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1: January, 1991

Title Page || 2: February, 1991 >>

Tuesday 15th Jan.

Woke at midnight to the sound of jet engines over the house. Of course I didn't know what time it was. Jumped out of bed, looked at the living-room clock, and thought: Just as I figured! Pre-emptive strike! But the kitchen radio, which proved to be chattering incessantly about preparedness (on all channels), knew nothing of a pre-emptive strike. It was raking the dead leaves because there was nothing to say and yet people don't want to hear about anything else. I turned it off.

Meanwhile the plane engines had faded.

I made a cup of cocoa. I wasn't sleepy. In the end I stayed up and read "The Russia House" till 2 am. (I'm always a couple of years late reading best-sellers, the first year because I'm waiting for the paperback, the 2nd because I haven't found the time.)

This is the first time that reading a spy thriller from midnight to 2 am has been a calming experience.

Of course we go on functioning normally; meaning that the kids go to school, where they practice putting on gas masks, and the adults to work, where they spend half their time discussing the crisis and the other half thinking about it while trying to do something else. Wherever you are, you're never out of range of a radio, commenting away in the background. Like the planes which occasionally roar overhead, usually rumble in the distance and are heard growling softly at the back of your ear even when absent, the radio incessantly debates the news and grumbles the fears of those who phone in to radio programs.

Of the real live people, the usually-sane resort to jokes, the high-strung to hysterics. A colleague in the second class caught me early this morning and demanded why the Senate House hadn't sealed off their whole 4th floor as announced. She'd taken it hard enough when we were informed that it was technically impossible to seal off any part of the library, and we'd have to go to the Senate House in the event of an air raid. She promptly went to check up there, and arrived back at the library ranting. It seemed to her incredible that I should laugh it off; she simply refused to accept that you can't air-proof most Israeli houses anyway and are better off not deceiving yourself. As soon as N. (the library director) arrived, she latched onto her.

N. told her she could stay home if she was that worried, but she stayed anyway.

Most of the others are defusing the tension with jokes. I must have heard five times today the Mayor of Tel-Aviv's remark on last night's news, that the inhabitants of T-A will get more warning than anyone else, because even a small missile will need 15 minutes to find a parking spot. Or there are the home-made variety:

"My monitor just started smoking. What do I do?" -- "Tell it it's anticipating: all the rest won't go up in smoke till tomorrow."

And the macabre:

"Hey, what's the difference between Saddam Hussein and Hitler? Hitler took the JEWS to the GAS, whereas Saddam..."

People have been stocking food, but not too much. The stores report 3 times usual turnover, not more, and buyers are selective. For some reason the one thing hard to find is bread. After having to go to five stores to find it yesterday, I ran out to the Technion minimarket mid-morning and, finding it available, bought an extra loaf. I guess that ranks me with the hoarders!

The kids are calm. Liron snuggled up to me yesterday evening, her face slightly pale, and asked me, what's the chance that Saddam will really fire a rocket and that it'll land near us? I told her, much less than the chance of winning the lottery. That reassured her, because she's had it dinned into her that the chances of winning the lottery are too slight to justify spending your allowance on a ticket. Yair mainly wants to know if there'll be school tomorrow. Practical, my son. As of now, I tell him, yes. And we listen to the news adding up, for the hundredth time, the forces of the opposing sides.

I guess if I'm starting a diary, something must be different from usual.

Wednesday, 16th January.

6:30 am: Yair has an early class and is hurrying through his toast when the announcement comes: the Ministry of Education has decided to close all schools till next Sunday. Keep kids in or near the house, parents, but go to work yourselves. The bureaucrats in the Ministry see no contradiction in that last statement. They confidentially announce that closing the schools is not expected to materially affect any sector of the economy except schoolteachers.

Yair is overjoyed. I debate whether to go to work. By the 7 am news I've decided: I'll get there late, but I'll go. First I get out the gas mask packs, put Yair's and Liron's in the cupboard, show Yair where and warn him not to open them unless the radio says so. By now they're watching the news on TV -- what a thrill, breakfast television in Israel! -- seeing pictures of take-offs of various planes. F15s, F16s, attack helicopters, Stealth bombers.

