Peace For the Golan????

March 2008

Only a few days after he spent a week vacationing with his wife in the Golan, Olmert is talking about giving the Golan to Syria in a peace agreement.  Is Olmert really ready to give the Golan to Syria?  Does he really think it will bring peace?  Is it a good idea? A little background, and then you decide…

The Golan Heights is a plateau in northern Israel, bordering Syria.  It was captured from Syria in 1967 during the Six Day War, and has been an integral part of Israel ever since.  Aside from it’s beauty, the Golan Heights is a strategic location for Israel’s security because of it’s position overlooking the Kineret (one of Israel’s key water sources), and the surrounding population.  Before Israel captured the Golan Heights, Syria used the Golan to attack the Israeli population below.

Our friends in Syria, backed by our even better friends in Iran, are huge fans of a group of terrorists currently fighting the Lebanese, called Hezbollah.  Just a quick reminder, Hezbollah is the terrorist group that for years fired katyusha rockets on to northern Israel from Lebanon and kidnapped two reserve soldiers from the border in 2007 which ultimately led to the Second Lebanon War.

Peace for the Golan anyone?

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Everyone Counts

April 2008

I ran into my neighbor, Lior, on his way back from work just a few hours ago.  He asked me if I had heard the news, or all the noise from the night before.  I’m a heavy sleeper, so I didn’t hear the action itself, but I did hear the news.  Three soldiers were killed, along with three others who were injured, just a few kilometers from here along the security fence near Kibbutz Be’eri.  Their forces went to go intercept a group of terrorists on their way to the security fence when battle broke out between them.  One of the soldiers was from Patish, a settlement in our area.  Lior was thinking about going to the funeral.  I asked if he knew him.  “No,” he said.  “But he was killed protecting me, defending our country.”

Just across the highway, only a few kilometers from where I live, guys my age are standing guard, watching to make sure that I’m safe.  I remember the first time I came to Israel in 2004; one of the first things I noticed was the strong presence of the army.  Wherever I am, on a bus, walking in the street, or at the beach, there are soldiers in uniform with their M-16s.  The safety of our country isn’t achieved on some far off battleground or by a few unknown names and faces.  Our battles are right here, in our backyards, fought by us and those closest to us.

Here, everyone is a soldier.  The son stands guard today, but his mother and father once wore the same uniform, and his brother and sister stood guard only a few years ago.  Everyone feels the burden of defending our country, and at times, everyone feels the loss.

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It’s Been A While

I have been writing, I just haven’t posted in a while.  These next few posts are thoughts from the last few months.  So, here I am again!

Hope you enjoy…

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And The Rockets’ Red Glare…

Rockets and Red Glare just seem to go together so well, especially where I live.

I’ve been here on Kibbutz Sa’ad for over five months now.  I’m about 8 kilometers southwest of S’derot and about 4 kilometers from the security fence with Gaza.  My Kibbutz is located in an area designated as “Otef Azza”, or “wrapped-a round Gaza” – the area that is within range of Qassam Rocket fire from Gaza.

Coming to live here, I was aware of the security situation; but I didn’t fully experience it until a few weeks after I settled in.  6:30 in the morning on October 30th was my first “Tzeva Adom” or “Color Red”.  This was only the first of many more to come.  “Tzeva Adom” means that a Qassam is in the air and on it’s way and you have anywhere from 10-12 seconds to find cover.  Here on Kibbutz Sa’ad though, there really is nothing to do when you hear the call of the loudspeaker.  Most houses here don’t have safe rooms.  So I, like most others here on Sa’ad, just wait and hope that the boom isn’t too loud – the louder it is, the closer it fell.

Qassams have been launched from Gaza on to the Israeli civilian population since 2001.  Over 180,000 civilians live under the threat of rocket attack, and that number is only growing as their range now includes Ashkelon and will soon include other major cities like Ashdod and Tel Aviv.  Seven years that Qassams have been falling on homes, stores, restaurants, schools, and a college.  Innocent civilians are scared for life, maimed both physically and psychologically.  There are kids in Sederot who don’t know what it’s like to live without the threat of rocket attack.  Dogs in Sederot and cows on kibbutzim have been known to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Just in the last two months, an 8-year old had his leg taken off and a student from Sapir College, a young husband and father, was killed.  Not to mention all the others who were, and are, being affected.  And for anyone who thought that the unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005 would make things better, it didn’t.  Thousands of Jews were ripped from their homes, their lives, while three years later, the Qassams keep coming.

