Bicycle Diaries: On Katyushas and SCUDS - Part II

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On Katyushas and SCUDS - Part II

During the Iraqi SCUD attacks on Israel in January 1991, I was living in Jerusalem. I had gone there to do Ph.D. research on the Jews coming to Israel from the Soviet Union. A few weeks before I had met an American rabbinical student who was going to Hebrew Union College. Benny was staying in the HUC house just outside the walls of Old Jerusalem. Many folks from Tel Aviv and Haifa had de-camped to Jerusalem on the assumption that Saddam Hussein wouldn't attack the third holiest site in Islam. So Benny invited me to stay in his room.

Over the two weeks when SCUDs were falling we stayed mostly in his room with our trusty gasmasks hanging from our shoulders in small cardboard boxes. Alerts for possible attacks were broadcast on the Silent Radio Station. Everyone was supposed to leave their radios set to this government station which only broadcast alerts. The rest of the time, there was only static.

As it became clear that Jerusalem wasn't being targeted, the bored and the claustraphobic started to come out of their plastic-wrapped rooms. Some folks would watch the night attacks on Tel Aviv or Haifa from their roofs. We did this twice. Ever since I've never watch 4th of July fireworks in the same way.

Other folks, mostly Sephardic taxi drivers, hung out in the streets waiting for fares that rarely came. From time to time they would look up to the sky and flip it the bird, yelling in Arabic, "Hey Saddam! You son-of-a-bitch! Come and get us! We'll fuck you up!"

One night Benny and I were so bored with the whole business we decided to go to a Chinese restaraunt popular with the HUC students. Five of us crammed into the tiny establishment run by an old Viet Namese refugee couple. While we were waiting for our kosher dishes, the Silent Radio Station crackled to life. Immediately we asked the owners where their sealed room was. The husband looked at us, shrugged and pointed to the kitchen. Putting on our gasmasks, we trooped into the small kitchen.

Now the thing you have to understand about these sealed rooms is that the doors an any windows has to be completely covered in plastic sheeting. This sealed room had no windows but the two doors at either end had no plastic. And the one leading in from the dinning room was a swinging door!

But even more surreal was the fact that as the five of us stood there, the owners and their two daughters calmly went about their business preparing wantons without a gasmask in sight. I guess, having survived the Communist take-over of Viet Nam and refugee camps in Thailand, these boat people weren't all that concerned with Saddam's crappy attacks.

After twenty minutes the all-clear sounded. We took off our gasmasks and simply went back to the table to finish our meals.

This is what I remember as I watch the rocket attacks on northern Israel. The big difference this summer is that Hezbollah has more reliable, albeit smaller, rockets supplied by both Syria and Iran. These may not be as accurate as SCUDs but the high population density in northern Israel means Hezbollah is more likely to hit something important. And it lives in the neighborhood no farther from northern Israel than Chicagoans live from Gary, IN.

Think about that whatever your opinion might be regarding the causes of all this.

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