Saturday, January 10, 2009

What kind of sick people find war a spectator sport?

Israelis Watch the Fighting in Gaza From a Hilly Vantage Point
GAZA BORDER -- Moti Danino sat Monday in a canvas lawn chair on a sandy hilltop on Gaza's border, peering through a pair of binoculars at distant plumes of smoke rising from the besieged territory.
An unemployed factory worker, he comes here each morning to watch Israel's assault on Hamas from what has become the war's peanut gallery -- a string of dusty hilltops close to the border that offer panoramic views across northern Gaza.
He is one of dozens of Israelis who have arrived from all over Israel, some with sack lunches and portable radios tuned to the latest reports of the battle raging in front of them. Some, like Mr. Danino, are here to egg on friends and family members in the fight.
Moti Denino and other residents of Sderot in Israel call themselves the "hill people", watching attacks unfold between Israel and Gaza from a hillside. Others have made the trek, they say, to witness firsthand a military operation -- so far, widely popular inside Israel -- against Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip.
Over the weekend, four teenagers sat on a hill near Mr. Danino's, oohing and aahing at the airstrikes. Nadav Zebari, who studies Torah in Jerusalem, was eating a cheese sandwich and sipping a Diet Coke.
"I've never watched a war before," he said. A group of police officers nearby took turns snapping pictures of one another with smoking Gaza as a backdrop. "I want to feel a part of the war," one said, before correcting himself with the official government designation for the assault. "I mean operation. It's not a war."
The spectators share hilltop space with an army of camera-toting Israeli and foreign journalists, who have so far been banned by the Israeli military from entering Gaza to report on the conflict.
Mr. Danino has a personal link to the fighting. His 20-year-old son, Moshe, is a soldier in an infantry unit fighting somewhere below his hilly perch. From the sidelines, he is here to root for his son the soldier, he says, just as he once sat on the sidelines of soccer fields cheering for his son the high-school athlete.
"The army took all the soldiers' cellphones away before the attack, so this is my way of staying in contact," he says.

On another hilltop overlooking Gaza, Sandra Koubi, a 43-year-old philosophy student, says seeing the violence up close "is a kind of catharsis for me, to get rid of all the anxiety we have inside us after years of rocket fire" from Hamas.
Jocelyn Znaty, a stout 60-year-old nurse for Magen David Adom, the Israeli counterpart of the Red Cross, can hardly contain her glee at the site of exploding mortars below in Gaza.
"Look at that," she shouts, clapping her hands as four artillery rounds pound the territory in quick succession. "Bravo! Bravo!"