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      A Soldier’s Mother
      One mother’s journey through the Israeli army with her sons

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      Paula R. Stern is CEO and founder of WritePoint Ltd., a leading technical writing company offering documentation services and training seminars. She made aliyah in 1993 when her oldest son was 6 years old. In March 2007, her son Elie entered the Artillery Division of the Israeli army and Paula began writing about her experiences as A Soldier’s Mother. The blog continues as Elie begins Reserve Duty and her son Shmulik is now a soldier. She recently opened a publishing house, helping other authors fulfill their dream to publish.

      Links to the Author's blogs:

      Sivan 8, 5773, 5/17/2013

      From One Israeli...to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

      A few years ago, I saw a video of a most amazing young man who was brave enough to walk in the midst of an Arab demonstration and stand for the truth. The young man's name is Daniel and he is of Persian (Iranian) descent. He took to the streets with an Israeli flag. At the end of the video, there's a very interesting statement by a young Arab girl who readily admits there can be no peace; that they do not and will not accept the Jewish state of Israel. If you didn't see that video - it's here... (but the more important one is just below).

      "Daniel" is at it again - with his wisdom. He's older now, a bit anyway, and though he was very wise then, he is even wiser now. In the language of his ancestral home (the one before he came home to the only real home his people has ever known), Daniel has an important and inspiring message for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. I hope this message is delivered. I hope it is seen in Iran. Please watch the video and spread it to your friends. It should  "go viral" - around the world...around and around - until it reaches the streets and ruling halls of Tehran. Am Yisrael Chai - the nation of Israel lives.

      Iyar 14, 5773, 4/24/2013

      Allahu Akbar or Kol HaKavod

      Two brothers have been accused of planting the bombs that went off during the Boston marathon, resulting in the deaths of four innocent people, including one child, and injuring over 200.

      The mother of the two brothers is Zubeidat Tsarnaeva. In this interview, she speaks of her sons Tamerlan and Tzhokhar Tsarnaevso to CNN.

      “If they are going to kill him. I don’t care. My oldest son has been killed, and I don’t care. I don’t care if my youngest son is going to be killed today. I want the world to hear this. And, I don’t care if I am going to get killed too. Okay? And I will say Allahu Akbar! That's what I'm going to say!“  -- Zubeidat Tsarnaeva 

      The surviving brother, all of 19 years old, has said the actions they took were to defend Islam. His words, combined with his mother's words make it clear what the motive was. It is, once again, a message from a culture that cares more for martyrdom than life. I watched this video, wondering if maybe it is a hoax. CNN wasn't particularly reliable when reporting about the Boston marathon manhunt...maybe, maybe this is just another case of bad reporting?

      Why would a woman, days after losing one son, say she doesn't even care about losing a second son also? I cannot, for the life of me, understand this woman. There is a line from an article I once wrote that goes through my head again and again, "Such anger they must have, such hatred."

      This morning, driving in, Amira was talking about a class she is taking in university and the various discussions they have about violence and terror. Some of her classmates and her oh-so-left-leaning-professor expressed satisfaction that so many Arabs are refraining from committing violent acts (well, not counting the rock-throwing and fire-bombing, of course).

      "No one ever told me 'Kol HaKavod' for not killing anyone," my beautiful daughter said to me and I smiled. Kol HaKavod's direct translation is "All of the honor" - these words indicate high praise in Israel - good work, you did the right thing, good for you. When a younger child makes a mess and an older child cleans it up, you tell him, "Kol HaKavod." You didn't have to, and despite that, you did - good for you.

      When Davidi spent his entire winter vacation studying and taking the course to ride on the intensive care ambulance - I told him, "Kol HaKavod," - I'm proud of you.

      I can't get past the thought that this idiot woman thinks saying "Allahu Akbar" is her Kol HaKavod. Your sons MURDERED four people...people who were loved. Families devastated. There's a woman who spends every day in the same hospital as Zubeidat's son - only this woman visits with her two boys - both have lost a leg because of her sons' actions.

      If you praise your god for actions that lead to the deaths of innocents, to the permanent maiming of dozens - there is truly something wrong with your "god."

      May God watch over the people of Boston and those injured. May He grant them health and love and justice. For Zubeidat and her sons, I pray that God grants them a just sentence - in this world and in the next.

