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      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:

      Tevet 26, 5771, 1/2/2011

      Palestinian Attempted to Stab a Soldier

      It's a really important lesson we Israelis must learn - how to fight the publicity war. We make a huge error, though an honorable one and one I am not sure we will ever change. We tell the truth. There it is - the simple reason why we lose and they win.

      Take today's reality. An Arab approached soldiers at a checkpoint and attempted to stab them. He was shot and killed before being successful. Now, anywhere else in the world anyone would think the soldiers should be congratulated for protecting themselves and their post from a direct threat. Anywhere...and anyone doesn't, apparently, apply to the Arabs.

      According to today's news, the Arabs are condemning the incident as a "dangerous escalation." No, not the knife attack, which is common place enough, but the shooting of the attacker. BBC headlines their article with, "Palestinian killed at checkpoint."

      Of course, BBC would proudly proclaim in the halls of all journalism schools that they had reported the truth and, in fact, they have. The slant, the angle, their agenda notwithstanding, the headlines, in large letters, proclaims, "Palestinian shot by Israelis at Checkpoint" - lest you think, for even a moment, that it was accidental. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12104336)

      The next line, in a much calmer font and size. "A Palestinian man has been shot dead after trying to attack Israeli troops at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus." BBC finally gets around to telling us in the first paragraph.

      And the best example of BBC's ongoing, blatant anti-Israel campaign comes with the next two-thirds of the article has nothing to do with the incident at the checkpoint which by any stretch of normal was not a dangerous escalation or an unwarranted death. So, BBC wrote about an incident on Friday in which a Palestinian allegedly, according to BBC's sources (why give them any credibility) is said to have died of tear gas inhalation.

      Radio reports say the Palestinians claim that this woman has been at similar riots and inhaled gas and was fine so therefore, according to the Palestinians, this proves that the Israelis used more powerful or greater quantities of gas. Not to be outdone, the Palestinians also insist that the gas was fired without any provocation, before any violence on the Palestinian side had even erupted. Of course, many reports and physical evidence (video and pictures) prove this is nonsense.

      Even the reports from the Palestinian side differ and, as usual, they remain unwilling to produce a body for examination. One report says the woman was pregnant and stabbed - suggesting some deeper, perhaps societal reason for her death.

      This is the way propaganda should be fought - we have no proof, yet, that Jawaher Abu Rahmeh was sexually promiscuous, had met a secret lover and was bearing him a child. But why waste time with the facts, could be one lesson we learn from the Palestinians. Perhaps our leadership should now announce this questionable rumor as fact and criticize the well-known and despicable "honor killing" prevalent among Arab society.

      Evidence of the child she carried and the stab wounds would be enough. Of course, it won't work. This is an exercise in futility because such reputable news agencies as BBC would never allow evidence to be so presented...unless, of course, it puts Israel in a bad light.

      A Palestinian got up this morning and decided to cross illegally into Israel. When he was stopped, he picked up a weapon and attempted to stab soldiers. This was an attack - it was answered as it would have been answered by any trained army in the world under attack.

      Israel has truth on its side - it always has and it always will. So we won't tell the world that Jawaher was a shunned woman punished by her family for her many sexual escapades with her numerous lovers. We'll tell the truth - she came to a protest location that often turns violent - likely as part of her ongoing need to avenge the death of her brother, who similarly died in violent clashes with the IDF because her mother, who now says she wants her remaining children to live, didn't teach her two dead children that attacking soldiers is just stupid.

      So what we have are two incidents in which Palestinians were involved in violent clashes with the IDF - one involved rock throwing - where a soldier lost an eye recently, and one involving an attempt to stab soldiers at a checkpoint when they were only doing their jobs.

      BBC focuses not on the violence perpetrated but on the response. Only after the shock value, do they bother with the truth, the facts.

