Subs in the Suez

dolphin6Is Israel’s decision to send a Dolphin submarine through the Suez Canal — overtly — a message to Iran, as this Jerusalem Post report suggests?

Well, duh.

Let’s review why. As I wrote back in 2006:

Israel’s long-range Dolphin-class submarines are reportedly able to launch nuclear-tipped Popeye Turbo cruise missiles…

Since the distance from Israel to Iran is far greater by sea than it is by air, Israel would need submarine bases at the end of the Red Sea and in the Indian Ocean in order for the Dolphins to pull within range of their targets.

As luck would have it, Israel has just such bases – according to foreign reports – in the Dahlak Archipelago, off the coast of Eritrea; and off the coast of either India, with which Israel has a flowering military alliance, or Sri Lanka, whose ties with Israel have grown quietly over the past several years. It was off the coast of Sri Lanka that Israel successfully tested – again, according to foreign reports – a submarine-launched cruise missile in 2000.

Remember, also, how the Israel Navy famously intercepted the Karine A arms smuggling ship deep in the Red Sea back in 2002.

For the past several years, Israel has placed significant emphasis on its naval warfare capabilities in general, and on control of the Red Sea in particular. The Dolphin is, actually, a formidable predator, and parading it through the Suez Canal is a not-so-subtle warning.


Durban II? Yawn…

For the record, I don’t care one whit about Durban II. What I do care about is Bushehr, Natanz and Isfahan. Everything else is just a sideshow, and a waste of time.

The pen is mightier…

oliphant-cartoonUh-oh. The ADL is hysterical about this political cartoon by Pat Oliphant that depicts Israeli soldiers as headless Zio-Nazis, rolling over innocent women and children in Gaza. Prepare for the usual “You can’t criticize Israel without being labelled an anti-Semite” nonsense.

The ADL is right, obviously. This cartoon is terrible. But I’ve seen this kind of thing in American newspapers, European newspapers and, of course, Arab newspapers too many times before to be shocked. In fact, I have to say, this particular cartoon is poorly drawn and rather uncreative. This has been done so many times before, and so much “better,” so to speak.

Regarding the content, it stems from this report in Haaretz, according to which veterans of Operation Cast Lead purposely shot at non-combatants. This story has caught on quickly and been embraced with the zeal you might expect from people who are all to eager to envision Israel’s army as being full of jack-booted, blood-thirsty automatons happy to carry out genocide against the poor, helpless, peace-loving innocents who struggle in their spiritual quest for Palestinian self-determination. (Am I laying it on too thick?)

The only problem is that the story is bogus. The soldiers who relayed these harrowing tales of cold-blooded war crimes didn’t actually witness them, it turns out, but were only reporting events they heard had taken place. Once confronted, they even admitted as much. And the head of the academy where these stories were first told is an extreme left-winger whose own writings show a distorted and biased belief that his own army is immoral; it has been suggested, in so many words, that the soldiers in attendance were goaded into telling these tales by this man, or offered them because they thought such reports would please him.

Nonetheless, the bottom line is that these atrocities never happened… but now that they have been immortalized by Oliphant, what does that matter? Those who wanted to believe that the IDF was evil before the cartoon will continue to believe it even after it has been shown to be a lie — probably because they will never bother to read the refutations, or to accept them if they do read them. Nor will they bother to read the accounts of soldiers sending letters of apology and money to Gazans whose homes they commandeered during the raid, or any number of other accounts that reveal an IDF much, much different than the one portrayed in Oliphant’s cartoon.

If Oliphant had any integrity, in fact, he would make some minor adjustments to his cartoon: This time, a headless cartoonist hoisting a pen rather than a sword would push, not a Star of David but whatever symbol represents the pro-Palestinian liberal agenda, steamrolling an Israeli soldier while he consults the strict code of conduct by which he must abide to determine his response to the incoming threat.

I’m not holding my breath.

1,001 Arabian nights

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANSIt was with much skill and cunning and more than a little charm that young Scheherazade entertained Sharyar, weaving enchanting stories whereby, for 1,001 consecutive nights, she bought herself a reprieve from the jealous sultan’s pledge to lop off the pretty maiden’s head.

As Gilad Schalit approaches his own 1,001st night in captivity in Gaza, one wonders what tales have filled his mind and kept the young soldier sane, and hopeful of his own reprieve. Here in Israel, ever since Schalit was kidnapped in a cross-border raid on June 25, 2006, many have been keeping a vigil for him — and repeating a fantasy of their own.