Most of the Qassams are fired in the direction of Sederot, but there are still rockets that go to the kibbutzim and moshavim in the area.  Within the last month, hundreds of Qassams have been fired on to Sederot and the surrounding area.  It’s not like the intifada, where busses were blowing up and people didn’t feel safe going out to cafés and restaurants; people can’t even feel safe in their own homes.  A Qassam can hit a café just as easily as it can hit a car or a school or a house.  They’re not very accurate, but the bigger the target, the better chances of hitting something, or someone.

What exactly is a Qassam?  It’s a homemade rocket, quite simple really.  Take a water pipe for the body, sugar and potassium nitrate (fertilizer) mixed together for fuel, and pack it with explosives and shrapnel for a grand effect.

Old water pipes, screws, nails, and fertilizer (read COW POOP) can all be found in the junkyard of any agricultural community (read MY KIBBUTZ).  They can also be conveniently found in a Qassam rocket!  Hamas and Islamic Jihad are digging up the water system that ISRAEL put in to Gaza and are firing them right back at us!  The fertilizer also comes from Israel and one could only assume that the sugar comes from the UN food aid.  Great use of the food aid and props to the UN for keeping an eye on how their “aid” is being used!  And whoever thought that Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty, well it’s only on paper.  Egypt has looked the other way, and even at times actively helped, as explosives and weapons are smuggled through the border.

Basically, anything that is in Gaza that could be a potential building block in developing a modern, humane, dare I say, happy, society is being bundled up, packed tight and fired on civilians.  What we use to cultivate the land and bring produce, they use to terrorize.  What we use to build houses, schools and restaurants, they use to terrorize.  Our sugar is their explosive.  If they really wanted peace, if they really wanted a state of their own, they would realize that they have the tools, they just aren’t using them the right way.  Which begs the question: What are they actually trying to achieve?

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It’s All In Your Head

About two weeks ago, I get a phone call from the elite units branch of the army.  The soldier on the other end tells me that I have a summons for the first round of testing for the elite units – Yom Sayarot – and that I would get more information in the mail.  I was beyond excited to get this phone call, since I had been waiting to hear if I would get the summons or not.

 

Yom Sayarot is a one day try out for three main elite units: Matkal, Shayetet, and Chovlim.  To give you an idea of each of these units, Matkal is like the Delta Force of the US Army – it’s known as “The Unit” and no one really knows where they work or what they do.  Shayetet is Israel’s navy seals, and Chovlim is captains of ships in the navy.  Each of these units is extremely difficult to get into, Matkal being the hardest of them all.

 

December 31st, New Year’s Eve, was my big day at the Wingate Institute just south of Netanya.  The Wingate Institute is Israel’s national center for physical education, and it is a central training facility for the army.  Since I had to be there at 7:00am, I spent the night at my cousin’s house, which was a 15-minute drive away.

 

Yom Sayarot had arrived.  I stepped out of the car into the freezing cold early morning air.  The entire day was going to take place out-doors.  I went over to the tent where I had to register.  After I signed in, I was given my ID number for the day, 116, which I had to write with a black marker on the front and back of my white t-shirt.  Everyone who came was given a number, 1 through 350.  No one was called by name for the entire day, only by your number.  After getting my number, I had to wait in line to be checked out by the doctor.  Once I got the OK from the doc, I was good to go.

 

As people came and finished the doctor’s check, we were put into groups of about 50 or 60 and the first part of the day started:  the Bar Or.  The Bar Or is a physical test to see how physically fit you are.  You do as many push-ups as you can and as many sit ups as you can, within a certain time limit, and then you run 2km as fast as you can.  I did 36 push-ups, 47 sit-ups, and finished 20th in my group in the run.  They used this physical test to divide us up into groups for the rest of the day.

