Category Archives: war

Every teardrop is a waterfall

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Our recent Sukkot holiday found us in one of the most beautiful areas of Israel. In the foothills of the Golan a series of rivers snake through the cliffs and canyons providing welcome relief to the searing heat in the summer and dramatic deluges in the winter and spring. The Hermon is Israel’s highest mountain, bordering Syria and at the edge of Lebanon. It’s hard to believe that this beauty and majesty is the backdrop to wars and terror. The fields in this area are fenced and signs warn of unexploded mines from past conflicts. Disused buildings are peppered with bullet holes and the army presence is hard to ignore. But on a beautiful day, when the sky is blue the colours are alive and fish and crabs that live in the clear waters swim peacefully it is good to take a breath, drink in the scenery and try to forget man’s cruelty and the sadness it brings and let nature do the talking.

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The Great Escape

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When I left Israel at the end of July, I left  sirens and explosions, booms and rattling windows. Now I am back. The sirens have stopped, normal life resumes.
I lived in a bubble for 5 weeks, little or no news, only sporadic social media use, a promise to myself not to read the hate or get involved in the arguments about right and wrong in this age old, never ending fight.

Luckily my bubble was full of parental love, family support, old great friends, gin & tonic at 5.30pm and a bedtime of 11pm. Scattered liberally with picnics, chocolate biscuits, fish and chips, roast dinners and ice cream for the kids every single day. Yes it was a bubble but it was a great big happy bubble (with only a few meltdowns on everyone’s behalf – myself included).

 
IMG_2804I re-discovered a friendship, watched as my kid’s started to converse with one another in English and kept busy, really really busy. As I look back I am amazed by the many incredible experiences my childers had. I could write a guide book to keeping small children amused in Cheshire. Bruntwood Park, Lyme Park, Tatton Park, Torkington Park, Bramhall Park. Styal Mill, Walk Mill, not one but two country shows complete with fairground rides and a pony ride. One trip to North Wales to visit relatives and crab off the jetty, a trout fishing expedition resulting in fresh trout for dinner and a ride on a steam train. A hideous trip to Legoland Discovery (the kids loved it), a walk IMG_2876around Salford Quays, a visit to Jodrell Bank and the Manchester Science Museum and number one son went on a night time bat walk (there are more bats in our garden than he saw). Phew. Where did we find the time? And that’s before we mention the camping trip where they pedalloed and kayaked and slept under stormy canvas, over excitement with the cousins, treasure hunts in the garden after tea, building woodland dens and damning streams.

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All this under the shadow of the situation back home that only the adults were aware of.
This wasn’t real life. It was a holiday, an extra long, extra fun holiday – perhaps I was over compensating for my perceived notion of their fear back home. In reality they had no fear, they don’t understand and even when number 1 son saw a rocket being exploded above his head a day before we flew it was my hands that were shaking, not his. His words, ‘why is it a real rocket?’

The coming back is hard.  Coming back is always hard from any holiday – who doesn’t want to escape reality for a prolonged period? The goodbyes are getting harder and harder.  For a moment at the airport I almost said to my mum, ‘I don’t want to go, don’t make me go’, but the truth is that she wasn’t making me go and I am not a child anymore.  My children and my husband need me to act like an adult and accept real life.  If I want to stay in the UK then not getting on a plane after an extended holiday is not the best way to go about it. But what a great holiday, thanks Mum and Pops x

 

 

And so it is

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I am rarely lost for words.  Ask anyone, I can talk…a lot.  I can also write reams and reams.  But I am lost for words.  I am just so angry and frightened, horrified and sorry, terrified and just plain sad that for the last week or so I just haven’t known what to say.

Three days ago I was dropping my twins at nursery when the alarm sounded.  I ran back to the classroom and accompanied 30 4-year-olds to a shelter.  The boom came seconds later.  We waited and then we all trooped out again.  Normality resumed.  Or our reality at least.  This experience affected me more than any of the other sirens, any of the earlier experiences of this messed up situation. I saw the faces of the children who just carry on as this is normal.

I have read a lot, a lot about the situation.  I have listened to Israelis, Palestinians, British, American, European points of view but it just makes me more angry and more sad, it doesn’t make any more sense.  Because that’s just it, the situation doesn’t make sense.  The suffering, the deaths, the injuries, the terror, it just doesn’t make sense.

All I ask is that everyone does as I do.  To listen to all sides.  To try to understand that this is not a black and white, goodies versus baddies, David versus Goliath situation.  In today’s warfare there is nothing simple.  And who pays the price?  The citizens, the innocents who are unable to control their own destinies, who often don’t know what is being done in their names’, right under their noses.  Haven’t the people of this region suffered enough?

