Chanukah Miracle in the Lebanon War

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Darkness. Heavy darkness. Our replacement soldiers are here with us already. The night is full of stars. The skewers are on the fire. The coffee is on the coals. The dog is yelling. She senses that we are leaving tomorrow. The Georgian and the Bedouin are brothers; the Persian and the Yemenite are brothers; the American and the Moroccan are brothers; the Ashkenazy and the Sephardic, you better believe it, are brothers too. It is a true, incredible situation.

It was a different story yesterday. A roadside munition exploded not far from here. Two soldiers were killed and sixteen were injured. Two of them critical. The mother of Amir from kibbutz Shamir—who was killed in that attack—was also killed by terrorists. Amir hated this war. He sensed it would kill him, but he didn’t refuse to come. He enlisted and died. On his bed, in his small room, they found his lonely guitar.

A respected journalist from a very popular newspaper arrived at the devastating terrorist attack’s location, where the 70-kilograms roadside explosion threw a truckload of soldiers 20-meters away. She came to see the charred remains of the truck. There was hardly a word about the dead in her report. She now sips cafe au lait at a breezy, trendy coffee place on the boardwalk in Tel Aviv. Maybe noshing on a butter croissant.

The local population, the papers further tell their readers back home, received the Israeli soldiers with cherries, flowers, and kisses in the air. The other side of the story is a lot less celebratory, and a lot more depressing. We don’t even receive smiles anymore. Only the kids, inexperienced in war and politics, sometimes raise a hesitating hand for a wave as we pass on the road. They stand on the roads’ shoulders, littered with burned armored vehicles. Above them, swarms of blood-sucking mosquitos constantly hover.

But tonight is a different story. The jokes and the laughter fly with the burning sparks into the night. We sing “How beautiful the nights in Canaan,” and “Hey to the South,” and “My flak-jacket is my Lover.” Since the regular war-songwriters didn’t write any war songs this year, only the wrath-poets wrote wrathful poems, the soldiers are forced to write their own songs. So we sing the most known soldiers’ song of this war, with one additional stanza of mine:

Go down on us airplane, take us fast to Lebanon; we will fight for general Sharon, and in a coffin come back home.
How it happened that the conquest, suddenly turned into bitter defeat; you should ask the pawn, deep in the king’s killing field.

We light the first Chanukah candle on a makeshift Chanukiah, made of standing rifles. The two candles are waxed into the mouth of two rifles. We sing ‘Ma’oz Tzur’. It’s our ‘Finale Party’ after all, so we allow ourselves to break some army rules. At the ‘Finale Party’ of the previous company, they didn’t sing. They didn’t tell jokes and didn’t roll laughter into the air. At their ‘Finale Party’ they stood in attention. A moment of silence for three of their comrades who got killed. They lit not Chanukah candles but memorial candles.

My commander is 50-year-old. His head is balding, his eyes need glasses constantly. His reserve duty service is voluntary. In his civil life, he is a high-school principal. He leads by personal example: stands on duty-guard at nights with his soldiers, goes out on patrols, sweeps the yard, and washes the dishes. He never raises his voice. Sometimes he is on the point of losing control of his nerves, but quickly regains control and resumes his duty. My commander is truly an exceptional person. He hates the war in Lebanon. He even said that much to a governmental security committee inquiring about the war. He stated that what’s being done to us here is equal to the Biblical story of “Uriah the Hittite.” Generally, he hates army life and wars. So why the hell is he here?

Why the hell all of us are here?…

Still, we are lucky: The next day, late at night, we pass the Rosh HaNikra checkpoint at the border in one piece. What a miracle? A Chanukah miracle. We cross from north to south, from Lebanon to Israel.

November 1982

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A Few Good Men & Women

As a dedicated, sometimes even astute (hopefully) observer of Israel and America’s relations and politics, I pride myself on some farsighted observations throughout the years of writing this blog. And yet, I didn’t see this one coming. Had you told me last year that in the space of a little over six months both Trump and Netanyahu would be gone, no longer in power, I would’ve found it hard to believe. But here we are, with the most surprising development of the two being the fall of the house of ‘King Bibi,’ after more than twelve years as Israel’s Prime Minister.