 

After everyone finished the Bar Or, we were divided up into smaller groups of 12-15 people each and the real work of the day began.  We went out to the sand dunes with our equipment.  Each group had two stretchers, two 5-gallon water jugs, enough hand-held shovels for everyone in the group, and cloth bags with string to tie them shut.  I had no clue what all the gear would be used for at the beginning of the day, but I would soon find out.

 

Our three testers, one from each of the three units, found our sand dune.  We put the gear down, set up three picnic chairs for them to sit in, and then one of the testers pointed to the top of the dune and said, “Do you see the shovel at the top of that sand dune?  Run up the right side of the dune, around the shovel at the top, and then run down the left side of the dune.  Tzeh.”  Tzeh is the Hebrew command for “go out”, or more simply, go.  The moment he said go, everyone darted out in attempt to be the first one back down.  Once the last person in the group came back down, he said, “Good, now do it again.  Tzeh.”  And off we were again – this exercise went on for about twenty times.  If you came back down and were bending over with your hands on your knees to catch your breath, you had to go run an extra lap.  In between runs, the tester liked to play with our minds.  He said to us that we don’t have to be here.  If we want we can stop, go back to the tent where we started and go home, that it’s our choice to be here.  After about the 12th round, they started to write down the order in which we came back by our numbers (76 first, 116 second, 243 third, etc.).  This first round of sprints up and down the sand dune was meant to filter out those who would give up, and break down everyone else who was going to stay to the same level.

 

After the first round of sprints, there was a 3-minute break.  During this time, everyone had to drink 3 cups of water and we had to fill up 4 sandbags with sand, tie them shut and strap them to one of the stretchers.  The next exercise was similar to the last one.  We had to run not one, but two laps up and down the sand dune.  Only here’s the catch:  the first 4 people back do the second lap carrying the stretcher, the 5th and 6th people do the second lap carrying one of the 5-gallon jugs, and then everyone else just has to run it like the ones before.  It doesn’t make logical sense that the people who get back first would have to be punished and carry the stretcher and jugs the second round, right?  But no, everyone tried his hardest to be among the first to get back, to have the privilege of carrying the gear.  Again, once the last people got back from the second round, each time without fail, in his quiet, calm voice would say, “Tzeh”.  You don’t have to be here, if it’s hard for you, you can go.  Tzeh.  You don’t have to be here.  Tzeh.  You don’t have to be here.  Tzeh.  Like before, the testers wrote down who carried the stretcher and who carried the jugs, and they asked, by a show of hands, who could improve his place.  People raised their hands and we kept on going.  This continued for about 15 or 20 times.

 

After another 3-minute water break, we were told that in a number of minutes, there would be an aerial attack from the north.  Each of us had to find a spot to take cover on the sand dune and dig a hole with a shovel measuring 1 meter long by 1 meter wide by 1 meter deep.  Once that magic word, Tzeh, was uttered, we were off.  I found myself a nice spot on the dune between two mounds of sand – I started to dig.  I felt like a little kid again at the beach.  When I was little, I remember going to the beach in Los Angeles and trying to dig a tunnel through the sand all the way to China.  Now, I was in Israel trying to dig a tunnel all the way back to Los Angeles!  I didn’t really know how long a meter was, so I just dug long, wide and deep.  After a bit, they told us all to stop digging and get into our holes.  I got in and my head was below the ground level.  The three testers came around to each person and asked how big their hole was, why they chose that spot on the dune for cover and other questions about the measurements of their hole.  After they got around to everyone, we all filled in our holes, drank some more water and then filled up sand bags and tied them shut.

 

One of the testers pointed off into the distance to a pole.  With the sand bags on our shoulders, we had to go around the pole and come back, go up and down the dune and that was one lap.  They told us that we had to do as many laps as we could, but if we wanted, we could sit, drink water, take breaks, do whatever we wanted – just to do as many laps as we could.  For the first 10 seconds after he said Tzeh, everyone ran with the sand bags.  But very soon after we started, everyone was walking, some at a slow pace, others and a quicker pace.  Each time we passed the testers, we had to tell them our number and which number lap we had just finished (116, 4th lap).  After I, and 3 others from my group, finished our 9th lap, they stopped us and everyone else as they came past the testers.  They had us empty our sand bags and lie down in a line at the base of the sand dune.  We had to crawl up the sand dune.  After about 4 rounds of crawling up the dune and going back down again, they told us that the physical part of the day was over.  I didn’t have a watch on me the entire day, so I had no concept of how long each activity lasted.  I only know that we went out to the sand dunes at around 9am and came back at around 1:30pm.  We got in a circle and stretched out.  15 people started the day in our group; 13 were left.

