Rocket alarm in the Netherlands

We needed a break. And even though a cease fire had just been declared and wonderfully maintained, the kids and I really wanted to just leave Israel for a bit.

So we booked a flight to the Netherlands to rebreathe for a couple of weeks. To remember how it is to not be afraid. Not alert. Not cautious.

The Netherlands is a funny country. When you open the tap, you can actually drink the water that comes out. The largest insect in the house would be an ant. Or, okay, a tiny silverfish. Kids play in the playground all day long because the jungle gym never gets too hot to handle. When we see a dead fish floating in the canal, we call the municipality to complain. And they will show up shortly after. And believe it or not, people throw their trash in trash cans. Weird, I know.

The first couple of days we were like sponges. We sucked up everything we saw, wordlessly. Seeing my husband enjoy his country silently proved me right. If I hadn’t joined him to Israel six months ago, I would never have understood his need for home. I would never have understood his thrill seeing cows and inhaling the cold morning air.

No helicopters circling above our house. No shots fired in the not so far distance. I found it impossible to believe how easy life felt. For the first couple of days. Then, it felt as if we had never left. And we started complaining about the weather again. About politics in the Netherlands. About taxes. 

Until I was at the GP’s office this morning. My hair had been falling out the last couple of weeks. My muscles ached, I was tired, I had headaches and nausea. To rule out anything more serious than stress, I figured some blood work might be a good idea. A television broadcasted the news in a corner. I couldn’t see the images. But I heard an item on Israel come up and tried to listen in.

The sirens cut through the waiting room. Rocket alarm. From Jerusalem delivered straight to my GP’s office in the Netherlands. I cringed and knew: I do not have to seek shelter. 

But inside, I did. I tried to hide.

Almost three thousand miles away I hid for a rocket that would never reach me. Or hurt me. And I am pretty sure none of the rockets from Gaza will hurt me after going back to Jerusalem, either. There hasn’t been even one rocket found coming from Gaza that has a war head on it. There is not a lot to be afraid of.

But still, I am. 

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Ripples

A week ago we packed our things up and left for the Netherlands. Cabdriver Daoud, who calls himself David to get more clients, drove us to Ben Gurion airport.

There’s a check point at the airport. Until now we passed it by saying hi to the checkpoint attendant and go on. Now things were different because our cabdriver was Arab. Daoud was asked to pull over and had to hand over his ID. Three different checkpoint people came over to open the doors of the cab, ask us where we came from and where we were going to.

I thought it was humiliating. Daoud thought it was nothing. Not even a ripple on the surface of the lake of Galilee. Just a week ago he passed with a bus full of teenage girls with Canadian and Australian passports. But Arab names. The checkpoint people made him wait for one and a half hours. Everybody had to get out. Luggage was opened, the bottom of the van checked. A canister with some kind of gas was thrown into the car to check for explosives. 

Nothing disturbing was found. And yet, Daoud and the girls’ entry to the airport was denied and they were sent back. Just to try the whole thing again some hours later.

Daoud didn’t even bother to get upset about it all. I had steam coming out of my ears and foam coming out of my mouth. And the same futile question arose that I have asked myself a thousand times since arriving in Israel: How can people do this to each other? 

It all boils down to fear. Dogs that are afraid, bite. And people? People humiliate, check, force, deny and kill when they are afraid. At least in this country. The fight or flight response reduced to just fighting.

Not being one of the fighting parties, I will flee.

Is that a gun in your pocket?

The Netherlands prides itself in being a country where free will is practically the main religion. The Dutch want people to think things through. Thoroughly. If you have, who can keep you from doing what you really want to do?

Abortion, Prostitution, Euthanasia, Cannabis, just to name the most well known. If you follow the rules, if you are an adult and are not bothering others, the Netherlands is the place to be.

When it comes to weapons, the Dutch are not so soft, though. Sure, if you love to shoot, you can sign up and become a member of a shooting range. After a year, you may apply for a license to purchase a gun. But even then you may only carry it on the way back and forth from the shooting range to your house. Even toy guns that look a bit too realistic are illegal.

There is no wide spread hunting tradition. Basically, except among gangsters and criminals, guns are not considered cool. People found at shooting ranges and hunting societies were rarely the most popular in school.