The more lethal the toy, the prettier it is to look at.

The phone starts ringing. Yair's friends, liberated by Saddam, are invit- ing themselves to him or vice versa. I limit them both to a three-minute radius from the house. That takes in Yoni and the ball court, and for Liron it includes Tami and Yael. So they're both happy and I'm reasonably sure they'll obey orders. No point in making rules that are obviously going to be broken. Yair disappears to the ball court to keep his tryst with Yoni.

Liron only gets scared when I have to explain to her where the gas masks are and what to do if... Of course she knows what to do better than I do; she's had all the drills at school. It's just that it never occurred to her that it might be for real, and it might be today. I calm her: of course I don't think anything'll happen, if I did I wouldn't be going to work. Reassured, she goes back to the maths problems insisted upon by her father. Gadi's idea of keeping a girl's mind off chemical warfare is to provide a long list of 3-figure numbers to be factorized.

Judging by the number of cars still parked in the neighbourhood at 8:15, and the empty Technion car-park at 8:30, not many parents are at work today. But inside the library, people are much less tense than yesterday. It's as if 7 am this morning were operational H-hour, rather than just a date post quo; as if people had really believed war would break out at that hour. Now it's past, the threat is diffused: it could be any time in the next few days or even few weeks. People take a deep breath and go on living.

Jokes are correspondingly fewer, but the radio is as present as ever.

Thursday, 17th January.

Last night it was a buzz on the intercom that woke me up just before midnight.

An unidentified male voice looking for the Klein family. I dragged my brain to the surface and mumbled till I remembered a family who'd rented here and moved away several years before. The voice logged off the intercom, a moment later a motorcycle roared away. At that hour it could only be the army or the police, neither of whom have any business keeping outdated records. I turn on the radio and listen to the news. Still nothing. By now I'm awake enough to remember that the family I'd thought of wasn't called Klein. What the hell. I'm also too wide awake to go back to sleep. I continue the neverending saga of The Russia House.

1 am. News. Still nothing. I'm surprised; I could've sworn the U.S. would have attacked tonight. The news finishes and I return to bed; thereby missing the start of the action by about 20 minutes.

It's still dark when I wake up. Gadi has the radio on. The time, when I manage to figure it out, is 5:45. The Americans have been bombing Iraq for over 4 hours. The radio reports exact hits, knocking out all the Iraqi airfields and every single plane, plus most missiles. We don't believe it. Neither, apparently, do the analysts, for by the 6 am news a note of uncertainty has crept in. On the other hand, they've added the Baghdad TV and radio station, President's house and parliament to the list of targets hit; also a chemical warfare plant; and Britain to the actively engaged Allied forces.

I guess the initial feeling is relief. The chances of being gassed suddenly seem remote. They had always seemed unreal, but remote is better. The next is pity for the people of Baghdad. I remember the little girl I saw on TV yesterday, dancing confidently with her elders in the demonstrations in support of Saddam. She was about 8, dark and fine-boned, graceful, oblivious to the demonstration, totally absorbed in the intricate movements of her dance. I wonder where she is now.

The Civil Defence announces that all civilians should stay home today, except for the few employed in vital places -- hospitals and essential industries. That means the food and defence industries, I guess. Apparently they know who they are. Everyone else should not only stay home, but indoors. And we're officially told to open the gas-mask kits and check the contents. If anything's missing, call the Civil Defence.

So they don't believe the reports from the front either.

The chances of a missile coming our way seem increasingly slight as the morning wears on. The U.S. and Britain -- and Saudi Arabia's been added to the list of avenging angels -- may not have hit everything, but they do seem to have done a pretty good job. I wonder when they'll tell the Americans how many casualties they've had. So far they've been pretending there are none.

At 10 am they announce that the ground forces are going in (mistakenly, as it later turns out).

At 10:35, Saddam announces that Iraq will never surrender. He, like Bush, is playing according to the script.

Active participation on the U.S. side is of course important, because it confers the right to a say in the shaking-out of the Middle East which will follow all this. WATIO: When All This Is Over.