For two and a half years, the question of Schalit’s safe return has come down to what price Israel was willing to pay, i.e., how many Palestinian security prisoners it would release. And all along the government has played a duplicitous game, pretending that it did not accept this demand as a basis for negotiations, while at the same time practically imploring the public to demand that it pay any price necessary to “bring the boy home.”

But there were bumps on that road: Hizbullah attacked the northern border, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert responded with a war so large and so bumbling that poor Schalit became an afterthought. Then Hamas violently overthrew Fatah in the Gaza Strip, making any concession to them unseemly. Then the rocket fire on the Negev became so brazen and so massive that even Olmert could not ignore it anymore, ordering a major incursion that smashed large parts of Gaza City and left no room for negotiations.

Now — in his final days in office — Olmert has dispatched his emissaries to Cairo for one last attempt to appease Hamas and score a stunning victory for himself. If negotiations in Egypt go well, the “prisoner swap” agreement is to be brought before the cabinet on Monday, where it is expected to pass by a slim margin.

Rushing to the defense of such a deal have been not only Schalit’s family, which erected a protest tent in front of Olmert’s residence visited by thousands of supporters — and, especially, politicians who until now have done nothing for Schalit but who suddenly see the profit in embracing the public’s sympathy for his family — but by the media, and even former security figures.

The latest quotes come from Ami Ayalon, speaking in his capacity as former head of the Shin Bet:

“There is no prisoner sitting in an Israeli jail worth Gilad Schalit’s continued captivity,” Ayalon told Israel Radio. “There is simply no one like that.”

He went on to say that freeing 450 “high-level” prisoners on the Hamas list would not necessarily lead to an increase in terror attacks.

“Terror depends less on the identity of terrorists that are freed than on diplomatic horizons and the atmosphere on the Palestinian street,” he said. “I am not ignoring the dilemma, there are contradictory values and people with blood on their hands, but on the other hand, there is a soldier that we recruited to the IDF and sent out to battle.”

Here, in the space of just a few words, is the fantasy that the Israeli people have been sold, the lullaby for their collective conscience that is paving the way for the enormous prisoner release now in the works. For, “there is no prisoner sitting in an Israeli jail worth Gilad Schalit’s continued captivity” is undoubtedly true. Yet it is irrelevant. It is a false equation.

There is no logical connection between the prisoners in Israeli jails and the young Israeli soldier being held ransom in the Gaza Strip. The prisoners were convicted of terrorism and guerilla warfare; they murdered Israelis in the name of jihad, or maimed Israelis while trying to murder them in the name of jihad, or were stopped en route to attempting to murder Israelis in the name of jihad. Their conviction and their incarceration uphold the principle of justice; their release would undermine it. Rather than mitigating the crimes that these people committed, the kidnapping of Gilad Schalit (and the murder of two of his fellow soldiers in the same raid, let’s remember) marks an additional crime above and beyond them. By rights it demands not a softening of Israel’s response toward Hamas and its partners in terrorism, but a hardening of it.

…Alas, this fundamental truth is ignored, and replaced with the idea that, if only we would rid ourselves of several hundred (or possibly well over a thousand!) low-lifes, we could rejoice in the safe return of the precious lad whose cherubic visage we have all been shown over and over again for nearly 1,001 nights.

And when someone has the nerve to ask whether it is wise to send convicted terrorists back to their masters, people like Ami Ayalon come to remind us that “terror depends less on the identity of terrorists that are freed than on diplomatic horizons and the atmosphere on the Palestinian street.” How reassuring!

Nevermind the fact that dozens, if not hundreds, of Israelis have been murdered or maimed at the hands of terrorists who were released from Israeli prisons. Nevermind the fact that terrorism is entirely disconnected from the “diplomatic horizons and the atmosphere on the Palestinian street” but is supremely dependent on terrorists’ belief that they will succeed in weakening their enemy, and that it often comes in a direct attempt to thwart any “diplomatic horizon” from developing. Damn the facts, man, “there is a soldier that we recruited to the IDF and sent out to battle!”