I’m in good company, not seeing it coming, though I gave it some 25% possibility before the elections. But let me tell you: On the first day after the latest flare-up between Israel and Hamas had ended, I listened to my favorite Israeli political observer talking about the possibility of a new government being formed. Here is what he said, more or less: “The only question is whether Yair Lapid (head of Yesh Atid, who had the mandate from President Rivlin to form a new coalition, H.D.), would hand the president his mandate now, saying he’d failed to form a coalition, or he’ll wait the 14 days left for him and then give it back without any positive results.”

Well, you know the outcome. Bucking all predictions and expectations, Yair Lapid was able to go back to the president before the hour struck midnight and tell him that he had succeeded, where others had failed. He, and not the current Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is the true, and first good man of this semi-political revolution. He started during the elections, when he directed his campaign, and asked his supporters too, not to attack the parties to his left, Labor and Meretz, since he wanted them to be able to enter the new Knesset. What a noble act. And he reaped the rewards, since they joined his coalition.

His second noble, and novel idea was to put aside his ego, and though he is the leader of the largest party in this coalition with 17 members in the new Knesset, he offered to hand over the premiership to Bennett for the first two years, even though Bennett has only six MKs in his party. Unheard off. And that despite Bennett declaring during the latest war with Hamas in Gaza that coalition talks with Lapid are practically dead, as far as he was concerned. And yet Lapid was able to pull him in yet again, and together with seven other parties—among them an Arab Party—to form a governing coalition. What a miracle: putting your ambitions aside for the sake of what’s best for the country and its shaking democracy.

Before moving on to the next ‘good man’ on my list, let me return to America and to the much welcomed, disgraced as it were, fall of former President Trump. Unlike other observers I read, and also what seems to be the common belief among the public at large, it was not the constitution that had saved American democracy from collapsing (though it was very close to it). It was a few good men and women who stepped up to the plate and defended the constitution, the rule of law, and the integrity of the elections. I won’t name them here (you probably heard of them plenty), but when push came to shove they—most of them Republican officials—stood by the walls of the castle and defended our fragile democracy.

Though the political process and system in Israel are different, in essence, the same happened there, and without a constitution. This brings me to the second ‘good man’ on my list. Benny Gantz, the Defense, or Security Minister. He is the only minister to remain in office from the previous government. He too did the right thing for the country and joined Netanyahu in government throughout the pandemic. He was supposed to become Prime Minister this coming November, but Netanyahu betrayed him, as he betrayed others. And then, when in the last moment Netanyahu offered to resign immediately, and to hand him the premiership for the three remaining years in the coalition term, he didn’t hesitate to refuse. He is the leader, also, of the second-largest party in this coalition, yet has put his ambition aside and didn’t demand to be a Prime Minister too.

Next must be Naftali Bennett. While he was regarded from the outset as the kingmaker, it was not clear at all that he would crown himself as king. Not the least because for the first time in Israel’s history, a leader of a very small party became the Prime Minister and leader of the country. So in a way he has the most to gain, but also the most to lose. The attacks on him from Netanyahu’s camp are indeed ferocious, and threatening with violence. He, originally an extreme right-wing leader, a supporter of not only the settlement endeavor but the annexation of a large part of the West Bank, now sits in a government with two parties from the left, and an Arab party to boot. The outcome of this government, however long it would survive, is of course unclear, and at the end of it he might find himself with a party without any significant public support.

His right hand throughout the years, from working together in Netanyahu’s office to forming their party and remaining united through thick and thin, is Ayelet Shaked, currently the Minister of the Interior. And while I’m as far as can be from being a supporter of her, she deserves some credit too. If for nothing else, then for standing by this coalition agreement, despite heavy threats from Netanyahu’s camp, including death threats to her and her family. Another woman worth mentioning here, in closing, is Merav Michaeli, the current Minister of Transportation. She resurrected the Labor party from the dead in an impressive fashion, didn’t hesitate to join this strange coalition, and seems like a safe bet for a leader with a bright future.

All in all, while the days ahead will provide answers as to how long this government will stay in power (the predictions are not for long), and how much good it will be able to do (the expectations are not high), it has already succeeded in its main and most important goal: kicking Netanyahu out of office and saving Israel’s democracy. Not bad for a start.

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