It's raining on and off. The streets are damp and silent. The parked cars show that almost nobody has left home; they're all taking the Civil Defence warnings seriously and staying inside. And keeping their children with them. Today, unlike yesterday, nobody has phoned Yair to suggest a meeting at the ball court, 3 minutes' walk away. Our own kids are once more doing maths problems, because Gadi's home.

By 10:45, the radio is talking about the Middle East peace conference that should be convened as soon as the war is over.

6:30 pm. By now they're admitting 2 planes down, a British Tornado and an American, and several pre-dawn dogfights. It's probably true. They tell us the tonnage of bombs dropped on Iraq equals the force of the Hiroshima bomb. They were saying that this morning, several hundred bombing missions ago, and anyway, what does it matter? The radio is playing "haya'ich ve-hayai": your life and mine: "listen, my little brother, the whole world is ours..." The radio is happy, because Iraqi children will be orphans tonight and not Israeli.

I wonder, where is the father of the little dancer with black hair.

Friday 18th January.

7:15 am. The radio is interviewing people who've spent the night in gas masks, and describing a 4-metre crater in the road "somewhere in the central area". From this we gather that there's been a raid and at least one missile has struck. We wait impatiently as the radio plods its way to 8 am, through jokes and compliments to Zubin Mehta for being here, and reports of people who injected themselves with atropine as soon as they'd put on their gas masks (?!? as a precaution? to try it out?). Why does the radio assume that anyone awake at 7:20 was listening at 7:00?

From the 8 am news we learn that 8 missiles struck, all Scuds with conventional warheads; and 12 people were hurt by flying glass. No direct hits on houses. One missile fell in the Haifa area, they're still not saying where. The sirens started only a minute before the missiles landed: so much for prior warning! Those close enough to hear a blast had no time to put on their masks; the rest of Tel-Aviv, and Jerusalem, it appears, spent most of the night in sealed rooms and gas masks, in vain.

The radio is discussing a possible Israeli counterattack. Will she, won't she? The army spokesman sticks to what he's been saying for the last few days: we reserve the right to decide for ourselves. My bet is we won't, or at most only token. The U.S. is calling the shots on this one, whatever the army spokesman says.

The radio is interviewing the little son of the singer Tzipi Shavit.

Enough, Gadi says, this is worse than Iraqi missiles. He imposes silence. We have a house to clean, Gadi says; the next missile attack will have to wait. Tell Saddam please, somebody.

We are starting to joke. Surely they sent more than one missile to Haifa? We aren't THAT unimportant? Come now, Saddam, you've hurt our feelings! No, he sent more, but the rest were eaten away by air pollution before they hit.

I have a faint feeling of letdown. I wonder for a moment if I don't regret having missed some action; decide not. I'm not one of those brave souls who are turned on by fear. But I fancy that I have, for an instant, an insight into the generals who are even now urging retaliation: what a pity to be left out of such an historic war!

Plane engines rumble in the distance, like thunder. But that's normal already. Besides, what can happen on such a bright sunny day, and while we're cleaning the house?

Everyone is in the stores this morning. It takes me 3 stops to find milk and newspapers. In the end I decide that newsstands will be supplied before the minimarkets that sell newspapers as a side-line; and I head for Neve She'anan, where there are 2 news vendors. But the rest of Haifa has also figured it out. The parking is like a circus, with an irritable ringmaster in a police uniform shouting at the cars through a horn. I queue 20 minutes for a newspaper. People are buying 3 or 4 together; I don't know if they're buying for friends or stocking up for a weekend indoors. Perhaps they freeze them with the loaves and the bags of milk? Don't they know that news goes stale even in the freezer?

The people in the queue heard the sirens last night. There's no panic and little irritation. People are more tolerant than normal. There's some discussion of where the missile that hit Haifa landed. 200 metres from the oil refinery, someone says.

9 pm. The news has just finished. Most of it has been about whether Israel will retaliate. Just as we move to the next program, the screen goes white and broadcasts a siren. After a minute or 2 we get annoyed: what are they playing at? Yair goes to the window. It's real, he says. It's coming from outside too. Of course it is, Gadi says, everyone has the TV on and the window open.

I check out the living-room balcony. Faintly you can hear the sirens. Convinced, we put on our masks. Takes a good 5 minutes to get them adjusted. Meanwhile the TV has informed us that this is for real. The whole of Israel, please put on your gas masks.

