Friday, August 23, 2013

Bridge of Tears

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman asked the United Nations to censure Israel today for its targeting of an area south of Beirut in a retribution strike yesterday.
President Michel Sleiman strongly denounced the Israeli [air strike] on Naameh and tasked caretaker Foreign Minister [Adnan Mansour] to file a complaint over the attack to the United Nations Security Council,” a Baabda Palace statement said.
It is sort of stupidly funny. Lebanon is falling apart and so who do we blame? Israel, of course. Yesterday, guerrillas staging in southern Lebanon bombed the western Galilee with a barrage of missiles. Today two bombs went off in the Sunni northern city of Tripoli. They hit two mosques, killing many worshipers and injuring hundreds, providing further conflagration to a sectarian conflict that is pitting Shia Hezbollah against the rest of the country's inhabitants.

Last week it was a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut that was struck, we are now in a bloody and seemingly irreversible game of tit for tat with no chance of abating.

When I heard about the Galilee rocket attack I had a strange feeling and went looking for my maps. It seemed much like the place in Israel I called home, Kibbutz Gesher Haziv. And I was right. According to the following German news bite, Gesher Haziv was struck.

Rockets hit northern Israel. A Sunni group called the Abdallah al-Azzam Brigades claimed responsibility for the rockets. Experts are worried that this might be a new front for Al Qaeda fighters, you know, our new buddies fighting the Syrian government.

"Israel's Channel 10 TV showed pictures from Gesher Haziv, a communal farm near the Lebanese border, of a large rocket fragment lying on the ground near a white car with shattered windows and flat tires and pocked with shrapnel holes in its side. Security men cleaned up rocket fragments from the ground."

The year was 1976. I was young and out of high school and made the jewish kid trip back to hang out for a year in the land where my father was born. I settled on Gesher Haziv, a lovely kibbutz a half mile away from Lebanon that bordered the Mediterranean. Right next to the Club Med at Achziv, no less. Gesher Haziv means Bridge of Splendor, after a particularly bloody battle in the War of Independence called Night of the Bridges that claimed 14 Palmach lives.

The Kibbutz had been founded in the 40's by a bunch of guys from Detroit and it was a natural fit for me. I worked as an electrician's apprentice for a year, everything from wiring apartments to fixing lamps and machinery.

I took a hebrew ulpan study course with a bunch of freshly minted Russian emigres. Did a little bit of touring, got the feel of the place. Our farm raised oranges, primarily the delicious yaffa orange and the green clementine, as well as avocados, bananas and turkeys. We had a small factory that made plastic parts, worked there two weeks on my second go round and hated it.

Met a lot of good people, many world travelers from England, Argentina, South Africa and other locales.

We had three tanks on the farm, I believe that our population was about 500. We had some legitimate war heros, a guy not much older than I from Philly who managed to decimate a whole Syrian tank brigade on his own, Jonatan, who later had a role in Entebbe.

I was about two weeks in before I witnessed my first rocket attack. The first explosion of the Katyusha rocket startled me, it had a whistle like the approach of a supersonic train. My room mate in our spartan cubicle freaked and threw a full glass against a wall in fright. The strapping hulk was on the next plane out. You never really know who can handle it or not.

It was when the large, first baseman's mitt fragment came through the wall that I had my own start. I reached out to touch the molten hunk of metal and carelessly burned my own palm.

The lebanese had pretty poor aim, they tried to hit the nearest big city, Nahariya and usually hit us. Luckily, there was always a bomb shelter within pretty easy reach. The kibbutz had a novel solution to the blasts. Wherever they hit, we planted a tree. Saved on a lot of digging.

We were remonstrated not to talk with Palestinian construction workers that we worked with regarding the precise location of the rocket strikes. This could lead to certain people recalibrating their aim.

I went back to Israel during the time of Operation Desert Storm, The only salmon pointing the wrong way and trying to get into the country. I arrived three days after the start of the war, stopping long enough to grab a gas mask and an atropine injection kit to guard against chemical attack. We really didn't know what was on the Scuds then. I was in the country an hour, on a bus up north to the Kibbutz, the only civilian, when the word came on the radio that the scud was in the air, pointed in our direction. We donned our masks and waited for the sword to strike. Luckily it landed offshore nearbye off Akko.

I witnessed 75 katyusha strikes on my settlement the first night. Bit nerve wracking.  We had to enter the sealed rooms practically every day and await our possible doom. I have more scud stories too but would prefer to talk about them some other time. I was in Tel Aviv when the war ended, miraculously on Purim, the same day that the jews were released from their Iraqi captors courtesy of Queen Esther three thousand years earlier.

I hope that everybody at Gesher Haziv is all right. I hope that the Lebanese can save themselves from themselves.

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