Thursday, July 27, 2006

Looking for a ray of light and hope

These days of war have left me feeling so helpless. So much destruction and far too much death, and I can't understand how life has gone out of control so quickly. After the damage and destruction, the thing that I find most upsetting is how this has affected our relationships as bloggers. We have worked so hard to build these connections, taking tentative baby steps towards our neighbors as we allow our curiosity about the other to get the better of us, and discover that many of them are just as curious as we are. I cannot express the joy I felt over these connections, the excitement over each positive response when reaching out. Sure, there have been disagreements and misunderstandings, but on the other side of that coin came the thrill of knowing that we were doing something good, that we were playing our part in overcoming the obstacles. I cannot impact the relationships between governments, but I can try to make a difference in the relationships between our peoples.

Suddenly, it all came crashing down. In the blink of an eye, we are at war again, and the anger practically leaps off of the computer screen, threatening our already fragile virtual community. I have done my best to maintain connections (though admittedly, I owe a certain outstanding Jordanian blogger and friend a very long email), and it has been nothing short of nervewracking as I try to figure out what still works and what must be put aside until better times.

And then, during these uncertain dark days comes a ray of light and hope that things might somehow be okay, that there are people who can see beyond the governments and the madmen. This powerful, excellent post written by my pal Rami brought tears to my eyes today. I strongly recommend it if you're looking for a good pick-me-up, as I suspect most of you are.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Befuddled and busy

My thoughts have been all over the place lately, and I'm still having a hard time getting my head around the fact that we are suddenly at war.

Still very busy at work, as well as trying to write an article about the current situation that I've been asked to write by a Middle East-related website. In the meantime, I'd strongly suggest checking out this post, written by my blogging colleague RR. She's hit the nail right on the head, summing up the way I've been feeling quite well.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Bad timing

What crappy timing for a war. This has got to be the most stressful period I've had since starting this job last fall. I've got so much work to plow through that it's actually making me nauseous, and when all is said and done, this will probably have been a 60-hour week, at least. I'm literally going through hundreds of pages of poorly written and formatted documentation, and I actually think that the court will find in my favor when I'm brought up on charges of inflicting bodily harm on the individual who began all lines of content in his document with dashes, and peppered it with refreshing terms like "nearlest" and "cetner". My eyelids are heavy, and I fantasize about sleeping through the weekend (like that will ever happen!). I haven't seen my son awake in nearly two days, and called him this morning just to hear his voice say "I love you Mommy". I'm guessing that by the time I get home tonight, he will be asleep once again.

All of this is happening when I should be watching/reading/listening to the news and blogging, and I'm not sure if I should be blaming the politicians, the terrorists or the business partners abroad for this major time crunch that I've got going on. Concentrating on work is difficult at best, as I am constantly drawn to the news sites and the blogs to find out the latest events. If you're looking for other blogs to check out, I'd take a look at this one, this one, and this one. If you're looking for some first-hand accounts of events in the north, check out this one or this one. There are many others, to be sure, but these are the ones that I'm following the most, in the limited time that I have.

The train schedules are crazier than ever, and I've been scooting out of the office every night this week to make the 9:08pm train, as the next one isn't until 10:42. Mornings aren't much better. Express trains are a thing of the peaceful past, and each journey is now a painful 45 minutes or more (usually more), and unfortunately, they never seem to arrive on time. The plus side is that since there are no trains in the north, my stop in the morning is always the first stop, so despite the fact that by the time it leaves my station there are already people standing, I always manage to find a seat.

We have taken in my sister-in-law and her three children who live in Haifa, as the situation was becoming unbearable for them. When I arrived home last night, I saw a look of weariness on her face that I've never seen before, and it was quite unsettling. I hope their stay with us will provide them with some semblance of normalcy, despite the fact that they've left the man of the house in Haifa with the dog of the house.

I've received two offers from friends abroad to come stay with them, should we need to "get away" so to speak - one from my dear friend NRG in Oslo and the other from friends in London, who tried to tempt me with their high-quality wireless connection, clearly knowing just what buttons to push. I believe we'll stay put for now, but it's nice to know that so many people are concerned for our welfare, including all those of you who have expressed similar sentiments in the comments here.

In any event, I am still swamped, but just wanted to check in and let you all know what's been going on in my neck of the desert. I'll blog when I can, and next week should be much easier for me. I know that I owe some of you emails and comments, and I promise that I will get to it as soon as the load is off, otherwise, I won't be able to devote the proper amount of time and thought that you deserve. Thanks for your patience!

Oh, and when I'm not reading the Israeli blogs, I can often be found having a good laugh over here, a blog written by an American expat living in Ireland. Definitely worth checking out, unless, of course, you don't have a sense of humor...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Stop the war, please. I want to get off...