Yes, there is a life at stake, and it is precious. Yet there is absolutely no reason to believe that releasing hordes more of Palestinian terrorists in exchange for Gilad Schalit will prevent the further loss of life, while there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it will in fact cause more of it. When Ariel Sharon negotiated with Hizbullah in 2004 for the return of kidnapped businessman Elhanan Tannenbaum and the bodies of Israeli soldiers killed in a cross-border raid four years earlier, those who warned that releasing more than 400 terrorists was a dangerous precedent were called cold, callous and short-sighted. Yet it was in emulation of that result that Gilad Schalit’s captors dug tunnels under the Gaza border fence in June of 2006 and raided his base in the hopes of dragging home bloodied Israeli soldiers whom they could hold as bargaining chips of their own. And it was due to the success of both those raids that Hizbullah again attacked an IDF patrol along the Lebanese border less than three weeks after Schalit’s capture, succeeding in kidnapping reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

Perhaps the saddest part of this whole saga, though, is that no one has the guts to tell the Schalits the truth: that releasing terrorists in exchange for their son is wrong, and endangers other Israelis; that treating Hamas with trepidation, out of fear for Schalit’s life, only emboldened the movement and invited it to step up its rocket attacks on the Negev, as well as profoundly complicating the recent incursion into Gaza, and that their son’s suffering is a tragedy but that it does not outweigh the greater security concerns of the entire state.

Of course, if Gilad Schalit does return home, it will be right and proper to cheer his freedom and his safety. And when the next Israeli is kidnapped to release even more terrorists, no one will dare ask him whether he feels responsible for it. Unfortunately, though, no one will ask Ami Ayalon or Ehud Olmert that question, either.

So long, Salaam

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANSWell, it finally happened. After numerous threats to do so, Salaam Fayad has tendered his resignation as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority.

As Khaled Abu Toameh explains,

Fayad, from the Third Way Party, was not only an obstacle to the formation of a “unity government,” but as an independent figure, he was regarded by both parties as an outsider.

Many Fatah members have long been demanding the removal of Fayad from power, saying that his efforts to reform the PA were being carried out at the expense of Fatah’s standing.

What bothered Fatah was that most of the international aid was going directly to Fayad’s government and not into the bank accounts of its leaders in Ramallah. Fatah needs a lot of money to buy loyalty and maintain its grip on the PA, and that’s where Fayad was not being cooperative.

Fatah was also worried by the fact that Fayad’s government was not dominated by its men, as was the case in almost all the previous Palestinian governments. Most of Fayad’s ministers were not even affiliated with Fatah.


Hamas and Fatah were worried that the international community would insist on channeling the funds only to Fayad’s government, a move that would have further strengthened his status among the Palestinians at their expense.

This all makes so much sense. I mean, which sane Palestinian would want an independent, internationally recognized economist, unbeholden to either of the parties that have systematically destroyed any chance of a viable Palestinian state, in charge of the billions of dollars in financial aid that foreign donors have lavished on his people?

…And now a “unity” government can be established that will accomplish nothing.

Child’s play

raid-gaza-title-screenVideo games are the newest front in the Israeli-Arab conflict

Kassam rockets are coming in way too fast, raining terror across the western Negev. IAF fighter jets are responding with ferocious bombardments of Gaza City, and tanks are rolling in behind them. The whole chilling scene unfolds on the computer screen… until I hit the “escape” button.

As if the constant stream of television coverage of Operation Cast Lead weren’t enough, several video games depicting the fighting have been posted to popular online gaming sites in the past two weeks. So now the fate of Israelis and Palestinians alike are in the hands of computer geeks from Nebraska to New Zealand.

Look closely at the or Web sites, for example, and you’ll find current events reflected in the list of free games. In Gaza Defender, a Hamas gunman must fire his AK-47 into the sky, shooting at Israeli jets as they drop bombs that tear away at the Gaza skyline. Save Israel is a race against the clock as rockets bombard the South; the goal is to click on the cities being targeted (to sound the Color Red alarm) and then click on the incoming rockets to destroy them before they land.

Two take-offs on the popular “tower defense” game are used to highlight the disparate forces involved in this (real) war. In Raid Gaza, Israel’s high-powered military faces off against woefully inaccurate homemade rockets, in a clear mismatch that leads to an inordinate amount of casualties on the Palestinian side. Likewise, Gaza Defence Force pits a handful of rock throwers against Israeli tanks and planes in an utterly hopeless battle.