Gadi adjusts his, then takes it off. It's just an exercise, he says, only they're not telling us.

About 10 minutes pass. The mask clamps tightest on my chin. It's uncomfortable at first; as time wears on it starts to hurt. It isn't difficult to breathe, there's not even much of a smell of rubber; but it grasps the chin like a vice.

There's a dull thud, very faint and far away. There, one fell, Gadi says. He puts on his mask. I'm disbelieving. THAT was a missile? Gadi is quite sure.

There's a faint hiss of air with every breath, like breathing with an aqualung; and the eyeglasses mist a little with every breath out. You get used to it.

Liron wants to drink. She's a bit scared. We screw on the rubber drinking-pipe, but she can't manage to get any water. In the end she takes off the mask to drink, then replaces it. It's more comfortable now, she says.

We're all very calm. It's quiet outside. The TV has resumed its usual programming. No-one on the screen is wearing masks. Gadi takes his off again. I'm sorely tempted, but resist for the sake of the children. I don't want them to take theirs off. We switch between the TV program, the CNN news on Lebanon, and the radio. I keep pulling down on my mask to relieve the pressure on my chin.

9:30. The radio announces that the sirens were sounded following infor- mation that there was liable to be a missile attack. How silly, I think -- there's liable to be a missile attack all night long, if not 24 hours a day! Gratefully I remove the mask and tell the children to. We pack them away. I decide not to remind Gadi that the thud we heard couldn't have been a missile after all.

I hope they're not going to do this at 2-hour intervals throughout the night.

Perhaps it's strange that we're so calm. We don't really believe the alerts, that must be why. It's a game more than anything else. If anything, I feel more tense now than I did while wearing the mask.

The news showed pictures of one damaged house from yesterday's attack, but they still aren't saying where. The number treated in hospital is now set at 500, but only 12-15 were directly hurt from the attack, and those mainly from flying glass. The rest are "indirect": heart attacks, hysteria, an above-normal complement of births, and the usual unrelated commerce of a hospital on any night. Also 3 elderly women forgot to remove the seal on the gas mask filter, and suffocated. Poor souls. And worst of all, a 3-year-old suffocated in the struggle with her parents to put her mask on her. Things like that make me angry. What were they doing, holding her by the mouth? From the missiles themselves, no dead and only light injuries. We hurt ourselves worse than the Iraqis hurt us. As usual. Saturday 19th January.

7:15 am. Gadi and I are snug beneath a blanket when the sirens go off. They aren't very loud. We eye each other and consider disregarding them, as befits a poor practical joke played early on a Saturday morning.

"Turn on the radio," I grunt.

"Can't. Batteries being recharged."

Motherhood gets the better of me and I rouse the kids. The masks are now all ready and it only takes a minute. Gadi is still in bed and I'm jealous. I walk into our room, masked and carrying his. "Want a kiss?" I enquire. He opens one eye at me, sees a green monster from a horror movie and grimaces. "Well, in any case, this is what you're getting," I say, and drop his mask on the bed. Of course he won't put it on, and if it weren't for the kids, neither would I.

The kitchen radio is making the usual official noises about being in The Sealed Room. Yair elects to stay in bed (masked), but I gather Liron and her Walkman into the computer room. It's 5 square metres partitioned off from another room; its advantage is that it has no windows and is the only place in the house out of reach of flying glass. I suggest a game of chess to keep her there. She suggests Carmen Sandiego. So we chase suspects across the screen and the globe, while Scuds chase us across the skies. Before the first game is over, the Walkman tells us everyone north of Hadera and south of Ashkelon can come out of their burrows and pack away the masks.

It's 7:30. I rub the red pressure-spots on my chin and temples, and put the kettle on. Round up everyone to go brush their teeth. This game is getting boring. The radio has taken to making announcements in half a dozen languages. English is 3rd or 4th on the list; it's just coming on. That solves the question of whether to ring my mother in Ashkelon and tell her the good news.

By the time we've finished breakfast they're releasing the central sector too.

The radio is praising us all for being calm, as if we were children. Anyway, how do they know if we stayed calm or not?

