Everyday life in an extraordinary place.

Monday, September 22, 2008

News from Home

photo copyright Yediot Aharonot

This Postcard from Israel was originally written on 11 August 2001

It was a relief to get away for a few weeks from the tension here in Israel. For months we had looked forward to escaping the escalating violence around us. While we were gone, we vowed, we would relax and enjoy a carefree trip through six states, ending with a stay at Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth. In fact, we did have a great vacation. But all the while, we felt slightly uneasy and even guilty, that we were off having a good time while those we left behind continued their routine of fear and stress. And in the back of our minds, we worried and wondered: what was going on back home?

We quickly learned that foreign media coverage of events in Israel is often unreliable. One article we read in the Salt Lake City newspaper made it seem that war was imminent. In a panic, we called my in-laws, trying to find out exactly what was going on. As it turned out, nothing much had changed since our departure less than two weeks before. I imagine my seventh grade social studies teacher would be gratified to know that the yellow journalism she taught us about is alive and well in the 21st century.

In many ways, it was worse to be away from home, than to be here, facing each day's events as they came. Clearly, some happenings were exaggerated by the media for effect. We also knew we weren't hearing about everything that happened each day; small attacks with only minor injuries and failed bombing attempts don't usually make the international news.

Most of all, we knew nothing about the mood of the country. How were people holding up? What kind of action did the people want the Prime Minister to take, as the days and weeks went by with nothing but a worsening of the situation? The feeling of being cut off from that was, in some ways, liberating. We relaxed, ate too much, and did fun and silly things. But like invalids living in a protective bubble, we felt that we were breathing artificial air. Where was the true breath of Israeli life?

We returned to Israel early in August. It didn't take more than a few moments for us to absorb the heat, humidity and anxiety in the air. One week later, while putting away the movie our daughter had finished watching, my husband switched to one of the major television networks. That is how we learned of the terrorist bombing of a crowded pizza parlor in the heart of Jerusalem. Three hours later, both major networks were still broadcasting live coverage of this attack, complete with video footage, on-site and in-studio interviews with various members of the police and government, political experts from think tanks and universities, and most touching, eyewitnesses and several of the people who were wounded in the blast.

We saw a conversation between an injured mother and two of her sons, who had become separated from her during the rescue efforts and sent to different hospitals. As I stood riveted in front of the television, tears streamed down my face. I admit, at times the news coverage here is so heart wrenching, I have to stop watching television for a day or so. But I am always drawn back. I guess that I, like many other Israelis, have a deep rooted need to know and understand the depth of my countrymen's suffering. I have learned that even if I am halfway around the world, I am a part of this country.

(c) Amy Samin

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