      So how we fight the publicity war remains the same - we fight with truth, we fight with the facts. No, we don't expect the likes of BBC to suddenly start reporting the news in an ethical and honest way; just as we don't expect the Palestinians to use truth and words rather than missiles and rocks.

      I don't know if Jawaher was pregnant; hopefully that truth will come out as it did with Aayat al-Akhras who engaged in a pre-marital sexual relationship with her fiancé and probably became pregnant with his child before she decided she could reclaim her integrity by murdering two innocent people and injuring 22 others. Then there's

      Wafa' Idris who shamed her family by not only getting divorced but of apparently being barren. After nine years with no children (did they never hear it could have been HIS fault?) and a divorce, what better way to gain honor than murdering someone and injuring over 90?

      Oh, and there's Hanadi Jaradat - another promiscuous one who felt better to die than be remembered for her sexual activities. She murdered 21 and wounded almost 50 in Haifa. And the one that personally makes me sick every time I think of her - Reem al-Riyashi. She murdered 4 Israelis and wounded 10 more because her husband caught her in an extra-marital affair with her Hamas handler. She chose suicide over mothering her two young children.

      Slowly, these truths came out but they weren't enough for the likes of BBC as they will about today's attackers.

      So, returning to the question of how to fight the publicity war...I guess I'll be honest, I believe we fight it with one truth at a time, one fact at a time, one person at a time. At some point, that was why I chose to continue this blog. So that the next time you hear about an Israeli soldier shooting a Palestinian, you'll think of Elie and Chaim, Yaakov and Shmulik. You've read about their training. You know they have been taught to be responsible for a gun and you know, if they pull that gun and shoot - it is after they have given warning; after they have exhausted all other options.

      You know the truth - one truth at a time. Today, a Palestinian got angry for whatever reason. He wanted something and he couldn't have it. Too bad. There are reasons for checkpoints and reasons for permits. He did something violent and certainly something stupid. It was not a dangerous escalation - as the stupid Palestinian leadership wants you to believe; it was not unprovoked, as BBC's headlines might make you think.

      A truth. One truth...and as the truths pile higher, they will outweigh all the lies and bury the media in its blinding light.Today, a Palestinian attempted to stab a soldier. That is the headlines that should have appeared today.

      Kislev 29, 5771, 12/6/2010

      My Children's Children's Children

      I had a thought today that made me very sad. In truth, I have always been one to fall apart after the crisis passes. I can't even begin to list the times I've handled something, only to sit down and fall apart when it was done or at least at a point that allowed me to release my emotions.

      Moments after they announced today that all the large fires were out and that only smaller ones remained,  I sat in my office and wanted to cry. Mostly it was relief, though there was great sadness...and such feelings of gratitude.

      There are so many thanks to give out:

      Thank you to the firefighters who came from so many lands - for Bulgaria and Greece and Jordan and  Egypt. Thank you to France, Britain and Cyprus; and to Azerbaijan and Switzerland and Spain and Germany. Thank you to the Russians who came with such incredible resources and confidence. They knew from the start that we would conquer the fire.

      Thank you to the Americans - the National Guard and the firefighters from New York. And Australia that is sending advisors and even the Palestinians and the Turks who sent firefighters (although they were quick to assure the world that this was in no way intended as a peace gesture...God forbid).

      And thank you to our own firefighters who fought so hard and so long. There was a picture in the New York Times - I'm afraid to copy it for copyright reasons, but it was so special. It showed Israeli firefighters taking a break - about 20 of them, lying on the road in utter exhaustion. What was so special was that each was using another's leg as a pillow. "We did that," Elie said with a smile, "it's more comfortable."

      And thank you to the men of ZAKA, who do the unthinkable. They find and prepare bodies for burial, dealing with the most gruesome of tasks in honor and respect.

      And thank you to our air force and police, who worked so hard for so many days.

      And thank you to the bank that offered an interest-free loan, and the car company that offered free car rentals, and the hotels who opened their doors.