 

The rest of the day was more relaxed.  They still told us what to do and where to go and we had to listen to everything they told us, but we weren’t running up and down sand dunes.  We were basically waiting for the results – who would continue testing for what elite unit.

Finally they called us out of the tent that we were all waiting in.  They told us that of all the people who started the day, one third didn’t finish, and of those who finished, only a small number would be chosen to continue testing for certain units.  I was happy and proud of myself that I had finished the day.  We stood outside as they read out the numbers for each unit.  I listened for my number, and I heard it!  My number was called to go to the tent for Matkal.  I went to the tent with my bag; I was so excited.  Through all the excitement though, I kept in my head that this was only the beginning.  There is a long road ahead of testing and then, only if I finish all the testing, I have a chance of getting into “The Unite”.  I will keep posting on the process.

 

After the day was over, at around 4pm, I went back to Sa’ad and rested.  I wasn’t all that sore that night, it was the next morning, New Years, when I felt muscles in my body that I didn’t even know I had!

 

Throughout the day, my only focus was the tasks at hand.  I didn’t have time, or even let myself, think of anything else.  Whatever the present activity was, I was going to do it the best I could, better than the guy next to me.  With each step I took running up the sand dune, I had to push myself, not let myself slack behind, and give it my all.  I knew going in to the day, that there was no way that I would give in and leave; I was going to finish the day.  Whether it was walking or running, whether or not I get chosen to continue testing for one of the elite units, I would not give up.  So much of the day is physical.  Everything you do involves physical strength, stamina, and speed.  Running up and down the sand dunes over and over again, carrying the stretcher and jug up and down the dunes, walking with a filled 20-kilogram sand bag on your shoulders, and crawling up the sand dunes is not at all easy.  But above all, it’s one big mind game.  It’s so easy to begin that inner-dialogue where you say to yourself, “Why do I need this?  I don’t have to be here.  Why am I putting myself through all this?”  The small challenge is the physical component; the much larger and more difficult challenge, is staying focused and keeping your mind away from that conversation.

 

So this is how I spent my New Years Eve – Hope you had a great New Years!

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The Last Few Shabbatot

Some friends of mine from LA came to spend Shabbat with me a few weeks ago.  Two of them are on Nativ this year, the program I was on last year, and the other is at Hebrew University for the semester.  It was really nice to have them here with me for Shabbat – I didn’t realize how good it would be to have familiar faces around.

 

Ein BokekThe following week on Friday, I went to Ein Bokek, a spring next to the Dead Sea.  It was beautiful!  Ein BokekThen I went to the Dead Sea and slept there for Shabbat.  It was the second time I had ever floated in the Dead Sea – it was really cool! 

Ein Bokek

That Sunday morning I had the testing for Pilots course, which I didn’t pass.

 

The next week was Chanukah!  I lit candles every night with my Kibbutz family, and they even gave me a present, which I wasn’t expecting at all.  Thursday night of Chanukah, I went up north to Zichron Ya’akov for a get together with all the Israelis from camp.  It was great to see everyone and to just be together.  I spent that night in K’far Sabba with one of my friends from camp.  That Friday, Shabbat of Chanukah, I went with old teachers of mine from LA to her parents’ house in Kedumim, one of the oldest settlement in the West Bank.  It was my first time in the West Bank.  As we were driving up the mountain road, I couldn’t help but take in the beauty of the scenery around me; the rocky hills lined with olive and citrus trees under a cloudy winter sky.  There was a much stronger military presence, but it didn’t bother me at all.  It was a nice Shabbat.  I came back to Sa’ad on Saturday night.

 

Last Shabbat, I stayed on Sa’ad.  It was a very well needed relaxing Shabbat.  These coming weeks will be filled with friends visiting for winter break and more testing for the army – I am excited for both.

