The east wind carrieth him away, and he departeth—Job 27:21
In the last hours of Israeli Operation “Unbreakable Alliance,” its name has proven to be nothing but a sad joke. Israel made its best at public pleasantries while insulting and attacking in the background. Safe in its linguistic island, Hebrew media laughed at Obama, recycling old racist jokes published after President Obama won his first elections.
The day after that, the ugly jokes were replaced by open threats in hidden inner-pages on the President who while visiting President Mahmud Abas in Ramallah, said: “Palestinians deserve a state.” “Palestinians deserve the end of the occupation,” he also said in days when Israel is pushing forward the One State solution and has even recruited Jordan to the complex task of expelling the Palestinians from the West Bank. Obama was rewarded with a banner of a threatening Israeli girl in a “come here” Karate pose in Israel’s most serious newspaper while suspicious missiles hit Sderot (“Obama, B’ona,” says Israel). When things looked as having reached their nadir, a sudden sand storm stopped Obama’s schedule.
Sand storms are difficult to imagine. They exist in various versions in the Middle East and the Mediterranean; thus the plethora of names describing them add to their powdery confusion. In the Holy Land they are caused by winds coming from the east, thus in the Bible they are called “East Wind” (ruah kadim). In Arabic, they are known as “hamsin” (fifty), making allusion to the length of their season. The East Wind arrives during spring and autumn and, as President Obama found out, provides a unique experience. In Hebrew and Arabic cultures, East is the main direction, thus “ruah kadim” can also be translated as “Forward Wind,” the wind which comes from the eastern desert. A strong wind passing over sand picks up a lot of it, creating a sand storm along its path. The picture below shows the coastline of Tel Aviv on March 22, 2013. What looks as a yellowish fog is sand in the air.
This is easy to imagine and photograph, but the feeling of the eerie event is a different story. The temperature may rise in twenty degrees as soon as the storm starts. It creates an almost unbearable oppressiveness; breathing is unpleasant. Storms are short; they last between a few hours to a couple of days. Afterwards, the hamsin “is broken;” the temperatures drop immediately and a remarkably strong, but short, rain washes the sand from the sky. Cars parking on the street get covered by a generous amount of sand. Honoring Obama’s schedule, this was a short storm. It began early in the morning and ended in the afternoon. That was enough to spoil Obama’s visit.
East Wind in Tel Aviv
Air Force 1 can’t move!
The Israeli investment is infrastructure has always been selective. Dealing with the climate has never been a priority. Hence, even conventional storms can cause serious damage. Last January, just 2 inches of rain that fell in a few hours were enough to flood Israel’s main highway, becoming a Superstorm in Tel Aviv. Sand storms, as Americans learned the hard way in Iran, are not good for helicopters. Thus, Obama’s visit moved on the ground, allowing the President a golden opportunity to explore the intricate Israeli network of roads. Maybe the CIA would now be able to update its website data.
The visit to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, was done in such a way, causing a delay of almost an hour. In 2002, a similar delay of Kingfisher (“Shaldag,” an IDF commando unit specializing on helicopters, motorbikes and beamers), caused the disastrous Siege of the Church of Nativity.
The current sand storm was short. That makes it even more unpleasant, due to the sudden temperature changes in both directions. When it “breaks,” the temperatures rapidly drop back to their preceding lows, in a rather startling experience. Despite the storm having “broken,” Israel suspects climatic instability in the next few hours. Highway #1 is Israel’s jugular vein. It connects Jerusalem with Tel Aviv and the Ben Gurion International Airport. While Obama was in Bethlehem, Israel Police blocked the road and will keep it clear for presidential use since it seems that the risk of taking the President to the airport by helicopter won’t be taken. Sand is in the air. An odd presidential visit took place these last few days; below the pleasantries level, a sand storm attacked the Israeli-American relationship. Would it destroy the “Unbreakable Alliance?”
Roi Tov is a graduate—among others—of Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science. In addition to his memoir, Tov is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Molecular Physics and other scientific journals. He won various travel writing and photography awards.
In his writings, he tries to reveal life in Israel as a Christian Israel Defense Force (IDF) officer—from human rights violations to the use of an extensive network of underground agents. He was recognized first as a refugee and subsequently as political prisoner of Bolivia.