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The Thunder of War
by Judy Lash Balint
April 2, 2002

In the movies war is generally accompanied by torrential rain, thunder and lightning. In Israel this Passover week, almost every day has brought with it those conditions. From the storms that hailed the Netanya Passover massacre, to the dramatic barrage of hail that preceeded the Kiryat Yovel supermarket explosion, to today's dreadful weather that is interspersed with the booms of shellfire in nearby Bethlehem, it's the appropriate accompaniment to the fateful sovereignty war now being waged on many fronts.

One can only feel profound concern and gratitude for our soldiers out in the field. The temperature has dropped far below the seasonal norm, with snow falling on Mt Hermon. Reports are coming in from Efrat and Beit El that hundreds of reservists are camped out in Bnei Akiva facilities and on school basketball courts. The IDF is scrambling to provide adequate provisions for the more than 20,000 additional soldiers who've been called away from their civilian lives to fight this war. Meanwhile citizens in Efrat and Beit El (and probably other places that we haven't yet heard about) have been cooking and setting up tables laden with food for the soldiers stationed amongst them. Every reservist is of course someone's son, boyfriend or grandson. Heartwarming reports of generosity from supermarket owners and restaurants have been flooding the media.

Men in their 40s are being called up, and many older volunteers have been turned away. The Border Police have put out a call for volunteers to beef up their ranks. Yesterday, one of their finest, Tomer Mordechai, 19, was killed as he stopped an Islamikaze bomber from entering Jerusalem by car. No doubt his action saved many lives.

A Maariv poll published yesterday found that 93 percent of the people support the major military offensive against the PA. This, despite the fact that we're still getting mixed messages about the GOAL of the campaign. Is it to rout out terror, eliminate the PA, take back Area A, etc. etc? Depends who you listen to...

Meanwhile, hundreds of families struggle to deal with their losses. In March alone, 125 Israelis and tourists were murdered and more than 600 were wounded.In some unimagineable cases, the bomb attacks resulted in entire families being wiped out, or one family member remaining alive. Today's paper featured a full page of color photos of the March victims.

Several families requested no media coverage at the funerals of their loved ones. But those that were filmed were unbearable to watch anyway.

In an effort to revive Israel's sadly flagging PR effort, the Government Press Office finally opened a press center at the Binyanei Hauma center. Daily briefings and lots of noise, and a bevy of international journalists who have descended to breathlessly report from the front. Dan Rather is in town--it's probably a good thing that we can't receive CBS here.

But there are still all kinds of missed opportunities. A colleague of mine was trying to get to Rachel's Tomb to pray yesterday. Because of the military action in Bethlehem this proved impossible. However, at the junction where the bus normally picks up people to travel the 2 minute ride to the Tomb, he saw a contingent of around 50 members of the infamous International Solidarity Movement people (the same group that was delighted to present themselves as human shields in Arafat's office the day before). Accompanying the group were around 40 members of the international press corps--including Lee Hockstader of the Washington Post: CNN cameras etc. These media people have been prevented from entering Ramallah, so they just moved where the action is.

The media pack were totally focused on the "peaceniks," just taking occasional photos of the massive IDF tank presence in contrast to these civilians in T shirts. My friend approached an officer wearing insignia of Dover Tzahal to ask if they had an English-speaking person who could talk to the reporters. "If they want English speakers they'll have to go to Binyanei Hauma" (the new GPO press center) , he was told.

Another lost opportunity. I watched the results on BBC and CNN last night.

The last day of Passover is fast approaching here. Keep in your thoughts and prayers our boys who are doing the holy work of protecting other Jews and the Jewish state, as well as all those innocents who fell for the crime of just being Jews. Pray too for the complete recovery of all those wounded and for the destruction of our enemies.