Siege of Jerusalem, 2013 |

Israel's War on Weather

Israelis are used to having enemies, and if they all evaporate - even snow will do.

Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter
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Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter

The attack began at around 06:00 hours, with heavy snow bombarding the city of Jerusalem.

Granted the attack had been anticipated, but the sheer ferocity of the assault surprised the higher command.

Within hours, the city was cut off. All access roads were blocked, with hundreds of drivers - many civilians who wanted to see “the action” - stuck in the snow for hours on end, with their thermoses rapidly emptying of soup.

Soon after, with the flakes continuing to attack, the electricity went out. People started calling the storm a “disaster”. Those who could run jumped on the few trains that were still able to leave the city, complaining all the while that the carriages weren't heated.

It was, without a doubt, one of the biggest disasters - natural or otherwise - Israel has ever known.

NOT. Really, it was just a snow storm. The same kind of snow storm that cuts electricity, blocks roads, causes millions if not billions in damage and most importantly: happens every winter, all winter, all over the world.

But you wouldn’t know it from the hysterics that followed the particular storm - the “storm of the century” - that struck Israel this last weekend. Had an alien tried to understand what’s happening in Israel by following the Hebrew-speaking media between Thursday and Sunday, he would have assumed there was a terrorist attack - or at least a tsunami.

Live from besieged Jerusalem

News channels broadcast live, non-stop from Jerusalem, for days. The pundits prated of “collapse” and ״screw-up”, “survivors” were put on line to speak of their hardships and Ynet, a leading Hebrew-language news website, screamed in the headline of its top story: “it’s like a tsunami hit the country” - a direct quote from an Ashdod resident who, along with his wife and two small kids, drove to Jerusalem to see the snow, despite the direct and repeated warnings by authorities NOT to do so.

Israelis who ignored the official warnings and tried to drive to Jerusalem got stuck on the road in snowdrifts for their pains. As the highway was closed, they were evacuated to the International Convention Center, which - for two days – became the Israeli version of the New Orleans Superdome.

“We just wanted to see snow,” wailed one of the evacuees to Channel 2 news.
Shas MK Ariel Atias, delayed by the snow on his way to Jerusalem, accused the state of being unprepared, and together with party-leader Aryeh Deri spoke of “state collapse”.

The media, meanwhile, kept repeating the phrase: “Jerusalem is besieged”.

Flaky Romans

Some historical perspective is needed here: over the last two thousand years, Jerusalem has been besieged on multiple occasions. The Romans besieged it during the First Jewish–Roman War. Some 600 years later, it was the Persians who did it. Then, in 1099, the Crusaders captured the city and slaughtered most of its population. Come 1187, it was Saladin’s turn. That is a partial list.

Then, of course, in 1948, it was besieged again during Israel’s War of Independence. All these sieges were bloody, brutal, and nearly ruined the city. Food was scarce, violence was rampant. Granted, none of them took place in the age of social media and the 24/7 news cycle, but still.

During the “Siege of Jerusalem, 2013”, Jerusalem were sitting in their homes. Cold as hell, sure, but generally aided by the comfort of blankets, with hot tea and soup, heated on gas stoves. No bearded warriors carrying swords and killing everything in sight, no actual food scarcity.

Yet reporters stood knee-deep in snow, military convoys passing by, telling viewers that “this is the first time armored personnel carriers have gone into Jerusalem since 1967."

It all looked very, very familiar to every Israeli. And for good reason: these are all Israeli media-codes for war. Conventions of wartime coverage. Only this time, the enemy being fought against was… precipitation.

Hard-hat heroes

Every good war story needs a hero. The Six-Day War had the paratroopers. 9/11 had the FDNY. The 2013 “Siege of Jerusalem” had the workers of the Israeli Electric Corporation, normally the most vilified workers in all of Israel, who for two days - while they slaved in the freezing cold in order to bring back the power - enjoyed the kind of heroic image bestowed upon New York firefighters after 9/11. Facebook pages were opened (“Thank you IEC workers” was the title of the most popular one), and the media sang their praises.

Of course some nit-picked about the IEC for being “unprepared” for a 100% foreseeable situation: that hundreds of drivers would ignore specific warnings not to drive to Jerusalem, would get stuck, and would jam the highways so badly that the IEC vehicles couldn't reach the people they needed to help. Restoring power to all took four days.

But the critical voices were few, this time. Israel needed someone to revere.

Some other countries, of course, are more nonchalant when it comes to winter. Even Egypt, covered in snow for the first time in more than a century, didn’t treat this mysterious white stuff coming down from the sky like a mortal enemy. Even Gaza, where the storm actually caused terrible flooding (little reported in Israel, since the attention was going to train passengers griping there was no heating in the cars), was more understanding towards the weather.

But Israel needs enemies, dammit. The Iranians have receded, peacenik weaklings that they are. Syria’s a mess. Egypt’s got its own problems to deal with. Lebanon too. With all its enemies squandered or in peace-talks with the West, who can fill the hole in our hearts (and in our schedules) and be a proper enemy?

Enter the storm. Suddenly reporters can go back to their leather jackets. The Israeli army could get some good PR, for clearing up the mess enough to get the power lines fixed. Israelis get to complain - and boy, do they like to complain (“no-one is picking up the phone at government offices!”, yelled an angry mother on Channel 10 news, possibly forgetting it was a Saturday).

And the snow? Snow is the best kind of enemy: unforgiving, but also quiet, without a competing narrative.

So for two crazy days, Israel was at war with snow as its enemy. Did it win? Well, only until the next time that crafty white nemesis decides to attack.

Israeli soldiers help stranded passengers off of an army truck to a temporary shelter after they had to leave their vehicles because of heavy snowfall in Jerusalem December 13, 2013. Credit: Reuters
Snow in the Old City of Jerusalem, Dec. 2013Credit: Roy Porat



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