      And thank you to God, the protector of Israel - for bringing the rain, that even now is beginning to fall.

      And thank you to the Jewish National Fund, who will replant and help us rebuild.

      And thank you to all the nations and all the people who prayed for us in these difficult days.

      And finally, a closing thought. I have driven those mountains many times, those mountains that now are charred beyond all recognition. I dread going there to see it, though I will in the coming days.

      As I spoke with Elie, a thought crossed my mind. It is all gone - those 5 million trees, tens of thousands of acres, dunams...all gone. Even if we replant, and we will...it will take generations to come back to where it was just 5 days ago. There is such pain in that thought; such sadness.

      I am trying to focus on our promise, our commitment to the land. From the ashes, will rise another forest, but it will take generations to really come back in all its glory. Such sadness.

      I hope my children will tell their grandchildren that they remember the fire and the desolation. But more, I hope they will look about them and say to their children's children - this is as it was when I was a child...tall, green, beautiful and blessed once again.

      May God bless the land of Israel and bring forth its healing.

      Kislev 28, 5771, 12/5/2010

      This is Terrorism

      Elie said those words in anger last night as we watched the flames consuming our land, our precious and beautiful land. Many decades ago, a representative of Burma came to Israel. Burma is, apparently, a land covered in trees. To find place for the growing population, they have an aggressive deforestation plan, to rid the land of the trees so that people can live.  

      The representative of Burma came and was so impressed by our wide open spaces with no trees, that he commented on how amazingly successful our deforestation plan was. In reality, according to history, our "deforestation" plan is thousands of years old, and never really ours. When the Romans came to our land more than 2,000 years ago, destroyed the Holy Temple and took many of our people into slavery, they salted the earth, to curse it and make it barren.  

      There are many statistics. If I were trying to be thorough, I would do research and point to sites to prove the numbers I say here - perhaps later I will add them. For now, I'll tell you that I remember hearing that only Israel, of all the nations in the world, has MORE trees today than 50 years ago. We have no deforestation plan. It is our love of the land that drives us, year after year, to plant new forests and trees, to care for them, to cherish them.  We have lost over 5 million trees. 

      The tragedy of this knocks us to the ground. If you are not Israeli, I do not know if you can comprehend the incredible agony of the heart that we Israelis are feeling today. We take such pride in our forests, our trees. They are an expression of our love. It causes such pain to watch them burn, hour after hour, day after day, as the flames are fanned by the winds. I could say the same and more at the thought of the 42 people who have been killed in this fire, the wounded, the homeless.  

      More than trees, these are people and yet both the people and the land break our hearts. Two stupid, careless boys from a Druze village have been arrested for setting the fire. Some reports say there were burning garbage; others say they had a picnic at night and didn't bother to extinguish the fire. 

      Was it deliberate? Probably not. After all, who wants to think that someone would intentionally cause such destruction, such incredible suffering? Elie calls it terrorism - it is his love of the land that brings this harsh verdict, but it comes after hearing that in the last 48 hours, there have been more than 20 arson attempts by Arabs to set fire to our land - the latest this morning near Jerusalem.  

      They know that from all over the country, firefighting equipment has been sent north. Little remains to protect other areas. It is all we have to give. Countries around the world, even those that still call themselves enemies - Turkey, Egypt, Jordan...have joined the Greece, Cyprus, Italy, France, Russia, the United States - forgive me if I have forgotten someone, we are so grateful.  

      The thought of so many coming to help us brings tears to my eyes. A part of me says it is only right - we have flown the world to help others, to Kenya, to Turkey, to Haiti, to Indonesia, and beyond. Again and again, it is only right that they come and help us. But this isn't about right or wrong. It is about the beauty of it all. They come to our land to help us. We are so grateful. Tomorrow will be time enough for politics and an accusing finger.  