Actually, I had always been a little afraid of people that love guns. Like one can be afraid of the unknown. I just hadn’t seen that many. I thought, as most Dutch do, guns belonged in the righteous hands of law enforcement and the army. And that’s it.

Until a rifle stroked my leg when I was walking the streets of Jerusalem. It dangled off a long strap over the shoulder of what looked to me like a civilian. I had gotten used to all the uniformed people in the streets carrying guns. But this was new.

It turned out I just hadn’t paid attention well enough. Because guns are everywhere. Tucked in the back of people’s pants. Happily swimming in a lady’s handbag. And dangling off young father’s shoulders. Even looking differently at people now, I am sure I am only seeing a fraction of the amount of weapons being carried around by people.

I learned the question of the guard at one of Jerusalem’s largest shopping malls, Malcha Mall, wasn’t that weird after all. Even before I could enter the parking lot, he made me open my window to ask me if I was carrying a gun. At first I didn’t even understand the question. He wanted to repeat himself, and stopped short when he saw the bunch of blond kids sitting in the car with me. I still don’t know whether it was the kids or the fact my Hebrew is still very crabby that made him decide to stop his interrogation.

When we went to the playground today, a young couple was sitting on a bench, obviously very much in love. They were fondling, not even kissing or heavily making out. Still, they were the talk of the town among my Haredim girl friends. It enraged them. These could only be Arabs. How could they do this, in front of the children?

One of the ultra orthodox women got up and went to the couple. She told them to leave, or else.

In a country so full of guns, one can not help but wonder “what else”? What could have happened if the couple hadn’t been wise enough to leave the playground. If they would have replied in an unwelcome way. If things hat gotten nasty.

Or is carrying a heavy weapon around in the scorching heat of summer, just something that people need to do in order to feel safe?

I’d rather meet people that are glad to see me. That’s for sure.

 

Clil

Sustainability is a luxury.

My heart is green. Our house in the Netherlands is covered with solar panels to create electricity and hot water. We own wind shares in two different wind mills. Back home, we would separate garbage in five different trash cans. Buy in bulk to reduce waste. Drive a car on green gas. Use cloth in stead of paper kitchen towels.

Until my husband left for Israel. And I was in charge of our five little ones and everything else. I was tired. I was sad. I was not green. Not green at all.

In Jerusalem, waste is everywhere. The disposables industry flourishes by the mitzvah not to work on Shabbat and thus not to do dishes. Plastic plates and cutlery are everywhere. I feel like a true green hero for throwing my trash in a trash can in stead of on the ground somewhere. I even gather littered items wherever I go, to throw them in a container somewhere.

But energy to really make the difference is lacking me. I find it extremely hard to keep up with sustainability when the world seems to be crumbling down. When people fight each other to death and my children and I are seeking shelter in our bathroom against incoming rockets.

And so, I needed to find some new inspiration.

Clil was the answer. This little gem has it all when one is in serious need of some green inspiration. When our hearts and souls need some refuge from news about boys, little older than our own oldest son, getting killed while we do not understand for what.

In Clil, people live off the electricity grid. There’s a cafe, there’s a slow pace, there’s sustainability and there’s Among Carob and Olives.

We stayed at a Yurt. However, the kids would have loved to sleep in the ecological pool. We picked Verveine, olive leaves, lavender and carob to make tea. We picked Pomegranates to suck the bittersweet juices out of. We had breakfast and then breakfast again at the Hippie Cafe Clil. We bought sourdough bread at the local bakery.

And for a moment we had peace. We understood the bangs of fireworks for what it was. We did not fear a fast motor cycle in the distance was actually the start of a rocket alarm.

We ate in the vegetarian restaurant and drank the locally brewed Malka Beer that we had tasted in Jerusalem. We slept in a tent and hardly showered. And we were happier than we had been in a long, long time.

And green.

Sustainability is a luxury. And in Clil, it is heaven, too.

Of dead roaches and friendly spiders

Friday morning Ze’ev came to the rescue. I had never met Ze’ev before, nor his boss Amir, but apparently Ze’ev’s English was better than Amir’s and so he was sent to us.

Ze’ev carried a yellow tank on his back and a spout in his hand. This was obviously a man of action and not many words. Ze’ev asked me where the closest manhole was. We have two right outside. One, a mere ten centimeters from our kitchen door.

