As I was driving home from work late Wednesday night, it became clear that the assault would begin within hours. On two radio stations the Home Front Command instructed the public to open their protective kits, offering tips on how to operate the gas masks and advising everyone to carry the masks at all times. Another station, which usually airs Hebrew pop music, broadcast the same instructions in Russian, English, French and Arabic, while people were requested to tune in to a fourth station before going to sleep and to keep it on all night. This is the “silent channel,” which broadcasts instructions only in times of emergency.
The following morning the Tel Aviv municipal airport was packed with families fleeing for Eilat. A friend called to report that only 35 percent of the pupils attended her son’s school in Ramat Gan, the city in which the Scud missiles fell in 1991. Yet she, like most of my acquaintances, did not prepare a sealed room, suggesting that alongside the general panic, people do not actually believe that Iraq will attack Israel. Hardly anyone was seen walking the streets with gas mask in hand, as opposed to 1991, when people carried them wherever they went.
Meanwhile, a group of activists gathered in front of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, which was scheduled to discuss the expulsion of Palestinian cave dwellers from the South Hebron hills. They actually wore their masks, declaring that the real existential threats to Israel are the poisonous gases of racism and apartheid being employed by the government and settlers, not Saddam Hussein.
The media failed to report this protest. The preparation for war has managed to eclipse almost all forms of opposition, particularly those relating to the two major issues confronting Israel: the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians and the internal economic crisis. Accordingly, the Israeli press hardly mentioned the death of American peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was run over on March 16 by a Caterpillar military bulldozer while trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home. The fact that per capita food consumption has declined by 30 percent in the Gaza Strip and that the population is experiencing severe malnutrition equivalent to levels found in poorer sub-Saharan countries (as recently reported in a Johns Hopkins University study) does not warrant even a short commentary.
The media blackout has not, however, demoralized the activists. On Saturday, 300 members of Ta’ayush, the Arab Jewish Partnership, broke the military siege, delivering thirty tons of flour to six Palestinian villages. Simultaneously, Yesh Gvul (“There Is a Limit”) protesters held a vigil outside a military jail where twelve conscientious objectors are being held for refusing to take part in Israel’s subjugation of the occupied Palestinians. The imprisoned objectors called upon the American, British and Australian soldiers fighting in Iraq to fulfill their democratic duty and refuse to participate in an unjust war.