Wednesday, July 30, 2014

There's 'A Possibility of Violence' in Holon

Inspector Avraham Avraham is back. Following the trauma and failure of his previous case, Avraham took some time away from the Holon Police department to be with his girlfriend in Belgium. Upon his return to the interrogations room, chills go through his body. He feels like he is "leaping from a cliff into a stormy sea, with no preparations."

An explosive device has been found in a suitcase next to a day care center in a quiet neighborhood. A suspect is being held, but not enough evidence connects the man to the crime, and he is released. Avraham learns that threats have been made to the woman in charge of the center, but she never reported them and doesn't admit to them now. Avraham feels that there is more to this case than what meets the eye.

He begins to suspect an older man, a father of two whose wife is apparently overseas. This man is making travel plans; Avraham fears that the suspect is not only escaping from the scene of his crime, but that he has very dangerous intentions once he gets to his destination. Acting on his gut instincts, Avraham pursues this lead, convinced that he has uncovered something far more serious than the suitcase found near the day care center.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

War Drains Your Creativity

There is so much more I could say to support Israel's war against the terrorists. I could justify the use of force, argue for the right to self defense, but not now. I will not use these lines to mourn the lives of Israeli soldiers, or the horrific loss of life among the Palestinian civilian population. I will not ponder the possibilities for peace between the sides. This is not that article.

I cannot claim to be suffering. Lives have been lost, homes destroyed, but I'm okay. While there have been rocket attacks and sirens that have sent me running for cover, the dangers have been minimal. I live in a community far from the front. From my backyard I can hear the distant thunder of the Israeli army's artillery as it pounds into Gaza, and the boom of an occasional rocket interception overhead, but I live in relative safety.

Still, this war is affecting me. I find it hard to concentrate, to come up with new ideas, or to revise old ones. As a writer currently editing a new novel, I cannot escape what is happening and dive into my writing wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Where I Stand on the War in Gaza

I really didn't want to write this article. I prefer to blog about why people should visit Israel, and how beautiful and peaceful the country is. I prefer to write travel reports, book reviews and articles offering advice to my fellow aspiring writers. But today, things are a bit different and I feel the need to tell readers where I stand.

The simple fact is that my country is at war. We are fighting a deadly battle with terrorists - terrorists who seek to kill as many Israelis as they can and who don't hesitate to fire rockets and crawl through tunnels to prove that this is indeed their intention. As an Israeli, I believe my country is fighting a just war to protect and defend our homes, to ensure our very right to live.

Unfortunately, most of the world doesn't see things the same way. Israel is castigated by the media and violent riots have broken out all over Europe. Even the United States and the United Nations, while acknowledging Israel's right to self defense, declare that Israel must cease its fire because too many Palestinians have been killed.

It is in the context of this war, and the world's criticism of my country, that I feel obliged to state where I stand, to tell the truth about what is happening, and to let readers know what I believe. With these words, I speak only for myself, but I believe many other Israelis feel the same way.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Driving through Gaza City at Midnight

I remember that the streets were very narrow, very dark. The mosques were empty and the stores had their shutters down. It was quiet; there was no one about in the middle of the night. And, I remember feeling very safe, sitting in the back seat of an Israeli army jeep driving through Gaza City, even while wearing the green uniform that identified me as an IDF soldier.

This was long ago, in the late 1970s, when I was doing my three years of conscripted service in the army. Some ten years after Israel captured the Gaza Strip in the Six Day War, the area was mostly peaceful. Israeli soldiers had frequently fought Palestinian militants based in Gaza, but when I arrived, I really didn't have anything to fear.

My short stay in Gaza happened before there were any Israeli settlements there. It was before the violence of the first Intifada, and almost 30 years before Israel dismantled its settlements as part of the unilateral disengagement plan.