      Nisan 10, 5773, 3/21/2013

      The Meaning of Freedom

      It's an interesting time in Israel now. The Passover holiday is days away. It's a holiday that I mostly dread because it comes with immeasurable work and only spare moments to enjoy - at least for me and for many women who are still fulfilling the more traditional roles of caring for home and food and such. No matter how much help I get in the house, it seems I am still the planner, the coordinator, the ultimate one responsible for seeing, checking, and often doing what it takes to bring the holiday in.

      I have come to dread it - from the start to the end and have yet to learn how to enjoy the more important aspects. There is an amazing rabbi who was asked how long it should take to clean for Passover. I remember more the principle of what he answered than the clear numbers he cited. It was something like a day or two, perhaps three. The person then went and asked his wife how long it takes her to prepare and she answered, three weeks, just like everyone else. Perhaps it was four.

      Passover is often lost in the details and it is a shame. The details are cleaning your home - your office, your car, etc. - but sadly, too many turn it into Spring cleaning and so you see the neighborhood, in fact the country, alive with those who are painting their apartments, fixing railings outside, buying new furniture and appliances. None of that is really connected to the holiday and yet my windows are dirty from the long winter and I want them cleaned.

      Already, my arms are starting to hurt - the deep inside pain I get when I strain them. I've carted out garbage, washed cabinets, sorted through drawers and more. This year seems especially tense and stifling.

      We crave freedom - and yet we are being smothered from the holiday on one end and Obama's visit on the other. I need to travel to the center later this afternoon - how will Obama's arrival impact on that? One major highway will be closed for some time - the second, to which traffic will be diverted, is a road that was built to by-pass Arab villages and protect Israelis as they drive to Jerusalem. It is called Route 443. People have been murdered on that road - shot at point blank range. Regularly there are stoning attacks. The army promises to put more surveillance on the road, more jeeps and soldiers.

      I travel that road regularly - often out of the Israeli principle of dafka. Dafka is an amazing Israeli word that defies translation. I learned it decades ago, long before I lived here. I remember way back in college, freshman English course at Barnard College. We were having an intellectual discussion and I disagreed with the previous person. It was a free-flowing, open conversation among the entire class, with the teacher (the only male in the room) looking on proudly.

      "Dafka the opposite," I said and began to explain. A few, very few, looked confused and so the Jewish professor smiled and said, "explain 'dafka', Paula."

      I tried..Dafka means...on purpose...dafka means...intentionally so....deliberately so...but it has a twinge of insolence, resistance. If you tell a child to stand over there, they will dafka sit down. Defiance, pride, intention. I can't explain dafka but it is the dafka principle that has me driving on 443, even when they throw stones there. I will not let them keep me from my country.

      So Obama will come to Israel today and Israelis will be diverted to a road on which there are often more stoning attacks and likely there will be more because the Arabs too want to deliver a message to Obama. I doubt Obama will know that yesterday in Ramallah, they were driving cars over pictures of his face, burning American flags, and painting big red X's over his nose.

      Meanwhile, Obama seems to be the only one truly free here. He has freely chosen to insult Israel by deciding that students from one university will not be invited to his meeting with university students. Ariel University is located over what Obama calls the "green line" - how convenient it is for him to ignore the fact that Ariel, like  ALL universities in Israel, admit hundreds, even thousands of Arab students and provide them with access to educational degrees widely honored and respected. The last I heard, three of Israel's five universities are in the top 100 in the world. This is the education we make available to Jew and Arab alike - but Obama will insult us be showing his selective prejudice.

      We are a democracy - the only real democracy in the Middle East. We have no king, no dictator who can dissolve our Knesset, our parliament, at a moment's notice and a whim. And yet, again, Obama will insult us by ignoring an invitation to speak before the 120 members of our elected government. He has chosen, instead, to speak in the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.

      Obama comes here, free to deliver his insults, and we cower before his entourage.

      We left Egypt to be a free people. This is the lesson of Passover. Freedom is not just a concept to us; it is the foundation of our lives, celebrated as a part of what we must be. In the hell of Europe and the darkest days of persecution, we remembered that God took us out of Egypt and made us free. Others have tried to take our freedom away but we have fought long and hard to reclaim it.

      Our greatest lesson that came out of the ovens and ghettos of Europe, out of the prisons of Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia and Russia, is that we will determine our future, our present, our reality. We hold the keys to any prison in which we put ourselves; we alone can redeem our captives.

