Saturday, September 14, 2013

My first war

Every Israeli and Palestinian has had their first war. My first war was the Yom Kippur War, in October 1973. David and I were married in August, 1973, 15 months after my aliya. I wasn’t even 21 when we got married. I wasn’t even 21 when the war began.

            Joe, a fellow kibbutz member, who had been in the army with David, convinced him that they should go to their unit soon after the war began. Even though they hadn’t been called up, Joe was insistent that it was the right thing to do, that they were needed. I don’t remember exactly when they took off for their unit; it was a few days into the war, after many young men from my kibbutz had been called up, and after it turns out, some of them had already been killed. The guys went north to their unit that was stationed in Haifa, came back after awhile, and then went to the Sinai desert, near the Suez Canal.

All in all, during my first war, and during my first year of married life, David was gone for 6 months, rarely coming home for short leaves.

            I was new on the kibbutz, and had begun making friends – mostly former Americans who had made aliya around the time that I had, preceding that war. But I pretty much felt alone and terribly out of my depths. I was scared to death. After all, it was my first war.

            In October 1973, there was only one public telephone on the kibbutz, and it was located in the dining room. But that was okay since David rarely had access to a telephone when he was in Haifa or when he was stationed in the Sinai. There was, of course, no email, no cell phones, no Skype. There was one public television in the kibbutz moadon (club house) that showed a little bit of news (there was only one station, and that was the government station, and it was only on for about 4 hours during the day). I also remember going to Naomi and Haim’s (both senior kibbutz members who passed away a number of years ago) with friends – mostly other young women whose husbands who had also marched off to war – and watching television at their house in the early evenings to see the news about the war. My Hebrew wasn’t so great at that time, so I am sure that I missed a lot of what was being said. Most of the people who sat with me in that living room have either died or moved away from the kibbutz. Truth be told, most of that period is a blank for me, and I don’t think it’s only because it happened 40 years ago.

Communication between my husband and me was extremely rare. I think I sent him some ‘care packages’ during those months (that was the time when women from the kibbutz got together and put together care packages – paid for by the collective – to soldiers once every two weeks or so), but can’t remember if he got them. I think we put in sunflower seeds, chocolate, socks (?). Maybe we added some canned goods as well.

I remember having no clear idea what was going on, and how scared I should really be. We had a few air raid sirens and had to run to the bomb shelters a few times and remain there for awhile. That was the first time in my life that I had been in a bomb shelter. I remember thinking that I did not know what ‘bomb shelter etiquette’ was. I hoped I wasn’t making any faux pas. And even though, since that war, I have lived through two Intifadas, the First and Second Lebanese war, two Gulf Wars (gas masks and all), Summer Rain, the Gaza War and Pillars of Defense, and many, many rounds of Kassam rocket attacks from Gaza, I still really don’t know how one is supposed to act, or what one is supposed to do in a bomb shelter. I have come to understand that this one skill I refuse to learn. My children have lived through most/all of these wars. David served in reserve duty for 22 years, also sometimes during these wars.

We were your ‘typical’ Israeli kibbutz family from the Negev – enjoying lawns and gardens, a swimming pool, communal dining room, children’s houses, wars, gas masks, air raid sirens and fear.

Yom Kippur was my first war. A first war is sort of like a first child. You have no clue what you are doing, but just hope that you aren’t making too big a mess out of it. You are scared to death that you will make the wrong decision, not take enough care, not follow closely enough the instructions that you have been given by the war/baby experts, and plod along like everyone else. You wonder why you put yourself in this position, and if wasn’t really a terrible mistake. You feel responsible for other’s lives, scared for your own, but try to go on, as if everything is cool. And somehow one war turns into many wars, and you have more children, and even grandchildren, and it becomes a way of life.
Like your children, in some ways, you become addicted to the wars. I can’t explain how it happens, but know that it happens slowly, and you find that you somehow ‘need’ the adrenaline rush of the war, and wonder when it will come, even though you hate the feeling. But you can’t help it, because most/all of your life has been tied to one war, or another. You can’t imagine your life without them (children and wars).

The Yom Kippur War was my first war. I so much wanted it to be my last. I was wrong about that… Even though I have lived through all of the wars and terror attacks since 1973, I am a novice compared to many other Israelis. I sometimes wonder – when will enough be enough? When will we give up our ‘need’ for our ‘war fix.’

