In Israel, 'dubious happiness' over wartime wounded

My sixth-grade teacher Miss Mackey, old even when I was a girl, told us about one boy she had taught who had been terribly spoiled. When it started raining, she recalled, his mother would make a special trip down to school to drop off his slicker and galoshes. Her son was delicate, she said.

Later, that boy served in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II. His ship was sunk by the Japanese, but as it went down, he evacuated to a rubber dinghy. There he survived solo in the middle of the ocean braving hunger, thirst, and exposure until rescued by fellow American forces.

Parents will do anything to protect their children from perceived danger. In wartime, they are powerless to send anything but love and prayers.

I was reminded of Miss Mackey's story when I entered the shabby appliance repair shop near my home. The owner of this one-man operation sat amid dismembered DVD players and hollowed-out TV sets. Oblivious to both them and me, he spoke intently into the telephone receiver, "Goodbye for now. Take care of yourself – don't forget to always wear your helmet." He was talking to one of his two sons, both called up by the Israeli army in Lebanon. How could his advice matter?

Even as a cease-fire is approved, fighting continues and even is intensifying. No one is under any illusion that this truce can be termed a permanent peace treaty.

Hourly news bulletins on Israeli radio now take much longer than customary. They are reading out the ever-longer list of casualties one by one, and announcing each funeral. Mothers sometimes feel relief when their sons are wounded – it means they are taken off the battlefield. One ruefully described hers as "dubious happiness" upon hearing of her son's light injuries.

Everywhere I turn in my still-peaceful town we are linked to victims. A woman from Haifa called to cancel her appointment at our local dentist's office – her young relative had been wounded, and she was on her way to the hospital. For him, though, the injuries were more tragedy than blessing. He lost both legs.

Israel is legendary as a close-knit society where everyone knows someone in the citizen's army. Never more true than now.

I had hardly finished correcting my law students' final exams when this war seemingly fell out of the sky, and young reservists in their early 20s, including my students, received call-up orders. How unimportant the difference between a grade of 80 or 90 seems now.

More than 1 million Arabs live in and are citizens of Israel, most in Galilee. They have hardly been exempt from the rockets fired by their Arab brethen from across the border. Five-year-old Ahmed Assadi and his young mother in the Arab-Israeli village of Dir el-Asad, and Fadiya Jumaa and her two daughters from the village of Arab al-Aramshe, were among numerous Arab families decimated when Hizbullah rockets struck their homes.

Israel is weighed down by Muslim and Jewish funerals. And yet "normal life" proceeds. The national swimming championships were held this past weekend. Even though young swimmers practice daily for grueling hours to prepare for this event, it wasn't certain until the last minute that – because of security fears – the meet would go forward.

Teams from rocket-ravaged Galilee were relocated en masse, billeted for weeks in the center of the country. Thankfully, young swimmers' minds were preoccupied with thoughts of freestyle, relays, and performance times.

My daughter is one of those swimmers. Like the mother from Miss Mackey's class, I try to focus on helping to give her the best conditions possible. But like all mothers in the Middle East now, I cannot help but worry what engines of death might be lurking to strike our children.

Helen Schary Motro, who teaches at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law, is author of "Maneuvering between the Headlines: An American Lives through the Intifada."

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