      Obama's visit remains a symbol that there are among us Jews who still carry the ghetto mentality inside. Those students who go to hear Obama speak, after he has announced that he will separate from among us - good Jew and bad Jew...you to the left and you to the right...they are announcing that this same ghetto mentality has been transferred to their generation. It is a sad and depressing thought.

      Those who go to hear him speak - marvel in the streets that the great man from America has deigned to visit while ignoring that he continues to hold Jonathan Pollard prisoner, that he comes to dictate to us if or when we will have his permission to act against Iran or Syria - all these come from our history in the ghetto.

      The meaning of freedom will come to Israel next week when we sit down to the seder on the first night of Passover.

      This is the plain, poor bread that our parents ate in the land of Egypt. Whoever is hungry, come eat with us. Whoever needs a place to say, come make Passover with us. This year we are here - next year may we be in the land of Israel. This year we are not free - next year, may be we be free to serve our God in freedom.

      We used to be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but  our God reached out His strong arm and took us out from there. If God had not saved us from Egypt, all of us - even our children and grandchildren - would still be slaves to Pharaoh.  

      And finally, as we come close to the end of the seder, we will stand and hold up our cups of wine. We will open the front door and invite Elijah the Prophet to visit our home and we will believe...and as we do, we will recite these words to a God who protects us from evil, even the evil that comes from friends.

      God, pour our your anger on the nations that do not want to know You and on the kingdoms that do not pray to You. For they tried to destroy Yaakov and desecrated your holy places. Pour out your anger on them and let Your burning anger catch them. Chase them with rage and destroy them from under the heavens of God. 

      I have no doubt we will survive the visit of Obama, a bit worse for the traffic he will cause and a bit dirty for the insults he delivers during his staged visit. I do not know if we will ever be free of the ghetto. That, I think, is my greater fear.

      Nisan 8, 5773, 3/19/2013

      To a Martyr's Mother

      Mariam Farhat died recently in Gaza. She had 10 children, six sons. Three of her sons died committing terrorist attacks for Hamas; one is in an Israeli prison. The night before her 17 year old son, Muhammed attacked a school and murdered 5 students, Mariam joined him in a pre-suicide video in which she wished him well on his journey to be a martyr. She was so proud of him. When she heard that her son had died, she handed out sweets and proudly proclaimed, "Allah Akbar" which translates to Allah is great in Arabic (and sounds awfully close to "Allah is a mouse" in Hebrew).

      After Israel withdrew from Gaza, Mariam visited the village where her son had killed people and took a piece of the outer fencing to mount on her wall as a symbol of his life...I mean his death. Another son was killed while driving in a car with a rocket which exploded when an Israeli jet identified the target. Israeli lives were saved; Mariam had herself another martyr.

      In case you haven't figured out how I feel about her, let me share some of her words:

      "I protect my sons from defying Allah, or from choosing a path that would not please Allah. This is what I fear, when it comes to my sons. But as for sacrifice, Jihad for the sake of Allah, or performing the duty they were charged with - this makes me happy.

      There is no difference. This is Islamic religious law. I don't invent anything. I follow Islamic religious law in this. A Muslim is very careful not to kill an innocent person, because he knows he would be destined to eternal Hell. So the issue is not at all simple. We rely on Islamic religious law when we say there is no prohibition on killing these people. The word 'peace' does not mean the kind of peace we are experiencing. This peace is, in fact, surrender and a shameful disgrace. Peace means the liberation of all of Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. When this is accomplished - if they want peace, we will be ready. They may live under the banner of the Islamic state. That is the future of Palestine that we are striving towards.

      And more...here is an interview with Mariam - in her words http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/683.htm

      She died in a hospital of health complications at the age of 64 - lung ailments and kidney failure.

      There is something incomprehensible to me in this story; something that makes me wonder if I have anything in common with this woman. I am a mother of three sons. I have watched two grow and marry and my greatest fear for them would be the very thing this woman wished on her sons. She wished them to die - yeah, sure - as a martyr...whatever the heck that is.

      Muhammed was 17 years old. She encouraged him to die - her greatest fear was not his death, but that he waste the opportunity of not dying as part of an act to murder others. 

      As a writer, I am forever trying to adhere to the laws of grammar and to use (and sometimes abuse) them for the good of a post, article, or manual I write. And here, I add a paragraph and laugh at myself. I don't even want to mention my son David in the same paragraph as Muhammed. Davidi was raised with love - not just to receive it, but also to give it. He was taught that he is part of a community and so he volunteers with a local youth group and with the local ambulance squad.