These games were put together quickly, using simple Flash programming and a lack of any real plot development. This is Old School electronic warfare, the kind that is controlled with arrow keys, the space bar and a few well-timed left-clicks on the mouse. At the same time, though, these games are becoming a new front in the Israeli-Arab conflict – a battle for hearts and minds that is anything but fun and games.

In 2007, Hizbullah released Special Force 2, a game that recreates the Second Lebanon War through the guerilla army’s eyes. A gunman fights his way through the villages of Aita a-Shaab, Maroun al-Ras and Bint Jbeil, kidnapping Israeli soldiers on patrol, killing an Israeli sniper and destroying the corvette INS Hanit.

For Hizbullah, the game’s worth clearly lies in its propaganda value.

“This game presents the culture of the resistance to children: that occupation must be resisted and that the land and the nation must be guarded,” Hizbullah media official Sheikh Ali Daher said upon the game’s release. “Through this game the child can build an idea of some of… the most prominent battles, and the idea that this enemy can be defeated.”

The 3-D game, Daher added, also “features secrets of the resistance’s victory” that have been depicted “so that the child can understand that fighting the enemy does not only require the gun. It requires readiness, supplies, armament, attentiveness and tactics.”

Meanwhile, in Damascus, Afkar Media is churning out games and movies aggrandizing the Palestinian intifada. A few years ago it released Under Siege, in which the hero – a young man beaten by his Israeli jailors who later joins the armed struggle and takes on soldiers in Gaza and the West Bank. (Interestingly, the game disallows shooting at Israeli civilians or carrying out suicide bombings.) More recently, Afkar released Road Block Buster, in which a Palestinian boy taunts and teases Israeli soldiers and devises ways to circumvent military roadblocks.

In some cases, video games come in response not to an actual battle but to other video games.

After the American company Kuma issued Assault on Iran – “an extremely plausible scenario for delaying or destroying Irans nuclear arms capabilities without kick-starting World War III,” the company wrote – Iran’s Union of Students Islamic Association went to work on a game of its own. It took them three years to produce Rescue the Nuke Scientist, in which Iranian security forces rescue nuclear scientists who are captured by US troops and then smuggled to Israel. The Iranian agents have to infiltrate Israel, kill American and Israeli soldiers, and seize their computers containing secret information.

“This is an entirely Iranian product in response to the US cyber war against Iran,” said the leader of the technical team that produced the game.

“This is our defense against the enemy’s cultural onslaught,” said a leader of the student group – which, incidentally, is the same group that organized the “World Without Zionism” conference in 2005 where President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be “wiped off the map.”

rising-eagle-sayeret-golaniOne can only imagine how much Iranian tempers have been inflamed by Rising Eagle, a rather sophisticated, million-dollar video game released just a few months ago by the Israeli firm Invasion Interactive. Although the game focuses mainly on imaginary clashes between major powers the United States, the European Union and China as they are envisioned in 2040, Rising Eagle also offers the chance to see a futuristic version of the Golani Brigade’s elite reconnaissance unit face off against Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Gaza Strip. (Hebrew signs, graffiti and billboards are all over the virtual background, and actual Golani combat pins decorate the unit.)

If all that fighting turns you off, though, don’t despair. You can always try your hand at Peacemaker, by the Israeli-American partnership Impact Games. The game, meant as an educational tool more than an arcade favorite, gives you the opportunity to try to steer the Israeli-Palestinian peace process through its myriad crises. You can play as either the Israeli or the Palestinian leader, but the goal – calm and a mutually acceptable peace agreement – remains the same in either case.

Calm and a mutually acceptable peace agreement seem especially far off now, however, as much in the gaming world as in reality. And just like in real life, the latest batch of games about the Gaza fighting has created quite a controversy online. Feedback for Raid Gaza, Gaza Defender, Gaza Defence Force and Save Israel has come fast and furious.

Gaza Defence Force is drawing mixed reviews ranging from condemnation to decidedly apolitical delight.

“Innocent people are dying and you make this a joke? …This really isn’t funny. I hope you burn in Hell for making fun of the hundreds of innocent dying people,” wrote one unhappy gamer.

“You’re right,” answered another, “it’s not funny – it’s hilarious!”

Over on the Newgrounds site, where Raid Gaza has gotten more than 190,000 views in just over two weeks, gamers are also divided, but most seemed to support Israel’s position.

