Monday, September 14, 2009

Baruch Dayan Emet

Blessed is the true Judge. This is what traditional Jews say when we hear of the death of someone not related to us.

We say this for a number of reasons. We have no idea why God calls someone back. We can have no way of knowing why one family suffers many losses, while another suffers none.

Baruch Dayan Emet
is what we said when we heard of the death of IAF pilot Assaf Ramon, 20, whose father Illan Ramon died aboard Space Shuttle Columbia six years ago. Yesterday, Ramon's F-16 crashed into the Hebron Hills during dogfight training, some 70 kilometres south of where we live.

Why this promising young pilot, who vowed to follow in his father's footsteps, was killed is known only to God. Why this mother has to face the loss of a son, after facing such a public, tragic loss of her husband is a mystery to us.

But the whole country feels it. This tiny country with its tiny population cried yesterday at the news. It was impossible to completely blink back the tears while listening to the morning news report today. When we lose one, the whole country mourns. When we lose one so tragically, the whole country cries. When we lose a national son, our hearts break for his mother.

When things happen here, it's never too far away. In the same way, there is an immediacy to Israel's history that is impossible to escape. Within minutes of where we live, for example, there are a number of memorials for fallen soldiers from the 1948 War of Independence; including one by the highway which sits next to a wing from an Israeli Spitfire. Along the highway to Jerusalem, the rusted remains of makeshift armoured cars, destroyed as food convoys were trying to reach isolated Jewish neighbourhoods in the city, are gathered together like a congregation of corpses. There are countless battered ruins of Arab villages, stone walls now overgrown with prickly pears and wildflowers. In the larger cities, it's still possible to see bullet and mortar pockmarks in buildings. In places like Sderot, these scars are fresh. This is a wall in Sderot that has just been struck by a Kassam rocket. Don't be fooled by the lack of a destroyed wall. Shrapnel has torn holes in these steel girders. My wife was one block away when it landed.

For these reasons, in this part of the world wars are perceived not as something that happens 'over there' but as something that happens right here. What's interesting is how this reality affects people differently. But for the most part, that sense that the next war will be fought in our own backyards (my apartment has a metal reinforced bomb shelter, and we do regular air raid siren drills) has actually reinforced in people the importance of living life to the fullest. Israelis don't do anything halfway; you do want you want, and you say what you feel. It took us a while to realize that people weren't being rude; they just had much better things to do than engage in idle chatter (please note, discussing politics is not idle chatter). The beaches and parks are always filled with ball-playing teens and picnicking families, enjoying every free moment.

Generally, that sense of immediacy also makes most people hesitant to fight another war. Everyone we know has lost a friend, a son, a father, a brother. I know Israel was criticized after the Gaza mission, but it's also forgotten that the country endured years of rockets before responding - not out of any particular worry about the international reaction, but out of fear of losing any more sons. That hesitation proved costly in 1973, when Syrian and Egyptian forces were able to strike first because the Israeli government didn't act preemptively as it did in 1967.

It also prolonged the war in Lebanon, which should have been fought with massive numbers of ground troops, as it was in 1982. Instead, the war was fought mainly from the air, which saved Israeli lives but gave enemy forces the opportunity to hide in bunkers while civilians, forced to accept rocket launchers next to their homes and schools, were injured and killed. While the military success or failure of the war is still being debated, Israelis recognized the moral failure of this tactic; Israeli lives should have been risked to prevent civilian losses. And so in Gaza, the war was fought almost entirely by ground forces, who coordinated air attacks using laser pointers and other sophisticated devices to prevent civilian losses (which weren't even remotely as high as some claim and paled next to other similar campaigns in places like Sri Lanka, where a reported 6,500 civilians were killed by government forces.)

What is clear is that today's wars aren't fought like those of yesteryear; we no longer send thousands of soldiers to remote places to battle in open fields away from the local population. Since the First World War, we understand that every city street is a potential battlefield. It's unlikely that Canadian or American cities will experience this kind of war, and we can't expect them to understand how it feels to live between battlefields, but the Europeans remember this feeling well, and they're justifiably reluctant to fight more wars in their own cities. No one wants to live with the shadow of war hanging over them. Sadly, we don't always have that option.

Capt. Assaf Ramon, 1989-2009
May his memory be for a blessing.

written by both Morey & Alissa


Sarah said...

Beautifully written you two.

Alissa said...

Thank you, Sarah. It's amazing how the entire country gets affected by things here. It really is like one big family in a large, very open plan house.