      Davidi, my precious Davidi is 17 years old. He's tall; he's so beautiful - and he goes out all the time, not waiting for a chance to attack, as Muhammed was taught from the time he was 7 years old. Instead, Davidi goes out with ambulances, trying to save lives...and in truth, the lives he saves are sometimes Jewish lives and sometimes Arab lives and this woman dared to call herself a mother?

      I thought to write a message to this Mariam but in the end, the truth is that she turns my stomach. I cannot call her a mother because she thinks being a mother means only the act of giving birth. There is so much more to being a mother than that. If you are blessed, as I was, your births are not to difficult and you move on - on with that baby that wants to learn so much. What you teach them is what counts so much more than the physical act of having them leave your body.

      My grandson's latest "trick" - is to hold a prayer book and move back and forth as he has seen his father do. He pretends he is reading; he even moves his lips. And now, he combines this praying with the act of giving another a blessing, as his father and mother give him each week.

      So where before he put his hand on my head and said, quite exuberantly, "AMEN!" - now he puts his hand on my head, looks down at the prayer book and mumbles to himself. This is what parents should teach their children - to pray and  bless others, to volunteer and help others.

      No parent should encourage their child to blow himself up, to raise a gun towards innocent people and open fire. There is no honor in the deaths of three of Mariam's children and as I think about her, I realize I have no words for her, no message for her. She wasted her life and those of her children on death and violence and hatred. She is nothing.

      Instead, my message is to the world, to Obama who comes this week to Israel - this woman, this mother of martyrs, is a symbol of what we face every day. You cannot make peace with a woman willing...no, anxious, to sacrifice her sons (and daughters). You cannot compromise and hope for better days - all you can hope for is that her people realize there is nothing to be gained by raising sons to hatred.

      Peace will come, when the Mariam's of the world are silenced, buried, erased from the culture and society that raised them.

      Yes, I am a soldier's mother - perhaps that is the difference. We beg our soldiers to be careful, to value life. We teach them to do all they can to avoid hurting those who are innocent; to protect against those who would murder. A martyr is taught to kill; a soldier is taught to protect.

      A martyr is taught that the value of life after death is equal to 72 virgins; a soldier is taught to honor and fight for his family, his people, his country. A martyr is praised for dying; a soldier rewarded for living.

      Mariam wanted her sons to die - a glorious Jihad death taking as many innocent lives as possible with him. If there is one thing Mariam was not - it is a mother. She may have birthed children, but to be blunt, cows, horses, even pigs manage that feat. It is what you do after that determines your value as a mother. Mariam had none. 

      May God avenge the blood that Mariam's sons spilled in hatred.

      Shevat 14, 5773, 1/25/2013

      BBC and My 15 Minutes of Fame

      Well, it's over. My 15 minutes of fame (well, likely not even that) is over. I agreed to meet a BBC team to show them, from the point of view of an Israeli, what our lives are like. Specifically, they were interested in the point of view from Maale Adumim, a beautiful city just minutes to the east of Jerusalem. Some, including BBC, would call it "occupied territory" or, being diplomatic, "disputed territory." 

      The fact is that there were never Palestinian homes on the land I call my own; never a Palestinian village. It was governed by the Turks, then the British, then the Jordanians. Jordan decided to ignore a plea made by Israel in 1967, choosing to attack. They lost, and lost big - including the area on which my home is built. One might say we were occupying Jordanian land until 1988 when they chose to renounce any claim. Without question, it has been under Israeli sovereignty since 1967 and the only people to build on these barren hills - was Israel. 

      BBC came to Maale Adumim to see, to listen and overall, I think they did.

      I expected so much, feared so much. Instead, it was mostly what I wanted it to be - here is my home, here is my city, here is my life. Here is where my sons work, where my children go to school. Here is where I have chosen to raise my children. Yes, I have five children and even two adopted sons. No, I'm not an extremist. No, I don't have much hope for peace.

      "Why did you choose to live here?" The answer was easy - for the quality of life and yes, for ideological reasons. Some choose for economic reasons, but not me.

      Many of the questions were sensitively phrased - "How do you answer the claim....?" and "What do you say to those who say...?"