Monday morning, and I’m back on the train again, heading back to work less than twelve hours after I left last night. For better or for worse, I’m under a deadline from hell that seems to be getting worse by the day, as colleagues suddenly remember that they have to send me documentation for editing (serious editing, as the documents are all written in English by non-native speakers who, for the most part, couldn’t properly format a document if their lives depended on it), so that we can send it all off to our project partner abroad.

But I digress. The train. Thanks to yesterday morning’s direct hit on the train garage in Haifa, the train schedule is completely out of whack. Last night I waited more than half an hour for a train that would take me home. It seems that there are no longer express trains – only trains that stop at every station, and they don’t seem to be running on time either. The lines have changed, the schedules are non-existent. There’s no public transportation in the north, which probably doesn’t make too much of a difference for the people living there, given that they are all shut up in their shelters. My sister-in-law lives in Haifa with her family, and they spent yesterday in the shelter at her workplace, with the kids sleeping in the protected room every night.

I heard on the news this morning that Katyushas hit the area around Afula last night. They are inching closer to our home, though still far enough away that we haven’t begun thinking about sleeping in our protected room, which is currently our home office. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was scared, scared that they will start firing missiles at our town as well. I find myself wondering whether or not the woman who runs my son’s daycare has a plan of action, and I wonder where my husband will take cover near his workplace. Should we think about spending time with friends and family scattered around the south? I have fleeting thoughts about taking my son to the US for a while if things continue to get worse. I’d rather be considered a coward and a traitor than put my son’s life at stake in order to prove a point, to show that I can stand defiantly in the face of danger.

If before this mess began we were a country of news junkies, it has now turned into an epidemic. Everyone on the train (which is now totally packed – standing room only) is either reading the news or talking about it. It permeates every aspect of our lives and there is no escape. I have a newspaper in my bag that I picked up in the station, a free newspaper put out for train commuters with morning and evening editions. Nearly every story deals with a different aspect of “the situation”, and those that don’t are equally depressing. I scanned it quickly, turning pages impatiently while looking for the Sudoku puzzle, the only bit of content that would bring me any joy. I turned on the computer instead, knowing that this would probably be the only time I’d have to blog today, and feeling like I had to write something. Any spare moments at work will be spent on the news sites, keeping track of the latest developments in this insane war we are conducting with a terror organization.

This whole situation is just so, oh, I don’t know. Insane? Crazy? Horrifying? Pick your word of choice. It is astounding to me that just one week ago, life was relatively normal as we followed the antics of Zizou and wondered whether our president had been sticking his hands in places where they didn’t belong. Purchased my ticket to Amsterdam and thought about buying an MP3 player (suggestions, anyone?). Life was essentially good. Then suddenly, in the blink of an eye, we were deep in the shit, with no end in sight. And there really is no end in sight as the missiles continue to fall and we all go into war mode. I am emotionally battered, though otherwise okay. I want to see the Hizbollah destroyed, but at the same time, I just want it all to be over. It’s been less than a week, and I am already tired of the fear, the news of the dead and wounded. I am tired of the defiant speeches given by Olmert and Nasrallah, vowing to fight until they win, while we the people are the ones running for cover. I do not want to have to know what to do if there is a Katyusha attack, and I do not want to have to placate my friends and loved ones abroad, knowing that I do not feel as secure as I am trying to sound. I am wondering when my son will suddenly say the word “Katyusha”, and I am wondering whether it will make me laugh or cry.

Stop the war, please. I want to get off.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The game of life

“Due to the security situation, all trains heading north will terminate in Acco. No trains will travel to Nahariya under orders from the Israel Police. The Nahariya train station has been closed. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.”

Granted, this announcement doesn’t affect me, as I am traveling south to Tel Aviv. That is, it doesn’t directly affect me. In a greater sense, it affects all of us here in Israel, a sign the times, so to speak. The situation is spiraling out of control at a frightening pace, and I feel like I just don’t know what to do with myself right now. Yesterday it was a series of attacks on the Northern border that left seven Israeli soldiers dead and two kidnapped into Lebanon. This morning a katyusha rocket slammed into Nahariya, killing one woman in her home and injuring tens of other people. Katyushas also hit near Mt. Meron. Israel has retaliated by hitting the international airport in Beirut and Hezbollah’s television station. Who knows what will happen next. Life is suddenly worse than it was a few days ago, and my pacifist persona has been abruptly shunted aside as I decide that nothing would delight me more than to see that arrogant smirk wiped off the face of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, preferably by an IDF explosives expert.

