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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005, 08:44 GMT 09:44 UK
Listening out for trouble in Tel Aviv
By Peter Flinn
BBC News, Tel Aviv

This From Our Own Correspondent was first broadcast on 4 November, 1956.

Things had come to a head in the Middle East. Israel had responded to threats from Egypt's President Nasser by attacking the Egyptian terrority of Sinai. In Tel Aviv, Peter Flinn followed the events.

Former Egyptian President Gamal Nasser
Gamal Nasser was the Egyptian president until 1970
The fighting in Egypt began on Monday and finished on Friday. Four days and even the Israelis who had been so cocksure can hardly believe in their success.

Four days and so many worrying thorns plucked out of their Egyptian flank.

No more infiltrators crossing the practically unmarked border from the Gaza Strip or out from the Sinai Desert.

No more worries whether their old British and American-made tanks would be a match for the new Russian tanks delivered to Egypt, and - this was the worst threat - no question of the crowded cities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem being bombed.

And yet they are still taking the conflict - the word "war" just does not exist in official language - they are still taking it seriously.

The blackout is just as intense. The blood donors are still volunteering in hundreds. Every car driver keeps his tank topped up when he can, for petrol has been like gold in the last week.

Half the buses and cars have disappeared from cities. I saw them in the hands of the army, camouflaged with daubs of mud, carrying Egyptian prisoners who looked as if they were ready to fall in on parade, so neat and ungrimed.

And here and there, on the well-kept roads of Israel you see vehicles with Arabic number plates, smart little Egyptian ambulances or well-worn green jeeps.

New beginnings

In the settlements, the farm colonies which Israel deliberately built up all along her borders to emphasise that she would never give up an inch of land - the ploughmen still take their rifles along with them on the tractor, possibly by force of habit.

Moshe Dayan
We don't fight to provide a good story for journalists
General Moshe Dayan's motto
But, of course, there is a difference this weekend in the settlements along what was the border with Egypt, the settlement children.

There are always lots of children in settlements. The children have been taken down to look at the miserable little ditch that marked the Gaza Strip, not too close, because mine clearance parties are out.

Israel wants to get the new land ploughed as soon as possible, ready for the winter rains which are already overdue.

But the great difference in the settlements is at night.

The years of night watches are over and the children no longer need to sleep in the shelters, and whatever they do in the towns, the settlers ignore the blackout.

Covert operations

In the towns, the men left in civil life have worked enormously long hours. They certainly could not have kept up this pace for long, but there was little grumbling.

After the almost bloodless capture of the Gaza Strip, the fighting troops were whisked out to re-form elsewhere
Shopkeepers became short tempered at the end of the day's efforts to work out a private rationing system of their own among the hoarders who descended like vultures.

The Israeli prefers to live at the top of his voice, and some of the shops have been Babel.

The army has been fanatically silent.

The Chief of Staff, General Moshe Dayan - I saw him for a fleeting moment outside Gaza, with his piratical black eyeshield.

He lost an eye serving in the British Army. General Dayan has a motto: "We don't fight to provide a good story for journalists," and all the Israeli moves have been made swiftly and secretly.

Border threat

After the almost bloodless capture of the Gaza Strip, the fighting troops were whisked out to re-form elsewhere.

The infantry went off in buses on which they chalked "Tel Aviv to Cairo" on the destination boards.

They might have been going in that direction, but it has been officially announced that the Israeli Army will not cross the Canal.

As to other borders, Israel's border with Jordan alone is twice as long as the border with Egypt. And facing Jordan, Syria and the Lebanon, the settlements remain on the alert.

This may be one reason why the Israelis remain earnest and intent listeners rather than talkers; their usual role is that of a talker.

Now they listen to every news bulletin they can.

And in this polyglot country no language is incomprehensible.

All the Arab world broadcasts, all the foreign language and English transmissions of the BBC, they all have their listeners, who put out the news again by word of mouth.

One last word. Only a minority of Israelis are strict orthodox Jews.

As they say themselves in one of their shorthand jokes: "Most Israelis eat Kosher food as well."

But there are hundreds and thousands of Jews here who came to Israel to find a safe home, and in the synagogues on this Sabbath, the prayers were not of thanksgiving for victory but for peace.

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