      I searched for the bias BBC is famous for; I waited for the agenda to come through. I have to be honest and say they were fair. I think they were even pleasantly surprised to see that Maale Adumim really was a modern city with all conveniences close at hand. As they gazed at the apartment buildings, the grassy children's park, the buses traveling in and out of our neighborhood and people walking the streets, I think they even got the message that Maaleh Adumim is a permanent fixture in the Israeli reality. One question was why I didn't choose to live in Israel proper, and I answered that I most definitely do live in proper Israel. 

      I took them to Rami Levy to see what it was like in an Israeli supermarket. They seemed to be impressed by the size of the place and how Palestinians and Israelis work together, shop together. They kept asking me if that person was a Palestinian, and him, and him...and in each case, the answer was yes. 

      Am I a settler? I was asked near the milk section of Rami Levy. I am, I answered - all Israelis are settlers, all Americans are settlers too. All Brits, all of us - it is what humans do - we settle in a place and make it home. Not the answer that they wanted, but the one that is in my heart.

      They said the world sees settlers as gun-toting religious Jews with beards and yarmulkas. I don't have a beard, I answered. I've never fired a gun and I don't wear a yarmulka. "The world is wrong," I said. We are people. Men and women, adults and children. Religious and secular. We are Israel, that's all. Just people. 

      I showed them the barren mountains around Maale Adumim and said  - as those hills are now, Maale Adumim was before we Jews came and built here. They took pictures of the mountains and I think I showed them as people, as well as reporters or BBC employees.

      I showed them the TEREM emergency center and the ambulance squad, the silly but charming lake, the parks and the schools. I pointed to the flowers we plant in abundance and the palm trees. Palm trees! I said to them - and we're in the desert!

      In the vegetable department, some Arab workers asked why we were filming and I answered them, and then later we took some still pictures of the TV host and me (I didn't even have the nerve to ask them to send me a copy by email and I don't know if they'd give me permission to post it here anyway). In the chicken department, the Arab workers smiled. At the checkout, the Arab packer told me where he lived and asked about the cameras. They filmed me  walking out of the store and then asked me to take the cart and walk back in...three times!

      And when it was all done, I came home and pondered what I would write here. I get the first chance to post about my hours with some BBC employees and a seasoned BBC reporter. They and he will get the last word when the documentary airs. It will be an hour in length, covering hours and hours of footage shot all over Israel - the Negev, the north, Tel Aviv, and Ramallah. From all the hours of walking and driving...a few short sentences will be taken.

      I told them that Israel wants peace - that it has always been ready to meet the Arabs at the negotiation table. What will happen there, I refuse to guess. We are ready, without preconditions. Land for peace has never worked - let's try peace for peace. Name the day and we will be there. That was one quote. Maybe they'll take it; maybe they won't. 

      Maybe I didn't say it on camera - I don't know anymore. There were conversations on tape and others off. I know that I was not being recorded when I admitted that I just don't see how there will ever be peace. I don't. On tape, I spoke of this being a normal city - buses, gardens, many schools, city hall, shopping, synagogues, pizza, medical centers and even a bowling alley...wait...did I mention the bowling alley? It's all a blur - so much to tell them about our city. They seemed surprised by how big the mall was. They liked the Skippy peanut butter being sold in the store (I bought two - it was on sale!).

      After a while, it's hard to remember what I said and even if I remembered, I can't know at the end of the day what they will pick. I got a glimpse of what it was like to film a show - I can't tell you how many times I walked into the supermarket; how many times I strolled down the front of the store. I put the milk in the cart twice. 

      What I'm left with is a feeling that I did all I could do, shared all I could share - we are people, not settlers. We are humans, not creatures. We care about our lives here. We have made GOOD lives - for us, for our children, and yes, for the Arabs who work among us, for us, with us.

      I can't know now which seconds of the hours I spent today they will select. What I can say is that I provided them with a palette filled with colors but I have to accept that what painting they will produce is up to them. A masterpiece of honesty or a crass image of distorted life can be weaved from the same colors of the rainbow. It's what you do with the colors once you have them that leaves a lasting image. I have given them the colors.

      They said they wanted to show their audience the real Israel, the side the media doesn't have a chance to show. I tried...I hope I succeeded in showing them that we aren't fanatics, maniacs, strange beings from a different planet. We are simply people who live in a beautiful city, a beautiful land.

      You can paint so many pictures with words, with images, with pieces of conversations. I hope they will choose to paint a masterpiece of life in Israel, an image of how we have built such beauty. Of the kindness we offer our neighbors - those across the street, and those across the valley.

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