Web exposes fear, strength as Israel prepares for war

Israelis have long memories. They remember how during the Gulf War of 1991 they put on gas masks and huddled in "safe rooms" while Iraq fired Scud missiles at their country. As the world again debates what to do about Iraq and Saddam Hussein, Israelis are again preparing for the worst. Today, a look at the challenges — physical and emotional — that Israelis are facing.

The Home Front Command is the central body preparing the country for a possible attack by conventional and non-conventional weapons. Its Web site — www.idf.il/english/organization/homefront/index.stm — provides directions for sealing a room so that it can be used as a shelter during an attack involving chemical or conventional weapons. It's quite sobering to view photos of the various types of gas masks particularly the ones designed for children. The mask for 3- to 8-year-olds is brightly colored and designed to reduce feelings of claustrophobia by allowing a wide field of vision. The infant version has a nipple built into the hood at mouth level to allow for feeding.

Despite the calm that planning agencies are trying to project, the cover of the Hebrew version of the municipality of Ra'anana's emergency instruction booklet is quite chilling. It shows a panorama of the city behind two people clad in head-to-toe biological protection suits. The booklet — which can be accessed at www.raanana.muni.il/htmlsEng/herumeng.html — provides information about how to respond when the siren sounds, what to do during a suspected attack and guidelines for sitting in a protected space.

In "Non-conventional Warfare and Me," Sara Levinsky Rigler describes what it's like to attend an emergency information seminar in Jerusalem's Old City. What started off as a room full of nervous laughter became deadly serious when the soldier explained the threat posed by nerve gas, mustard gas and anthrax. Her essay is at www.aish.com/jewishissues/israeldiary/Non-conventional_Warfare_and_Me.asp

Israel's politicians and military have emphasized that the country is now in a far better position than it was during the Gulf War. But the country is taking no chances — even if Iraq claims it no longer has the means to attack Israel.

One of those solutions is Israel's $2.2 billion Arrow missile defense system. The Arrows are expected to be a great deal more effective than the American-made Patriots that failed to detonate any of the 39 incoming Scuds in 1991. But will the Arrow work?

One of the fears mentioned is Iraq's ability to target Israel with biological weapons such as smallpox. The Israeli government has decided not to inoculate its population except for a limited number of front-line rescue and medical personnel. Israel's Ministry of Health has set up a smallpox information site — www.health.gov.il/

smallpox/pox_eng/index.htm — that addresses questions about the danger posed by the disease, the reasons behind Israel's inoculation policy and its potential use in warfare.

Tourists have been included in the country's emergency plans. The Ministry of Tourism — www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0mzv0 — has distributed 10,000 protective kits to hotels and youth hostels across the country. All hotels in Israel have been supplied with videocassettes with explanations on the use of the protective kits in Hebrew, English, Russian and Amharic. In the event of a non-conventional attack, medical treatment and immunization will be provided to tourists affected areas.

Adults can debate the gravity of the situation. But how do you explain to your children why you are stocking up and sealing off one of the rooms in your home? Clinical psychologist Batya Ludman has this advice for parents at www.israelnewsagency.com/israelchildrenwar.html

Understand children's needs and concerns. Very young children may need little information beyond telling them that they will be in a room with their parents. Older children worry more about their own safety and about that of adults that are important to them. Help children feel that they are in control by asking for their thoughts and giving them tasks — In order to look after their children, parents must look after themselves. "If you or your children are not coping well, get professional help to enable you to be less anxious."

Ludman concludes, "While there are no easy answers and these are only suggestions, enabling your child to feel comfortable and secure is one of the best gifts you can provide during these very difficult times."