The radio's comments hint that there have been a couple of alerts during the night. Yair is worried: why didn't we wake up? Because the sirens aren't that loud, I explain. Then he gets angry: why don't they make them louder? It's the only sign he gives of tension.

The 8 am news talks of 3 or 4 missiles and one hit in Tel-Aviv. Later we learn 10 people were slightly hurt, another 6 "otherwise affected". They now explain they're not saying where the missiles hit because that's just the information the Iraqis need in order to improve their aim. That makes sense. But 5 minutes later they tell us most of the injured were taken to Ichiloff hospital. That gives a narrow enough range, surely: Ichiloff is crammed, like an American station wagon into a Mini Minor parking spot, into a tiny corner of central Tel-Aviv.

The 10 am news -- by now on TV, which has woken up -- tells us there were 2 false alarms during the night: one in Jerusalem, an unlinked explosion, and one in Tel-Aviv, a "missile sighting" which turned out to be a fragment of a Russian communications satellite burning up in the atmosphere on its way back to earth. Zubin Mehta visits the site of the missile hit and gets interviewed. The media seem determined to turn him into a hero.

At 10:35 the English-language news: "Iraqi rockets slammed into Israel for the 2nd straight day". Irresponsible: they make it sound as if we've been under constant attack for 48 hours. But this is the "Israeli news" that will probably get transmitted to the outside world.

In the afternoon I went for a walk with Liron. Several other people were out walking dogs or children, though not as many as on a normal Saturday afternoon. Only one or two had "gas packs" with them. Everyone looked normal and cheerful, but then I guess the nervous don't go out for walks. The whole time we were accompanied by the sound of planes, and 3 times spotted a pair, flying quite low. They're apparently patrolling the length of the country constantly, on the watch for Iraqi planes.

News trickled in throughout the day about the missile hit on Tel-Aviv. It hit the courtyard of a school, apparently; landed right on the roof of an air-raid shelter, blasting it open. There were no people in the shelter because it wasn't in good repair; another one 20 metres away was full of people who'd decided the shelters were safer than apartments because of the risk from flying glass. Even the staunchly unreligious like me had a shiver up the spine, a feeling that someone was watching over us. Rabin, interviewed, put it that "the god of chance was on our side". That would've raised a lot of religious hackles, except that it's Saturday and the rabbis aren't supposed to be listening to the radio.

The American missions continue: 4000 sorties so far. They're paying especial attention to Scud missile launchers but are no longer kidding themselves that they've got the lot. No information worth hearing is coming out of Iraq, and even from Saudi Arabia the only pictures, pretty well, are of planes taking off and landing.

King Hussein made a much-covered speech this afternoon. The sound was so confused, though, with Arabic in the background and English translation in the foreground, all of it bad quality, that we couldn't hear much of what he said.

It doesn't matter too much anyway; the scenario is given and Hussein is in the middle. I wonder how much longer he can continue his tightrope act, the Beduin king of a largely Palestinian state. I suspect that he (or his son) will end up king of a small Beduin state, and the rest of Jordan, probably including the West Bank, will be a kingless Palestinian state. WATIO.

Tuesday 22nd January.

Went to Sde Boqer on Sunday, returning yesterday evening. Traffic was very light in the central section of the country, but almost normal from Tel-Aviv to Beersheva and completely so south of Beersheva. No air raids. Perhaps Saddam's running out of launchers? Don't count on it, said the army spokesman on the 9pm news. Yair said, Mummy will you play a game of chess and do we go to school tomorrow? Mummy said yes and no respectively, Yair was happy twice.

But I was tired from the drive, and when we reached the bitter finale and Yair insisted at 11 pm on replacing his king, retracting his last 2 moves, and playing on, I blew up. Definitely not Supermother. Blame it on the war.