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Not the NBA Draft…

I got my draft date in the mail!  February 25, 2008 is my official draft date.  I got the letter a week or two after my initial tests.  I don’t know yet where I will be drafted to, but hopefully I’ll be able to figure that out before the day arrives.  Where do I want to go?  That is a question that many people ask me.  I want to go to the best place that I can get to.  I want to have an interesting experience and feel like I am contributing all that I can.  I hope I will find that.

A few days after I got my draft letter, I was working in the fields and around 8:30am I get a phone call.  The soldier on the other end tells me that according to my initial test results, I have a summons to come and start the testing process for pilots in the Air Force.  He told me where to be, what day and what time.  To be perfectly honest, before I started the whole draft process, I only thought about being a soldier on the ground.  I expected to walk long distances and carry lots of heavy equipment on my back, not fly in the air.  Being a pilot didn’t even cross my mind!  When I told the people I work with, they were impressed and told me that if I got invited to test for pilots, that means that I have the highest test results possible from the initial tests and that I am eligible for testing to serve in any unit.  So after some thought and encouragement from the people I work with, I decided to give it a chance and see where it would lead me.

I went to the first day of testing in Be’er Sheva.  It was a long day.  The day was divided up into two parts:  the first part of the day was written testing, while the second part was mechanical testing.  The written tests were, much like the initial tests, filled with pictures that were missing a part and I had to choose the missing piece from the choices.  After I passed that part, the second half of the day came around.  The mechanical tests were two-fold.  The first test went like this:  The soldier placed a little machine on a desk in front of me.  I had two minutes to look over the machine and see how it works.  Then I had 30 seconds to take the whole thing apart.  She came by, mixed up the parts, and then I had 15 minutes to put the machine back together as it was given to me.  I didn’t think I did well in that at all, but I guess I passed because I moved on to the next step!  The next, and final part of the day was a machine that was a combination of an etch-a-sketch and a geometry compass.  The soldier put a piece of paper with a drawing on it on a metal sheet.  I had two levers, one that moved the metal sheet forwards and backwards, and the other moved the metal sheet left and right.  Above the metal sheet there was a pencil that touched the paper with the tip.  I had to move the metal sheet so that the stationary pencil would follow the path of the drawing on the paper.  I felt like I did really well in this test.  At the end of the first day of testing, they told me that I passed and that I would soon get a summons to the next stage of testing for pilots.  I guess all those years of playing with an etch-a-sketch paid off!

The next round of testing was on December 2nd, just two weeks ago at Tel HaShomer, which is the base near Tel Aviv.  I stayed at my friend’s house the night before – she lives a few minutes away from the base and I had to be there early in the morning.  From the moment I got to the base at 8am until 3pm, I sat in front of a computer.  The first part of the tests was a flight simulator on the computer.  There was a joystick and a lever.  The lever was to speed up and slow down, and the joystick was to turn left, right, up and down.  The screen was blue with a green circle in the middle with a sketched drawing of a plane in the middle, which I was supposedly going after.  There were also some gauges on the sides of the screen to show the distance between me and the plane in front of me, and the difference of speed between the plane that I was chasing and me.  For example, if I was flying 800 meters away from the plane in front of me and 30 meters per second slower, then the gauge on the right showed 800 and the gauge on the left showed –30.  All the exercises with the simulator were in speeding up, slowing down, and keeping the plane in front in the target.  The exercises got harder and harder, but it was a pretty cool experience.  The next part of the test was a math test on the computer.  The questions were word problems, but I don’t think the math was all that hard.  My problem wasn’t with the math; my problem was that I didn’t understand a lot of the questions.  I asked the soldier who was running the testing if she could explain a word to me.  I felt really dumb when she told me that it meant to multiply!  And the words only got harder and more confusing.  How am I supposed to know technical words in math in Hebrew if I never learned math in Hebrew?  I decided that I was just going to continue and do what I could.  At the end of the day, the soldier told me that I didn’t pass to the next round of tests.  I wasn’t too disappointed.

Last week, I got the folder in the mail that gave me my options for the army.  I had to rank them and then send them my preferences.  Now, I’m waiting to see what other units I can test for.  I’m hoping that I’ll get a summons to come test for the elite units soon.  I will keep posting as things develop.

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