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After Ceasefire: Normalization

*Jerusalem Journal

Posted: August 17, 2006

There are still a few traumatized people, children mostly, who are refusing to emerge from the bomb shelters in the north. But the majority of the half million Israelis who fled their homes in the Galilee have heeded the Home Front Command's "all clear" and have started to return to their homes. Over 8,000 of the dwellings were blasted, windowless and otherwise damaged from the 3,968 Katyusha rockets Hezbollah fired in the 33 days of what we are calling "The Second Lebanon War."

Some 50 hours after the cease fire went into effect most of us Israelis are licking our wounds in the only way we know how: getting on with life. Need proof of just how resilient Israelis are? Two days after the last Katyusha rocket struck, after the last of 117 soldiers and 41 civilians were killed, even as some funerals were still going on, the front pages of the newspapers didn't deal with the war. Instead, the banner headlines reported about a financial scandal involving the IDF Chief of General Staff, Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, the indictment of a politician for alleged graft and charges of sexual misconduct by a government minister. 

Ah, business as usual. In fact, some of us Israelis are rushing to make reservations with hotels and guest houses in the north to get in a vacation before school starts in two weeks so the summer can be recouped. And it may also be motivated by a sense of patriotic duty to help those folks recover.

It's clean up time in Israel now. Friends in Jerusalem have made copies of their front door keys for all the refugees that flowed through their homes. Refugees had become bored and satire programs joked about how to get "your" refugee family to stop tormenting the family dog. With the refugees gone we marvel how our houses and apartments suddenly seem so big.

Officials in the Galilee are also saying the pace of the repairs is also mindboggelingly quick. Teams of property tax assessors have swarmed in with contractors closely behind itching to work, as fire crews hose down the streets and national radio stations play lively summer tunes to beat the August heat. It's like collective national group therapy.

And while Hezbollah leader "Sheik" Hassan Nasrallah is claiming victory, we comfort ourselves by the fact that he is doing so from a secret underground bunker in a pre-recorded video clip smuggled out.

The basic theme in Israeli society is that we are a normal place with a big collective heart.

Well, actually we are still a country where we are reminded occasionally that everything is still at stake. We are, like adolescents, still defining ourselves and care deeply in what others - the world, the Arabs, the foreign media - say about us. Never mind that our soldiers whipped Hezbollah in every clash, in every encounter, killing them at a ratio of six to one. We Israelis embrace our freedom of expression by complaining, loudly. "There wasn't enough ammo." "The decisions were all wrong." "Why is Nasrallah still alive?" "Nobody loves us."

This war reminded us that life in Israel is epic and society is clearly interested in what its citizens do and makes sure to maintain a deep sense of identity and heritage.

My 16-year old daughter Jessie spent this past week, like many of her friends, as a volunteer counselor at the massive refugee tent city set up on the Nitzanim beach. There she helped with the youth sent south on buses without their parents in a modern-day version of the Kindertransport. She has classmates whose boyfriends were soldiers killed in Lebanon. And for the first time she began speaking about her own army service in two years time. When they are born we all dream our kids won't have to be drafted. But for her, it has been a given. We Israelis have been taught a lesson that war is expensive.

We have learned that 33 days is not Six Days. That it is not good to die for one's country, to paraphrase pre-state icon Yosef Trumpeldor. It hurts to see the newspapers filled daily with the photos of the conscripts and reservists who fell in the war.  This summer has shown us that we continue to strive for fulfillment of the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

* By Arieh O'Sullivan, Director of Communications at ADL's Israel Office in Jerusalem.

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2006 Anti-Defamation League