Hamas, designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, Canada, and many other countries, took over the Gaza Strip in 2007. From its Gaza base, Hamas continued to launch terrorist operations targeting Israeli soldiers and civilians. More than 1,200 rockets have been fired into Israel since the start of the latest outbreak of hostilities.

As I write these lines, Israeli forces are on the ground in Gaza; an Israeli soldier lost his life overnight.

With my father at an army base; I was apparently on guard duty at the time.

I had no fears at all entering Gaza as a teenager serving in the Israeli army. At the time, Gaza was just another Palestinian area under Israeli control, raising no unusual concerns. It was an era of peaceful coexistence. My family had visited Jericho and freely driven through Ramallah and Nablus on our travels in Israel. My father used to take a daily bus trip via Hebron on his way to a job in Beer Sheva. Workers from Bethlehem came every day to their jobs in Jerusalem. Israelis shopped in the markets of Tulkarm and Kalkilya. Gaza was just as quiet as these other cities and towns.

I must clarify that I did not serve in the army as a combat soldier. Due to a lowered physical profile, I served most of my time in uniform at a medical supply base in the center of Israel. The rest of my service in the Nahal army branch was devoted to establishing a new kibbutz in Israel's southern desert.

It was a bit exciting for me to be part of an army unit setting up a new base in the Gaza Strip, not far from the Mediterranean Sea. I'm not sure today, where exactly this base was located, but at the time, I remember it being on a desolate hill, surrounded by sand dunes. There were no Palestinian homes or fields in sight. The prefabricated buildings had never been used before. Water arrived daily in a tanker truck. A noisy generator provided electricity in the mess hall.

We served many shifts of guard duty at the base, although it wasn't clear what we were guarding against. One dark night, when the stars seemed to be swallowed by an unfamiliar sky, a shot rang out. One of the soldiers had heard a suspicious noise and, in an infringement of standing orders, had quickly fired. It was just a mule, grazing nearby; the animal escaped unscathed. That single, misguided shot was probably the scariest thing of my entire army service.

My sisters, Debby and Judy, came to visit me at the base.

For some reason, I gravitated into an administrative position. My job was to go out each morning and list the activities of my fellow soldiers, who were busy stretching lengths of barbed-wire fencing, something we called concertina, to protect the base. Even though I was far from being an officer, I felt a bit haughty in my clerical duty. It gave me a chance to talk to the other soldiers, and kept me from participating in the manual work.

One morning I approached the sharp barbs of the fencing, ready to list the names of the soldiers in my notebook. I don't recall exactly how it happened, but I fell against the fence, deeply gashing the palm of my hand. As I held a cloth against the blood, I hurried back to the base's office to get bandaged.

All my life I've had a problem seeing blood, especially when it's pouring out of a wound in my body. Arriving in the office, I saw a mass of red on my hand. I passed out. The next thing I knew, I was lying on the linoleum floor, with a damp cloth pressed against my forehead. But, I couldn't see much of anything else. As I fainted, I had landed on my glasses, breaking one of the lenses.

I was sent north, away from the Gazan base. I hurried to an optician to fix my glasses. After a brief vacation, I was reassigned to the medical supply unit. I would never return to the Gaza Strip.

This all sounds so trivial now, when young Israeli soldiers are fighting in Gaza, endangering their lives so that the citizens of Israel, including me, can live in security, without the fear of rockets falling from the sky. Maybe someday, the Gaza Strip will be free of Hamas, offering a chance of peaceful coexistence. Maybe one day, it will again be possible to drive safely through the streets of Gaza City at midnight.

With my mother; this time I'm in dress uniform at a different base.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Yesterday Evening, Hamas Fired Rockets at My House

I was driving home from work yesterday with music playing on the radio when the announcer broke into the broadcast with urgent messages. "Red Alert in Jerusalem; Red Alert in Beit Shemesh; Red Alert in Maale Adumim." A 'Red Alert' notification indicates that a rocket has been launched from the Gaza Strip and is bound for part of Israel, warning citizens in that area to run for their bomb shelter or safe room. The announcer continued to list communities endangered by the incoming rockets. "Red Alert in Abu Gosh; Red Alert in Nataf; Red Alert in Neve Ilan."