Nobody wants their children to grow up in fear with terror a part of their everyday world with bombs and rockets and hate as part of their everyday language.  My 4-year-old son told me that we go to the shelter because ‘people want to kill us’, he told me he dreamt of something long that came from the sky and gave him a bump on the head.  My 6-year-old can explain how the iron dome system works, my 4-year-old daughter doesn’t like being trapped in the shelter, as we go in and close the door she wants to get out.  I don’t want to try to compare what we are experiencing with others.  I know there are people on both sides of the fight who are suffering far, far more.  I also don’t see why I have to apologise for my fear for the future and the days ahead for me and my family.  It may not be as bad but is this a normal way to live?

And so it is and it looks like it will be for the near future and who’s to say that if peace comes it will last for more than another couple of years.  I look to those who hate, to those who make the decisions to make the right ones, for once.  To end this.  To stop the killing and the bombs and the rockets, before there is no going back.

When will it ever end?

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I watched an episode of the fantastic series Mad Men the other day in which the character Roger told his shrink that life was a series of firsts and once you realised the firsts were few and far between you realised your life was almost over. Well I am certainly feeling very alive right now.  This week was the first time I readied my bomb shelter and the first time I heard a siren telling us to get into that shelter.  I thought I had it covered after the last time.  Nope.

I try to take the news in bite size chunks, it’s easy to work yourself into a panic if you are wired like me and watch too much.  I have read a little bit on the internet and then shut it down.  I don’t want to get into a political debate.  I know what I think and that is enough for me.

I imagine the days to come will continue to hold some firsts for me and that thought chills me.  So many innocent people are suffering in this never ending conflict.  My thoughts are with all those affected both in Gaza and in Israel and hope, once again, that a  speedy, diplomatic resolution brings us all some peace and perhaps plant some seeds of hope for the future.

It’s life Kate, but not as you knew it

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My friend is a teacher back home and her Remembrance Day assembly this year is how wars affect families.  She asked me to write about my family’s experiences, she actually suggested I make a video to which I snorted and said no, although seeing as she is an English teacher I am a bit scared about the grammar mistakes I have made.  Anyway, here’s what I wrote.

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Until 9 years ago war was something that happened on the news, to people in the army and in history.  Then 9 years ago I moved to Israel and war, or at least the constant threat of it has quickly become a part of everyday life. Now I am the not so proud owner of my own gas mask and my home has a bomb proof safe room.

The first time I experienced war first hand was 18 months into living here when the 2nd Lebanon war broke out between Israel and the Hezbollah in Lebanon.  My husband as a serving member of the Israel Defence Force was called up to fight.  In Israel all able men from the age of 18 to around 40 are either serving in the army or are reservists and so despite my husband being a chef and more attuned to baking on a daily basis he also has to be trained and ready to fight as a combat soldier.  When war broke out we knew there was a chance he would go, we thought as a reservist he would be needed to take over from the positions of the career soldiers whilst they went into Lebanon.  Not so.  He called me from the barracks after a week and told me in code he was going in.  That was the last I heard from him, or about him for over a week.  It was my first taste of the real fear that it really could happen to us, that it wasn’t just news and it was truly terrifying.  Life continued as normal in Tel Aviv and if you ignored the fighter jets and choppers flying overhead you wouldn’t know there was a real war going on just an hour’s drive North.  They called Tel Aviv the bubble, a bubble that on his return from whatever he experienced seem unreal and difficult to comprehend.

We now have 3 children and this time last year when the Gaza conflict broke out and the sirens were sounding throughout the middle and south of the country it affected us in a different way.  This time we heard the explosions, saw the soldiers and tanks on route to the South and had to prepare for possible missile attack.  We are lucky enough (so far) to live in the centre of Israel so a few hours from the North and South borders where, in my experience, the missiles fall.  One day during last November my kid’s play park was full of young female soldiers handing out leaflets of what to do to prepare and how to react if the siren sounded.  It also gave clear guidelines on how long each area of Israel had from the alarm sounding to detonation.  We had 2 and a half minutes.

Our children are still very young so were seemingly unaware, although my eldest did ask me why ‘they’ wanted to throw rockets at us.  Tricky to explain the intricacies of war to a 4 year old especially as there are always 2 sides, not always one right and one wrong.  The conflict was mercifully short but the ‘bubble’ that Tel Aviv had lived in was well and truly popped.  We are not really safe anywhere.