“This game is completely biased against Israel,” wrote one. “You make Israel out to be the bad guys, when it is actually Hamas and other terrorist organizations such as Hizbullah.”

Now, the gaming universe is far from peaceful or politically correct. After all, it is filled with games in which players earn points for making an office worker brutally beat his boss to death with office supplies, or for cheating in a soapbox derby race against the pope. Some games are essentially one long fart joke, or a string of bloody massacres. So, being violent and uncouth are practically prerequisites for a video game these days, and all that is considered part of the fun.

One way for games to become controversial, however, is to be realistic. It is one thing, for example, to send a stick figure to his doom, or to fight an army of orcs on an alien planet – but it is another thing entirely to carry out acts of extreme violence against characters that look startlingly like real-life figures, in actual towns, as in the case of Grand Theft Auto.

under-siege-poster1Another way to draw controversy is to relate to current events or ongoing conflicts. No one seems to mind the hundreds of games about World War I-era dogfights, or the elaborate World War II reenactment games; history has clearly judged who the villains were in those conflicts, and in any case the outcomes have already been decided. But games about the September 11 terrorist attacks and the Columbine high school shooting rampage set off waves of protest. It is only natural that any game touching on an issue as sensitive and as divisive as the Israeli-Arab conflict would inspire strong debate.

For the authors of these games, in fact, inspiring strong debate – far more than sheer entertainment – is the point.

Ami Hanya created Saving Israel explicitly for that purpose.

“I did it as propaganda, to get responses,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “For Israelis who might not realize it, I wanted to help people understand the speed with which a rocket strikes.”

Hanya, a teacher and computer programmer (and part-time juggler, too!) from Petah Tikvah, is unlike the creators of the other Gaza games in that he actually makes games for a living. Working for Shoresh, he designs educational computer games about Judaism. His only other foray into war games came two years ago, during the Second Lebanon War, when he designed a simple game that rewards players for shooting Hizbullah’s leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah.

“Actually, I’m not really drawn to shoot-’em-up games,” Hanya confided. “I thought for a long time how I could do this differently, but I realized I had to show the situation as it is.”

Hanya fought in the Gaza Strip during his military service, and he has a lot of family members who live in Ofakim, Beersheba and other cities in range of the rockets being fired from Gaza. To clear up some initial confusion early on about whether his game was intended as criticism of the army for not doing more to stop the rocket attacks sooner, Hanya wrote postscripts to the game that congratulate the IDF (in the Hebrew version)… and declare that Israel “has no choice but to fight this war” (in the English version).

Likewise, Aviv Heilweil created Gaza Defence Force, with its built-in futility, to make a point.

“It’s a big army against kids and stone throwers. In a situation like that, it doesn’t matter who’s right, it’s just absurd. I considered calling the game The Unfair War,” the 25-year-old told the Post.

Heilweil, who works as an advertising director for a marketing firm in the center of the country, designing Internet-based ad campaigns, said it was easier to laugh at the game at the beginning of the war, when he first designed it. “But now that ground troops are involved,” he said, “it’s not really funny. It’s not as entertaining. Humor is always a matter of timing.”

Gamers who don’t laugh at Heilweil’s work have been scorching the comments section of his game page.

“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback. People write me such strange things, most of them pretty absurd. Those who cursed me, I haven’t written back to them, of course,” he joked.

Although the game is short and simple – and, of course, unwinnable – it has caught on.

“The whole thing has sort of taken on a life of its own. Apparently it’s very popular in Turkey,” he said.

“It’s nice to know that what I did made some waves,” Heilweil said, “and maybe it even somewhere, somehow, in a twisted way, made a small difference in people’s perspectives of war.”

The first-time game designer is encouraged by those who said they had learned something about the conflict, and now he is considering doing a new game about the 1948 War of Independence. “I’ve been talking with friends about a game about 1948. It’s the kind of thing that could change perceptions on the whole history of this conflict,” he said.

The possibilities are endless, Heilweil feels.

“If the Foreign Ministry takes up the idea of using games in its PR campaigns, it can be really strong,” he said. “My game has reached millions of gamers all over the world. If I can do this in a day-and-a-half, just imagine what can be done with some funding and a few more days.”

The IDF is posting video clips of its operations in Gaza to YouTube. Could Israel soon officially use video games as propaganda, or as a recruitment tool? We’ve already seen Hizbullah and Iran embrace the medium. The US Army has its own video game unit, even, for designing training simulators, and its free, downloadable video game America’s Army is considered to be its most effective and high quality recruitment tool. So conceivably, video games could play a role in Israel’s future PR efforts, or games like Rising Eagle could be used to help prepare troops for combat.