Neve Ilan! That is the name of my small community in the Judean Hills, west of Jerusalem. While I couldn't hear it while driving on the highway, an air raid siren had sounded in Neve Ilan and other places nearby. My wife went to sit in our stairwell, as with the lack of any other shelter, it is supposedly the safest area of our house. And then she heard booms.

The rockets launched from Gaza were intercepted in the sky over our area by Israel's Iron Dome air defense system. The Hamas has launched hundreds of rockets at Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Beer Sheva, Jerusalem, and even at Haifa. But when the rockets exploded in the sky over my home, it was a bit frightening, to say the least.

Monday, July 7, 2014

How My Debut Huffington Post Article Went Viral

The first article I wrote and published on The Huffington Post has been "liked" as of this moment by 14,753 readers. It has been shared on Facebook 3,605 times and tweeted 225 times. In addition, the unauthorized (but very much appreciated) translation of the article into Bulgarian has been read in that language by 10,717 people.

I can't believe that my debut Huffington Post went viral!

My article was titled "10 Amazing Things You Didn't Know About Bulgaria" and the response was overwhelming. Fellow authors asked me how I managed to get published at the Huffington Post. Bulgarians praised my positive insights about their country. And others, including myself, were astounded at how viral this article became.

How did all this come about?

I had been thinking about blogging on The Huffington Post for some time. In addition to posting book reviews on The Times of Israel and writing articles offering advice to other aspiring authors, I enjoy writing about my travels, both in Israel and abroad. I felt that blogging on The Huffington Post would be a good outlet for my writing, as well as help establish my platform as an author.

The unauthorized Bulgarian translation of my article also went viral.

If you're interested in writing a blog at The Huffington Post you must pitch your idea to them. There is a link on the website, but before you send off your proposal, make sure that you are familiar with the way posts appear there. The first step is having quality content, and then it should be presented in an easy-to-read fashion, complete with appealing images. And, most important of all, you must have a catchy title for the story.

As soon as my article was published, I began to tweet about it, as well as share it with my contacts in Bulgaria. But then, the article began to take on a life of its own. Before I knew it, the number of "likes" on the page had skyrocketed. Readers shared the article with their friends. It appeared on numerous news feeds before I even had a chance to share it myself on Facebook.

The article generated interest in the highest echelons of European politics. Among others, my article was tweeted by:

* The president of the European Chess Union
* The former Vice Prime Minister / Defense Minister of Bulgaria
* The European Union's Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response

In addition, hundreds of ordinary Bulgarians read the article, in English as well as in their native language. Many of them contacted me and thanked me for writing a positive review of their country.

I was quite shocked by the success of this article. It certainly gives me the motivation to begin writing my next travel blog article, although, I doubt it will see as much social media sharing.

If you haven't yet read my article, click now to "10 Amazing Things You Didn't Know About Bulgaria". As I finish writing these lines, the number of "likes" has reached 14,800. But by the time you click through, it might be higher still.

Friday, July 4, 2014

On the Trail of the Sarajevo Haggadah

How an illuminated manuscript inspired me to travel to the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I first learned of the Sarajevo Haggadah when I read the novel, People of the Book, by Australian-born author Geraldine Brooks. The book, inspired by a true story, tells the harrowing journey through the ages of a beautifully illuminated Hebrew manuscript. This colorful holy book was spared destruction during World War Two when it was saved by an Islamic scholar and hidden in a village mosque. Its history goes back even further, to 14th century Spain and Venice.

The novel fascinated me. It was also exciting to learn that one of the characters in the story, a member of the partisans fighting against the Nazis, was based on a true person, the mother of one of the members of the moshav where I live near Jerusalem.

I couldn't stop thinking about Sarajevo, a city famous for its cultural religious diversity.