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October 26, 1990 - Image 41

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-10-26

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

I ISRAEL I

INA FRIEDMAN

Special to the Jewish News

erusalem — Anyone
with a tendency
toward claustrophobia
should definitely avoid the
Middle East these days, and
especially Israel. This tiny
land, which too often seems
to be suffocating under a pall
of hatred between Arabs and
Jews, now has a new symbol
for the mood of being shut in
against a hostile world: the
gas mask.
These masks are one com-
ponent of a self-defense kit
now being distributed by the
government at special ad hoc
stations in community
centers and schools. In one
neighborhood on the western
side of Jerusalem, families
drifted into the community
center slowly, with everyone
from toddlers to grand-
parents in tow.
They were treated first to a
training video, shown,
rather unfortunately, in the
school's air-raid shelter, but
designed to set a tone of calm
and quiet by portraying a
remarkably self-possessed
family taking a gas attack in
its stride. Conspicuously ab-
sent in the film are any
adult males (all of whom are
presumably mobilized), leav-
ing it to the women and chil-
dren to handle the emergen-
cy on their own. In addition
to acquainting recipients
with the contents of the self-
defense kits — a gas mask
and special antidotes
against nerve and mustard
gas — the film demonstrates
how to seal the windows and
doors of the room where
civilians will take shelter
and wait out an attack. Like
everything else about this
subject, the preparations for
sealing oneself in and nox-
ious gases out are depicted
as a family affair.
Stage two of the briefing is
the hands-on demonstration
of the equipment, done by

Ina Friedman is a free-lance
journalist based in Jerusalem.

P hoto by R N S/Reu te rs

j

Soldiers help Israeli teens try on gas masks.

An Eerie Calm

Israelis are preparing for war with
relative calm. Is that due to con-
fidence or denial?

young women soldiers in a
crisp, professional style.
Since the recipients of the
kits are under strict orders
not to open them until a
state of emergency is
declared, this is one time
they can actually see and try
out the equipment. Not sur-
prisingly, the mood at this
stage is particularly intense
and somber, as people con-
centrate on every word and
movement.
The instructor recited the
grim litany of symptoms
brought on by nerve gas —
dizziness, suffocation,
spasms, and the excessive,
uncontrollable excretion of
body fluids in every form:
urine, feces, sweat, saliva,
tears, and mucus — and ex-
plained how to self-
administer an injection of
atropine.
At question time the chil-
dren asked if there are any
special injections or powders
for dogs and cats, the first

suggestion that a loved one
might actually be in mortal
danger. School-aged chil-
dren, having already drilled
in civil-defense exercises,
are old hands at putting on
gas masks, and many are
eager to try them on again.
Toddlers react less well.
Four-year-old Tali panicked

"This used to be
the stuff of science
fiction," one mother
said. "Suddenly it's
become all too
real."

when a young soldier tried to
fit her for a mask. Her
mother softly cajoled her by
comparing the mask to the
costumes Israeli children
delight in wearing on Purim.
But Tali, eyeing the black
rubber warily, wasn't buy-

ing that line. "I don't want
to dress up as a piglet," she
protested vehemently. "I
want to be a queen."
"This used to be the stuff
of science fiction," her
mother mumbled with a
shrug of helplessness.
"Suddenly it's become all too
real. I don't know quite how
we're going to deal with it."
The atmosphere was
somewhat different in the
Orthodox neighborhood of
Har Nof, where large
families piled into the brief-
ing rooms and the instruc-
tors had to compete with cry-
ing infants and nervous
chatter. The questions were
a bit more lively, the mood
even slightly angry, since
the special hoods for men
with beards are not yet
available, and the pious
have been told that they will
have to shave to make their
masks fit properly.
No children volunteered to
demonstrate the donning of

masks, but parents here
seemed far less finicky about
exposing their young to the
harsh realities of life;
fathers simply carried their
children forward to have the
masks fit on. After the dem-
ons tr ation, the adults
crowded around a small
table to try the masks on
themselves, beards and
headgear notwithstanding.
Some even turned the day
into a memorable occasion;
flash-bulbs went off as two
English-speaking families
immortalized the scene for
friends and relatives in
America.
Within a few weeks all
Israelis and other perma-
nent residents will be
equipped with these kits.
The Palestinians in
Jerusalem receive them free
(since the Israeli govern-
ment regards the entire city
as sovereign territory), but
those living in the West
Bank and Gaza will have to
pay about $100 per kit. Some
observers have ventured
that these gas masks may
soon turn up at violent dem-
onstrations. In fact, grinning
young Palestinians
unabashedly told an Israeli
TV reporter that they would
use their masks for protec-
tion against gas from "both
Arab and Jewish sources."
That was to be anticipated.
What was not expected is the
restraint with which the
Jewish public has responded
to the distribution of gas
masks, and all that it
implies. Civil-defense offi-
cials believed that Israelis
would rush to the distribu-
tion stations and pounce on
the kits. Instead, they have
found that only 72 percent of
the people eligible for gas
masks have bothered to pick
them up. "We were prepared
for panic," one official told a
radio interviewer, "and
what we got is indifference."
That is something of an
exaggeration, but there is
reason to wonder about the
near-equanimity with which
Israelis are treating the pro-
spect of an attack with

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

41

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