This summer’s tensions in Syria brought a new wave of panic as the real threat of chemical attack once again reared its ugly head. We were advised to buy bottled water, to ready the safe room and to make sure our gas masks were in date but for now, that threat has lessened and I hope never becomes a reality.

Since 2004 when I moved to Israel the terrifying terrorist war has quietened down, the bus bombs and unexpected attacks on the general public not so common.  But there is always the fear and you are never far away from armed security and army personnel, nor from those whose friends and family have been injured or killed.  We are vigilant and we try not to panic.  I choose not to talk to my children about it, others tell theirs everything. For me, as a Briton, it is something that I didn’t have to deal with growing up and I want to protect my little ones from the fear for as long as possible.  If we stay here then it will all too soon become part of their everyday life anyway.  My children, like all Israelis will join the army at 18; the boys for 3 years and my daughter for 2.

Although not strictly speaking a war-zone at present, life here is tough; the threat and fear is real and constant.  When the sun is shining and the Mediterranean sparkling it’s hard to envision the ugliness of war.  I cannot imagine how it must have felt to be a mother in Gaza city or Beirut, Iraq or Afghanistan in recent years.  I hope for my family’s sake that we and all families affected by war around the world experience some peace.

Reasons to Celebrate #5: Love

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It seems only fitting that while the world around me goes mad, I should remind myself of the reason I am here in the first place.  Love.  Yeah you can scoff, but as life ticks on its worth remembering, as da Vinci said, ‘Life without love is no life at all’.

Fifteen years ago in the Australian outback I met an Israeli boy.  He had long curly hair, a beard and a name we couldn’t pronounce.  I must admit when I first saw him I was not impressed.  I was waiting at the end of an airstrip in Borraloola in Northern Queensland and he was in the small 2-seater plane I was waiting for,  he was sitting in my seat. I sat in the rack with the vegetables for the hour flight back to the cattle station in the Northern Territory where I lived at the time.  I was not impressed.  He was very quiet on the flight back, in fact I am not sure he said a word, he just kept taking photos of the brown veined land below us. Turns out he has terrible motion sickness.

True to form the ageing pilot and owner of the cattle station had a sleep at the controls and I also dozed off.  After dodging the bush fire licking the end of the airstrip, we pulled the plane to its tin shack and got in the ute for the ride back to the homestead.  The next few days were tense as the fire threatened to encroach on the house and outbuildings and the Israeli boy spent much of his time outside bashing the sun burnt grass with the other farmhands.  He used to come into the big kitchen with the others, faces caked with soot, big white teeth smiling and twinkling blue eyes.  Danger averted we went back to our unusual form of normal and I discovered he had come to replace me as the cattle station cook.

I’d been at the station for a couple of months at this stage and wanted to continue my travels around Oz.  I was the station cook, which in itself is laughable because at this point I was just about capable of rustling up a spag bol.  Still, I was out for an adventure so had ended up in an area as big as Wales with nothing on it but a lot of dust, a cattle station, 40,000 head of cattle, an old fella and a few jackaroos (Ozzie cowboys).  Turned out this Israeli had thought the same, fancied an experience and with zero knowledge of how to cook – there are no pittas in the outback – had answered an ad in a backpackers to come out to nowheresville.

For a week we worked together, I showed him how to make Anzac biscuits and lemon meringue.  He showed me how to recognize the body parts in the briny bucket of offal we kept in the walk in fridge – brains anyone? He also peeled the tongue for me for which I will be eternally grateful.  He told me a bit about where he was from, his family and the army service he had just completed.  I was totally uneducated about Israel; I knew nothing.  A few days later and with a plan to meet at a later date and possibly travel together – he was planning to buy a car with a friend – I left.

It took me 4 days to get back to civilization as I had left via an upturned crate in the aisle of an OAP’s 4 wheel drive tour bus.  It was not a comfortable ride but to be honest I was just happy to be setting out on my next adventure.  At our first overnight stop he called the roadhouse to check I was OK.  Which was nice of him, if a little over friendly.

By the time I arrived in Cairns I was sporting a large lump on my arm.  The pensioners on the bus had all had a good prod at it and had come to the conclusion it was a spider bite and I should get it looked at.  Eventually, a week later in the rainforest, when my arm was swelling, I had a fever and red stripes on my arms did I go to a hospital.  I won’t go into gruesome details suffice to say they cut it out, stitched me up and I put my backpack back on and staggered to the nearest B & B to recover.  Before sleeping for 18 hours I called the cattle station to tell my new friend that I wouldn’t be in Cairns the following week as we’d tentatively agreed.