On the other hand, though, these games could all amount to just another passing fad in cyberspace. As one reviewer of the games made by Hizbullah and the Iranian student group wrote: “How effective are video games, really, as a means of indoctrination? When I play Ghost Recon 2, I’m not focused on the geopolitical implications of Mexican rebels having nukes, I’m just trying to hit the target.”

At least there’s that. Hitting the target is something you can do with these games, no matter whose side you’re on.

Homeward bound?

noymansMaybe you really can’t go home again. But for a few former Gush Katif settlers now serving in the IDF, Operation Cast Lead is a long-awaited opportunity to return to the Gaza Strip.

To be sure, it’s not a standard homecoming. Itai Noyman, for example, a 21-year-old tank commander who grew up in the Jewish settlement of Neveh Dekalim, is currently deployed inside Gaza. A few days ago, as the IDF was bisecting the strip to cut off the movement of Hamas gunmen and their weapons, Itai let his parents know that he had reached the ruins of the former settlement of Netzarim.

The irony of the situation is not lost on the Noyman family.

Back in Gush Katif, Itai’s father Yossi owned a cement factory, where he employed Palestinians from Khan Yunis and the Muwassi area.

“Before the ‘expulsion’ they helped us put up our protest signs,” says Yael Noyman, Itai’s mother. “I know, it’s surprising, right? We asked them, do you know what these say? And they said, oh, sure, we understand.”

The family is still in touch with many of those workers, Noyman says, and they aren’t shy about saying how much they miss the Jews. “Boy, are they really crying now,” she says, referring less to the current fighting than to the stagnation and hardship that have characterized the Gaza Strip since the disengagement in 2005. “They’re just waiting for the Israelis to come back in on their tanks and put everything back to the way it was.”

Should one of those tanks turn out to be Itai’s, all the better. “I hope the army finishes this operation like it needs to be done, and doesn’t simply push for a cease-fire,” she says. “If we don’t destroy Hamas, we will have accomplished nothing.”

Even though her son is in the thick of things as the fighting rages in Gaza, Noyman says she hopes the IDF “really goes in and puts things in order there.”

Aside from being engaged in battle, former Gush Katif residents serving in Gaza right now are not authorized to talk to the press. Family members who have been quoted in the past few days, however, report high morale and a special sense of purpose among them.

“Itai is so eager to go into Gaza and fight. It’s how he was raised and what he’s been trained for, after all,” Yael says.

But Itai is not the only Noyman family member involved in the fighting. His father Yossi, a retired major who is no longer required to perform reserve duty because of his age but has volunteered to do so nonetheless, was called up on the first night of the operation to join his unit at the Southern Command’s logistics base.

THAT LEAVES Yael at home in the “caravilla” site at Nitzan, north of Ashkelon, that houses so many of her former neighbors. It’s a place very much clinging to the past, with all sorts of businesses named after Neveh Dekalim and a “museum” documenting the settlement and subsequent “expulsion” of Jews from the Gaza Strip at the entrance to the site.

Nitzan is also a place where people are trying to move on as well, though. Passion fruit vines, heavy with ripening fruit, are thriving, climbing over roofs of dozens of the temporary homes here. Many of the families, including the Noymans, have begun construction on their new (permanent) homes on lots nearby, and younger evacuees are beginning to receive building permits for subsidized housing, too.

The IDF’s incursion into the Gaza Strip is reopening the wounds of the disengagement that had just begun to heal. Itai Noyman, his mother says, is fighting now, but he delayed his induction for two years. “He never thought he wouldn’t serve,” Yael explains, “but he needed time to heal and put things in perspective before he could.”

What remains to be seen is whether Itai and other soldiers like him will be able to maintain that perspective as the fight continues. The early success of Operation Cast Lead is also allowing evacuees to entertain thoughts – three years later, now that they have begun to move forward – of returning to the places they left so reluctantly.

Dror Vanunu, for example, finds the possibility of returning to Neveh Dekalim after an IDF conquest of the Gaza Strip tantalizing. Like a lot of his neighbors, Vanunu blames the current crisis on the “messianic zeal” of Israeli leaders to concede the land and the infrastructure that Gaza’s Jewish settlers developed “in exchange for an illusory peace.”