The Yom Kippur War was my first war. In many ways, it shaped my perception of my kibbutz, my region, my country, and my fellow countrymen and women. For my 40th wedding anniversary, I wish to give myself and all Israelis and Palestinians/Arabs a meaningful gift - the gift of no more war, no more bloodshed.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

STAY THE PATH - An open letter to the Palestinian and Israeli Negotiation Teams

English follows Hebrew.
היום - יום רביעי 14.8.13 - יפגשו צוותי המשא ומתן של ישראל והרשות הפלסטינית
בצדדים השונים, יש אנשים/קבוצות המנסים להכשיל את התהליך - אם בבניה והרחבת התנחלויות בשטח
 הפלסטיני הכבוש ואם בירי ושליחת טילים על אזרחים ישראלים.
עליכם להיות מעל כל אלו ולהתמיד בתהליך שהתחלתם בו.
אני, ג'וליה צ'ייטין, תושבת קיבוץ אורים, במועצה אזורית אשכול, ומרצה במכללה האקדמית ספיר, שנמצאת 2 קילומטר מהגבול עם רצועת עזה, פונה בזאת ומחזקת את ידיכם לבל תוותר
אנו, ישראלים ופלסטינאים דורשים –אל תרימו ידיים. לדבר, לדבר עוד, ולהמשיך לדבר, עד שתגיעו לתוצאות.
הדרך לא תהיה קלה, יהיו בה מהמורות, יהיו עליות וירידות, יהיו דברים שתגיעו עליהם להבנה ויהיו כאלה שלא. אבל אל תוותרו – תמשיכו הלאה.
תעשו את הכל למצוא עוד ועוד סוגיות שעליהן תצליחו להגיע להסכמה. על כולנו יהיה לעשות וויתורים ואני סומכת עליכם, שני הצוותים, שתשכילו לוותר באותם מקומות שעימהם נוכל להמשיך ולחיות בביטחון, עם זכויות אדם שוות ועם כבוד הדדי.
כל כולי צועק: ניתן להגיע להסכם מכבד ולחיות צד לצד זה בשלום וכבוד הדדי. רק צריך למצוא את הנוסחא שתהיה קבילה על כולם.
זה אפשרי.
צריך רק לרצות בכך ולפעול למען כך.
עלו והצליחו ואל תיכנעו!!!
החיים שלנו בידיים שלכם
Today, the 14th of August 2013 the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams will meet
In the different sides there are people/groups who are trying to sabotage the process - either by expanding or building new settlements in the occupied territories or by shooting rockets unto Israeli civilians
I, Julia Chaitin, a resident of Kibbutz Urim in the Eshkol region, and a faculty member at the Sapir College, located 2 kilometers from the border with the Gaza Strip, am turning to you and supporting your efforts. DO NOT GIVE UP
We, Israelis and Palestinians, demand - STAY THE COURSE. Do not give up. Talk, talk some more, and then some more, until you reach results
 The road will not be an easy one. There will be ups and downs and there will be topics that will be more easily resolved and topics that will be extremely challenging. But, do not give up - continue onward
Do all that you can to find another topic and yet another topic that can be resolved. We will all need to make sacrifices and compromises. I trust you, both teams, to find the ways to reach these comprises and to move forward to lives of true safety and security, human rights and mutual respect
Every fiber and bone in my body cries out: It is possible to reach an honorable peace agreement and to live side by side in peace and mutual respect.
You only need to find the formulas that will be accepted by both peoples
It is possible
You just need to want it enough, and work toward that end
Our lives depend on it

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

If you will it, it will come - Give the peace process a chance

Everyone is writing why the peace process won't work. People from the right-wing are writing this and people from the left-wing are writing this. Experts and political analysts from different political leanings are saying that the process is doomed to failure, that Abu Mazen/Netanyahu (depending on whether you are Palestinian or Israeli) are betraying their people, that those who believe something can finally move are either naive or delusional.