I think of the bloggers across the Arab blogosphere who have afforded me the privilege of making their acquaintance, exchanging comments and emails as we work together to break down barriers, barriers put in place by those whose greatest fear is the discovery that we are all merely people and not the monsters they make us out to be. We may not always agree, but there is both a mutual respect and curiosity that we have chosen to embrace. Despite the actions of governments and organizations in our countries, we are trying hard to make our neighborhood a better place. Now, as I sit here on this train heading south, I can’t help but wonder, is it all for naught? It is so easy to forget the big picture as we focus on the relationships, the bridges being built. We share the same interests, the same tastes in food (who would have thought that sushi is so popular throughout the Middle East?), similar musical tastes. Thanks to these bloggers, I have learned about life in Jordan, in Lebanon, in Egypt, and so on. Never before have I been in a position to see a trip to Damascus as something normal, or to discover the excitement and beauty of Beirut.

Fantasy trips between Tel Aviv and Beirut have been planned, and we eagerly drink in each others’ words as we enjoy getting to know one another. It’s almost like a drug, and it’s so easy to become addicted, as we get sucked into a virtual world where disagreements still exist, yet borders are there to be traversed and not fortified. Then suddenly, reality comes crashing down as those with the real power make their presence felt through violence and destruction, and you wonder if your dreams of normalcy are only childish visions that will never come to pass. Are we being foolish? Is our bridge-building mere folly, a way to pass the time while allowing ourselves to think that we can somehow make a difference? I have no doubt that for the most part, we are all quite sincere in our quest, but while the perfect sunny skies of summer in the Middle East are tainted with falling rockets and fresh graves are dug in the cracked, brown earth, I cannot help but feel that we are all very small and insignificant as the Nasrallahs of the world show us who is really controlling the game of life.

Monday, July 10, 2006

What the hell?!

Back in Israel for just two weeks and it already feels like I never left. I’ve more or less returned to my former self, but with greater resolve towards making some positive changes to my life. Living in this country is stressful enough, and it’s about time that I made the effort to improve it wherever I can. I’m thinking about professional changes. I’m thinking about “extracurricular” changes. I’m even thinking about geographical changes. If anything develops, I’ll keep you posted, but for now, on to more serious and controversial matters.

What the hell is happening here? I left a country that was relatively calm – grumbling about our next door neighbors, but not really doing anything to harm the status quo. Just one month later, and I find I’m living in a country gripped with drama and a fresh round of tragedies, whether it be the violent destruction of a family on a beach in Gaza under questionable circumstances, the loss of a young Israeli settler at the hands of terrorists, or the continuing saga of a kidnapped soldier. Life has suddenly become very intense, and it feels as though we are standing on the edge of an abyss with at least one foot on a banana peel.

I followed the story of the Gaza beach incident along with its predictable round of accusations and denials with distant interest. I’m not sure that we’ll ever know who the perpetrators were, and to be honest, I’m not sure whose version to believe. Unsurprisingly, this episode was widely discussed in the English-language Israeli blogosphere, and also unsurprisingly, I found myself utterly disgusted by the words and actions of a number of bloggers and commenters. I was shocked by the blinding hatred that does not even allow some people to show sympathy and sadness for a little girl who lost her family, and indeed, harshly and often rudely chastises those who do. What the hell is wrong with you people? For heaven’s sake, you’re not being asked to race across the border and jump into a big love orgy with the neighbors! By either refusing to even acknowledge this little girl’s loss or by making pathetic attempts to justify or minimize her loss in the face of losses on the Israeli side, you are simply showing an incredible lack of humanity, and frankly, it’s not a terribly attractive character trait.

As for attacking those bloggers who chose not to accept the official Israeli version of events, well, y’all just need to go take a chill pill. Step back and take a deep breath. The beauty of our little democracy is that you don’t always have to support the government or believe what they say, and to be honest, it wouldn’t exactly rock my world to find out that a serious Israeli cover-up was put into play here in order to avoid taking responsibility for this tragedy. It’s way out of line to demand that bloggers provide more balanced coverage of local actions, or that they write up retractions. Though some of us may be journalists in “real” life, when we blog, we have a responsibility to no one. We are chronicling life as we see it, as we experience it. We owe you nothing. If you like what we write, great. Come back often and feel free to comment. If you don’t like it, well, no one is forcing you to read it, and clearly, our writing is going to reflect our personal beliefs, so if you’ve got a problem with our beliefs, then you’re probably better off reading someone else’s blog instead of going all apoplectic on us.

Gaza. My thoughts are kind of hazy on the subject. On the one hand, the Palestinians have a government that sanctions – no, embraces – terror in all of its forms, whether it be kidnapping murder, or the firing of rockets into Israel. On the other hand, the humanitarian crisis continues to grow, and innocent Palestinian civilians are being injured and killed, pawns in a most dangerous game. Clearly, something must be done, but what? At what point do actions cross the line from legitimate to excessive? I’m not sure where the line is, but I do believe it’s been crossed. I don’t presume to know how to handle the current situation (and it appears to be that I’m in the majority on that one), but bombing and scaring the hell out of a civilian population that already has enough problems of its own even without our involvement doesn’t seem like the right way to go.