Returned to work today, to find my high-strung colleague once more on the verge of hysterics. Nobody is doing anything to protect her!! Explanations about the physical impossibility of sealing the library spaces fell on deaf ears. She started shouting, someone shouted back. The director tells her to stay home with pay. She says that's not the problem, EVERYONE needs protection. She phones the Civil Defence and complains about the Technion in general and the library in particular. Civil Defence have never heard of acoustic ceilings and glass walls. They say we have to seal the rooms and that's that. We set about turning several rooms into plastic boxes. Of course people start to make little holes in the plastic to let air in. Near the end of it all, a Civil Defence official turns up, inspects it all, and says that the only really proofable room in the whole place is mine. So they tramp around taping the window, and the whole of my glass wall, and the door to the balcony. After the Civil Defence people have gone, Musia, who's standing on a table to tape the top of the window, notices a thin crack where the walls meet the ceiling. It's because this was once a balcony, part of which was bricked in; nobody bothered to seal the space where the new walls met the pre-existing concrete roof. I laugh and tell Musia not to tell the Civil Defence people, unless she wants to find herself perched on a ladder taping the walls to the roof.

But my high-strung colleague is happier.

Evening. The alert sounds during the news. We put on our masks but nobody bothers to go to the computer room. After several minutes the announcer reports a hit in the Tel-Aviv area. No details yet, he says. But we can tell from his face that HE has details, and this time it's serious. The alert continues; it's only a few minutes, but it seems like infinity. A little later the all-clear sounds. Around 9 pm the TV reports a direct hit on a house. By 11 pm we have the toll: 3 dead, 94 injured, most of them lightly. The TV is full of pictures of men and cranes pulling away the wreckage. We don't know where it hit, but everyone interviewed has Ashkenazi accents, which argues north Tel-Aviv, not south like before. The police keep broadcasting pleas, through the TV and radio, to the general public to keep away from the site and let them get on with the work. And not to pick up fragments of the missile.

Wednesday, January 23rd

A colleague tells me that a mutual friend has rung. Her husband and daughter were out changing video cassettes (what do you do when you're sitting at home all evening, every evening?) at the video library very near where the missile struck. It was in Ramat Aviv, she said. The family is shaken but unhurt. My former feelings about somebody perhaps watching over us have been blown away, if they ever existed. But I hear two co-workers in the corridor, both religious, discussing the attack.

"It was a miracle," says one, "that only 3 people were killed. From a direct hit!"

"Yes," replies the other, "and almost nobody badly hurt. A real miracle!"

Miracles, like infinity, are a relative concept.

My boss is vehement about the hit on Ramat-Gan. "I'd drop an atom bomb on Baghdad," she says. "See how THEY like it. That'd end the nonsense quick enough. It's time they stopped pussyfooting around." My moshav-reared, staunchly Socialist boss. I am frightened by such sentiments from the normally sane.

The cataloguing department is nearly empty; most of the cataloguers are mothers of small children. In the public services area too, we're struggling to keep the library open till 5:30 with only two-thirds of our staff. Most universities have closed, but we and Haifa University have stayed open; tomorrow is the last day of the semester. An emergency meeting of faculty deans decided to postpone the exams for a week. That'll mean they'll run into the 2-week period during which we were scheduled to switch computers and rewire most of our lines through the Technion network. If we don't do it between semesters, we'll have to wait till the summer. The computer centre say they're anyway behind schedule with the necessary preparation, because of the 4 days of no work, and the reduced staff since. Usually such a prognosis would be a major disaster: we've already been waiting since last summer for the new machine. But right now it just seems like a minor complication.

Meanwhile the Technion still wants us to stay open till 5:30. We discuss the problem: who can work, how to arrange to get them home. Nobody wants to be travelling for long after dark. Usually the Technion organizes transport, so most people either don't have cars or their spouse needs the car. But regular working hours are 7:30 to 3:30; at 5:30 it's a problem. We'll have to get them taxis. I offer to stay late when necessary. Does that qualify as volunteering for the war effort?

Almost as soon as I get home, I'm out shopping with the kids. Traffic is light, many stores are closed (also the hamburger joint, to the kids' disappointment; we settle for felafel and pizza). There are quite a few people around, most of them carrying the by-now-inevitable plastic bag hiding a gas mask, just as we are. Some people carry the cardboard cartons they were issued, slung openly over their shoulders, but most seem to feel silly doing so, or conspicuous. But even at the stores that are open, business is light. And we found a parking spot right in the central square! -- unheard of under normal circumstances. But everyone out seems calm enough.

The evening news sa

Title Page || 2: February, 1991 >>