I say - you all may be right, but how about if we give it a chance?
How about if we all put our efforts into demanding a just peace agreement and tell our leaders (yes, even though we voted for the other guy) that we demand peace and an end to the Occupation and endless wars and violence and we will do everything we can as ordinary citizens to support such a process

 How about if we stop criticizing every move that Kerry or Abu Mazen or Netanyahu makes to make something finally happen and say - We support your efforts to end this once and for all.
How about if we say to the myriad of political analysts and experts - from the left and from the right - from the Palestinians and from the Israelis -  who continue to say that the process is doomed - that we need you to draw upon your expertise to offer solid ideas that can make it happen. I do not doubt your expertise, but I am troubled and saddened that you have no hope that a true change can happen.
Share your professional wisdom, but do not allow your fears to 'prove' that we should bury the peace process before it takes its first baby steps.

How about if we make our voices clear:
We demand a just peace and know that it can happen.
We demand rights for all Palestinians and Israelis and know that there is a way to ensure that both peoples can live lives of dignity.
We demand an end to this endless war.

You - Abu Mazen and Netanyahu - are our leaders and we support your efforts to make this happen.
Kerry - you got us to this point, don't stop now.
And while you are working on making this happen - remember that it also has to happen between Gaza-Israel as well!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

To my Palestinian Friends - 29th November 2012

To my Palestinian friends and to all people who yearn for freedom to live their lives in dignity:
Mabruk on the UN vote. This is historic. Hopefully, one day very soon, there will be an independent democratic Palestinian state – a state no longer under occupation, a state which promises and implements freedom for all of its citizens.
If/when the Netanyahu-Lieberman parties win the upcoming Israeli elections in January, and, once again, form the government, it is hard to imagine that good things will be on the horizon – for either the Israelis or the Palestinians.  These parties and 'leaders', which exhibit arrogance and anti-democratic, anti social-justice and fascist lines, are a danger to us all.
But let us rejoice in the moment and continue to work for a region that can be a much better and healthier place for all Palestinians and Israelis.
We are often the pawns in the dangerous and destructive 'games' of war. Instead of our leaders protecting us, and initiating processes that can create good, solid societies that care for their citizens, we find ourselves caught in a web of hatred and violence, that bears little, if any, resemblance to social justice, human dignity, and peace.
Let us rejoice in the moment - when change appears possible and disregard of human dignity is publicly recognized as being unacceptable.
Let us rejoice in the moment and keep our eyes, minds and hearts focused on the prize of freedom, justice and peace.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Quiet outside, quiet inside

We have had a ceasefire for one and a half days. The only sounds and sights that we have now are lightening and thunder, wind and rain. Hopefully the rain is washing away the filth tht the ugly war left behind. Unfortunately it can't wash away the hurt and pain inside all of us - Israelis and Palestinians - who lived through this latest violence.

It's raining it's pouring
the old man is snoring
bumped his head when he went to bed
and he couldn't get up in the morning
rain, rain
go away
come again some other day

I hope that the only booms we hear from here on out are booms of thunder
and the only 'burning houses' are the small leaves set on fire by fireflies

The Hamas and Israeli governments put us - their civilian populations - at terrible risk for 8 days. They disregarded our lives and rejoiced in the pain inflicted on 'the other side.'

Hanukkah - 8 days that commemorate light and freedom and banishing of darkness - begins in a few weeks.

During Hanukkah, I will be lighting many candles of freedom, light and brother/sisterhood - for those of us in Israel and Palestine (and beyond - why not?). Perhaps if we all light these candles, the light will be bright enough for our 'leaders' to see that their paths of war, hatred and destruction are not our ways.

To days of thunder, lightening and rain
To days of washing away the ugliness that mars the outside
To days of washing away the anger and hatred inside that can never solve anything

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

My mind has turned to mush

Since the war began, my mind has turned to jelly. I seem to have a very difficult time deciding which bus to take to Jerusalem, and what time or how to go back home. I can't decide whether or not to stay outside and clean up the leaves that have overtaken the garden, or if I should keep the doors and windows open or shut in the house.

The reason for this severe difficulty is not dementia or a blod clot in my brain. At least not as far as I know.

The reason is the war.

The constant sirens announcing the onslaught of the constant rockets and the constant booms, one right after another, so close and so loud have turned my mind into mush. I begin one thing only to find myself starting another. I start a sentence, lose my train of thought, and then begin another, completely different, conversation. I feel myself holding back tears many times during the day, but am no longer sure who or what I am upset about. I try writing this blog, which usually seems to almost write itself, and find that I don't know what I want to say, or how I want to say it.