To be honest the whole arm thing was a bit troubling, I didn’t feel terribly well, I had my arm in a sling, I needed to get another job to get some more money together – the pittance I had earned at the cattle station had been all but spent by the unscheduled medical emergency. All plans to travel anywhere were on hold until I had recovered and earned some more money. One afternoon on returning from the job hunt to the backpacker’s hostel in Port Douglas, the guy on reception told me I had a visitor, and there he was; the wooly Israeli in his foreign looking sandals, eyes twinkling and white teeth smiling.

On hearing I was in the hospital he had left his job and persuaded a couple of pig hunters, who had stopped at the station to give him a ride as far as Normanton where they were headed.  At Normanton he got stuck for a day and a half as no-one would give him a ride apart from the local policeman; hitch hiking was not encouraged in those parts.  He eventually took a ride with a guy who took care of the remote railway lines.  The distances we are talking are quite unfathomable; it’s about 1200km from the cattle station to Port Douglas, where we met again.  Just to give you an idea that’s like driving from London to Barcelona, New York to Chicago but with more than half the way on dirt roads and it’s only in the last few hundred kilometres that you are back in civilization. He’d been hitch-hiking for 5 days. For me.

Fifteen years, three children and three countries later here we are; hearing the booms, watching the news, reassuring friends and family overseas, trying to act as if everything is normal.  It’s not normal, not in my understanding of the word, but much of our life together has not been normal either. I chose to come to Israel for love.  I’m not sure if at any point did I fully understand the implications of the decision, I still don’t.  I do however believe I am one of the lucky ones who has a life blessed with a really great, true love.

The Fear Factor

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It’s not easy living here.  There are a million reasons why, if you’ve seen the news in the past few days you know one of them.  I am not political, I don’t think I am smart enough to understand the intricacies of the situation here.  What I do know is that I live here and sometimes I get scared.  Funny thing is, it’s actually not OK to be scared, if the rockets are not falling near you, if a member of your family or close friend isn’t in the thick of it, then you have to just get on.  Maybe its other’s bravado or maybe I am green and still don’t get that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on the TV, either way I am sometimes a bit embarrassed of my fear.

In 2006 in the middle of the Lebanon war, my husband was a soldier and I was home alone.  It was a time before the childers, so it was just me and the dog at home.  In the middle of the night an alarm went off.  I was petrified, I couldn’t decide what to do first; get dressed, get under the bed, call someone, turn on the news, so I did 3 of the 4.  I called a friend who didn’t pick up, put some clothes on and turned the news on, all whilst sitting on the loo – now I understand the phrase sh*tting yourself.  I was frantically trying to remember where my husband had told me the safest place in the apartment was, I thought I had to get downstairs to the bomb shelter in the basement.

Just as an aside, as a middle England (some might say middle earth) girl, I am still surprised that I live in a place with its own bomb shelter and I have my own gas mask.

Anyway, the news was saying nothing, the siren was still blaring – how much of a warning do you get? –  I looked out onto the street, opened the apartment door; there was no-one in the stairwell, in fact there was just the siren and an eerie lack of movement.  Even in my panic I had remembered to put the dogs lead on (didn’t want him running into danger alone) and we sat, Jesse and I in the stairwell, cuddling, waiting to see what would happen.  I figured that geographically speaking, a bomb from Lebanon would come through the opposite wall and we were at least a little protected (because bombs can’t get through walls right?).

Then silence.  And more silence.  I went back into the apartment and checked the news.  Nothing.  As I came to my senses I realized that the siren didn’t sound like the practice siren I had heard, nor did it sound like the same siren that’s sounded out of respect on Remembrance Day or Holocaust Day.  In fact it sounded rather like a house alarm.  Oops.

That’s fear for you, it gets into your system and eats away at your subconscious so that rational thought (especially when half asleep) doesn’t have a chance to get in.  If it had really been a siren I did just about everything wrong anyway, apart from putting the dogs lead on of course.  I lived in Tel Aviv at that time which was by no means in real danger of being attacked – not so lucky those living further North.  18 months into living here and with a husband in real danger my brain just didn’t think straight.  I can laugh (a lot) about it now but at the time I didn’t tell anyone.  I was embarrassed by my unfounded fear and angry that I had been so ridiculous.

I can’t imagine how the people living with a real siren sounding many times a day, for weeks on end feel. Their fear is truly unimaginable. Let us all hope for a swift and peaceful solution as the situation once again heats up, that the normal people, like you and I, being targeted will soon see an end to their justified fear.

For myself and my family I hope that the next time I hear a siren it is as a mark of respect and not as a warning.