Who, I ask you, who designs a house in a warm country with a fragile concrete manhole cover ten centimeters from a kitchen door? It must be someone who adores roaches and prefers them well fed.

In a large family it is complicated to store away all fruits and vegetables every day. Specially when vegetable delivery comes from a CSA, in large quantities, once a week. Uncovered food combined with a manhole stinking it’s way right in to our kitchen spells trouble. And I got a little, let’s say, antsy from all those little friends crawling over my counter tops at night. Hiding in the coffee maker. Crawling through my oldest daughter’s hair at night.

So here came Ze’ev with his tank and his spray. Spraying his way through our manholes, our sinks, our kitchen cabinets that we had emptied so meticulously the night before. Unprotected, but warning us to stay away for a couple of hours.

The kids and I obliged and fled the house. What better destination than the Jerusalem Zoo? In this zoo, I kid you not, there’s a cockroach display. Behind glass, thank Goodness.

For extra safety, we had booked a weekend in a yurt in the Northern part of the country. When we came home for five minutes to pick up our bag, there were dieing cockroaches everywhere. Big ones, small ones, all out in the open. It was… a special sight.

We left on our weekend in heaven in the North. And we came back. In the car on the way back a spider crawled on my leg. It tickled and I stroked the little guy off my leg. Gentle thoughts filled my mind. Feeling for this spider so far away from home: it must have been on one of the pomegranates we had picked from a tree today. Poor little fellow.

There’s apparently a world between roaches on my counter and a spider from our weekend getaway. I, for one, should not distinguish between the two. But I do.

Does it make me understand people who think some people are just worth less than others? Not at all. On our way home, I checked every little town we passed. Googling it on my phone. And it’s still a shocker when I read comments on Haaretz with people hating each other’s guts without knowing one or the other.

Spider? Cockroach?

Religion? People?

I guess you can make it leave. But you can not take it away.

The Situation

I live in a situation. We live in a situation. The situation is almost over, we hope. But then again… We are currently in a situation.

lt’s weird to live in a situation. Whenever something was cancelled, or rescheduled, or warned about, it was called “due to the situation”. Sometimes it was the “Political situation”, most of the time it was just the situation.

The first time people didn’t show up when they had to and I had to reschedule things because of the situation, I got mad. WTF, situation? Call it war, call it a conflict, call it what it is, but do not call it… you catch my drift.

It’s like talking about cancer and calling it “C”. Or telling your kids about “the birds and the bees”.

Why would you want to sugar coat something we all live under, day after day? Last Sunday we were at the beach during what I firmly believe was the last rocket attack of this 2014 war. Sorry, situation. The rocket alarm went off and people were told to flee to the shelter in the toilets. We calculated the risk. Staying where we are against fleeing to a filthy toilet with our five little ones. We decided against the so happily announced “sherotim” and stayed at the beach.

Our oldest son could not have been happier. He still talks about how he almost saw the rocket explode in the air. Would have seen it if his parents hadn’t forced him to take at least a little shelter. A situation that happened quite right above our heads. Pure bliss for a ten year old. Five minutes later all the beach people returned to their towels and things were as if nothing had happened. No more situation? Or is the cloud in the air where the iron dome missile hit the rocket still considered a situation?

The weirdest thing about this whole situation? It is not just the war in Gaza. The situation applies to a everything that happens now. Because everyone is under stress, everything is considered linked to the war. So when a bulldozer hit a bus today, and runs over a pedestrian along the way, it is called a terrorist attack. It leads to hours of sirens and helicopters and stress.

Might have been an attack, sure. I believed it was, too. Until I heard the bus had been empty. Quite the terrorist. This situation possibly had nothing to do with terrorism. But people are so on edge, everything seems to need a cause.

So maybe situation is a good word for what is going on, after all. As long as it does not refer to the war, the bombing and rocketing, the gunfire in Gaza and the muscle talk of Hamas against Israel and vice versa.

The Situation is in people’s heads and hearts. it is the stress of the last four weeks, and for many, the stress of a lifetime. There’s no end to that situation.

Even if that rocket we saw from the beach in Tel Aviv was the last one fired by Hamas and the last one intercepted by the Iron Dome.

Even then.