      Perhaps our government, this one and previous ones, should have done more. Perhaps this minister or that one. I don't focus on that now. For now, I listen only to reports from the north. I need to know all the details - are they safe, these firefighters of ours and theirs? Do they have enough water to fight this? Is the wind endangering them? How soon can the planes take to the air and help? Again and again, I check the news.  

      The big fire in the north was not, apparently, terrorism, but these arson attacks definitely are. Again and again throughout the day, I heard of more arson attacks. I am left with one burning thought - if someone intentionally sets fire to the land, it is obscene for him to then claim that he loves it. You do not intentionally burn trees and acres and acres, dunams after dunams, of a land you love. Those who love this land, are those who have spent days fighting these fires. I see it in their eyes, as they tell the story to reporters. The overwhelming heartache, the sadness, the damage.  

      And there is one more thing in their eyes - something the Arabs forget to easily, something they are blinded from seeing now...and for the last 63 years. We love this land. We will replant. We will rebuild. This was terrorism and for all of our lives, we have answered terrorism with the one thing that can stop it - determination. We will plant. We will build.

      Kislev 23, 5771, 11/30/2010

      Are you ready for war?

      Is that a question you ask yourself? I lived in America for the first 33 years of my life (well, less the three I lived in Israel as an infant/child) - so let's say 30 years. For thirty years, I grew, married, and birthed three children and I have to say, I never asked myself that question or even considered war coming to me.

      War was a distant reality. If it happened, it was on distant shores. Perhaps the TV brought it to my living room; perhaps the radio reminded me. But there was never fear, never action I needed to take, never concern that I would hear an explosion or see a rocket's landing site. From the age of 13, I wanted to live here in Israel and so at some point as I contemplated my future here, I must have considered what it would mean for my children.

      Certainly, by the time we were finalizing our plans, I knew that Elie and Shmulik would be soldiers one day; that other children we might have would serve as well. When the US went into Iraq during the second Gulf War in 2003, we were told to prepare for war. We were given gas masks and as I do here, I wrote during that time. (Diary of an Almost War)

      March 20, 2003:  This morning, it seems Israelis are being told to "act normally." Now, this wouldn’t be so funny if we weren’t also told to carry gas masks with us everywhere we go...including kids going to school. Anyone know how to carry a gas mask and act normal; So...my first grader is going to school with his backpack, peanut butter and jelly sandwich and a gas mask. On the bright side, I doubt the teacher will care that he’ll be late.

      And another entry strikes me because this blog has shifted to be more about Shmulik than Elie. And this next part is about Shmulik.

      March 20, 2003: Well - almost all the kids at school. My 13 year old...okay - confession - I do not understand the psyche of a 13 year old boy! So, last night he was dancing and laughing and telling the US to attack...why? Not because he’s pro-war - but because we all assumed that school would be canceled today. This morning, he refused to take his gas mask, and I told him that even though there was less than 1% chance that he’d need it, he had to take it. At that point, he started to cry. Yup, 13 years old...and scared out of his mind. So...we made a deal - I get my morning dishes done, and he stays home from school. All in all, he’s calm because he’s home. His next fear was how long it would take him to put the gas mask on, how much time would he have. I told him (not entirely truthfully), that we’d have a good 5 minutes warning. He just asked me if I wanted to time him (no, actually, I don’t)...sure, I said - well - he got his gas mask on within 1 minute. Isn’t it amazing this world we live in....At some point, after this is over, I’ll worry about the psychological scars inflicted on children who have to deal with the concept of chemical warfare (yes, he knows that the rain we are experiencing is a good thing because it would clean the air...).

      And, as my daughter just walked off for her driving lesson...do you have enough money? yes...Do you have your bus card? yes...cellular phone? yes....gas mask? yes....
      What a world....and all this without a missile ever being fired at us. For what it’s worth, I believe tonight is the defining moment for Israel. If we get through tonight without any missiles...

