives us the warm and fuzzy feeling of home that is so noticeably absent when Israelis feel themselves to be at peace. (A feeling that it not shared by the Palestinians and Israel’s neighbors, of course.) War brings the color to our cheeks and the sparkle to our eyes. It’s like being married (or, for some, divorced) every day anew. A sense of being on the cusp of a new life. Of course, it entails sacrifice (which marriage doesn’t?) but as long as it’s others doing the sacrificing, that’s OK.
Needless to say, the euphoria won’t last long. Going by past experience, operations of this sort begin to sour after about a week and are revealed as having been a mistake within a month or so. A year down the line, it will be spoken of as a disaster and we’ll all be wondering what our leaders were thinking when they embarked on it. We won’t be questioning our own behavior, naturally; self-awareness only goes so far.
It’s not difficult to understand why Israel launched the latest war against Gaza or even to empathize with the predicament in which the government found itself. No non-totalitarian government can afford to allow a sizeable part of its population to be bombarded by missiles without reacting – especially if it has the means to react massively. The Israeli government, by its own logic, had to do something.
But the simple fact remains that the Israeli government boxed itself in; reduced its options to just one. By ignoring any and every opportunity for dialog with the Palestinians, by rushing ahead heedlessly with illegal settlement in the occupied territories and by effectively creating a single state based on racism and brutality, Israel left itself with only the military option. And that option, as we have seen so many times in the past, will not defeat a popular insurrection.
Israel’s stated goal in the current operation is to change the strategic situation entirely – i.e. to prevent the Gazans from firing missiles into Israel. That will probably be achieved for a while, but not for long. The problem is not with the missiles but with the needs of the people who fire them, and those needs are not being addressed. In fact, they haven’t been addressed for 45 years. The Gazans will be back firing missiles as soon as they are able.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has what he wanted. He is now a war prime minister on the eve of critical elections. Long an admirer of Churchill, Bibi has corrected the glaring, unacceptable lacuna in his resume. His bombing of Gaza may not be the Normandy landings or the Battle of Britain, but it serves its purpose. Bibi will go into the elections with a nice, little war under his belt – and, with luck, it won’t be revealed as the mistake it really is until the elections are over.