He is waiting for an expected call-up to reserve duty with mixed emotions, saying he would eagerly fight “if the purpose is to uproot that Nazi-like and Taliban-like regime entirely,” but if the goal is “only to make sure that rockets stop for a short time, or are minimized, then it wouldn’t be worth risking life and limb.”

“We have to destroy Hamas,” Vanunu says, but “if I’m going back to Gaza, I have to know that we’re not going to mess around.”

While Vanunu allows himself to imagine a triumphant return to Neveh Dekalim, the Noymans, Yael says, won’t be joining him. They spent 23 years in the settlement and miss it terribly, and yet…

“To start fighting again? Personally, I couldn’t see myself doing it,” Yael says, sighing. “But if my kids were to be able to go back some time,” she adds, her voice and expression making it clear she holds out little hope of it happening, “I’d be happy.”

NOTHING IS conquered yet, though, and tensions are running high in Nitzan – as in all the towns within range of the rocket fire that persists despite Israel’s massive aerial bombardments in Gaza. Yael, who works for the Education Ministry instructing kindergarten teachers in the Gaza periphery, says the impact of the rocket threat is much greater than what she faced in Neveh Dekalim.

“We had thousands of mortar shells rain down on us,” she recalls, “but the rockets are much more frightening. The Kassams make such a big ‘boom.’

“I don’t know,” she says with a shrug, “maybe it’s just that we have grown older. Maybe it’s that we’re living in these flimsy wooden homes without a reinforced room. But sitting here and wondering what we can do, and where we can go, is terrible.”

The spread of the threat beyond the immediate Gaza area, far into Israel, is a bitter and unsatisfying vindication of the warnings that Gaza settlers made for years.

“When we said there would be rockets in Ashkelon, everyone laughed at us. They said there wouldn’t even be one single rocket. “Now, there are rockets in Beersheba, and everyone can see that we were right,” Noyman says.

“Before,” she continues, “we absorbed the blows. Now others are seeing what it’s like. Now everyone is seeing that you can’t just build a bypass road and consider the problem solved.”

OUTSIDE, WORKERS are installing massive concrete sewage pipes that will serve as improvised protective measures. Coming in place of shelters or reinforced “safe rooms” for the 500 families living at the Nitzan caravilla site, they are meant to provide a modicum of protection from the impact of a rocket strike.

“I don’t understand why it took until now for the government to set these up here,” Noyman says. “I mean, in [nearby] Carmiyah, they were provided with reinforced security rooms immediately after the first rocket strike. Here, we have just waited and prayed. I have drilled taking cover under the table with the kids over and over… but what good would that do?”

“Ahh,” she says, trying to let the fear and frustration go, “the very idea of a ‘secure room’ in a caravilla is an oxymoron anyway.”

In any case, she says, the answer to the rockets lies in offense rather than defense.

“We can’t just sit around and wait for a miracle,” she says.

In so much as they represent an improvement from what she has had until now, Noyman is relieved to see the pipes in place. But, she says, “I’m not sure we’d make it into them. I mean, I imagine the Color Red alarm going off in the middle of the night, and I don’t know how I could possibly get there, with my children, by myself, in 30 seconds. And that’s just us. There are 40 of us in this cul-de-sac. How are we all going to fit in there?”

Not everyone is taking the cautious approach to the pipes, however. In one, someone has wedged plywood slabs and mattresses, as if they were expecting an extended stay inside. Might as well make themselves at home.

All across Nitzan, children are eagerly playing around and inside the pipes, some of them inventing games that incorporate the pipes as they go along. Although they are simple, dusty concrete tubes marked only with “Home Front Command” and “Defense Ministry Construction Department” in dark stenciled paint, almost immediately they become blank canvases in the hands of eager little graffiti artists. Stick figures in brightly colored chalk spring up in twos and threes – usually identified as either “Hamas” or “Arabs” – with what are meant to be F-16s scrawled above them, dropping bombs. Along one such rudimentary narrative are large English block letters reading “Kasm” and “bom,” in classic children’s misspelling.

Watching the children outside her door decorating the pipe in her driveway, Noyman thinks back to her 23 years in Neveh Dekalim and ponders what kind of graffiti she would like to leave.

“I think,” she says after a long while, “I would just write, ‘We told you so!’”