      In the end, all the preparation, all the fright - luckily came to nothing and Israel was not hit by SCUD missiles as in the first Gulf War. The next war was the Second Lebanon War - fought up north. The next war was the Gaza War, fought to the south west. Both wars touched us, but other than one wayward alarm, there was little real concern for personal safety (though much for national safety).

      So why this thought - today, Jerusalem is being tested to see if we are ready for war. According to Israel National News (http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/140916):

      Israel’s National Emergency Authority will be holding a special drill in Jerusalem from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, simulating different scenarios that could occur during a time of war, including missiles falling or a need to absorb mass numbers of residents from other parts of the country. Taking part will be the municipal emergency headquarters, schools, the Jerusalem police, Magen David Adom, Home Front Command, as well as government offices in the Jerusalem district. During the hours of the drill, people can expect brisk movement of emergency vehicles. As part of the drill, a siren will sound throughout the city at 10:00am, at which time all city employees and students in schools will practice safe evacuation into shelters or other protected spaces. Jerusalem’s residents will be asked to fill out a form on the city’s website on which they will indicate whether the siren was heard loud and clear in their homes.
      A siren will sound today; emergency vehicles will rush here and there. Hospitals and medical personnel will act as if it were real so that if (or perhaps when) it will be real, we will be better prepared. Children, thousands of children in all grades will be asked to stand up and leave their classes and move quietly, quickly, in an orderly fashion to the nearest bomb shelter.

      And while this is all happening, in just 30 minutes from now, deep in my heart I want to ask the simplest of questions - is anyone really ever ready for war? Doesn't the simple fact that we have to ask ourselves this question mean something?

      No, I want to answer, I am not ready for war. I wasn't ready the last time when you took my son; I won't be ready this time either. I will never be ready for war. I may know where to go, I may close off a room in my house and store extra food, flashlights, water, batteries. But no, no matter how many times you ask me to consider it, no, I will never be ready for war.

      Cheshvan 21, 5771, 10/29/2010

      Abraham Calls to Me

      Every once in a while (perhaps more often than I let myself believe), I take the liberty of writing not just as a soldier's mother, but as an Israeli, a Jew. I could tie this in with the blog, and I will, a bit, but for now, let's start with history.

      The thing about history is that there are often sides, shades, and personalities that we can only imagine. The longer between the event and the reporting, the harder it is to imagine, to believe, to know. Sadly, this is what is slowly happening with the Holocaust. As we move into a generation that knows no survivors, the fact that there are films, videos, direct testimonies of those who did survive, physical evidence that corresponds and confirms all that they say and said - still there are those who would twist, deny, inflame.

      Imagine now, that the history happened thousands of years ago, and not merely a few decades ago. Imagine a man who married a woman and they have a child. That child marries and has two sons. One of those sons marries not one, but two women. One of those dies young and is greatly mourned. The second is buried in the same place as the first man and his wife, the second man and his wife, and her own husband, the child of the second man.

      So far, other than there being a man who married two wives, our story is common enough that it takes little imagination. 

      But the man was named Abraham and his wife was Sarah. In the technical writing terms I often live by, Abraham revolutionized the world - perhaps the first of so many great Israeli/Jewish discoveries and innovations that have graced the world. There was no US Patent Office, but his idea was certainly unique. If you can fashion stone into a figure, calling that figure "God" is absurd.

      Abraham's patented system of global management was simple - recognize the Power...where the Power really is. When Abraham's wife died, Abraham did something else that is well documented and stands through time. He buried her, we all know that - but more. He refused the gift of her burial place. He demanded to purchase the land and so, in effect, the Bible that documents this transaction proves a legal and binding land contract in which Abraham purchased what is now called the Cave of the Patriarchs, in Hebron.

      There, he was buried. His son, Yitzchak with his wife Rifka; his grandson Yaakov, and his wife Leah. I have always felt sad that Rachel lies alone and yet her grave, its location and presence were important enough to have been separate. That Yaakov loved her was enough.