Yesterday, when my oldest son and I tried to go from Beer Sheva to Jerusalem by bus, I came very, very close to freaking out. On the way from the kibbutz to Beer Sheva, I was pressed against the door, ready to roll out of the car and take cover if a siren went off. When we got to Beer Sheva, we saw the bus that had been hit by the rocket just a few minutes before we got there. At the bus station, the 9:10 bus to Jerusalem never showed up, and we had two sirens. The bus station, which has now turned into a huge construction site, does not have available safe rooms, unless you are standing right next to one. We - a hundred of us or so - ran into one of the new rooms that they are building. It had a roof, but plaster walls. There is no floor, and there are construction materials all around. Nothing safe about this safe room. When we went to inquire about the bus that was take us away from this nightmare, that never appeared, the answer we got from the Egged administration was: "We don't know. Sorry. Yes, we agree that its chutzpa that no bus came and that we're not sending another one."

Yes, yesterday morning did a lot to bolster my sense of security.

A bus came that stops at every bus stop from Beer Sheva to Jerusalem, but I refused to get on. This ride would have taken an hour more than the express bus AND it would have had the extra advantage of driving through many of the places that are being constantly  hit by rockets these days. No way was I going to get on a bus that was sure to put me in danger for 2.5 hours.

I felt trapped: I so desparately wanted to get away from this life-threatening madness, but couldn't get out! Since my mind had turned to jelly, I couldn't decide what to do: Should we look for a taxi-sherut that is going to Jerusalem, but is also, very likely to stop at different stations along the way dropping people off and picking up others? Should we get on a bus and go to Tel Aviv and from there get a bus to Jerusalem - making the whole ordeal twice as long? Should we give up and go back to the kibbutz that is under rocket attacks, and where we have no safe rooms?

I had an insight - for the first time in my life, I began to understand, just a tiny, tiny bit what the Gazans must feel during this war. What they must feel most days of their lives. They are trapped and can't get out. They are bombed, and have no safe rooms. They are cornered and cannot make a clear decision about what to do.

Yesterday, I truly understood the meaning of helplessness and fear, or what it means to be trapped.

My son and I eventually got on an express bus to Jerusalem and arrived safely after an hour and twenty minutes. When we were having lunch with my sister and niece at a cafe in Jerusalem, there was a siren when a rocket was fired toward Jerusalem.

Yesterday, while my mind was a jelly mold, I felt deep pain for myself, for other Israelis and for Gazans.

Let's see what today will bring.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Lying, Running, Crouching, Shaking

At 9:40 on the way back from a doctor's appointment in Beer Sheva, with my husband and oldest son in the car - there was a siren at the moshav we were passing. We stopped the car and we all laid down on the road, covering our heads. The booms were very close. After a few minutes, we got up, dusted off our clothes, and drove on to our home - 2 minutes from there. My son and I came into the house to put down our things and get bags for the store.

Walking over to buy some food, there was another siren. We dashed into one of the offices and shut the door. We then noticed that unfortunately in this small office, the window was open - so that wasn't much protection. But since the rockets were already hitting, so we didn't dare go outside. They were very loud and VERY close. We crouched on the floor, holding one another. After a few minutes we tried going out again. The sirens began again and we dashed into the dining room, to the stairwell, next to the place where the mirrors used to be (they took them down so that they wouldn't break if a rocket hit the building). We couldn't count all those booms - that were so close, you felt them inside your body.

We eventually got to the store, which was mostly deserted, and bought what we needed. We then got a text message to stay indoors and off the sidewalks if at all possible because of the ongoing rocket attacks.

I had just finished talking to one of my dear friends in Gaza right before we found ourselves lying on the ground, near the moshav where the siren went off. She told of horrific things she is seeing. I wonder what all this is doing to her psyche, and how she can take care of herself. I know now she only wants to help others - women and children - who are the main victims of this war.

We parted with words of love and care for one another and to be safe. I will try to call her later today.

After the morning adventures, more sirens, This time my son and I are in our house, that has no safe room. We go into the corridor and close the doors to the bedrooms. He gives me a hug and a peck on the forehead. Shouldn't I be doing this to him?

I hope that I do not need to continue to lie down on the ground, run for cover, crouch on the floor, hug my loved ones, feel the bombs bursting inside anymore, or anything worse...

We Palestinians and Israelis must ban together and say NO MORE WAR; NO MORE BLOODSHED. We are all fed up being sitting ducks in this killing carnival