      All this was written, explained, documented, in the first book of the Torah. This week, we read Chaye Sarah - the life of Sarah...in which she dies. A contradiction, the name, with what happens. I'll let scholars and Rabbis explain more, but let me tell you that Hebron, and especially Ma'arat HaMachpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs) has always been a place that touches me, calls to me, and soothes me. 

      I’ve been there when almost no one has been there; I’ve been there when it was so crowded, you could barely move. I’ve been there in the early evening, mid-day, more than once in the morning. I’ve been there as I watched two people wed, and I’ve said prayers for the sick there.

      Each time, the feeling is the same. I’ve come home. I’ve come to the grave of my grandparents, a direct link, a connection. I have the right to pray there, to ask them to intercede on my behalf because I am theirs, they are mine.

      This Shabbat is the anniversary of Sarah’s death and so thousands, literally thousands, will go to Hebron to be there to commemorate this day, this life, this death, this start of our people, this continuance. Of all the times I have been there, this is the one time I have never been. So natural and yet each year there was a reason, a delay, something else or even nothing else.

      This time, almost 80 members of our community are going to Hebron – amazingly enough, to camp out in tents across from the Cave of the Patriarchs. What an amazing opportunity to be there, to share this moving day with so many. I can’t wait to go. I’ve got brownies cooking, carrots steamed, a noodle casserole in the oven. It will be a huge communal meal and, as usual, I already know I have gone overboard.

      It doesn’t matter – Abraham calls to me. 

      And to tie this in, Chaim called mid-week. I don’t even remember about what and I asked him about Shabbat. It’s a way of leading in to him telling me if he can/wants to come without putting any pressure on him. 

      “I’m going to Hebron for Shabbat,” he told me.

      “Me too,” I answered excitedly.

      “Yeah, but I’m staying in a tent across the street from Ma’arat Hamachpela,” he responded back. 

      “Me too,” I answered back so happy.

      In the end, Chaim had planned to sign up for the communal meal but by the time he got through, it was sold out. Chaim called to ask what we had planned in terms of food and so, he is joining our community as our “son” – Chaim and another friend.

      Elie and Shmulik aren’t into this camping out in the wilderness part of it all and are staying home; sharing one meal with their older sister, another here in our home, perhaps with friends. We have friends who went to Hebron yesterday and set up the community’s “perimeter.” We sent down extra tents; I am chilling a beer for Chaim.

      Abraham calls to me, as he often does. “Come,” he says to me, “come and give respect to your mother, to Sarah, my wife.”

      I will go and pray there – for RifkA bat Teirtzel, for Elie’s friend Re’em. I will pray for the sick of Israel…and the healthy. I will pray for my daughter and her husband that all their dreams come true; I will pray for Elie and the path he has begun since leaving the army. I will pray for Shmulik, for his safety in the army and for his future with the bride he will soon take. I will pray for Davidi, that the years and his teachers be kind to him as his path is forged and his personality developed. I will pray for my little Aliza, who every day gets bigger and bigger and just had her first “babysitting” job.

      I will pray for my husband and our life together. And in the midst of all this, I will thank Abraham and Sarah for creating the nation and the path to this day, to this land, to this place. Somewhere, the reality of what we know parts from the imagination we have. There is archeological and historical evidence for much of what occurred in the Bible. Where science stops, belief and faith continue. Beyond belief and faith, I guess, is imagination.

      I imagine a great love in Abraham for his wife, Sarah and all he built with her. It is there in his buying the Cave of the Patriarchs so that no one can ever lay claims to that land. It is, in some sense, the oldest recorded land deal, and we have the deed, right there in every Bible.

      I hear Abraham calling to me. They are waiting for me and I will go. I will sleep the night in a tent across from where they rest. To show my respect, to show my faith, to show my love. Me…and tens of thousands of their other children. We are the people of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rifka, Jacob, Rachel and Leah.

      Shabbat shalom.

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